The music of the Star-Spangled Banner gave way to the sounds of emcee Allen (Deejay Lefty) Pires’s turntable as the eighth annual Vineyard Streetball Classic got underway this Saturday in Niantic Park in Oak Bluffs. For the next five hours, would-be NBA stars from 14 teams — six from the age 10 to 12 division and four each in the age 13 to 14 and 15 to 18 — battled through round robin and double elimination play before the two strongest sides met in each division’s final championship game.
Teams came from across the Northeast, and if their names, ranging from Curly Fries to Team Red to simply Islanders, were unlike anything that would be found in the NBA, the seriousness of play on the courts was no less intense. With just three players to a side and games limited to half-court (two games were played concurrently on the full-size court at Niantic), teams were forced to be creative in making scoring opportunities. While not all players had the success of Charlie Clay of Sudbury, who knocked out a backwards over-the-head no-look shot to win his team’s final game, nearly every possible manner of scoring was attempted. Much to the dismay of the older teens, however, dunking was disallowed.
The improvisational quality of play was heightened by the fact that many of the boys had never met their teammates before, let alone competed with them. Those who registered without a team were placed with others in their age group.
“It’s a good opportunity for them to learn how to play with others without knowing their games,” said Diane Daniel, wife of tournament founder and director Omar Daniel, noting that the random nature of team selection also helped promote sportsmanship.
The classic, played each Fourth of July weekend at Niantic Park in Oak Bluffs, was founded by Mr. Daniel in 2002. Mr. Daniel, himself a former player in the Niantic Park summer leagues, started the tournament as a way to both promote physical wellbeing and raise funds for repairing the basketball courts.
“It’s a great way to kick off the summer,” said Lynn Dwane of West Tisbury, whose sons Brandon and Ben competed in the 13-14 division, Brandon for the MV Ballers, and Ben for the X-Men.
Although the Streetball Classic has a history of special guest appearances — basketball legend Julius (Dr. J) Erving stopped by last year — rumors of an appearance by Ray Allen this year proved unfounded. Mr. Allen’s daughter Tierra, however, competed in the tournament as the lone New Englander of T-Spot, a team visiting from Philadelphia. Ms. Allen was one of two girls playing, the other being Nalah Garcia-Walker of Boston, a teammate of Ben Dwane.
While participation increased this year among the 10 to 12-year-old group, the Daniels hope more local and high school teams follow the lead of the Islanders, this year’s winner of the 15 to 18 division, and join in for future tournaments.