New hoops glistened under the midday sun.
“I can remember playing here as a kid and dreaming of goals like this,” spectator Mikey Spence said during halftime. “We used to have one-piece metal posts with wooden backboards, but Kenny [Slade, one of the event coordinators], came and installed this in the past year or two. It’s a positive thing, man.”
The first annual Five-Star All-Star Basketball Tournament, a community cookout and celebration of south Greensboro service work, couldn’t have asked for better conditions for an inauguration day — aside from maybe a drop in temperature.
“Weather said it’s supposed to be cool out here today, an’ it ain’t cool,” a large man in a straw trilby shouted from the shade of his umbrella.
Cicadas clicked and whirred a dizzying, droning chorus from their hiding spots among the longleaf pines, blending with the trap rhythms of A$AP Ferg’s “Shabba” and the thumping and thudding of basketballs. Blue and black vinyl matting, featuring the ESPN logo at midcourt, covered the typical asphalt at Hampton Park’s streetball court in Greensboro, and adjustable steel goals stood at either end of the court.
Cars lined both sides of Four Seasons Boulevard and the gravel drive running past the court, and the smoky smell of charred hot dogs wafted along on the summer air, emanating from tents set up underneath the nearby shade of pines. In a sunny stretch of grass before the court, kids played in and around a bouncy castle and passed a football around, pulling their best Cam Newton or Kelvin Benjamin impersonations. Other kids dawdled about on the court out of the way of their role models.
“How old are you?” one potbellied toddler asked another during a break between games.
“Four!” the other shot back, competently dribbling a ball nearly half his size, Cheetos dust staining his white tank top.
Neighborhood adults also helped out in other ways aside from participating as cooks, players and coaches.
Four referees officiated the game; during timeouts, they took potshots at the goal, whistles hanging from their necks.
One particular ref stood out, exemplifying the casual organization of the event’s character. He strolled across the court prior to tipoff in his black-and-white striped shirt, decked out in brown aviators and puffing a Newport before his duties commenced.
Hampton Park’s two streetball teams, sporting either yellow or white jerseys, faced off in the first round of the tournament, deciding who would play their Spring Valley rivals. The yellow Hampton team pulled away with an early lead, confidently picking steals, smacking blocks, making fast breaks and capitalizing on second-chance opportunities afforded by hustling on offensive boards.
Their animated coach launched himself fully into the action, too.
“Y’all can’t be crossin’ through the key at the same time!” he shouted from the bench. “Y’all’re wastin’ each other’s energy, so you talk to Junior!”
When one yellow shirt hit a nice layup while fouled, rolling into the red clay dirt next to the court, the coach got really fired up.
“And one!” the coach screamed. “He got dirty for a reason!”
Amateur emcees spouted color commentary, poking fun at players they clearly knew.
“We’re gonna need a sub!” one shouted at a player launching an air ball.
Sometimes, players engaged in the rapport.
“You’d better make these free throws, or you won’t have any points during the game,” the commentator stated to a player as he stepped up to the line.
“What about the second half?” the offended player asked.
“Man, quit talkin’ to him and play ball!” a teammate yelled, half encouraging, half admonishing.
The player missed both of his free throws, but the white shirts hustled on both ends of the court and kept it close.
Steve Bell, No. 31, served as their heart and soul.
Bell hit a last-second three at the end of the first half to bring the white team within four points of their intra-neighborhood rivals.
But the yellow team opened up after the half, establishing a nine-point lead, led partly by free-throw attempts.
Bell voiced his team’s frustrations.
“Don’t tell me how to play defense!” he yelled at an official after a questionable foul. “That’s like me tellin’ you how to ref!”
The white team soon rallied. Bell’s layup with 13:34 left tied the game at 40-40. The game remained back and forth up to the end, with the game locked at 52-52 and only two minutes left.
As with games at any level, the deciding factor wound up being free throws.
The white shirts’ de facto big man hit two crucial free throws to clinch his team’s first lead of the game with a minute and a half left in regulation.
After the yellow team slashed back with a layup, Jaeqwan Gunter hit a clutch three with 38 seconds left, solidifying the final score of 57-54.
“They didn’t show up. They didn’t show up,” the yellow team coach said after the game. “They ain’t got no hustle in the end.”