BROOKLYN — There are two types of good basketball in this world.
The first brand of hoops is played under bright lights in polished gyms, with fans packed into thousands of seats cheering on their favorite team.
But the second type of basketball is played where most players begin their career—the streets.
The Red Bull Midnight Run combined both brands of hoops into one spectacular event, which took place at the Barclays Center after the Brooklyn Nets beat the Miami Heat in double overtime on Friday, January 10.
Nine cities and 900 players took part in the nationwide competition that began all the way back in June. The top eight non-NBA ballers were selected from ultra-competitive tryouts with stars like Blake Griffin, Anthony Davis and John Wall serving as talent scouts.
The nine participating cities were Atlanta, Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, New Orleans, New York, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C. and Indianapolis. Those powerhouse basketball breeding grounds clashed in Brooklyn to determine which city produces the best talent.
And B/R was there to take you inside all of the action.
Pride Transcends Money
D-leaguers, street ballers, former college standouts, overseas players and more filled out each team’s roster in an event where the only reward was pride.
There was no cash prize, just bragging rights on the line.
Former Rutgers star Courtney Nelson, a guard for the New York squad, told Bleacher Report how it felt to represent his home at the Midnight Run.
“Being from this area, you always have that target on your back as being from the Mecca of basketball,” Nelson—who has played professionally in six different countries over the past four years—said. "It’s a blessing to be able to represent the city in an event like this. To most of us [players], pride is worth more than money.”
Devin Williams, who played high school and college ball in Indianapolis, was humbled to be a part of his hometown team.
“It’s really an honor to represent Indy in an event like this,” Williams said. “Most cities play with a lot of flash, but when it comes to straight up playing ball—and winning—we’ve always been known to produce.”
Getting paid to play is the goal for all players. But when given the chance to prove that their hometown is the best in the country, bragging rights are worth more than dollar signs.
High level of competition
They may not be in the NBA, but most of the participating players were studs on the court.
And every one of them absolutely loves the game.
After the conclusion of Friday’s action, Williams flew back out to Indiana to play in a Saturday night contest for his minor league team, the Indianapolis Diesels. He’s also spent time in Canada playing professionally.
Sadly though, Williams never got the chance to play with Drake and/or Justin Bieber.
Mike Sloan of the Atlanta team has experience playing overseas in China, Venezuela, and averaged 30 points a game during his stay in Iceland.
“The game is different over there,” Sloan said of non-American basketball. “One of the main things is obviously the language barrier. But here [in the US] I’ve played with a bunch of NBA guys. Lou Williams, Josh Smith—I played in pro-am games with them every year. Playing with those kind of guys only gets you better.”
But the goal for these players is still to reach the NBA.
“I love overseas,” Nelson said before NYC’s first game of the night. “But everybody’s goal when playing at the professional level is to get here and play in arenas like [the Barclays]. I’m excited and humbled by this opportunity, but I’m looking forward to coming out and putting on a show.”
Diverse Styles of Play
People from different parts of the country are just that—different. The way they talk, the way they act and the way they go about their lives are specific to their native region.
And when it comes to the hardwood, each city plays its own distinct brand of basketball.
All nine teams in the tournament competed on Thursday January 9, with the final four squads advancing to the finals after the Nets-Heat game.
New York, Indianapolis, Atlanta and Philadelphia made the cut.
“Philadelphia is a guard city,” the 6’2", 260-pound Hill said. “But one thing we all have in common, regardless of height, is heart. I’m undersized but since I know how to use my weight, I can rebound with against anyone.”
Hill—who has won over $100,000 in Red Bull tournaments in the past—was a monster on the inside, but Philadelphia fell to an extremely athletic Indianapolis team in the semifinals, 37-30.
Next up was NYC-Atlanta, which Sloan—one of ATL’s big men—felt was a matchup of similar teams.
“We play pretty much play the same way,” Sloan said of NYC. “But we’re a little bit more physical. We do a lot of shooting down there, too. Our bread and butter is the jump shot.”
The guard-heavy New York squad rallied for a win after getting drubbed early on by the tall, lanky Atlanta team. ATL played airtight defense and rebounded exceptionally well, but NYC turned the game into an up-and-down sprint and came away with a 41-35 victory.
That left Indy and New York to battle it out for the title of the nation’s most talented basketball city.
A Deserving Champion Was Crowned
Indianapolis jumped out to a slim 12-11 lead after the first quarter over New York, but Nelson and the NYC guards turned it up a notch in the second half.
The hometown Big Apple team headed into halftime with the advantage, and still held a 35-34 lead after three third quarters.
But Indy came roaring back.
The Hoosiers jumped ahead by a point with just under three minutes to go, but missed a few free throws down the stretch.
New York took the ball out of bounds with eight seconds remaining in the game and Indy leading 43-41. Jonathon Myers of NYC got a decent look at a three from the corner, but it caught the back iron and rimmed out.
Indy corralled the rebound, and the celebration began.
Kenny Page, the point guard of the championship team, told Bleacher Report afterward that his squad would be back next year.
“This feels amazing,” Page said. “It’s 3:30 in the morning and we’re still in the gym—I love it. We’re coming back next year to defend our title with the same team. I wouldn’t want to play with anyone else. And we’re gonna win it again.”
The final showdown had everything that a basketball game should have—crossovers, dunks, clutch jumpers, tempers flaring and tensions rising down the stretch. And in the end, a worthy champion.
The 2014 Red Bull Midnight Run crowned Indianapolis as the best basketball city in the country. For now.
Those other eight cities might have a little something to say about that next year.