reports on summers in Virginia
The school bells
are eerily silent at John Marshall High School. The classrooms gather dust,
devoid of noise and banter, no books nor pencils on display at this time
of the year .
School's out for
summer but in the gym however, Thursday nights deliver a rapturous chorus
of applause, not for the students for those who have from this corner of
Virginia to strut their skills and drive to the hoop away from the humid
The MC booms through
a microphone which has surely seen better days, his exuberance failing
to transcend the muffled commentary.
At each break, the
kids rush the polished parquet, anxious for their shot at the aged baskets.
The game re-starts once this ritual is completed. Game takes precedence
over The Game.
Only then do the
lines form at the food stall, where the hosts are the only ones there who
seem disinterested in the screeching of shoe and the slamming of leather
through the rings.
The NBA this ain't
but for the balling fans of Richmond, a city devoid of the League, this
is the highlight reel. The best the capital of the Old south has produced
come back here each off-season, reunited by the hardwood and by the chance
to supplement their incomes from the other nine months of the year.
Six teams, all convened
at short notice, doing battle. Newman Group has the grandest kit. A perk
offered by the league's founder and point man, the NBA stalwart Johnny
Newman who organises a number of events to fill up his empty months.
So too the Wallace
Express, led by the Detroit Pistons rebounder emeritus Ben Wallace.
Yet the side whose
name adorns the first place on the wall of the gym contains a name
more akin to the BBL. "We've been rolling this summer" proclaims Ted Berry,
my guide for the evening's entertainment and local boy made good.
His shorts as lengthy
now as on a chilled January evening in Edinburgh, the Rocks star is greeted
at every turn, his exploits in this locale prior to his overseas adventure,
it seems, scarcely forgotten. Respect earned and enduring.
"This gives me a
chance to get some competition," recounts the BBL All-Star between games.
"It's not enough to make me peak at this time of year. I still have
to work out every day in the gym and work on my skills. My handling needs
some work right now. But it's good money and the balling gives you props
His is not the only
face I recognise. His afro now pared back into rows, Chandar Bingham, once
of Thames Valley, is pushing his side in a close match. In fact, with up
and down scoring, overtime seems to be par for the course here.
Amid the opposing
ranks is Kendrick Warren, a dynamo at London Towers last term but struggling
with his shot here. Missing a chance to win the game on the buzzer, his
errors in the extra period condemn his team to defeat, his form less than
We speak briefly
before he races off to an engagement elsewhere. Towers, he claims, have
made him an offer, but he will wait to see what else is out there before
signing on. Likewise Bingham, not scarred by his experience in Bracknell,
would like to find a job elsewhere too.
So would they all
perhaps. With a notepad in hand, and as a rare white face in the bleachers,
I must look like a scout. Berry interprets but requests for phone numbers
of those teams who might offer a passage to Europe prove a popular request.
Hoops dreams start
here. Not in the playground, Berry underlines. "That stuff, you want
to keep away from. It's too dangerous. They play for money. And the balling
is different. More freestyle."
Not that Richmond
seems to care. Ball is all they came to see and with night falling, they
pour back home.
The sign above the
door re-affirms the gospel. 'Where character forms and stars are born'.
Character is a necessity
to thrive here. There might be no names in lights but each one who ends
up making their mark can make themselves a local idol.