"Ooh-Way Or No Way"
The night was finally here, Wednesday the 20th of July. I had extended my New York trip an extra few days just to catch this game (not complaining about that mind you), the thought of an early flight out to Australia first thing next morning had been pushed back to furthest part of my brain. The only thing I was focused on was the big game, the 'evil empire' of Team Nike up against Team Ooh-Way featuring former NBL MVP, Corey 'Homicide' Williams.
Coming from a place as far removed from the NYC blacktops as Australia, the magnitude of games like this is often lost. It wasn't until I arrived in 'Nueva York' that it really began to sink in, the whole of New York's basketball community was invested in this game one way or another. Homicide assured me from early on this was a game I needed to be here for, "Yo B, if ever there was a year you needed to be at a streetball game in New York, you picked the right year to be here." That was it. I was sold. A quick call to the travel agent – plus a $150 hit on the credit card – and my dates were changed.
"Fresh out the frying pan and into the fire."
Team Nike had become the 'Miami Heat' of the summer league, assembling what they believed to be the best streetballers in NYC while the players Nike rejected supposedly ended at Team Ooh-Way. The team from the BX – Ooh-Way is a Bronx based record label featuring rapper Oun-P – took the jibes from Nike personally, "They have a great team. All the way from 1-12, they have a great team. But so do we," Homicide stated the week prior to the game. Ooh-Way were determined to remain the only undefeated team come the morning of the 21st. The build up to this game had reached mythical proportions.
"The streetball game of the decade."
My only instructions from Homicide were to be at his place at 6:00 pm so we could roll up to the Park. I arrived, slightly late, but we were ready to roll. A phone call from an aquaintance already there assured us they had reached capacity at 5:30 pm, madness was the only way to describe it he said. We pack into two different SUV's, Corey and the Above The Rim camera crew that had been trailing his every move all morning in one, while the rest of us fit into a white Yukon Denali.
It should only be a 30 minute drive from where we are so a stop uptown on Broadway to meet with the rest of Team Ooh-Way seems like it will cause an unnecessary delay. "Aren't we going to be late?", I ask Corey. "Na, these games never start on time anyway." To show our solidarity, grey t-shirts emblazoned with the Ooh-Way logo on one side and the phrase "Ooh-Way or No Way" on the back are handed out. I'm told we will enter the Park wearing them but we shouldn't put them on just yet.
It's time to head to Dyckman.
Dyckman Park is at the most northern part of Manhattan, just one subway stop remains after the 207th St stop before crossing the island into the Bronx. Nicknamed 'Little Dominican Republic', it is not uncommon to hear mainly Spanish being spoken on the streets.
The scene once we arrive is surreal. Swarms of people lining up to get in, cars driving past honking their horns, the faint trace of marijuana smoke, Rick Ross is blaring out the speakers from the court as the voice of Joe Pope the announcer can be heard getting the crowd warmed up. It is already evident that they can't fit too many more people in this park. They just can't. Two kids who have managed to climb onto a roof overlooking the court are promptly told to get down by two of NYPD's finest. In the distance I can see another two kids clamoring for a view from a tree branch. Surely that can't be safe?
We await the arrival of Homicide and once we get word that he has arrived we head towards the back of the park. I'm introduced to up-and-coming Bronx rapper Fred the Godson for a brief minute as we walk past the throng of people, most of whom are sporting fresh kicks, to the back where Team Ooh-Way are congregating. There must be close to 35 people out the back, it's as though each player on the team has his own individual entourage. We're with Corey of course and it is now time to put our tee's on. Oun-P, standing every bit as tall as the 6'5 he mentions in his raps, makes his way over to me as I change into my official team shirt and introduces himself, "S'up man? I'm Oun-P." A quick pound and a dap and it's time for us to enter the fray.
Trying to enter is mayhem. People that have been lining up are being refused entry, even with tickets, yet they don't want to give their position up at the front of the line. We have to force our way in (literally) as Homicide lets security know who is part of the team. We make it through but security finally shuts the gate once our crew is in. Next obstacle we face is actually getting onto the court. The crowd is 10 deep and again no-one is budging to let us through. "Ya'll ain't gonna get in anyway so you might as well let us through!", somebody yells from behind. Security spots Corey and orders the crowd to let him past, we then have to jump over the barriers seperating us from the court.
"Team Nike get ready 'cos we comin for that cheque"
Players knew what was at stake but so confident were Nike of their team going through the competition undefeated that a $5,000 cheque was promised to anyone able to beat them. Only problem now is clearing the court so the game can commence. There are people everywhere. The area where the team benches are supposed to be are invisible though a sea of fans, a request from security to "take two steps back" is physically impossible to do. Threats of calling the game off if the court is not cleared go unheard. I'd say there would be a riot if that happened, it may be safer to let the game begin. Somebody must have read my mind becase that's exactly what occurs. Play begins but there is no corner three-point line on the team sides, it is covered by at least 15-20 people at either end. I hope no-one gets injured.
Both teams are playing hard. Nike's trademark free-flowing game is being stymied by the Ooh-Way defense. After a quick 10-2 start for Team Nike, Ooh-Way claw their way back and let the men in black know there will be no 40 point blowout tonight (in Nike's previous game against Rodney Park the game was stopped with 4 minutes left on the clock and Nike up big). All the games I have witnessed at Dyckman Park were not really constructed around X's and O's, more so isolation plays and individual athleticism. Not tonight, you know these guys are serious. Lots of pick and roll's, hard fouls and aggressive D. Nobody wants to lose.
The physicality of the game surprises me. You definitely won't see that kind of brute force in the NBL. The sound of hands slapping on wrists as a shot is attempted can be heard even above the noise of the crowd. Neither team really breaks clear during a dour struggle. As the game wears on you sense the first team to come up with consistent stops at the defensive end will end the victor. "Two stops, that's what we need," Cesar from Above The Rim tells me. He's right too because Nike make some crucial turnovers as Ooh-Way up the pressure. As the clock ticks down to 0:00 and Nike down 61-66 Joe Pope announces that an "upset has just been recorded", Ooh-Way supporters flood the court as the victory celebrations begin. I stand mid-court but am approached by a couple of the Nike players who notice my team t-shirt and offer congratulations on the victory.
Despite an (uncharacteristically) quiet game, Homicide is still the man when it comes to interviews afterwards. Wearing an exclusive Above The Rim tee (it was 1 of only 2 made but I'm still trying to get one, holla at me ATR!) boldly stating the obvious, "Just Did It", Corey offers soundbites to anyone that'll listen.
"All of my Dominicanos right there up on Broadway"
"Do you know where you are now? You're at a block party B", Homicide says to me. We're back on Broadway celebrating. Drinks are being passed around and hugs exchanged by coach Tony Rosa and the players. You can't really call it David knocking off Goliath because Ooh-Way never felt like they were the underdog, in fact they felt like they should have been the favorites to begin with. They played with a chip on their shoulder and won the battle. By now all of New York had heard of their truimph, they would celebrate tonight, revelling in victory but mindful of the fact that another date with Nike is likely in the tournament championship in August.
Until such time though, Dyckman belongs to Ooh-Way.
Mayhem getting on-court. Image courtesy of Megan Ann Wilson
Standing room only at Dyckman
Where's the three-point line?
Just Do It? Na, Homicide Just Did It.