Game of the decade.
There is nothing quite like New York City basketball, especially when it comes to summer league. The concrete jungle seems to radiate both heat and hot tempers. Players come back from prep schools, college and even professional leagues overseas to do battle on their home turf. Sometimes for money, always for bragging rights and often to further cement their local legend status. But what really goes down on the big nights at the legendary courts? What’s the atmosphere like and what makes the kind of basketball played in New York synonymous with streetball?
I grew up in Canada, between the suburbs of Ottawa and the racially diverse neighbourhoods [Ed. note: she really is Canadian, eh?] of Toronto. I’ve been obsessed with New York City and its famous courts because it’s like nothing I’ve ever experienced. I did not grow up spending nights watching guys throw elbows and drive to the hole while kids hang off chain link fences hoping to catch a glimpse. I grew up with hockey, snow and shooting hoops by myself on our driveway, braiding my hair in hopes that I could be the female Allen Iverson. Part of living in New York City is appreciating the local culture and history and basketball is its heartbeat.
Dyckman Park is one of these famous New York City streetball courts. It’s way uptown in Washington Heights, past Harlem and under the shadow of the 1 train. People from all five boroughs flock to Dyckman every Wednesday night. The earlier games of the evening showcase the best in high school but the professional league is the crown jewel of the night. What made this game on Wednesday, July 20, 2011, so special was that it was the match up between the two undefeated teams this summer season: Team NIKE and Team Ooh Way. It was heralded as the game not only of the season but of the decade. It would bring New York City basketball back to prominence and showcase the best of the best. Tickets were given out days in advance and it seemed like there was no way the game could live up to the crazy hype.
Team NIKE is stacked with some of the best players and streetball legends to have ever hit asphalt. Even New York local Jadakiss raps on their theme song “You’ve never seen a team like Team Nike”. Their team is so good that Nike put up a bet this season that any team that played them and won would get a five thousand dollar check. Team Ooh Way arguably has an equally stacked roster, which sometimes benefits with the addition of Los Angeles Laker and New York native Ron Artest. While RonRon wasn’t in town for the big game, local streetball legend, international superstar, and recently signed Above The Rim endorser Corey “Homicide” Williams suited up for Ooh Way. Hailing from the Bronx, Ooh Way Records sponsors the team and took it very personally when Team Nike’s coach Maxwell “Bingo” Coles called them the leftovers that Nike didn’t want or need. It was time for Ooh Way’s revenge.
The game was supposed to start at 8pm but the team didn’t arrive until after the scheduled start time. It was chaos up on 204th Street and Nagle Avenue. I rolled with Team Ooh Way, Above the Rim, and Homicide to get the behind the scenes feel. The team used the sidewalk across from Dyckman Park as both their changeroom and pre-game meeting area. Players were leaning on each other in attempts to change into their team issue adidas sneakers while Homicide laced up in his Above the Rim kicks. Family, friends, well wishers and Team Ooh Way hangers-on handed out giant grey Team Ooh Way t-shirts in the blazing heat.
Trying to get into the park was another ordeal. They were no longer accepting tickets at the front gate, so we entered with the players. However, at one point they closed the park with actual players getting locked out, screaming at security. After some pushing and bartering, all the players and the Above the Rim crew including myself got in. The bleachers were packed with kids hanging on the railing, trying to catch a glimpse of the players. The court was barricaded off but that didn’t stop fans from hopping over trying to get as close to the action as possible. It was so crowded that even the players couldn’t sit on their own bench. It was hot, loud and sweaty but never hostile. Families were cheering on brothers and cousins, girls dressed in their club night best hoping to get close to a baller to call their own, teenagers handed out their mixtapes to the masses and fans prepared to take in the latest chapter in the history of NYC streetball.
The game finally started at around 9:30pm, after hundreds of pleas by announcer Joe Pope to clear the court as it was crowded with fans. Team Nike jumped out to the early lead but Ooh Way answered. The crowd was decidedly Ooh Way supporters, despite Washington Heights local Adris “Too Hard to Guard” DeLeon suiting up for Team Nike. I managed to push my way to the front and hop the barricade to get as close to the action as possible. This was the first time I’d seen a streetball game this competitive live and it was very different from being courtside at an NBA game. It’s rougher, tougher and brasher. There’s constant jawing and cursing, elbows flying, and it’s less about setting plays and more about driving to the hoop. Players in New York are not known for their jumpshots, but rather for their pentration skills and dunks, and there were plenty on display. Streetball is as beautiful as it is raw and you could almost feel the pressure on the players with every slash and cut. It was tight all game, with the crowd ready to storm the court at any moment.
In what was dubbed the “Game of the Decade,” the game came down to the last seconds of the final half of play. Team Ooh Way pulled away and ultimately beat Team Nike, thanks to the play of three players all from the NCAA’s Big East. Dwight “Top Shelf” Hardy, Justin “Megatron” Burrell and Corey “The Priceless One” Fisher combined for an impressive 42 of Ooh Way’s total 66 points against Nike. The crowd stormed the court, the Ooh Way theme song came on. It was all about the victory, the status and the legendary win.
After the game I caught up with Homicide, who was wearing a special t-shirt that Above The Rim made for him sporting the well-timed phrase, “JUST DID IT”. Cut that check, Nike!
Megan Wilson, CounterKicks Creative Editor: Why come back to Dyckman after playing overseas?
Corey “Homicide” Williams, Team Ooh Way/Above The Rim athlete: It’s in my veins, this is where I began playing streetball. So to come back out here for a historical event like this why don’t you do that? You’d be crazy not to. We do this outside for real. It’s been out here since 2000, this is where it all started for me. Honestly this is top five in my career, a game like this because so much was on the line and to come out on top and win this game man, this game is going down in history. To be apart of something like this is unbelievable.
MW: Why is this game going down in history. Is it because people are saying that New York City basketball isn’t what it once was?
Homicide: It’s the hype. All the great players that were involved, the hype of this event. I mean as far as streetball is concerned in the last decade, there hasn’t been a game this big with this much at stake, there’s five grand on the line and to a lot of people that’s not a lot of money. However for bragging rights and for a brand to say well our team is so good whoever beats us we’ll give them five g’s. That says a lot in street basketball and that hasn’t been done, I think ever. One game! I’ve played in a lot of money tournaments and you have to win several games to get into the final round to possibly win money. So for one game with so much at stake, it’s pandemonium out here. It’s a beautiful thing to be apart of it. Cut the check Nike!
MW: What put Ooh Way over the top to beat Team Nike today?
Homicide: It was a great team effort. We have ten players on our team and everybody’s good. You know you had to check your ego at the door and just play together, you know what I mean? Everybody’s gonna play so not everyone is gonna play much so you do what you can with the minutes you get and hopefully get the win and that’s what we did.
MW: How would you explain New York City basketball to someone who has never been to a game or played here? Why is it so hard to play in New York and be successful?
Homicide: Once this trailer comes out, just watch Ooh Way versus Nike, that’s what street basketball is about. Yeah we talk trash, we’re aggressive out here, we curse a lot. [...] It’s outside, it’s the atmosphere, there’s a lot of players that can’t do well but indoors they play really well so it’s just the whole atmosphere. It’s street basketball – it’s its essence and its aura this game that we play. It’s outdoor with everyone screaming in your face. You have to be able to put that to the side and play your game. It’s a very intimidating environment. So if you come in and do your thing it’s a plus. Believe me, you can play anywhere if you can play out here.
MW: Is there anywhere else that you’ve played that is at all similar?
Homicide: Honestly nothing else matters but Dyckman. Nothing else this summer matters. And I mean that, it’s crazy. Nothing else matters.
MW: How does this atmosphere compare to where you’ve played overseas?
Homicide: I mean…this atmosphere you’ll get this nowhere else. Maybe Greece. There’s some teams where they play out there, in the Greek league they’re very passionate, they’re like New Yorkers. They’ll throw coins at you. I got hit with a lighter in my face one time, in Croatia actually. They’re passionate. Some games with the rivarlies, they’ll have body armored police walking you in the venue and walking out. But other than that, I’ve never seen nothing else like this – nothing.
MW: You’ve previously worked with K1X and Jordan Brand and now you’re signed with Above the Rim. What made you sign with ATR?
Homicide: I think to start with a company ground up and build something special and be apart of its foundation and that was a reason that pushed me to go there. The whole campaign was great. We went to Chicago to shoot the ad campaign in two days, myself, Will Bynum and Martell Webster – it was amazing. It was a great experience. I’m actually going to Seattle this weekend to play in the charity celebrity game with a lot of the guys in the NBA who live in Seattle. You’ve got Jason Terry, Brandon Roy, Aaron Brooks, Nate Robinson, Martell Webster, ATR family. There’s a lot of stuff going on, I’m just happy to be apart of it.
MW: What’s your favorite kind of shoe to play in? What do you need to help your game?
Homicide: I like mid-cut, light shoes and these [Above the Rim shoes] fit perfectly. It’s a guard shoe, mid-low cut and it’s light as hell. I feel really comfortable in it and I’m not just saying that because I’m signed with them. But I really like the shoe. And if I don’t like the shoe I won’t sign with them so they work really well.
MW: What sneakers did you wear growing up playing here in New York?
Homicide: I mean everybody grew up playing in Nike, Jordans, shit like that. Everybody wore Jordans. I also wore Air Force 1s, I played in them, everybody wore them so that worked out well too.
MW: How do you describe your style of play to anyone who’s never had a chance to watch you live?
Homicide: I am what you call an aggressive penetrator. That’s what I do, I get to the basket and I push the issue and I play aggressive. I go the basket a lot and create. That’s my style of play, that’s what I do. I’m known for getting to the basket. I may shoot a jump shot once in awhile…
Look below for more photos and videos from the on court experience at Dyckman Park as well as the Team Ooh Way celebrations after defeating Team Nike.
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