In 1973 Alvin Willis established a summer league with 6 teams. The goal was to help the youth form meaningful relationships on the court that would translate into their neighborhood, as well as build an institution that would bring top local high school, college, and pro players back to the community. Fast forward 44 years later and it has become the epicenter for Summer Basketball. After the Finals and NBA Summer League, this is the cream of the crop for NBA level competition in the summer. It’s safe to say…This is the new Rucker Park. This is the Drew League.
This ode to Drew League is no discourtesy towards what Greg Marius Court (formerly known as “Rucker Park”) has done for Basketball. New York will always be the mecca, it personified what street ball is meant to be and will be remembered for that. However, the last time Rucker Park was in the news was when Kevin Durant dropped 66 in 2011. It’s hard to let go of nostalgia and move on but let’s face the facts, times have changed and there is a new era for summer hoops.
Back in the early 70s, the Drew League was not the league we’re accustomed to seeing now. In fact, it wasn’t even a league at all. It was occupied by Charles Drew Middle School, right on Compton Ave.
The “Homeroom Basketball” program at Charles Drew, popularized by Willis turned into evening basketball games. Soon, local players and collegiate athletes from big programs all over Southern California began to fill the courts eager to compete. With players gathering every day, Alvin founded a league that keeps the same motto that made his pickup runs buzzing: “It didn’t matter if you were a name guy or a no-name guy,” he explains. “Whenever you played, you had to play.”
In 1984 Director Dino Smiley needed a slogan for the League to compromise for the complaints Charles Drew’s gym had
“We were trying to come up with some kind of saying and we had a lot of guys complaining about referees, complaining about the floor was slippery, complaining about how they got in late last night, their legs are heavy,” Smiley said. “I thought about it and I said, ‘Man I don’t need y’all’s excuse. Y’all just need to produce.’”
“No Excuse, Just Produce” has stuck ever since, and can be seen everywhere in the King Drew Magnet High School gym. It’s on the banners on the walls, on the court, and social media.
And, since 2013, it’s been the motto
From 1973 to 2005, this was the home for the Drew League. Dimo Smiley reminisces Charles Drew: “The crowd was under the basket, people were in the doorways trying to watch the games, and there was no air conditioning.” Many may think that doesn’t sound like something they would want to be apart of, but that made the spot even purer. It was the true love of basketball that kept the lights on. That is why Alvin will forever be a Compton Legend.
Movin’ on up
After 33 years of raw summer hoops, the league moved up the street to Washington Park, adding more to the legacy. This gym had a built in air- conditioning and was mostly a standing room. For 5 years, this was home to one of the best moments in Drew League History. Many local Drew League legends like James Harden, Paul George, DeMar DeRozan, and Nick Young grew up on the Drew. Some have played since they were teens and still play to this day, and since half of the NBA’s stars are from LA it was only right for them to bring their buddies. Here is a long list of notable players and celebrities who have graced the floor:
- Kobe Bryant
- Byron Scott
- Greg Anthony
- LeBron James
- Kevin Durant
- Paul Pierce
- Andre Miller
- Chris Paul
- Bobby Brown
- Gilbert Arenas
- Trevor Ariza
- Nick Young
- The Game
- JaVale McGee
- Hassan Whiteside
- Terrell Owens
- Brandon Jennings
- DeMar DeRozan
- James Harden
- Chris Brown
- Baron Davis
- Paul George
- Metta World Peace
- John Wall
- JR Smith
The 2011 NBA Lockout was the best thing to happen to Summer League basketball, especially for the Drew. Players were hungry to compete against one another, and the Drew League was one of the biggest destinations. That summer catapulted the league’s popularity and spread all around the country with many iconic moments that will live forever. A fan favorite moment is when LA’s own James Harden battled against Lakers legend, Kobe Bryant. This was a classic battle of old school vs new school. Spoiler alert, the old school won.
The tenure for Washington Park was short-lived mainly because of the shortage of bleachers for the high demand in seats. Soon they found a gym that they can finally call home.
Basketball Never Stops
Finally, the Drew League moved to the gym that we know today, King Drew Magnet High School. This new facility gave the atmosphere a clean and legit feeling that you were watching a professional basketball game. The expansion of 28 teams gave many pros, playground legends, and even rappers a wide range of teams to chose from. Now the league has multiple sponsors such as Time Warner Cable and Body Armor Sports Drink, but by far the most recognizable and influential sponsor is Nike. Jacie Prieto from Nike explained, “we decided to partner with the world’s best summer league and the opportunity to forge an authentic connection with this community beyond basketball.”
This made it official, the Drew League is summer basketball.
During this period of no NBA basketball, the Drew League has kept us entertained and have been doing this for many years now and we don’t even know it.
It was only perfect timing that around the rise of the Drew, it would also be the rise of Social Media. Where someone can simply post a mix tape of their favorite Drew League player going off. Now there is a guarantee that in every Drew League game there will be at least 1 known celebrity in attendance.
Every other day on Instagram or Twitter there would be a viral video of NBA prospect Marvin Bagley going head to head against DeMar DeRozan, or DeMar getting unusually heated at a referee so much that he chucked a ball aimed at the refs head. This summer the new Rockets backcourt James Harden and Chris Paul are running the courts of the Drew, as they test out there new chemistry at the pity of local talent.
Even EA Sports recognizes the impact the Drew has on basketball.
Now the Drew League is going to be featured on NBA Live 18 as one of the few destinations a player will participate in during “The One” mode.
Out of all the new teams, jerseys, arenas and mixtapes, the best thing about the Drew League is that it’s made by LA and for LA and accepted by all. After 40+ years, it is still South Central. It moves the culture and does not let the culture move them. It adapts to the new technology and practices of today’s society while still keeping its soul. Pro-Am ball will never be the same.