PORTLAND — Charity game. Proceeds to going to a variety of foundations. Philanthropy, altruism — all that good stuff.
So of course, the first question for all the players at the Rip City Basketball Classic on Sunday night was: What about this whole situation involving your money?
Yes, a variety of Trail Blazers met with reporters at the University of Portland for the first time since the end of the season six months ago. But the most vocal NBA star at the LaMarcus Aldridge-hosted event was Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant, who did not mince words when discussing the ongoing labor negotiations.
“Sickening, man, just sickening,” Durant said. “Us, as players, we sacrificed, we gave up money, we did what we had to do, now it’s up to the owners, and it looks like they’re not going to give in. At this point now, it’s starting to get bad, because we’ve done all we can do, I think. They’re trying to pressure us and back us in a corner. If they’re going to do that, it’s not fair. We’re going to stand firm.”
NBA commissioner David Stern issued what seemed like an ultimatum recently, telling the players that if they refuse to accept a deal offering them 51 percent of the basketball-related income by Wednesday, the owners will come back with nothing higher than 47 percent.
Philadelphia forward and University of Washington product Spencer Hawes appeared equally frustrated in the lockout’s progression, arguing that the players have made huge sacrifices money-wise and that the owners are still unwilling to make a reasonable compromise.
Later, when asked if he would be willing to sign a petition for union decertification, Hawes answered, “I would.”
Blazers such as Aldridge and Wesley Matthews were less committal in the direction of the blame, although newly signed point guard Raymond Felton asserted that he would be willing to give up the entire season if necessary. But the prevailing thought among players at UP — Blazers or not — was joy at the opportunity to play some basketball.
And for 48 minutes in front of a packed, rocking Chiles Center, they did just that. Well, they played offense, at least.
The final score was 164-157 in favor of the “home” team, which was composed of Aldridge, Matthews, Felton, Armon Johnson, Jamal Crawford, Hawes and former Husky Isaiah Thomas.
The visitors comprised Durant, James Harden, Blazers center Chris Johnson, former Blazers Jeff Pendergraph and Steve Blake, along with TJ Ford, James Harden and Terrence Williams.
Noticeably absent from the event was Brandon Roy, who committed to the game, but scratched due to a family matter.
The fans — hooting and hollering all game — didn’t seem to miss him.
Until the closing minutes of the fourth quarter, it’s possible that the shot clock never ticked down to single digits. Both teams hoisted at least 110 field goal attempts, but the stat sheet isn’t designed to accommodate triple digits, so the exact number of shots is unknown. Durant led all scorers with 47 points. Aldridge added 42, but the highlight of the game came on the home team’s second-to-last possession, when Crawford followed Aldridge’s missed shot, grabbed it mid-air with one hand, and jammed it to put the team up five.
But fans didn’t appear too interested in the competition itself.
Other noteworthy moments included: Nate Robinson doing “The Dougie” alongside a child between the third and fourth quarter, a fan yelling to Steve Blake “it’s nice to see you out of a Lakers jersey!”, Durant (in good fun) yelling to a fan “no, that was a foul!”, and, of course, all the dunks, alley-oops and tip-jams you could see in one night.
We also learned that Chris Johnson has added 15 pounds of muscle this offseason, and won a championship in the Dominican Republic over the summer — but not before fans of the opposing team smashed all the windows of his team’s bus after the semifinals.
Matthews, who answered the majority of lockout questions with “I just want to play basketball,” said he has been working on his isolation game and feels more confident creating his own shot. He added that he and fellow Blazers will likely be working out together more often as the lockout progresses, and that the fans are in a worse position than both the owners and the players.
Sunday night’s event raised more than $100,000 for charities such as Breast Cancer Awareness, Providence/St. Vincent’s Cardio Vascular Institute, and New Avenues for Youth. The crowd gave hearty applause to that news.
But the biggest cheer came at the end, when Aldridge addressed the fans and said “hopefully I’ll be playing soon.”