Drew League: Everything You Need to Know About the Star-Studded Summer League

Jesse DorseyFeatured ColumnistJuly 15, 2013

Via Instagram @drewleague
Via Instagram @drewleague

Summer comes and basketball fades into the background as the sound of cracking bats takes hold of the nights. But, thanks to pro-am leagues around the country, including the world-famous Drew League, basketball never stops.

Every summer, Drew League basketball comes around, stuffing YouTube with highlights of the most explosive and entertaining NBA players alongside amateur and streetball favorites from around Los Angeles and beyond.

While the summer is populated by other entertaining amateur leagues with an occasional professional player thrown in, The Drew is tops on the West Coast.

Drew League basketball is the 2Pac to EBC Rucker's Notorious B.I.G.

However, this 28-team summertime competition didn't just spring up because the pros were bored during the offseason. There's a long, thrilling history to be found in the floorboards of the King-Drew Magnet High School gymnasium.

The Beginning

40 years ago, Alvin Willis established the six-team Drew League, with the first games being held at Charles Drew Junior High School on the corner of Compton Avenue and Firestone Boulevard in Los Angeles.

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The quick rundown of the league's creation notes its humble roots and the huge heights it reached.

The Drew League’s goal was to help young people form meaningful relationships on the court that would spill over into the neighborhood, as well as build an institution that would bring top local high school, college and pro players back to the community. 
As a long-time friend and mentor to Dino Smiley, in 1985 Willis decided it was time to let Smiley have a shot at directing the league. By 1985 the league had grown from the original six teams to 10 teams. Today the league matches up 28 “invitation-only” teams to battle it out on the hardwood.
40 years ago, no one would have predicted that the gym at Charles Drew Junior High School on the corner of Compton and Firestone would play host to Southern California’s toughest competition, attracting streetball legends, collegiate athletes and several NBA stars.

By then The Drew had grown from six to 10 teams and was gaining notoriety for hosting a local legend here and there.

It continued to grow throughout the next two decades as a few NBA players would trickle in, but it really exploded during the summer of 2011 when NBA players were facing a lockout.

Kevin Durant was everywhere that summer, busting out 66 points in a Rucker Park game and taking on Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James in a Goodman League match out in Washington, D.C.

However, it was his few games in The Drew that started the summer madness.

The Drew was certainly on the map prior to 2011, but that summer brought it to the attention of even some of the most casual basketball fans.

Not too much has changed in 40 years. Sure, there are 22 more teams and they've moved from a junior high school into a high school, but it's still about having fun and putting on a show for those interested.

Legends and Stop-Ins

In the early years, the notable talents were local legends, rather than today's NBA players showing up to hop around the court and set the gym on fire.

Guys like Dane Suttle, who lived in Los Angeles and played at Pepperdine University, would stop by the gym. A few of those involved got a shot at the NBA.

However, the original legend of The Drew was Suttle's former teammate, Casper Ware.

Ware won three Drew League titles as a player and another two as a coach, along with an MVP Award, which his son would win as well three decades later.

He graduated high school back in 1979, but Ware lingered around the league into the '80s and beyond, showing off his speed and range along the way.

Robin "Syk Wit It" Kennedy passed trough in the early '90s, before going on to play on the AND1 Mixtape Tour during its peak in 2001.

John Williams, James "Gumby" Gray, Mo Spillers and Kenny "Bad Santa" Brunner all reached a near-legendary status as streetballers, and all at least spent a season in the Drew League.

As far as the NBA is concerned, JaVale McGee and Nick Young are perfect examples of current players who can't get enough of The Drew.

They spent the summer of 2009 in Los Angeles and are still going strong together on The Drew's Most Hated Players.

Kobe Bryant, Byron Scott, Paul George, J.R. Smith, Baron Davis, Metta World Peace, Paul Pierce, James Harden and John Wall have all played in the Drew League at one point or another, and NBA players continue to flood the ranks in their free time.

The Gear

Ever since Nike began sponsoring the Drew League, they've gone from playing in plain "home" and "away" jerseys to nifty new duds.

This year's uniforms aren't exactly exploding with style, but they're reserved and professional looking. Plus they feature a 40th anniversary patch, which is a nice touch.

Style has become such a big part of The Drew that they've actually started a fashion blog running down the weekly trends around the gym.

While it's nice to see the duds become more uniform and professional, it's still easy to yearn for the old days (you know, like two years ago), when Michael Beasley and Kevin Durant could play together in a uniform featuring a pig eating a basketball.

This is the kind of stuff that makes the Drew League great. While there are still exhibitions of individualism every weekend from May to mid-August, it's the teams and the league as a whole that make it so special.

Keep your eye on the constantly entertaining Drew League with their Twitter account to catch the highlights all summer long. The Drew is not only rivaling the best pro-am leagues of the East Coast, it's surpassing them.

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