It’s not every day you get to face off against two of the best basketball players in the world – and less often that you take them to within one possession of a globally televised upset for the pride and glory of your hometown, your league, and a beloved fallen friend. Black Pearl Elite did just that last week, battling LeBron James, DeMar DeRozan, and the MMV Cheaters to a standstill that nearly turned into a legend-making moment for the team from Long Beach. They certainly got some attention for themselves, as hoops fans who tuned into the livestream found themselves not just wondering about Black Pearl, but actively rooting for them.
And while plenty of that attention focused on forward Dion Wright, who found himself matched up with James on multiple possessions, in truth, Black Pearl lives up to their “elite” title because their wins are a group effort led by all-around contributions from the whole team. All five starters in last week’s game scored in double digits, with guard Mike Nwabuzor absolutely stuffing the stat sheet with 17 points, 8 rebounds, a game-high 7 assists, 3 steals, and 3 blocks. His efforts, and those of teammates like Don Nupou, got the gym buzzing as Black Pearl embraced their underdog status – but not those expectations.
BPE is a team that comes into every game expecting to win, and knowing that they have the talent, chemistry, and motivation to do so, no matter who’s standing across the court. Until last Saturday, they did just that, remaining undefeated until being edged out by the loaded Cheaters (also undefeated). And they do it all in the memory of Dejon Prejean, aka DeDe Smooth, a longtime Drew League player who grew up with many of their players and passed away during what would have been the 2020 season. They take their quiet confidence and fearless approach to the game from him and the lesson they took from last week’s game is just how hard they are to beat.