This story was originally printed in Dime #69. Check the issue to see the feature in its entirety…
As ballplayers, we all have a natural instinct to entertain. It’s fun to play to the crowd and throw up some three goggles after a deep trey every now and then â€“ even if the majority of us aren’t collecting checks with a mini Jerry West logo stamped on ’em.
In Los Angeles, entertainers of another breed are getting their own weekly hoop fix inside of a private gym just east of Santa Monica, in the E League.
“It’s like our golf of Hollywood,” says E League founder and all-around L.A. basketball guru, Shane Duffy.
Duffy, who has been running the West Coast’s most premier celebrity and entertainment invite-only league for the past 15 years, has attracted some of the industry’s best and brightest to his basketball run. And when guys from Leonardo DiCaprio and Adam Sandler to Kevin Hart and Chris Brown want to get in some burn at the gym, the E League has been their hoops sanctuary. Likewise, it provides an opportunity for different talent around the city to assemble in a new social environment.
“This place really provides an opportunity for people that would never meet, at the highest level of (their respective) industry, to kind of collaborate and do things,” says Duffy.
It’s also a place where anyone â€“ or any team â€“ has a chance to shine.
“I pride myself on the fact that this league has great parity,” Duffy continues. “There’s never been a fight in the room â€“ it’s not that kind of a league.”
“The E League is the cream of the crop of entertainment basketball,” offers up another one of the E League’s longstanding resident ballers, and actors, Arlen Escarpeta. “I don’t care what anybody tells you â€“ it’s the best. As far as talent level, it’s here. Networking, it’s here. Best uniforms, it’s here. The best gym, you got it. More than anything, it’s top tier. We have a good time.”
Escarpeta says he’s booked three studio films alone out of the connections he’s made from playing. It’s those connections â€“ and more importantly, interactions amongst its players â€“ that has helped ignite new relationships within an industry that operates largely on networking. Outside of actors and musicians, the league also features agents, studio execs and writers, among many others. More than anything, Duffy is proud how even with a yearly influx of new personalities and familiar faces, his league has remained a place of positive contact and great competition.
“It’s amazing to watch people’s families grow and their careers grow,” adds Duffy. “People go ebb and flow â€“ it’s an ebb and flow business. People are successful, then they’re way down and I try to be a constant in their life that doesn’t really fluctuate based on their popularity; it’s based on they’re good people. And I want good people in the room that can play well together and get along.”
After working in player-talent relations and as an entertainment-marketing manager for the NBA, Duffy started the E League back in 1999 as a way to bring the entertainment’s basketball community together. And ever since the league’s first ever Rookie of the Year award was handed out to, ahem, Snoop Dogg, the level of competition has never wavered. It’s also attracted a number of high-level sponsors in Nike and Gatorade into its family.
As for the season each winter, 12 teams battle through 15 weeks â€“ including a four-round playoff system â€“ to finally crown a champion. During the regular season, each week seems to have its own post-season energy and charm to it. One game features a guard combo of singers Chris Brown and J. Valentine slicing up an opponent’s defense, while the next has comedian Kevin Hart taking the final shot in a buzzer-beating victory. This is where guys like actor Michael B Jordan, Dean Cain, Joel David Moore, Donald Faison and Hunger Games star Josh Hutcherson all converge to battle it out on the hardwood.
“It’s a really good experience for everyone,” says Frankie Delgado, who’s in his fourth year of E League play. “We get to meet a lot of really good people and network. It’s a special time too. You get to bond with a lot of people that you would never get to see because we’re all working so hard.”
Outside of playing, Duffy has also helped coordinate a charity week for his guys to participate in each year â€“ utilizing the players’ respective social media channels as a sounding board for each of their personal charitable organizations.
For a decade and a half, the E League has continued to churn and connect the city’s basketball-hungry entertainment folk with each other, while providing a great outlet for them to ball. And in the end, that’s what it’s all about.
“You know, more than anything, it’s good camaraderie,” adds Escarpeta. “I’ve made a lot of friends in this league.”
If they can give the audience a little show while doing so â€“ it’s always more than appreciated.
Learn more about the E League and its charities at theeleague.com
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