LANGLEY — Jake Starheim and a whole flock of his buddies sat on the stairs near the back entrance to Langley Events Centre last Saturday night (Aug. 6). Inside, the music was thumping and the place was jumping as game time neared. Yet Starheim and friends, all of whom had tickets and could have been in there whooping it up, chose instead the relative quiet and the hard concrete of the area near the facility’s back door.
Their logic was obvious. It was here, in the dark and the solitude, that the stars of the evening would arrive: Boston Celtics point guard and 2016 NBA All-Star Isaiah Thomas, 16-year NBAer Jamal Crawford (PICTURED BELOW) and colossal seven-foot-two centre Satnam Singh, the first Indian ever drafted into the NBA.
And maybe, just maybe, Starheim and friends would get a close encounter and maybe a selfie with one of them before tip-off.
“We’re all buddies,” he explained. “We’re here because we love the game of basketball. The NBA is the greatest league in the world. We’re here to see some great basketball players do some great things.”
Inside, amidst the hubbub, Daniel Adimora also waited. At just 22 years of age, he’s already the head basketball coach at Langley’s R.E. Mountain Secondary. And tonight, on the suggestion of some of his players, he’d come to the LEC to see some top-level summer ball.
“I believe the interest and the desire for basketball has really grown over the past couple of years here,” he said. “The fact people are coming out doesn’t really surprise me. I knew it was going to happen… It was just a matter of when.”
But just what was it that compelled a couple of true NBA luminaries, several regulars in the flashy Seattle Pro-Am Basketball League, and a whole whack of local college and semi-pro B.C. players to dunk against each other right here in little old Langley? In the middle of summer?
It was… a website. And the two Surrey-based basketball nuts, Harp Basra and Ekam Nagra, who founded it. And now Basra explained how “Ball Don’t Stop” (Balldontstop.com) morphed in just a few short years from a concept to a juggernaut capable of staging events like Saturday night’s “Battle of the Border.”
“We started off as a media outlet, a regular website. And slowly, slowly, it started progressing. We wrote a big article on Allen Iverson and his retirement. That article blew up — a lot of views all over the world. It told people the truth, what the reality is.
“Next thing we knew, Iverson’s manager read the article and flew us out to his retirement ceremony in Philadelphia. He’s one of the most popular ball players ever, and we got a lot of likes and followers. From there, we’ve gotten invites to stuff like the NBA finals and Team U.S.A. games.”
Basra says Ball Don’t Stop has now interviewed virtually every current NBA superstar aside from LeBron James.
“We carry a lot of weight in the States, man. The way we do it — we don’t really bite the player the wrong way. Me and Ekam grew up playing basketball. We know what it’s like.”
And he believes Battle of the Border 2016 is just the start.
“We want to increase the B.C. basketball scene. The fans are here, but it’s so dead. There’s no stars out here, no NBA players. So we want to bring the NBA back a little bit. We have 1,600 or more (tickets sold) here today, we want to have 5,000 next year.”
(PICTURED: Jake Starheim and his crew, waiting on the stairs outside the back door of Langley Events Centre. Photo by Gord Goble)
Later, after it was all over, after the Seattle squad had eked out a 122-116 victory, after nearly 2,000 fans had witnessed an evening of jaw-dropping moves and world-class shotmaking, Jamal Crawford sat down in the empty bleachers to chat with the Now.
Soft-spoken and sincere, the 2016 NBA Sixth Man of the Year award winner covered a lot of ground.
On what it’s like to score 50 in the NBA, a feat he’s achieved three times: “It’s my teammates giving me the ball in great positions. It’s the coaching staff designing great plays. I just have to shoot the ball. You don’t even think about who’s there or where they’re guarding you. You just get lost in the game. Things get very slow. It’s like being in ‘The Matrix.’”
On that evening’s game: “They came to play. They had us down pretty much the whole game…. They made us turn it up in the fourth quarter. It was a good game, it went back and forth.”
And finally, on his connection with local basketball: “I think the fans here are passionate. Obviously it’s a quick drive up from Seattle. I’ve always liked Vancouver. I came here in summer, in the 2005 era, playing in the (outdoor) Dolphin Tournament in Richmond.
“For me, it’s always about giving back. I think what these guys (Basra and Nagra) are doing here is great. They come down to Seattle all the time — almost every other weekend. They’re doing a great job.”
The night wasn’t without its hiccups. The game itself was delayed by close to an hour as organizers waited for marquee players to navigate the border and arrive. Ultimately, Isaiah Thomas never did make it.
But such hiccups are typical of summer league ball. As are pleasant surprises. On this night, those surprises included the appearance of PK Subban, the recent acquisition of the NHL’s Nashville Predators, who joined the warm-up and even saw a few minutes of game action with the B.C. squad.
The reality is that hockey, even in this country, is in a swoon. It’s expensive to play, and it doesn’t resonate as much with the younger crowd. In its place are more accessible, more global sports such as soccer and, yes, basketball. And you could see just that last Saturday night in Langley.
Starheim summed it up.
“The players are very accessible on social media, and that makes them more relatable and it improves the game overall for the community. Overall, they’re just probably some of the funniest athletes on the planet and they’re very good to their fans. They like interacting with us. And it’s just a beautiful game to watch.”