For those of you who may not follow basketball as fanatically as I do, let me do a little explaining about the Late Night Basketball phenomenon. Apart from the NCAA and the NBA, there are leagues in most major cities, where there is mad competition between teams that often feature elite players who played college ball or even professional ball. And the players who didn’t play college or professional ball are often playground legends. They may not have had the benefit of a college level coaching but they certainly have the athleticism and basketball skills to play at a very high level. Within each local basketball community, everybody knows who has the big hops, and who has the chops to play in these leagues. These teams are usually loose organizations with a core group and leader but the personnel changes as players learn about each other and get a feel for the style of each team.
One type of league where you will find these players is in the late night or midnight leagues. These leagues have their roots in programs designed to give young at-risk men the opportunity to do something positive on Friday and Saturday nights. While they still serve that role, these leagues have also become part of a circuit serving the elite players of a particular area. My team, East Bay United, has been the Late Night Basketball champion in Berkeley, CA for several seasons now. The team make up has changed somewhat with each season but the result remains the same. This team came together when my original team joined forces with a team led by Dorvez Barnett (pictured on the right). Vez has a great eye for talent and we share a basic philosophy about the game. We have our dunkers and show time players but they also play defense and move the ball in a half court set. The result has been that EB United has become one of the teams to beat in Bay Area basketball.
That was the thinking for the Oakland Late Night Basketball All-Stars when they challenged us for a winner take all, bragging rights for the East Bay, game on Friday, August 15th. Normally I don’t worry too much about security, even though many of the gyms where we play are in sketchy areas, but this game would be on their turf at McClymond’s High School in West Oakland, so I asked about police presence. They gave me their assurances. When we got there it was crowded and loud but there were plenty of police and lots of faces from the local basketball community. If they weren’t playing, they were there to watch. We made our greetings, bumping shoulders and shaking hands, and then headed to our bench. We started with our core of Dorvez, Paul and Herb. Rob bailed at the last minute and we had to scramble to pick up Tim, Gideon, Chris, ‘Tuan and Vinnie. These were pretty fair pick ups.
In the first half we applied heavy pressure on the ball and that yielded turnovers and easy dunks in transition. Herb was a defensive wrecking crew, picking the Oakland ball-handlers and kicking it up court for easy scores, or carrying it the whole way himself. He and Vez started knocking down threes in the second quarter. Paul was grabbing rebounds and tipping in the misses. And Gideon put up some huge blocks. By the end of the first half, we were up by 20. Frustration was clearly setting in for the Oakland squad.
Much of the local basketball community was in the stands to watch the game and they started to ride the Oakland team for putting up such a weak performance. Eventually the players started beefing with the fans and a fight broke out midway through the third quarter that spilled out onto the court. EB United let the fight stay where it started and eventually the game resumed. Chris threw down some ridiculous dunks in the second half. When time ran out, we had won the game 89-59. Given the size of the trophy we received, I have to think that Oakland Late Night had definite plans to win the game. Sorry to disappoint them and their fans but the EB United squad was tight that night and we deserved the trophy which is now prominently displayed in the pantheon of EB United Awards, but not before Tim Wilder had his picture taken holding the award.
For more information about the Berkeley Late Night Basketball program, run by Doug Harris and John Flaherty, check out the Athletes United for Peace website.