NBA stars play for charity at Philly's Palestra

A dunk by LeBron James, who played for Team Melo in an exhibiton billed the "Battle for I-95." More in Sports, Section D.
A dunk by LeBron James, who played for Team Melo in an exhibiton billed the "Battle for I-95." More in Sports, Section D. (STEVEN M. FALK / Staff)
Posted: September 26, 2011

This is NBA basketball without NBA control: 8,700 fans sweltering inside the Palestra, waiting patiently for a game delayed by late arrivals, with extra-loud music providing a thinly-veiled distraction.

NBA megastars LeBron James, Chris Paul, and Carmelo Anthony didn't walk onto the court until 20 minutes after the "Battle for I-95" between Team Melo and Team Philly was scheduled to tip off. The trio spent the afternoon at Lincoln Financial Field, watching the Eagles lose to the New York Giants.

"I knew they went to the Philadelphia Eagles game beforehand, so I was in contact with their managers," said game organizer, Rahim Thompson, who pulled a rabbit out of his hat putting together the night. "I knew they were coming. I was more worried about getting people in the seats, getting security together and everything like that."

NBA all-star Kevin Durant, who was supposed to play alongside James, Paul, and Anthony for Team Melo, didn't make the trip.

But Sunday night's tickets were cheaper than most NBA tickets; the proceeds went to a good cause, the Carmelo Anthony Foundation (which serves underprivileged youth), and the star power inside the Palestra was almost as bright as billed.

Sunday's game, won surprisingly by the underdog Team Philly, 131-122, pitted Anthony's celebrity posse against a squad composed entirely of guys with Philly connections.

A few players from Team Philly - Lou Williams and Jason Thompson - were on the court nearly an hour before the scheduled tip. As the clock ticked closer and closer to 6 p.m., one of the University of Pennsylvania officials approached the game's DJ and asked him to stretch out the music: Some of the players hadn't yet arrived; the game would not begin on time.

Those seated near the court entrances spent the delay craning their necks into the tunnel: Perhaps LeBron and Company would use their pathway to the court, offering them a whiff of stardom.

The game started exactly 15 minutes after James, Anthony, and Paul's arrival.

Once it began, Sunday's charity game had more defense than you'd expect: steady effort interrupted by occasional bursts of lazy. During one sequence in the first quarter, the teams traded back-to-back-to-back alley-oops, which delighted the sold-out crowd.

Sunday's production had a grassroots feel to it, which is a compliment considering it was only three weeks in the making.

"The event came together beautiful," Thompson said. "I'm very happy to see Philadelphia had a good time. We won the game. That makes it even better."

There were no fines for lateness, no scowls and aloofness and technical fouls from referees, no coaches in white polo shirts assessing defensive efficiency. There was music and plenty of crossover dribbling.

"It's all about having fun, just getting a little run," said Team Philly's Tyreke Evans. "Good for the game to be played, especially with the [NBA] lockout. And we're just having fun."

Sunday's game might be the best pro basketball we see this winter. Last week, the NBA canceled the first two weeks of training camp, including all preseason games through Oct. 15.


Contact staff writer Kate Fagan at kfagan@phillynews.com. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/DeepSixer3, and read her blog, Deep Sixer, on Philly.com.

 

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