NEW YORK -- It was 8:15 on Wednesday night, the scheduled tip-off time, when Dyckman League announcer Joe Pope got on the mic to address the capacity crowd of about 3,000 at Monsignor Kett Playground in Washington Heights on 204th St. and Nagle Ave.
"Let's go! We need you to please clear the court so the game can begin! Let's go!"
At that time, there were dozens of VIP guests and media members chatting it up with celebrity row, which included former New York Knicks player Al Harrington, Chicago Bulls forward Taj Gibson, Indiana Pacers guard A.J. Price former New York high school prodigy Felipe Lopez and rapper Jadakiss.
But most of the swarm hovered around the 17 players on the court. But these weren't just any 17 ballers -- these were 17 of the best former high school and college standouts, including streetball legends, to ever come out of New York City. And it was only a Dyckman regular-season matchup.
It wasn't until roughly 9:30 p.m. that what was billed as "the game of the decade" actually got underway, featuring Team Nike and Ooh-Way.
"Usually we'll have more control, but because of the magnitude of the game and the people there, we didn't have enough manpower to control it," Dyckman League president Kenneth Stevens said. "But the game went on."
For the past seven years, Nike has been the main sponsor of Dyckman and has helped develop the summer basketball tournament into the biggest one in the city. Many streetball aficionados in attendance agreed that Dyckman has surpassed the long-running Entertainer's Basketball Classic at Rucker Park in popularity. "It's the quality of ballplayers," one said.
Dyckman was even enough reason for National Basketball Players Association executive director Billy Hunter to set aside the NBA lockout for an evening and take a courtside seat on Wednesday.
"My tongue almost fell out of my mouth when I saw him," Stevens said. "That was a really, really good look for the community, a great look for the tournament."
What's unique about this year is that Nike, for the first time, organized its own team, headlined by three MVPs of previous Nike Tournament of Champions events: Kenny "Serious Satellite" Satterfield, Antawn "Anti-Freeze" Dobie and Adris "Too Hard To Guard" DeLeon. Their Team Nike teammates included Quinton "T2" Hosley, Anthony "I, Robot" Glover, Vernon "Vern" Goodridge, Keydren "Kee Kee" Clark, B.J. "Beast" McFarland, Al "Shep" Sheppard and Anthony "Africa" Pimble.
The seven players representing Ooh-Way included: Dwight "Top Shelf" Hardy, Corey "The Priceless One" Fisher, Darren "DP" Phillip, Justin "Megatron" Burrell, Brian "Hitman" Laing, Corey "Homicide" Williams and Sundiata "Yatta" Gaines.
Typically Dyckman, a seven-game-season tourney featuring neighborhood, AAU and sponsored teams (i.e. Ooh-Way Records), has crowd-control issues during playoff and championship games. But on Wednesday, Stevens said he had never seen a mass gathering like that for a regular-season contest in his 21 years running the league.
"We had fans come from all over the tri-state area and even Philadelphia and Boston," Stevens said. "They don't really have any type of tournament like this in their city. They hear about Dyckman and they want to come. It's just amazing -- the atmosphere, the ambience, how the tournament is set up with the bleachers and the scoreboard, the No. 1 train going by."
Hardy, a Bronx product and former St. John's star, agreed with Stevens' assessment.
"That was the biggest environment I've ever been in," Hardy said. "It was electric. One through 12 on each roster was a great player, so to be in the atmosphere like that, and to play at a high level and to get a win, was special. We had 24 players all together that are good basketball players. There's not more you can ask for in a streetball game."
Hardy said the most impressive quality about Dyckman is the fans' support, and there was no denying that on Wednesday. During the game, the team benches and courtside spectators spilled onto the court, basically eliminating 3-point room down the sidelines. Some of the enthusiasts actually roamed the baseline while the ball was in play, shouting words of encouragement to their favorite players and showing loyalty to them by waving their team's T-shirt in the air.
The game was tight the entire way, but in the end Hardy's 17 points and Fisher's 16 helped Ooh-Way upset Team Nike, 66-61. Ooh-Way remains undefeated (4-0), while Team Nike, which was led by Dobie (11 points) and Satterfield (11), dropped to 5-1. Hardy knew that playing in Dyckman for the first time, he had to be on a highly competitive team to contend for a title. With Ooh-Way, he sees that opportunity.
"We knew the kind of team Team Nike had, and we just wanted to put a team together that could match them at each position," Hardy said. "I think we've got the perfect team to match up with them, and that was the main reason why we won -- we had the same amount of firepower."
Both teams resume play next week, and they could meet again in the East-West finals of the tournament. The winner of that game will then move on to the Nike Tournament of Champions, which features the league champs from Dyckman and three other Nike tournaments: the Entertainer's Basketball Classic, West 4th Street and Hoops in the Sun.