A League For All Reasons
by Adam Shandler
Welcome to a Night at the Nike ProCity Basketball League.
It’s 6:18 on a Tuesday night in the Hunter College gym. Ten minutes from now there should be a tipoff, but a few of the players are either just coming in or are stuck on a subway platform waiting for the Uptown 6.
A grateful volunteer is laying down blue electrical tape, which will serve as the pro 3-point line and extended alleys along the key. Hunter is a Division III school within the CUNY system and not naturally equipped with NBA dimensions. No one seems to mind. Hunter always packs ’em in for the Nike ProCity Basketball League games.
The P.A. announcer, an affable, entertaining gent with a carnival hawker presentation, extends his regrets to the crowd. “We apologize for the technical difficulties, folks, but we’re having trouble with our sound system. We hope to get the music up soon.”
Yup. What’s a summer hoops league in NYC without booty music?
There are two games tonight, featuring teams with names that are a little urban playground, a little English Premier League. In the 6:30 (or in this case 7 o’clock) affair the New York Skyriders will take on the formidable but aging Elizabeth Celtics. The nightcapper is a bill between Nike 1 and United Brooklyn.
The Celtics don’t have a lot of size, but when it comes to experience — let’s just say these guys are closer to receiving their AARP cards than any other team. They have Herman Alston, a thirty-something workhorse 2-guard out of Kean (N.J.) College who is the consummate NikePro City League player: a guy who parlayed a high quality/small college career into a successful one in Europe. And Herman just keeps coming back to Hunter every year, just to have somewhere to be in the summer.
Then there are young Turks like the Skyriders Kareem Shabazz, a center who made his mark at Providence. After graduation, Shabazz took his game to the Boot, landing on Sicilian pro club Capital Orlando. Like Alston, the gangly big man comes to Hunter to get some summer PT, but also to stay in “American” basketball shape.
“This league has great competition,” says Shabazz, “but it’s a different kind of game over in Europe. There’s not a lot of banging. It’s more technical and you don’t guard the shot as much. So I like playing here because it’s more physical.”
Greg Springfield ‘s motivation for playing in this league is a little different. With five years of Nike ProCity under his belt, his story started out much like Shabbaz’s but has since taken an unforgiving turn.
Springfield was a standout big man at Hofstra, who in his junior and senior years led the Pride to two America East titles and two trips to the NCAA tourney. At 6-9, he had solid size and fluid skills for a mid-major player, and while he admittedly wasn’t NBA material, he embraced an opportunity with the Brooklyn Kings of the USBL. Following that season he took his game, and his all-rookie honors, to the Korean Basketball League. Then Springfield was hit by the dreaded “I” word.
“I had problems in my ankle but I didn’t think they were that serious. I thought they’d go away,” he explains. Turns out the Long Islander had acute achilles tendonitis and was asked to leave the KBL.
Springfield did another stint with the USBL Kings in 2002 but was snakebitten by a series of foot injuries similar to Grant Hill’s. There were nights that went by when he didn’t even want to look at a basketball, but over time his old friend, the Nike ProCity League, has gotten him back on his horse.
“I’m really playing in the league this year to rehab myself. I do get a lot of enjoyment out of it and it helps me see what I’m made of. This is only my third game back, so hopefully by the end of the summer, if I go overseas, I’ll be ready.”
Not bad for only his third game back. Springfield showed no signs of bad wheels as he tallied 12 points, 13 boards in a losing effort for the Skyriders.
The Nike ProCity League at Hunter College is played every Tuesday and Thursday summer night with a culminating championship game on August 8. Every night is a promotion night.
It was Ladies Night on July 23, but I was not one of the first one hundred fans, so I did not get to go home with a lady.