LONG BEACH, Calif. -- The face of the typical fan at Sunday’s rematch between the Drew League and Goodman League was filled by Steven Davis.
Davis, 26, stood in line outside the Walter Pyramid on Long Beach State’s campus more than 2½ hours before tipoff, proudly wearing his old-school Shawn Kemp Seattle SuperSonics jersey. The fashion choice at once proved his passion for -- and allegiance to -- the game.
As if Seattle losing the Sonics wasn’t bad enough for him, the NBA lockout is threatening to cause Davis and fans like him to miss an entire basketball season.
So, Davis made the 50-minute drive from Sherman Oaks just to get a glimpse of NBA players playing basketball once more in Drew’s 151-144 payback win over Goodman.
You know, just in case fall turns to winter and winter turns to spring without the lockout being lifted. One last glimpse. Just in case.
The face of the players was represented by Kevin Durant. Less than 24 hours before some 5,600 fans filled the Pyramid to cheer him on, Durant was 3,500 miles away in Miami. He was playing in a similar game put on by LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in front of a similar crowd full of rabid hoop heads.
What possessed him, I had to ask, to play a cross-country set of back-to-back games that doesn’t count for anything?
“I’m still going to play the game I love,” said Durant, breaking out an exhausted grin as he emerged as one of the last players out of the locker room before the game. “You know? Whether it’s in the NBA or whether it’s out here in these games.”
It certainly wasn’t an NBA experience on Sunday -- the game started close to an hour late and was called with 23.7 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter, a hoard of people stormed the court after the game and took turns trying to grab the rim, an emcee talked trash over the P.A. speakers when Mike Beasley fouled out -- but there was still plenty for basketball fans to get excited about.
John Wall, Washington’s No. 1 pick a year ago, led all scorers with 55 points. He mixed in his familiar coast-to-coast drives to the basket with a refined jumper that the Wizards can’t wait to unleash on opponents whenever the NBA resumes.
Durant finished with 50, a total that was almost ho-hum because of the 66 and the 59 he put up at other offseason exhibitions, but it was his Oklahoma City teammate James Harden’s 48 points playing for the winning team that started to make you wonder. “Wait, so the Thunder has Durant AND Russell Westbrook AND Harden. ... And Harden comes off the bench?!”
Milwaukee’s Brandon Jennings squared off against Wall manning the point, reminding everyone with every tit-for-tat, can-you-top-this sequence that the conversation shouldn’t just be about Chris Paul versus Deron Williams or Derrick Rose versus Westbrook when you talk about the best young court generals in the game.
You saw Trevor Ariza turning the game around for Drew in the first half picking off several inbounds passes, flashing the gym back to the 2009 Western Conference finals when he snaked Denver twice.
There was a slimmed-down Matt Barnes, claiming he was 90 percent recovered from the knee surgery that derailed him last season. But Barnes’ feisty nature was 100 percent back to form as he was whistled for a technical foul to complement his 20-point effort.
Derrick Williams, Minnesota’s incoming No. 2 pick, flashed his toothy smile and marveled at the fact that he was going to get the chance to play with All-Stars yet again before he had even played in a preseason game.
Memphis’ Rudy Gay showed he’s healthy after missing the Grizzlies’ playoff run with a bum shoulder. JaVale McGee blocked shots that should have been unreachable. DeMar DeRozan played the smooth, two-way game that is the reason he hears Kobe Bryant comparisons from time to time.
But for as much fun as Sunday was, there was something missing. That something might as well have been Bryant personified.
The NBA is considered to be the best basketball league in the world, and Bryant its best player.
As much as the basketball-hungry fans were satisfied by Sunday’s event, it couldn’t touch the gold standard that Bryant and the NBA provides.
Even without Bryant there, he seemed to echo through the arena. Barnes wore a pair of Bryant’s signature adidas sneakers. DeRozan wore a pair of Bryant’s signature Nikes. The rookie Williams said he defers to guys like Bryant when asked questions about the lockout. Jennings was asked to explain the comment he made earlier in the summer when he claimed that Bryant wasn’t a true Angelino.
Even the gym they were playing in happened to be where Bryant played his first-ever game in a Lakers uniform back in the 1996-97 preseason.
“It’s been fun,” Durant said. “It’s been really fun, I can tell you that, but I’d rather play in an NBA game.”
The fans would rather see that too.
Durant and the Thunder are supposed to play Kobe and the Lakers on opening night, after all.
Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.