I Was There: Carmelo, LeBron, CP3 & “The Battle of I-95”

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They are the NBA’s version of the Super Friends.

Earlier this year, in a piece by Howard Beck for Bleacher Report, LeBron James casually mentioned that he and his three closest friends in the NBA – Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul,  and Dwyane Wade – would love to play on the same team before their careers are over.

“I really hope that, before our career is over, we can all play together,” James said. “At least one, maybe one or two seasons—me, Melo, D-Wade, CP—we can get a year in. I would actually take a pay cut to do that.”

While three of the four now play together at least once a year in the NBA All-Star Game – when Anthony was traded to the New York Knicks, he joined James and Wade, both of whom have changed teams, but have only ever played in the East while Paul has always remained in the West – a different combination of three-quarters of the group suited up together back in September of 2011.

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The NBA players were locked out, so some decided to get some run by playing charity games across the country. Team Melo rolled into Philadelphia boasting three superstars – Carmelo, CP3, and LeBron – to play Team Philly, a squad comprised of local talent, including Tyreke Evans, Hakim Warrick, Wayne Ellington, and Kyle Lowry, in “The Battle of I-95.”

The game was played in the same venue where I first saw James in person, back in 2002 when he was still a high school student, the storied home of the Penn Quakers, the Palestra:

The Palestra is a college gymnasium with uneven bricks, stained yellow window panes on its ceiling and a creaky hardwood floor…It holds 8,722 fans and reeks like a locker room if attendance ever approaches capacity…

While he is now considered to be one of the all time greats, an underdog that almost single-handedly vanquished the record-breaking Golden State Warriors and ended Cleveland’s championship drought while finally fulfilling his destiny, it wasn’t that long ago that LeBron James was still viewed as a villain. Back in 2011, The Decision was still fresh in everyone’s mind and LeBron was booed by most people in attendance (though not us) every time he touched the ball – until he made a spectacular play that wowed the crowd and turned them into fans again for the moment.

He started slow but played pretty great, logging every minute, and scoring 43 points while also snagging 23 rebounds. Carmleo looked bloated, but still managed to put up 31 and 17. Meanwhile, CP3 played like it was a playoff game, dropping a triple single with six points, five rebounds, and eight dimes.

Such an exhibition does not lend itself to defense, of course, but just like in All-Star games, towards the end of the contest competitive fires rise, things become tense, and teams buckle down. It always felt like ‘Bron, ‘Melo, and CP3 would flip a switch and run away with the game, but it never happened.

Even before he became a star in Toronto, people in Philly knew Kyle Lowry could ball and he showed it once again, scoring 34 points while Lou Williams, who Kobe probably thinks of as a gunner, poured in 31 and Team Philly, certainly helped by the home crowd, somewhat shockingly won, 132 – 122.

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Like most charity games, it was fun with some truly great moments, but also sloppy. Seeing three of the best players of the generation on the same team was cool and, selfishly, I hope their goal of playing together comes to fruition one day.

They just better hope they don’t play Team Philly again.


Christopher Pierznik is the author of eight books, all of which can be purchased in paperback and Kindle. His work has appeared on XXL, Cuepoint, Business Insider, Medium, The Cauldron, and many more. Subscribe to his monthly reading review newsletter or follow him on Facebook or Twitter.

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