On Monday night Kevin Durant lit up the court and Twitter with a 66-point performance at legendary Rucker Park. A night later he scored 41, including a game-tying 3-pointer at the end of regulation, in another New York City summer tournament. On Wednesday, the New York City streetball rumor mill – and it is a mill – had Durant coming to my neighborhood to play in the Dyckman tournament.
I walked down there around 4 and watched 10 teenagers in various states of conditioning – one poor youngster, who displayed a surprisingly good touch from 15 feet out and easily controlled the defensive glass, will probably adorn a poster someday when a state government sues McDonald’s for the company’s role in our childhood obesity epidemic – play some pickup ball. But there were no pros on that night, as the sky opened up and the rain washed away any chance of seeing Durant or anyone else play at Dyckman.
The games were made up Thursday night but Durant’s availability remained up in the air. Twitter again lit up with people speculating if the two-time NBA scoring champ would indeed head to northern Manhattan to continue his tour of New York City parks. One girl said she heard “on the street” that he was coming, though I’m not sure she can claim some scoop from the street, since she almost certainly simply did what everyone had done – read about it on Twitter (to be fair, I could see Durant being a topic of discussion at, say, a neighborhood salon or deli, although I still think it was just Twitter).
I again walked down there around 4 and again watched some teens play a pickup game. But the sun was out and security started setting up barriers surrounding the court, as the fans and security guards whispered Durant’s name. I was fourth in line and entered the park shortly after 5:30 p.m. Eventually, according to tournament officials, about 2,000 people joined me inside the small park while another 1,000 stood outside the locked gates, watching from afar.
I sat in my favorite spot, the top row on the metal bleachers. The fans around me rattled off names of people they’d heard – read – were coming, everyone from Durant, to Michael Beasley, to Ben Gordon, to Carmelo Anthony.
During the Senior Division game, which preceded the Pro Division game, I could see the poor souls stranded outside the fence all turn toward the street. With the instincts of a 21st century citizen, nearly all of them reached for their phones and started recording or taking pictures. Using my reporter’s skills, I told the guy next to me – whose foot was actually sort of on mine in the crowded stands – that “someone had arrived.” When the crowd saw the dorky headphones and dorkier backpack, everyone knew it was Durant. If anyone didn’t know or didn’t see, announcer Joe Pope filled them in by saying “The Durantula has arrived.” For the rest of the Senior Division game Durant stood on the baseline, taking the action in like any other fan, signing autographs and listening to his music. You couldn’t blame some of the Senior Division kids if they tried to put on a bit more of a show while Durant watched from two feet off the court.
When that game ended Durant was the first player on the court for the next game and warmed up by himself for several minutes, sort of like a fighter putting on a bit of a show during a training session. He casually knocked down 20-footers before venturing back to near the half-court line, probably 35 feet from the basket, for a few more perfect-looking jumpers, which he effortlessly launched with a flick of the wrist and barely a jump.
By this time the crowd included those in the stands and those on neighboring buildings and those on trees. It also included – much to my dismay and the regret of civil engineers – people who climbed up the back of the bleachers and stood behind those of us in the top row. They scaled it like prisoners escaping from the big house. The kid next to me kept saying, “This shit is leaning.” I dismissed his concerns, until I heard something that sounded like a cell phone dropping on the metal stands, which are like the ones you see at every high school football game in the country. I didn’t see anything on the bleachers and someone said, “That was the bleachers.”
I wondered if I’d later be recounting that moment in a civil lawsuit a few years down the line.
“Mr. Fury. Would you describe the sound you heard as a snap?”
Moments before tipoff, which was delayed by about an hour by the festivities and general chaos that comes with all the games at Dyckman, but especially those with an NBA superstar, another NBA player started making his way through the crowd: Timberwolves forward Michael Beasley.
This was becoming an entertaining evening.
It took Beasley several minutes to work his way through the throng. Later reports suggested he was frustrated with the delay, which might explain what happened a bit later.
The game finally started – with Beasley jumping center against Durant. But it took Durant awhile to begin playing. For the first eight to 10 minutes, he appeared somewhat bored, perhaps worn out by his third streetball game in four days. He might have just been ready to go home for a few days. At the start, he looked like a combination of LeBron James in his infamous Game 5 against the Celtics and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in his final year with the Lakers. Durant jogged up the court, occasionally didn’t even cross halfcourt, didn’t shoot and offered no resistance to driving opponents, whom he practically escorted to the rim.
Beasley, on the other hand, engaged the crowd from the start. He took it to Durant. During stops in play, he walked over to my side and talked to the fans, acting very much like a pro wrestling villain at a county fair card. Fans offered doped. Beasley, as far as I could tell, declined. His team, 914, took an early lead on the vaunted Team Nike.
But about halfway through the first half, Durant drove to the hoop and took a hard foul. Thunder fans in the crowd probably contemplated kidnapping Durant from the court after the play, as nightmare headlines danced in their head. He was fine. And soon, he was looking like Kevin Durant.
He never did hit a 3-pointer. Oh-for-the-night. Probably the first time since he was 6 that he had such a poor shooting night from deep. Still, he scored 32 – or 29, reports differ. His buckets came on driving dunks, alley-oops and a couple of sweet-looking stepback jumpers. On several occasions, including on back-to-back possessions in the first half, Durant beat Beasley off the dribble, crossing over and going between his legs with remarkable ease. When I saw Artest play at Dyckman, I wrote that if you didn’t know he was in the NBA, you wouldn’t pick him as being the pro player. No one would make that mistake with Beasley, or especially with Durant. He’s the 6-9 guy – tallest guy on the court – with a giant wingspan who handles the ball like a 5-10 point guard, glides to the hoop like Dr. J and can shoot from seemingly everywhere on the court. As his team climbed back into it, Durant started doing those quick little claps he does during Thunder games, which mean he’s into it and ready for business.
He probably felt a bit at home too, since some of his teammates pulled off the Russell Westbrook role and occasionally went off on inexplicable one-on-one plays while the best player on the court stood wide open on the wing. The only thing missing was Scott Brooks looking befuddled.
Durant’s Team Nike took a late lead but 914 rallied and prevailed on a late 3-pointer by The Problem, guard Aaron Williams. A few minutes earlier, former Providence player Geoff McDermott – aka the Big Bully – dunked on Durant, a play that shifted the creaky stands and momentum. Durant had one final 3 to tie the game but it bounced out. At the buzzer, he removed his jersey and immediately left the court, later tweeting “Yo dyckman was too crazy…I had fun but we lost…my time in new york was cool…” He also complimented the Bully for his in-the-face dunk.
But the moment everyone’s talking about today came with about 12 minutes left in the game. That’s when Beasley – perhaps still perturbed with his delayed entry into the park – got into it with a courtside spectator. The guy was apparently trash-talking Beasley, who wandered over to the baseline. You’d think whatever Beasley heard is something he’s heard a thousand times at parks and arenas. The two jawed back and forth for a few seconds. Beasley then gave the guy a light shove in the face and the fan flopped back like Vlade guarding Shaq. News reports said Beasley “mushed” the fan, identified as Garland Quince. The Daily News has video here.
The game was delayed about 10 minutes as Beasley’s coach, teammates and opposition tried to calm him down. Durant walked over to the baseline to play a little peacekeeping role with the mushee. Just when things settled down, Beasley walked back over to Quince, apparently to make peace, but was soon yelling at him again. In the New York Post story on the game, which has a different angle on the confrontation, though not of the mush, Quince says, “I like him. He just got out of line tonight.” To me, that last part sounds like code for, “I’ll be contacting a lawyer at the crack of dawn.”
But I’ll still remember the night for Durant’s performance, even if it wasn’t the type that will go down as a legendary night, unlike his Rucker effort. Yeah, there wasn’t much defense. Yeah, he didn’t look interested for awhile. Yeah, purists might not want to show up to these games, content to watch their tapes of the 1976 Indiana Hoosiers playing great help D with a sterling motion offense. But last night, I had the opportunity to watch one of the three best players in the world play ball. This wasn’t like going to an NFL training camp and seeing guys hit a blocking sled. This was a star in his element, if not his normal environment. I watched him from 20 feet away, surrounded by other hoops fans who hung on every move and practically from every fence and tree. I watched him battle another NBA player, one who averaged nearly 20 a game last year. I watched him go against former D1 players and other streetball stars, in their home, on their court. This was in my neighborhood, a 10-minute walk from my front door, on a court I could go play on this afternoon. I did all that last night. For free.
And I saw my first mushing.
There aren’t any great videos of the night up yet, those usually come a few days later. I’ll embed those when they’re online. In the meantime, here are a few:
The ESPN reporter put his recording of the night up. Six minutes.
And here, one of the blowhiphoptv videos. Enjoy.