Chew Playground on 18th Street and Washington Avenue has been around the block a few times. At least it seems that way. Wooden backboards and messages to lost legends expose the court’s influence and importance to the neighborhood and city. That’s why even in the early hours of the morning (we’re talking 7:30 a.m.) at least 10 believers braved the unrelenting heat with the hopes of capturing Philadelphia’s title of Red Bull King of the Rock.
By 10 a.m., the court was packed with an eclectic mix of fans, players and personalities. Even Dion Waiters of Syracuse came out to take in an afternoon of one-on-one battles. The finest street court players the city had to offer shook off the early morning cobwebs to produce an afternoon full of intense emotions and basketball. Unlike the New York crowd, which boasted a wide array of heights and skill levels, unadulterated physicality and will became the theme of the day in Philadelphia. If you weren’t ready to dish out some pain, you’re day was about to be cut short with ruthless animosity.
Before the action started, I had the chance to talk hoops with plenty of Alcatraz hopefuls. Philadelphia natives, former NYC King of the Rock contestants and even a 16-year-old had no problem talking some smack. Because that’s just how the atmosphere felt â€“ battle scarred. Everyone had something to prove, someone to show up. This was a day of pride, glory and definition. A crossroads.
When the tournament got under way, egos everywhere disappeared as the undersized Emmanuel Cruz, who plans on joining the Air Force in the upcoming weeks, shocked the crowd by sinking a buzzer-beating three to knock out his physically superior and more-skilled opponent. From that point on, everyone threw mercy out the window. In a five-minute game, there was no room for momentary lapses. Tyrone “Redz” Hill, former King of the Rock champion and self-proclaimed favorite was a casualty of just that, falling victim to the day’s immense talent in the first round.
The final eight saw one of the best matchups of the day as former University of Pennsylvania guard Aron Cohen faced off against the physically imposing Marcus Brown in a battle that came down to the wire. Despite Cohen’s adept finishing around the rim, Brown’s lights-out shooting from distance gave him a three-point lead with only seconds to play. Cohen’s desperation heave fell short, allowing Brown to move onto the Final Four against former Providence player DaSean White. Although he was one win away from a trip to Alcatraz and two wins away from $1,000, White refused to let his confidence take over.
“I’m not gonna say anything,” White told Dime. “I don’t want to be cocky going into this matchup.”
Brown, however, wasn’t holding anything in.
“You see this?” Brown confidently declared while pounding the championship matchup on the King of the Rock tournament bracket. “That’ll be me.”
In what turned out to be the single best game of the day, White’s towering height seemed too much even for Brown, who had no problem imposing his will on anyone and everyone. With 1:30 remaining, Brown somehow took a 13-12 lead with a bruising drive to the basket. Then the fun started. White coolly sank a three for the 15-13 lead, but Brown answered right back with a three of his own. One minute later, each player had hit three three-pointers in a row to bring the score to 22-21, Brown clinging to the one-point lead. But in the final seconds White decided to use his height to his advantage, hitting a layup plus the foul to take the 24-22 victory as time expired.
On the other side of the bracket former South Philadelphia High School standout Antoine “Do Dirt” Brown, a fantastic guard with amazing ball-handling skills, found himself to be the clear-cut crowd favorite. After breaking his hand in the round of 16, Brown showed immense toughness by simply thrusting his hand into the Red Bull cooler filled with ice as a temporary pain reliever after each game. Two rounds later, he was in the Final Four against a well-known foe in James “Jim Bob” Pope.
“I play with (Brown) every day,” Pope told Dime. “That’s my man.”
With the pride of Philadelphia facing off against each other, the crowd had a hard time choosing whom to root for. Eventually Brown’s hand proved to be too much of a disadvantage as Pope cruised to victory and secured a trip to Alcatraz.
The music was blaring, the mid-day sun was blazing and the crowd was in a frenzy. Their own guy Pope had made his way to the final and was minutes from grabbing that $1,000. White, however, had a seemingly huge advantage with superior height compared to Pope’s two-guard size and mentality. But that’s why they play the games. Pope jumped out to a 13-6 advantage with the crowd in a state of partial shock and amazement. Distracted and frustrated by the referee’s seldom-blown whistles, White acted as if the game was already over. But after refocusing and muscling his way to the hoop on every possession, Pope’s lead dwindled to a slim 16-15. Standing at the top of the key with White draped all over him, Pope let the game clock tick down to six seconds before driving left, pump faking and fading away. With the spirit of Philadelphia fully behind him, his contested shot banked in followed by the and-one call, putting the game out of reach at 19-15. The crowd mobbed Pope, helpless to fend off the supporters due to pure exhaustion. After catching his breath and taking pictures with the tournament bracket, Pope only had one reaction to his hard-earned trip to Alcatraz and $1,000.
“Where’s my money?”
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