Photo courtesy of Dave’s Joint.
By David Cordova
The summer of 2022 was like a rebirth of some sorts for many after the COVID wave of 2020. It’s the first summer in which people could fully be outside again with as little restrictions as possible. In New York City, it also marked the return of one summer staple in the basketball community: Nike Pro City.
Since 1995, Nike has put together a great pro-am tournament showcasing the best of the best college players and the best pros, whether they’re overseas or even in the NBA. Because of the effects of the COVID, the last time Pro City took place was in the summer of 2019 at the Levien Gymnasium on the campus of Columbia University on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.
Three years later, it was back, but this time, at a new location: Hostos Community College in the South Bronx. Unlike its predecessor, the gym only has one side of the bleachers, but when it’s packed, there’s a great vibe in the building. And it’s also a convenient location, with multiple modes of transportation, with the 2, 4, 5 subway trains at the 149th Street-Grand Concourse station that is right outside of the school. There’s also the BX 1, BX 2 & BX 19 buses. And lastly, if you’re traveling from Westchester County and other areas, you can get off at the 153rd Street-Yankees stop at the Metro North station just a few blocks away.
One of the things that separates the tournament from the others in New York City is that its an indoor tournament. Actually, it’s the only indoor tournament the city has. On summer nights, when tournaments are rained out, Pro City is still taking place on Mondays and Wednesdays.
However, there was one day this past summer in which the tri-state area was very, very interested to know what was going on in the home of the Caimans.
It was August 8th, 2022, a typical Monday. On Twitter, there was an announcement that changed the game. The blog site, Knicks Fan TV, an outlet dedicated to fans of the NBA’s New York Knicks, announced that there would be multiple players coming out to ball out at Pro City. The players in question were none other than forwards Obi Toppin and Julius Randle, and the newest acquisition in guard Jalen Brunson, the recipient of a four-year, $104 million contract this past summer.
When word of that announcement took place, the social media world was in a frenzy. By 5:30 PM that afternoon, many had descended onto the gates of Hostos Community College, awaiting entry for that day’s games. It was pandemonium, as many spectators were interested in seeing if the three pros.
During the summer, those that can’t make it to venues such as Madison Square Garden and the Barclays Center, respectively, for NBA games due to highly-ridiculous ticket prices, hope and pray that many of their favorite players will show up to their favorite asphalt tournaments. Back in the days, that was very common.
In years past, at tournaments like the Rucker Pro League, the Entertainers Basketball Classic, the West Fourth Street Pro-Am, the Dyckman Basketball Tournament and the Hoops in the Sun, there as a chance that NBA pros would either come out to play on the asphalt or just make an appearance.
For example, back in August 2011, in the midst of the release of the Nike Zoom KD IV sneaker, Brooklyn Nets forward Kevin Durant, then with the Oklahoma City Thunder, came out to New York City to play in three tournaments, one of which was Pro City, in which he scored 41 points. Prior to that, he scored 66 points at the Entertainer’s Basketball Classic at Rucker Park, a performance that will forever be remembered by many in New York City. Also, during that week, he played in the Dyckman Basketball Tournament with Team Nike, as they played in their final regular-season game against Team 914, and his old childhood friend, and teammate, Mike Beasley.
Those days of the NBA pros, with the exception of some, are now long gone, as more players have now opted to play indoors at informal runs such as the Black Ops Open Runs with renowned trainer, Chris Brickley, or various indoor tournaments like the Drew League in Los Angeles, the AEBL in Atlanta, the Miami Pro League in Miami and the Desert Reign Pro-Am in Las Vegas. The reason for playing indoors, is to reduce the risk of injuries, which could leave them out of action for a significant amount of time.
In the case of Pro City, there has been a good number of NBA pros that came out to compete this summer, including Ty Jerome (Golden State Warriors), Cole Anthony (Orlando Magic), Julian Champagnie (Philadelphia 76ers), Kyle Anderson (Memphis Grizzlies), Jose Alvarado (New Orleans Pelicans) and two NBA G-Leaguers in Jalen Lecque (Rio Grande Valley Vipers), Trevon Duval (Grand Rapids Gold) and Bryce Wills (Grand Rapids Gold) all came out to hoop on the Grand Concourse.
However, on August 8th, to many regular spectators, it was just a playoff game at Pro City. On that date, there was to be two quarterfinal games to be played. The first was between The Hill S.G. and L.E.S., and the main event was to be between Hoopsville and A.L.F.
To fully understand the matchup, you have to fully understand the dynamics of everything. The main event had win-or-go home implications. But both teams were two of the strongest in the eight-team tournament.
A.L.F, short for Ave Life Family, was a regular staple on the New York City streetball scene for many years. Based out of The Bronx, they were coached by Jabbar “Tuck” Tucker, a veteran coach who has a knack for winning many major games. Back in 2019, he was a part of the coaching staff for Dyckman that won the NY vs. NY championship, on the high school scene. Last summer, his Ave Life squad won the unlimited/pro-am tournament championship.
This summer, he had plenty of success at Pro City with players on his squad, many of whom played Division I basketball such as Khadeen Carrington (Seton Hall), Kevin Marfo (Quinnipiac), Chris Hooper (St. Francis Brooklyn), Jordan Aaron (UW-Milwaukee), Desure Buie (Hofstra), Moussa Kone (Hofstra) and Jordan Washington (Iona). Also on display were two current college players in Gardner-Webb sophomore guard Julien Souamoro & Kansas redshirt freshman Kyle Cuffe, Jr.
On the flipside, you had Hoopsville, which was coached by Elijah Hyatt, also a veteran of the streetball scene. The North Jersey-based squad, always known for being gritty and always rising to the occasion. On their squad, they had two gems of their own in Dupree McBrayer (Minnesota) and A.J. English (Iona), who had already made a statement by dropping 71 points in a game earlier this summer at Pro City.
The stage had been set. By 6:30 PM, while the first game was going on, the gym was packed, on its way to being filled to capacity. The tweets from earlier on in the day had folks flocking to the Grand Concourse to see what could be going on later that night. Even media outlets with their cameras, hoping to get a glimpse of the pros were in attendance.
Two hours later – Brunson, Randle and Toppin – all walked into the gym, eliciting roars from the general public. With DJ Authorize playing music on the turntables and emcee Joe Pope on the mic, it was sure to be a good game.
From the start of the game, it was a battle between both sides.
For Hoopsville, Toppin threw down some fantastic, rim-rattling dunks that made the crowd go crazy. Randle made some great plays, as well, even going past one of the Ave Life players with his dribble and then getting to the basket for a dunk. Brunson even held his own with the opposition, making jumpers and even going to the basket and getting buckets.
For Ave Life, their players were just as gritty and would not back down from any of the challenges presented to them by their counterparts. As the game went on, both Washington and Aaron were on a tear, scoring at will. At the half, Hoopsville would lead by one, 53-52.
The game had an NBA atmosphere with DJ Authorize playing many sound effects that you would hear at a Knicks game or a Nets game, even playing the sound effect from the movie, “The Purge,” when Randle touched the ball. It was because of that Pope ironically gave the Knicks forward just that nickname, “The Purge.”
As the game went on in the second half, the game only intensified. With every made basket, rebound or possession, it was basically a matter of what would happen next. But during the fourth quarter, Ave Life had a strong grip on the game, due to the tandem of Washington and Aaron, both of whom were mercilessly tearing Hoopsville apart with their scoring. Even with the pros, Hoopsville could not contain the underdogs.
In the end, it would be Ave Life that left Hostos victorious, 110-97. For them, it would mean that they would advance to the semifinals. For Hoopsville, it would mean that their season, at Pro City at least, had come to an end.
However, this would not be the end of the story for both teams.
Due to the mass coverage of the game and the social media posts of the game going viral, the event would gain coverage in articles written in the New York Post, Empire Media, Sports Illustrated & AM New York, and also gaining traction on television on channels such as SNY and even the world-wide leader in sports, ESPN.
On the show, “Jalen & Jacoby,” the hosts, former NBA player Jalen Rose, and David Jacoby, talked about the fact that the three Knicks players had been beaten. Rose went on to say, “Y’all shouldn’t be getting waxed by 13.”
What many don’t know was that of the 110 points scored by Ave Life, Washington (40 points) and Aaron (39 points) had scored 79 of them. Another thing is that both of them had experience playing overseas basketball in different countries. But the fact that they did their thing against active NBA pros was phenomenal. The following week, they would leave Ave Life to a Nike Pro City championship, finishing the goal that was established from day one.
What took place at “The Swamp,” on that hot Monday evening was something that will be talked about and will stand the test of time. What happened on August 8th, 2022 is not just about the three New York Knicks players losing to a team that nobody but those who follow the summer basketball culture in New York City know about, but it’s also about a classic game that took place. One that had the city buzzing for one night only.
Many of the young youths that were in the building all got to witness their favorite Knicks for free as opposed to seeing them for the price of $100-300 at The Garden. It’s something that they will definitely remember for eternity. And for those who were not present inside Hostos Community College that night, there’s always a couple of YouTube videos there to watch so that they can see the atmosphere.
But what must be realized, is that this moment could never be duplicated again. It was just for that one night.