If basketball is an art, street ball is basketball’s minimalist form.
Stripped away are the team dynamics, flashy uniforms and shoe sponsorships.
What is left is players competing one-on-one, using determination, grit and sweat to leave an indelible mark on the concrete canvas.
For 64 players on the Student Recreation Complex basketball courts Saturday evening, the Red Bull King of the Rock tournament was their shot at cementing a work of art, relying purely on individual talent until the last second ticks off the shot clock.
“The root of street ball is everyone gets to play the game the way they want to play,” said Kofi Brown, the director of competition. “There are no coaches out here, there is no one telling you what to do. You improvise and be creative as possible, within reason, but it’s every man for himself and it’s a chance to show who you are and be the best you know how to be.”
Now in its second year, King of the Rock takes qualifiers from all over the world for a chance to win $10,000 in a winner-take-all battle on the Alcatraz Island, the infamous former-prison island off the coast of San Francisco, Calif.
Michael Purdie, last year’s Phoenix runner-up, said the competition at Alcatraz Island is nothing like the qualifiers around the country.
“Alcatraz (Island) was a good experience,” Purdie said. “It was more about heart than game. A lot of people got beat just off (of) hunger and desire. It brought the best out of everybody.”
Purdie was knocked out in the first round this year.
Business management sophomore Warren Ginsberg was participating in the competition for the first time. He plays basketball up to five times a week but street ball is a different type of competition, he said.
“With street ball, you’ve got to be a lot more hard nosed,” Ginsberg said. “(You can’t) really care about fouls and tough play.”
Ginsberg earned the nickname “Sniper” as the tournament progressed, taking shots from as deep as ten feet behind the three-point line to outscore opponents.
However, his long ball strategy ultimately doomed him when he lost 14-12 in the final four to a more physical opponent.
“I played fine. I didn’t do everything I could have done, I just stuck around the three point line but I made it this far,” Ginsberg said. “No regrets, (it was a) good experience and I’ll be back next year.”
Gary Smith finished as the runner-up in the 2010 tournament finals, losing the prize money on a buzzer beater to Isaiah “Clutch” Bowman.
Smith said the competition level on Alcatraz Island is unparalleled.
“You understand that everyone is there for a reason,” Smith said. “You don’t want to go into that situation over looking anybody. You want to put everybody on a pedestal and understand that this is competition.”
Smith is an automatic qualifier for this year’s finals after his deep run in 2010 and is now looking at offers from teams in Korea and the Dominican Republic.
The competition’s crown went to Tremaine “Cool Breeze” Dalton, a Phoenix web designer whose cool court demeanor carried him over runner-up Gabe Glennon in the championship game.
Dalton said he was taking a humble approach to winning. He knew that was only the first step.
“On to the next one, I’m not even ecstatic about it,” Dalton said. “I’m just happy that I won but I’m being humble about it.”
Brown compared the street ball tournament to the closing seconds of a close football game, with each second carrying a sense of intensity and primal competition.
“Guys out here aren’t getting a pay check,” Brown said. “They are playing because they love it. When you see someone doing something because they love to do it, that’s the purest form of basketball.”
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