At the start of the summer, before the highlights, before there was any inkling that Birdie’s Revenge would go 14-0 on its way to the championship game, Jayceon “Chuck” Taylor dedicated his team’s 2017 Drew League season to the memory of the late, great Hank Salvatori, who sponsored and mentored Drew League players and teams for what seemed like decades and passed away suddenly last summer. A chair still sits courtside in to honor him, complete with his customary peanut M&Ms, Coca-Cola and Drew League towel.
Late this season, just after the midway point for Hometown Favorites, Chris “Ghetto Bird,” their leader and emotional core, fell ill and underwent brain surgery, sidelining him for weeks as fans, coaches and rivals held their collective breath and prayed for another integral member of the Drew League family to pull through and make his return. He was sitting on the team’s bench as they defeated LAUNFD, earning the right to play for the 2017 Drew League championship.
Strangely, both teams were underdogs this year; nobody expected Birdie’s Revenge to play for the most coveted title in Los Angeles sports, let alone going undefeated through 13 weeks to get there, and with no big name star pros to boot. They play a strange, 4-on-5 style of basketball most games, and many of their offensive possessions end with Franklin “Nitty” Session with the ball in his hands, laser-beam focused on getting to the rim.
Even then, they miss free throws, they have no range to speak of, and teams lick their chops at the prospect of posting up 6’10 Jarion Henry, who’s hurt Birdie’s Revenge almost as much as he’s helped.
Meanwhile, Hometown Favorites played almost every one of their games with no size and no point guard, forcing 6’9 forward Dorell Wright to both bring the ball up and protect the rim in more games than should have been feasible for them to win, violating practically every one of the three major tenets of winning at the Drew (generally, every team must have size, a point guard, and play defense to win).
Almost nobody picked them to overcome M.H.P or LAUNFD, both teams stacked to the gills with star power, and in fact they trailed LAU by 19 points to start the game, coming back to win by 9 points despite being outsized again by the mammoth Marvin Bagley and Montrezl Harrell.
Yet, here both are, one game away from hoisting the trophy that marks them one of the finest local basketball teams not just in Los Angeles, but possibly in the world.
Dorell and Delon Wright, De’Anthony Melton, Jordan Crawford, Roy Walker, Jordan Bell, Tremayne Johnson, Gerry Blakes, Brandon Heath and Ekpe Udoh need more than anything to make the Ghetto Bird proud.
Frank Session, Roshun Wynn, Chuck Taylor, Jarion Henry, Marcus Bell, Kevlin Swint, Marcus Monroe, Jarell Tate, Jojo Ballestero and CJ Johnson burn to prove that they belong in the league with the best of the best and that they are more than just “Game’s team.”
What happens when two underdogs meet, with one team playing to honor a temporarily sidelined brother-in-arms, and the other playing in memory of a fallen mentor? More than pride is on the line, and more than a trophy.
It all comes down to this: who wants it more, who needs it more, who is willing to push themselves beyond their limits and who refuses to fold. One game separates these two underdog teams from becoming basketball legend, and “No Excuse, Just Produce” is more than a motto now—it’s the key to victory.