There’s nothing like a four day celebration of basketball to remind us all of how amazing the game is. The World Basketball Festival had been around since 2008, but this year it felt so much more important.
One of the reasons we were all so upset about the 2011 lockout was that it came in the middle of what GQ called a new golden age of basketball. Now that people like LeBron James are household names, we forget what it was like only a decade ago, when basketball had lost a lot of its popularity. A year ago, I wrote a short, fluffy article on basketball movies, and I found myself actually feeling a little elegiac writing about that crazy, ridiculous film Space Jam.
That movie seemed like a missive from another universe, a dimension where basketball was important enough to merit a film where Michael Jordan, a pre-Wes Anderson Bill Murray, and pop culture titan Bugs Bunny could get together to shoot some hoops. But that was the nineties.
After that, basketball’s cultural cachet had started to drop off, taken over by that monolithic entity known as the NFL. And throughout the 2000s, about a gazillion football movies were produced for every one basketball movie. But the last few seasons have changed that. Even the lockout wasn’t enough to stop interest in the master-narratives of good guy Kevin Durant, redeemed anti-hero LeBron James, Linsanity, the fallen Knicks, the troubled Lakers. GQ was right about this being a new golden age.
That’s why the World Basketball Festival feels so important this year. Our game is back on top. And an event that should feel like a big corporate schill instead feels like a genuine celebration of basketball.
THE WORLD BASKETBALL FESTIVAL
The World Basketball Festival is a four-city tour from Nike, Converse, Jordan Brand and USA Basketball, a travelling circus going from Washington, D.C to Manchester, to London, to Paris and to Barcelona, created in 2010 as a way for Nike to even more elaborately build its brand. That or, according to Nike’s Media Relations Director KeJuan Wilkins, it’s “an opportunity to celebrate the game we love and expose U.S. fans to more international talent.”
You know what? Cynicism aside,though, the events in D.C actually kind of did just that. Team USA managed to overcome a difficult game against Brazil and take an 11 point win at the Verizon center.
Of course, the D.C event was not without some patriotic soul-searching. Team USA made a trip to Arlington National Cemetary for a wreath ceremony, about which Kevin Durant, no doubt looking pensively into the distance, said, “It was very touching to see so many people who sacrificed their lives for us to walk freely and do what we like to do. It’s hard to really comment on it because you can’t repay them in any way but it’s truly a blessing to walk through and see that because they’ve done so much for us.”
In honour of the US troops, the men’s team then put together an open practice for the military families who turned out for the event.
But the WBF wasn’t all patriotism and soul-searching. There’s some real basketball going on, especially with the Goodman League going head to head against Team Nike 1 at Barry Farms, with John Thompson, Kevin Durant, and James Harden showing up to add a celebrity presence to the audience.
The Goodman game was one of the major highlights of the weekend, with some incredible streetball from Adris DeLeon, Mike Rawls, Baby Shaq and others.
More starpower came from LeBron James, who, with Diana Taurasi, and Anthony Davis judged the Dunk Contest.
Monday, the final day on the D.C event were mostly workshops, giving visitors a chance to brush up on their basketball skills, but it ended with the USA Men’s Team vs. Brazil–that’s the way you end a basketball event.
Not only was the festival a testament to the staying power and the appeal of professional basketball, it was a chance for the USA team to flex their muscles and show how ready they are for London.
Russell Westbroom was on hand to say, “The key to success in London is finding a way to combine each and every one of our games; then we compete and defend… This group of guys can build upon the ’08 team. All of us have developed those important leadership skills; we know what it takes to win.”
Who else is confident? Carmelo Anthony. “If scoring is a problem on this team,” he said. “Then something is wrong.”
“First and foremost, it’s about trust,” Chris Paul said. “Learning to trust and hold the utmost confidence in your teammates.”
It’s also the fans who have trust and confidence in the team, if the turnout was any indication. The US team will go to London, bolstered by an audience who are flush with the memories of the greatest seasons in recent memory.