With attendance hurt by today's mandatory player's union meeting (Chris Paul, Carmelo Anthony), illness (Zach Randolph), and reasons unknown (O.J. Mayo, Tony Allen), Rudy Gay's charity exhibition game at the Desoto Civic Center Tuesday night wasn't quite as star-studded as planned. But it was still surreal to see one of the game's two biggest stars, Lebron James, hooping it up in a half-full gym in Mississippi with the likes of Memphis natives and borderline NBA ballers Lester Hudson and Terrico White.
James led his Blue team to a 158-151 win over Gay's White team, scoring 43 points — no box score for this one — on a series of power dunks and three-pointers. Like most games of this kind, it was essentially a collection of fun highlight plays breaking up minute-long stretches of torpor — lots of long threes, little defense, almost no fouls. James' thunder dunk in traffic off his own backboard pass was the second most memorable play of the night. The best came from White, whose legs seem to be springs, when he caught an alley-oop pass in the middle of a mid-air 360 spin and hammered it home. Easily one of the best dunks I've ever seen in any game at any level. White might be the odds-on favorite for next year's D League dunk title.
In addition to James and White, the blue team included Hudson, former Griz point guard Kyle Lowry, former University of Memphis Tiger Tyreke Evans, and long-retired local legend Penny Hardaway, who wasn't moving well compared to his younger teammates but who knocked down several mid-range jumpers to the crowd's delight.
For the White team, Gay lead the way with a game-high 45 points menu of dunks and threes that were similar to if less aesthetically impressive than those of James. Gay wore a sleeve on his injured left shoulder but seemed fully healthy, throwing down several two-handed dunks. It was Gay's conditioning that seemed a little behind most of his counterparts. The White team's biggest star was Durant, who had an entertaining stretch of back-and-fourth long threes with James in the first half but was otherwise quieter than expected.
The most interesting player on the White team was probably Josh Selby, the Grizzlies second-round pick in this summer's rookie draft, who has been impressing people in summer/exhibition action from coast to coast. It was my first look at Selby in live action and I was impressed. He's extremely quick off the dribble, explosive in the lane, and can finish above the rim. He's not as electric as the Derrick Rose/Russell Westbrook/John Wall tier of extraterrestrial point guards, but in terms of pure athleticism he seems to be the next level down. Selby also showed an inconsistent but promising three-point stroke and carried himself like he belonged on the floor with the game's best. For the moment, Selby's game seems built for these kind of up-and-down, streetball-type games, but he clearly has the raw talent to be a factor in the NBA.
Rounding out the White team were Ronnie Brewer, Jarrett Jack, and Marreese Speights, the game's only true big man.
With a player's union meeting today and the owners' self-imposed deadline looming tomorrow, the lockout was hovering over everything, but if anyone said anything legitimately newsworthy on that subject, I missed it. Mostly it was expected platitudes about hoping things get worked out soon but not letting the players be bullied with ultimatums.
In all, it was a fun game — in spurts anyway — but also a reminder of how much better real, organized, meaningful NBA basketball is. Hopefully we'll see these players in a better context soon.