It was a night of craziness and controversy at Temple’s Liacouras Center on Friday, and there at the center of it all, on the bench, was “The Reign Man” himself, Shawn Kemp.
Kemp was not throwing down his signature NBA dunks or helping former teammates like the Hall of Fame-bound Gary Payton talk smack to opponents—he was coaching a team of streetball players for the AND1 apparel brand against a team of Philadelphia elite players—many of whom had solid NBA experience—in the $100,000 winner-take-all tournament AND1 was holding to help restart its legendary brand.
Always larger than life and never one to shy away from a battle, Kemp’s team found itself in one as the final seconds ticked off. The Philly team, led by another former Seattle Sonic, Flip Murray, as well as recent NBA’ers Mardy Collins and Hakim Warrick, had built a substantial lead and appeared to be on its way to the Saturday semifinals before Kemp’s team rallied, eventually tying the game at 97 with less than 20 seconds left.
When Murray answered with a drop-back two with 0.5 seconds left to give Philly a 99-97 lead, it all seemed over. But the hybrid rules of the tournament stopped the clock instead of letting time run out, so the And1 team had another shot and a buzzer-beating trey followed that sent the crowd and the players into pandemonium.
And1 100, Philly 99: The result was Kemp hugging and high-fiveing his ragtag group of streetballers all over the court.
“It was crazy, but that’s streetball, you always play through until the game is over,” he said afterward as fans mobbed him for autographs. It seemed like a typical, chaotic environment, one that the former NBA star has always been accustomed to—streetball meets NBA legend.
For Kemp, retirement until recently has kept him away from basketball for the most part. He owns a restaurant and other businesses in his adopted home of Seattle and a construction company in Chicago, and he has been more and more involved in the community and in basketball. He made an appearance this summer at Rucker Park sporting his long-endorsed Reebok shoes, but has also been working with And1 to assemble teams for this streetball event, making the cross country trek to coach at the tournament this Labor Day weekend.
“They’ve [And1] always represented streetball well since they got involved with basketball,” Kemp said. “That’s one of the reasons why I like working with them. They deal with kids that are inspired by the game of basketball and come from different nationalities and different cultures. I feel like I’m a part of that. They represent basketball to its fullest.”
As far as coaching endeavors, Kemp laughed off the idea for now.
“I love working with kids for sure, but coaching formally, I have too many other things going on and the game has changed a bit since I retired, and I’m enjoying all the business I’m involved with,” he added. “I love watching LeBron and Blake Griffin and other guys in the league and I’m always available to guys who want to know more, but coaching really isn’t in the cards for me.”
What about an involvement if the NBA finds its way back to The Emerald City, as it appeared last winter before the Sacramento Kings found a way to keep its Kings in Northern California?
“Seattle deserves a team and will get one—it’s like buying a car, you need to do all the paperwork and make sure that things are in place, they don’t just give it to you,” he joked. “It’s a city that loves basketball and got caught up in the politics and lost its team with the move to Oklahoma, and it’s a shame given the success that team has had that Seattle was left out.
"But I would love to be involved and will help in any way—it will happen from what I have heard and seen, and the fans deserve it, as does the city.”
Another thing Kemp will be involved with is the upcoming Basketball Hall of Fame inductions, when longtime teammate Gary Payton will be enshrined next week in Springfield. Payton, another longtime fan of streetball, is as much about Seattle hoops lore as Kemp is.
“I’m very proud and happy for Gary, we had some amazing years together in Seattle and he represents our team and the city well,” Kemp said. “I will be there with him and will help with his speech as well. It will be a very proud day for Seattle and for all those who have been around him for so many years. He is a great example of hard work paying off big time, and that’s what we try to tell the kids who love the game.”
For now it appears Kemp’s love for basketball has returned front and center. He never stopped smiling from the minute he walked into the arena at temple on Friday, sitting courtside, joking with fans and signing autographs for kids both before and after his coaching debut.
He also got to be at the center of the craziness of streetball, helping orchestrate yet another unlikely on-court comeback, albeit without his thunderous signature dunks and with thousands sitting and cheering in the stands. For Kemp and for now, that appeared to be involvement enough.
“Basketball has given me so many things that are positive now in my life, I love the idea of giving back, and this is a great way to do it,” he added.
And with that “The Reign Man” went back to his seat in the front row, watching and evaluating another group as his team readied for another day.
Jerry Milani is a featured columnist at Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless noted.