Chaotic night at the Bronny James Experience

A profile on Bronny James in The Athletic this week said many top college coaches are holding back on recruiting the kid while they consider “if Bronny the player is worth Bronny the circus.” A few nights before the story was published, I took my son to see James and his Sierra Canyon team — which also features his brother Bryce and a slew of NBA veterans — face a team from perennially-major DeMatha Catholic. We had enough players and too much of the circus.

The 5,000-seat stadium at Wise High School in Upper Marlboro, Md., was packed, for the $15 ticket. I doubt I’ve ever paid that much to watch a high school basketball game. I know I had never paid anything to watch a high school basketball game this early in the football season before; local teams (including DeMatha) had not held their official tryouts yet. I thought it was a little slippery to subsidize the AAUization of high school sports through a big-money preseason event, but I assuaged that guilt by telling myself I was introducing my child to a long-standing DC tradition. After all, our hometown is also the birthplace of the high school showcase.

In the spring of 1954, Elgin Baylor played a series of shows during his senior year at Spingarn High School in DC. However, these games had a deeper purpose than just letting stars make the rounds. Because of the city’s completely segregated school system, Spingarn’s all-blacks played only other all-black schools. So Baylor never played against a white player and never got the attention his talent deserved. But Sam Lacy, the legendary sports columnist Afro-American newspaper, a publication for the city’s black population, teamed up with a local sports official to stage what was billed as a “mixed basketball battle.” The game pitted Baylor and his black teammates against a group of white prep players led by Jimmy Wexler, the all-white Western High star whose D.C. record Baylor had just broken. Baylor and his teammates ran the all-white team, which was called the Academic All-Stars.

Then it was DeMatha vs. The Power Memorial Tournament in January 1965. More than 12,000 spectators packed the University of Maryland’s Cole Field House to witness what is often called “The Greatest High School Game of All Time.” DeMatha, coach Morgan Wootten’s freshman Catholic division, upset Power Memorial, 46-43, ending the New York school’s 71-game winning streak. It was the only loss Power Memorial star center Lewis Alcindor suffered in high school. The kid turned out fine despite the loss to DeMatha, winning three NCAA titles with UCLA and six NBA titles and becoming the league’s all-time leading scorer while known as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. The success of the exhibition game, both financially and otherwise, turned the practice of pairing preparations from different cities from rare to common.

It occurred to me as I watched the Sierra Canyon team warm up that in 2003 I had seen Bronny’s father, LeBron James, play in the Capital Classic, an annual exhibition that began in 1974 and pitted a team of all-star players against the best locals. schools had to offer. LeBron walked past me in the hallway at the stadium that night; even though he was one of the biggest men I’ve ever been this close to, he seemed to walk on air.

The atmosphere in the Wise gym before the DeMatha game — the two-day contest billed as the “DMV Showcase” — was unlike any other basketball game I’d ever been to. When Sierra Canyon came out of the dressing room, the James brothers were greeted with the kind of boiling lobster sounds from a packed crowd I’d heard at a Jonas Brothers show at its peak. There were also good-natured kids for Scottie Pippen’s son, Justin; Penny Hardaway’s son, Ashton; and Derek Fisher’s son, Drew. Phones came out all over the field during warm-ups. (Mine included. I took a distant video of Bronny taking a bounce pass from Bryce and dunking, though as I recall, not quite as effortlessly as my dad did in 2003. Despite the “We want Bryce!” chants from the crowd, Bronny’s bro. was on the bench throughout the game.)

The talent on both sides was ridiculous. DeMatha guard Jaden Winston clipped Bronny and made a 360-degree shot worthy of a Ja Morant highlight reel. The Stags took a nine-point lead into the fourth quarter, and the run culminated when DeMatha’s Chris McElveen dove into Bronny’s head.

A 3-pointer and a free throw from Bronny pulled Sierra Canyon back within 52-51 with 1:58 left. Everyone in the gym was lucky to be there. But at halftime, with the gym buzzing about a great finish that was sure to come, I saw a wide safety who had been hovering around the Sierra Canyon team all game step up to the bench and order Bronny’s team to hurry up. off the floor.

The Sierra Canyon players obeyed with speed and obvious fear. DeMatha coaches and players followed their lead and bounced to the exits. There were no announcements from the public address system about what was happening. All of a sudden, chaos reigned among those remaining in the gym.

According to a source, Wise High School staff reviewed security camera footage and other videos and learned that the trouble started when two young bystanders appeared to be getting ready to fight. The videos showed an officer approaching the pair, at which point the officer was asked by another bystander if the would-be combatants had “a gun.” Sierra Canyon’s security guard heard a “gunshot” and immediately ordered the team out of the gym on their own.

Defector was allowed to view, but not release, video from a gym camera that shows the moment Sierra Canyon security kicked the team off the field, causing panic. According to a source, the footage from the beginning of the riot was shared online the night of the game, via the school’s stream, but for unclear reasons it was taken down. The videos I have seen shared on the Internet only show what was happening after the teams had fled, and from my perspective do not reflect the strength inside the gym in those seconds. A source told Defector that no guns were ever seen in the videos, and TMZ Sports reported that police found no guns.

I sat on the upper deck directly above the Sierra Canyon bench. Earlier in the evening, after noticing how crowded the platform around us was, and mindful of the lack of metal detectors at the entrance, I had made a sick joke with a friend about what we would do when a mass shooter appeared.

“I’ll be here,” he said at the time.

And so we did. Not that it mattered if we had an escape plan or not. All visible exits were immediately blocked. My son was in another part of the gym when all hell broke loose. Since there was no cell service or active internet available at the gym, I was unable to reach him. After a few minutes of chaos and no visible violence, word came that the match was called and everyone still inside should leave. I found my son on the street near the school after all the worry, safe but too happy to be in trouble for my liking. An hour or so later, the promoter of the Illinois DMV Showcase informed participating teams in a statement that the second day of the tournament was also canceled because “we are uncomfortable putting ourselves in a position where something could potentially happen again.”

I still haven’t decided if watching Bronny the player was worth the circus. My child would have been willing to live through it all over again. But, man, now we both can’t wait for the DC high school basketball season to begin.

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