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Ex-NBA players rise to Challenge at Galen

2/20/2011

LOS ANGELES -- The following list of names may shock you.

Isaiah Rider. Keith Closs. Penny Hardaway.

Former Jazz and Laker guard Bryon Russell, former Clipper and Rocket guard Cuttino Mobley and ex-Pacer and now-ESPN analyst Jalen Rose. Former Pacer point guard Travis Best, former Raptor/Laker/Bullet/Wizard/Blazer forward Tracy Murray and ex-Celtic and now-Basketball Wives star Eric Williams.

Bonzi Wells, even. Cedric Ceballos entertained the crowd for a time.

Now what was the occasion for the appearances?

The inaugural 3-on-3 Legends Challenge, a new venture by former NBA player Dale Davis intended to connect fans and former players across the United States. Davis eventually plans to have a touring Legends League, where teams of fans compete with teams of former players, but the kick-off of the concept was held Saturday.

The official count had 34 former NBA players in attendance, with more than 20 taking part in the 3-on-3 action. Six teams played double elimination basketball in front of a crowd of a couple of hundred fans -- admission was free -- on the upstairs tournament courts at USC's Galen Center.

The final matchup? Russell, Mobley, Davis and Rose versus Murray, Williams, Corey Benjamin and ex-Clipper Sean Rooks. Playing by street-ball rules up to 15, Mobley led his squad to the victory, 15-12, with an array of to-the-basket drives past older, slower defenders and his signature lefty 3-point stroke.

Rose hit the game-winner from 20 feet out when he quick-started a possession and immediately pulled up for the jumper just after stepping inside the 3-point line.

"It was a lot of fun, man," said Mobley, 35. "The camaraderie, competing with the guys, it was a lot of fun. You grow up competing and you don't compete for a while, so this sort of stuff ends up being a lot of fun."

The Russell-Mobley-Davis-Rose squad was clearly the most talented in the building, but other teams challenged them at times. Murray's 3-point stroke was a thing of beauty for the first couple games of the day. Benjamin, at 32 the youngest player in the tourney, used his athleticism to his advantage. Best drained a ton of of jumpers in his games.

Davis, 41, planned the event around All-Star Weekend in Los Angeles in order to provide the players a centralized meeting place where they could stay close to the rest of the weekend's action and come together for an afternoon event. Marketing and advertising for the tourney wasn't extensive, but the consensus from the players was the event was a success for fan-player interaction.

"It gives the fans an opportunity to interact and remember some players that they've watched in a more personal setting, so that's where the idea came from," Davis said. "These weekends are for the current players and we understand that, but at the same time it's good to get back in action against the guys you played against your whole career."

Said Mobley: "We had our time, we had our fun, now it's time to connect with the fans."

Along the sidelines, many of the NBA veterans pulled out cell phones and exchanged contact information with eachother. Best, who most recently played for Air Avellino of the Euroleague in Rome, said he hadn't seen or heard from a number of the players he talked to for at least 10 years.

"That's part of what this is all about," Best said, adding that he could see Davis' idea growing in the coming years as more players catch on. "Re-connecting, networking, meeting up with guys that we haven't seen in a long while. Seeing what guys are up to, where they're living, so it's a good thing all around."

Rose, 38, said he was proud of Davis' efforts in re-connecting such a large number of former players for such an event and bringing them all together. He expects similar tourneys and ventures to continue.

"There's a lot of wisdom and experience in this gym," Rose said after his game-winner. "It's great to be a part of this -- hopefully it only continues to get bigger and better. One of the things we want to do is bridge the gap between the retired players, being a part of the game still even though they're not in uniform, and the current league.

"It's not even about basketball. It's about the fans, it's about the skills, it's about being mentors to current players."

There were a few players, like Mobley, who still have dreams of making it back to the NBA for one final stretch run. But most of the ex-players who suited up Saturday did it for fun -- nothing else.

"A lot of times when you're not a current player, you get pulled away from the game, pulled away from the loop," said Rose, who also played in the official Celebrity Game as part of All-Star Weekend on Friday. "This is a good way to get everybody back into the loop."

Notes: Mobley said he had recently spoken with the Clippers and other NBA teams about the potential of making a league comeback as a reserve guard playing "10 or 15 minutes" a game. Yahoo! Sports reported last September that Mobley had worked out with the Boston Celtics after he was cleared to play with the heart condition that ended his career prematurely in 2008...Clipper Darrell was in attendance and in his normal attire, seeking autographs from a number of former Clipper players...Other players who had been scheduled to play but did not appear: Charles Oakley, Sam Perkins, Allan Houston and Micheal Ray Richardson.