Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
NEW YORK –– One of the best basketball leagues in the country right now — if not the best — is nine blocks from my house on the lower East Side of Manhattan.
On any given night, the Nike Pro City League at Baruch College features several NBA players, plus a mix of other pro and college players going at it before capacity crowds of about 2,000 fans.
On Tuesday night, Kevin Durant of the Oklahoma City Thunder went mano-a-mano with John Lucas III of the Chicago Bulls (pictured courtesy New York Times). Lucas III, out of Oklahoma State, poured in a game-high 60 points to Durant’s 41, but Durant led The Franchise to a 146-143 overtime victory.
Roy Hibbert of the Indiana Pacers (13 points, 15 rebounds) and Sundiata Gaines of the Nets (18 points) also played for The Franchise.
Ron Artest, Al Harrington, Danny Green, Lance Stephenson, MarShon Brooks, Andre Barrett and Smush Parker have also competed at Baruch this summer. Jimmer Fredette may turn up Thursday night.
“New York City is kind of the Mecca for basketball and I just had to come up here and try to show these people my skills and hopefully make them into Thunder fans,” Durant said before the game.
With no NBA summer leagues in Las Vegas and Orlando because of the lockout, the pros are competing in other summer leagues and Pro Ams to get their run in while they weigh whether or not to play overseas.
Games are played Tuesday and Thursday nights, and the playoffs begin Aug. 9.
Even the officials are NBA refs. Zach Zarba, who has eight years in the NBA under his belt, worked the Durant-Lucas III game.
“I think it’s a very talented league,” Gaines said of the Baruch league. “A lot of pros come out here and play on a regular basis. This week it might be Kevin. We had Ron [Artest] play out there. It might be NBA guys coming in, as well as some good overseas guys as well.”
Durant previously told SNY.tv he was “50/50” on going to Europe if the lockout stretches into the season, and Hibbert and Gaines echoed similar sentiments.
“It’s a last-ditch effort if it comes down to that, but there’s nothing like playing in the States so I’d rather play here,” Hibbert said.
Gaines, who has one year left on his deal with the Nets, also said he’s waiting to see what happens.
“I’m not sure yet,” he said. “If it comes around that time and we’re still in a lockout, I’m always considering my options. I got my options open.”
Three of his Nets teammates have already signed to play overseas, Deron Williams and Sasha Vujacic in Turkey and Jordan Farmar in Israel.
The crowd was so packed into the gym Tuesday night that Kentucky guard Doron Lamb was refused entrance and former Kentucky star Jamal Mashburn had to watch through windows from upstairs.
The announcer behind the mic let loose with a non-stop barrage of comments, at one point telling the crowd, “This is the greatest summer league game of your life.”
While everyone came to see Durant, Lucas III, all 5 feet, 11 inches of him, was the star of the show with his 60 points.
“I scored 75 before, and that was a high school game,” Lucas III said. “In an atmosphere like this, it’s the most.”
Lucas III said he enjoyed going back and forth with Durant, who scored a 3-pointer from the left wing to force overtime.
“We boys and we were teammates and we always talk noise to each other, and I really think I can out-shoot him but he thinks he’s the best shooter,” Lucas III said. “So it was just all about us playing competition and something to keep the grudge going.”
So as long as the lockout continues, expect to see the pros playing at Baruch and leagues like around the country like it.
“You can’t ask for any better competition with a locked-out league like this than all these guys in one,” Lucas III said. “There were four or five NBA guys on the court, and then two NBA referees….So you can’t ask for anything better.”
**Durant ’50/50′ on going to Europe
Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.