The night of dazzling play and thunderous dunks had not even begun Sunday during John Lucas’ NBA Lockout Celebrity Charity game when the defining moment was delivered.
Former Houston Rockets guard-turned minister Mike James probably summoned up the feeling of the NBA players who were about to take the court and the fans who had packed the 5,000-seat Delmar Fieldhouse at the end of the pregame invocation.
“I pray You will unlock the lockout, in Jesus’ name,” James said to roar of laughter. “Amen.”
It certainly seems it will take the act of a higher power to bring the NBA owners and players together to complete a deal for a new collective bargaining agreement.
But in the meantime, exhibitions like Sunday’s will have to do suffice. For about two hours, fans were able to get their fill of NBA-like competition with players like Zach Randolph, Marcus Camby, Kyle Lowry, DeAndre Jordan and Luis Scola taking the court and providing some exciting moments here in Houston.
Still there was no getting around the feeling from the players that they should have preparing to play a real game on this November night instead of a charity basketball game.
“It’s not the same. I’m not use to be here at my offseason home this long,” said Camby, who is now a center with the Portland Trailblazers. “I don’t want to say I get use to the rain in Portland. I like the weather down here in Houston, but I’d like to be with my teammates. I like the nature of the games, the practices and going on the road. So you definitely miss that.”
While most of the players said they are optimistic that a deal can get done before the entire 2011-12 season is canceled, Rockets forward Luis Scola isn’t so certain anymore. He’s seen negotiations break down too many times to believe the lockout will be worked out soon.
Scola seems to be frustrated with both sides in this ordeal.
“Optimism is gone. There is nothing optimistic about this situation,” Scola said. “I should be playing a real NBA game right now and I’m not. Even if the lockout finally solves and we go back to play it’s not good. It’s the best we can get out of the situation but we should be playing the whole season.
“We all knew this CBA was expiring so why didn’t we start this whole process earlier so that by the time the season was starting this all the way over. We waited all the way until the last minute and we are missing games now. I don’t like that.”
Several NBA players have already left for overseas playing opportunities and many more are now considering the option as the lockout enters its fifth month and there seems to be no end in sight.
But Chicago Bulls point guard Derrick Rose, who made an appearance at Lucas’ game but did not play, doesn’t seem so excited about looking at overseas playing options at this point.
“I’ve thought about it but of course I would just like to play here,” said the reigning NBA MVP. “Chicago, that’s my hometown so I would love to play here over anywhere else.”
Rose was one of the few players who seemed optimistic a deal could be done soon between the two sides. That seems far-fetched after the latest negotiations broke down last week and the players moved to disband the union so that they could file lawsuits against the NBA in federal court.
“I’m just trying to stay positive right now,” Rose said. “Of course it’s upsetting because you definitely want to go out there and play. I haven’t been playing organized basketball in a minute so it’s kind of weird.
“But if anything I feel bad for the fans, knowing that last year was such a big year and for us not to have a season this year or for us not to play yet is definitely hurting them right now.”
The NBA fans in Delmar Fieldhouse got at least a little relief Sunday night as players like Denver Nuggets first round pick Kenneth Faried and Jordan brought down the house with powerful dunks while Lowry launched 3-pointers from unbelievable ranges to help his team win 166-157 in a game where defense definitely wasn’t a priority.
“This is fun,” said Jordan, a third-year player with the Los Angeles Clippers who is also a Houston native. “I get to play against some guys with a lot of NBA talent. It’s exciting.”