BALTIMORE - Even during a lockout, the NBA still packs plenty of drawing power.
LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Paul starred in a hastily arranged summer league game Tuesday night that drew an overflow crowd at Morgan State University.
The big question is: Will these stars and their peers perform in the NBA this year?
The owners and players union are expected to meet this week. Until a settlement is reached, fans with a thirst for professional basketball will have to settle for exhibitions like this one.
Hill Field House holds 4,500, but there were hundreds of fans surrounding the court to watch the collection of stars in a rare performance in Baltimore, Anthony's home town.
There were a few police officers to keep the peace. If there was a Fire Marshall in attendance, he might have shut the place down.
The game was originally scheduled to be held Sunday at a Baltimore high school that holds around 1,000 fans. It was postponed because of hurricane Irene, and when word got out that James was playing, the venue was changed to Morgan State.
The tickets sold at a rapid pace — at US$40 to $100. It didn't matter that the entry process was exceedingly slow because both teams arrived after the scheduled 7 o'clock start.
Press row didn't have enough seats to accommodate those fortunate enough to collar credentials (one reporter was told he couldn't get in unless he bought a ticket). Minutes before the game started, several media members who did secure seats were unceremoniously ousted by people with deep connections.
That would never happen at an NBA game, and the same could be said for the treatment the players received.
When James and his teammates of the Melo League finally walked onto the court, they were rushed by autograph seekers and people snapping pictures with personal cameras and cellphones. It set up one of the strangest scenes of a very peculiar night: players taking warmup shots while dozens of fans walked through the lane and under the basket.
The game was every bit like an NBA all-star game in that it featured big-name players wearing generic uniforms and showing very little effort on the defensive end.
James slammed down several crowd-cheering dunks and played a little game on 1-on-1 with Durant. At one point, all eight players went to the left side of the court while James juked and dribbled against Durant before making a 20-footer.
Durant then returned the favour on the other end.
Melo's team beat Durant's squad 149-141. The statistics were spotty, but the all-nonsense public address announcer said Durant scored 59 points and James had 36.
Not that it mattered. The crowd loved every minute and was in no rush to leave. James and Anthony were swarmed at midcourt at the final buzzer, and after five minutes both finally worked their way off the court.