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Not the NBA, but for one night, close enough

  • Written by Kelley Evans
  • Published in News

A crowd of 5,000 NBA-starved fans screamed often and with vigor during a Rudy Gay-engineered exhibition game at the Desoto Civic Center. With words such as lockout and negotiations draped over the NBA like a soiled blanket, a crowd of 5,000 NBA-starved fans screamed often and with vigor during a Rudy Gay-engineered exhibition game at the Desoto Civic Center on Tuesday night.

 Former Memphis Tiger and now Sacramento Kings star Tyreke Evans puts a nice crossover dribble on Jarrett Jack of the New Orleans Hornets. (Photos by Warren Roseborough)

 The only thing Kyle Lowry (left) can do is try to get out of the way of LeBron James and this slam.

The Memphis Grizzlies star forward pulled together an all-star cast – Kevin Durant and LeBron James among them – for a scene accented with slam dunks and three-point shots.

Exhibition games have been taking place for the past few months. The games are a trifecta, allowing players to hone their skills, providing fans with super-star basketball and raising money for community causes. Proceeds from Tuesday’s affair will benefit Flight 22, Gay’s agency that supports education initiatives for children in Memphis and his hometown of Baltimore.

Gay led all scorers with 42 points. His “white” team featured Durant, Josh Selby, Jarrett Jack and Marrese Speights battling a “blue” team powered by James, Kyle Lowry, Tyreke Evans, Ronnie Brewer and hometown stars Penny Hardaway, Lester Hudson and Terrico White.

For two hours, fans enjoyed a high-scoring game that ended with 158-151 victory for the blue team. Highlights included James throwing the ball against the backboard and finishing with a slam. He finished with 43 points. Speights of the Philadelphisa76ers was a continuous name on the loud speaker, along with White, who didn’t mind playing defense in a game where it wasn’t required.

Hudson and Selby provided a match-up that had fans on their feet as the back-and-forth banter between the two created a rivalry-type feel.

Lowry ran the point for the blue team most of the game. By halftime, the white team was leading 98-87. All of that changed by the end of the third quarter as the lead switched to 126-113, with the blue team on top.  

The crowd flowed into the Civic Center eager to see good basketball and that’s what they received. The players came in with crowd-pleasing plays and the excitement created anticipation for more NBA basketball.

But the players had more on their minds. The owners have offered the players a 50-50 split and even placed a 51 percent deal on the table that was in effect until Wednesday. But the players, who currently receive 57 percent, were not in favor of deal. Union officials said Tuesday that they would take a 50-50 deal with better negotiations.

“A lot of people are saying take the deal, but we want something that’s fair,” Durant said.  “We’re sticking to our guns right now. We’re going to keep playing. We want to show our fans that we love them and we love the game.”

Durant says he just wants to play ball.

“I’ll play ball anytime, anywhere. All you have to do is call me.”

Gay said he appreciated his peers coming out to support his initiative. A phone call was all it took for the guys to show up.

With a season-ending shoulder injury now behind him, Gay played with no signs of surgery, breaking out windmill dunks.

“I needed this,” said Gay. “I was just a little rusty, missed a few shots at first. It had nothing to do with the injury.”

Former University of Memphis star Evans, a crowd-favorite, was greeted by members of the U of M basketball team after the game.

“It felt great to be out there and to be back in Memphis,” Evans said. “I hope we can reach an agreement soon.”

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