Drew League's meeting with Kobe Bryant representatives pushed up to Tuesday
With hopes that an earlier meeting will expedite the process in organizing an exhibition game in Los Angeles on Sept. 10 between the Drew League and Goodman League, Drew League officials plan to meet with Kobe Bryant's representatives at an undetermined location in Los Angeles at 1 p.m. Tuesday to discuss a possible appearance.
"I think he wants to play because he’s hungry like that," Drew League Commissioner Oris "Dino" Smiley said of Bryant late Monday evening in a phone interview. "We have some real solid basketball and it’s well organized. I think he wants to be a part of it."
The Times originally reported Monday afternoon that Drew League officials planned to meet with Bryant's representatives on Wednesday. That was accurate at the time, but, as first reported by Sports Illustrated's Sam Amick via Twitter, the meeting was pushed up to Tuesday -- on Bryant's 33rd birthday no less -- in hopes the extra day would help secure Bryant and the event itself.
Smiley argued Bryant's appearance won't necessarily dictate whether the Goodman League and Drew League can organize a rematch. They are, after all, only four days removed from a competitive and controversial game where the Goodman League won, 135-134, before a standing-room-only crowd at Trinity University in Washington, D.C. Kevin Durant's two free throws with 21.5 seconds left and block on James Harden as time expired led Drew League players to question the officiating on both calls. As Smiley said, "The way the game went left a sour taste in everyone’s mouth and they want to get them back out here."
Should Bryant play in the proposed rematch, however, Smiley believes his name recognition and skill set would draw even more buzz than when Bryant made a surprise visit last week in a Drew League game at the Col. Leon H. Washington Park gym. There he scored 43 points, hit the game winner over Harden and led many to believe, including Smiley himself, that the numerous injuries plaguing Bryant the past few seasons are behind him.
Smiley also believes that securing Bryant will alleviate many of the logistical variables that are making Drew League officials open to pushing back the Sept. 10 date and feeling that they need to secure the necessary sponsors and commitment by the end of this week to make the event definitive. The Drew League couldn't land a network sponsor for the last exhibition game, officials said, because of concerns from ESPN and Fox that such a deal would compromise their relationship with the NBA during the league's current work stoppage. The summer leagues offset some of the costs by launching a website, TheBasketballChannel.net, and charging $4.99 to watch the game online, but the website encountered problems with handling the unspecified volume of traffic.
Smiley said he's been told by Bryant's representatives, who couldn't be reached for comment, that they could help with landing a television sponsor. Smiley also hopes Bryant's array of endorsement deals, including Nike, Turkish Airlines and Sprite, could offset costs. And finally, Smiley argues Bryant's star power would help command a larger arena, such as USC's Galen Center or Loyola Marymount University's Gersten Pavilion.
"With him, we want to find out where he’s at and whether he’s interested in really doing this," Smiley said of Bryant. "With that being the case, we want to really promote it and want to be able to get a venue. If we put Kevin Durant and Kobe on the floor with these up-and-coming NBA stars, what we will run to is a massive amount of fans that want to see those two on the same floor."
The challenge in putting together a rematch goes beyond securing Bryant.
There's the financial commitment. Plenty of NBA players showed up for the first game representing both the Drew League (Harden, Toronto's DeMar DeRozan, the Clippers' Craig Smith, Milwaukee's Brandon Jennings, Washington's JaVale McGee, Golden State's Dorell Weight and Sacramento's Pooh Jeter) and the Goodman League (Durant, Washington's John Wall and Sacramento's DeMarcus Cousins, Minnesota's Michael Beasley, Memphis' Sam Young, Denver's Ty Lawson and San Antonio's Gary Neal). Goodman League Commissioner Miles Rawls also appeared to have tweeted the following about Bryant's possible appearance: "like I said if JESUS CHRIST dont walk in the door we not scared of nobody ..WE DONT CARE WHO PLAY! KOBE AINT JESUS! not scared." Yet, Smiley remains unsure if the Goodman League will agree to pay for their travel expenses.
"We need these guys to commit like our guys did," said Smiley, who added players on the Drew League paid around $2,500 in travel expenses. "I don’t know if their guys will be willing to do that. They’re not really Goodman League players. They just all come from the East Coast."
There's the sponsorship issue. Smiley believes the league has a better shot of landing a television deal for the rematch after seeing how many NBA players competed in the first game. But in case that's not possible, the league has to make the necessary changes to TheBasketballChannel.net so that it can handle any traffic and avoid having to reimburse customers the $4.99 fee.
There's the venue. With many fans denied entrance because of an overflow crowd at Trinity University, Smiley said the Drew League wants an arena that can hold up to 5,000 fans so that it doesn't have to worry about turning them away at the door.
And there's the timing itself.
"We have to move and hope we can get something done this week as far as coverage and sites," Smiley said. "If we can get it pulled together this week, we can probably make it happen. If it doesn’t get done this week, it’s going to be too hard to get it done for Sept 10."
But first things first. Meeting with Bryant's representatives Tuesday and convincing the Lakers star to play would entail a crucial first step in ensuring the rematch game.
"Hopefully he will be there," Smiley said of Bryant. "I know he had a blast over at the park. Seeing the same guys and same setup on a bigger venue, I think he’d like to do that."
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Photo: Kobe Bryant hugs a group of South Korean fans while taking part in a promotional tour of Asia during the 2011 offseason. Credit: Chung Sung-Jun / Getty Images
Photo: Kobe Bryant, right, shares a laugh with teammate Lamar Odom moments before the start of a game against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Nov. 9, 2010. The Lakers opened the 2010-11 season with eight consecutive wins. Credit: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times