By the time the event’s MC was serenading the finals in the Red Bull King of the Rock with “Both men are built Ford tough!” the crowd at Washington D.C.’s Barry Farms had seen it all: a buzzer-beater, a legally-deaf player advancing past the first round, a break for rain and a semifinals showdown between Hugh “Baby Shaq” Jones and Andrew “SpongeBob” Washington. So in the finals, with two of the afternoon’s most physical players going head-to-head for a chance at $1,000, everyone expected something special. Maybe another buzzer beater or a back-n-forth matchup that never seemed to end.
What the championship lacked in drama, it made up for in respect earned. Baby Shaq finished off Philly’s Tyrone “Redz” Hill in the same way that he had done in everybody else. He got into the lane, used his body, spinning from right to left, hanging, bouncing off body contact and finishing. The two fought for space like a couple of battering rams, almost weirdly similar games combining to make every move, every step, contested.
“Get that gas money, Redz!” people yelled at Philly’s finest. But it wasn’t enough. Baby Shaq did it all day, and as he won the finals 15-9, it was clear everyone got what they wanted out of a tournament like this. The best player on this day won. Undoubtedly.
By the end, both Redz and Baby Shaq were moving slower, their chests expanding and contracting a little harder, their hands on their knees and waists a little longer. Skill wasn’t bringing you to Alcatraz (where the top two finishers will now head). It was desire, strength, will power, determination and an unbreakable inside game.
Even by 9:30 in the morning, we all got our first warning when everyone scurried to the tents set up around the corners of the court. Rain came passing through. It was overcast, with the humidity sticking all day long. It was going to be gritty.
“Woooo…” When the beat dropped in Jay-Z‘s “Takeover” during warm-ups, everyone got some extra juice in their step. “R-O-C, we runnin’ this rap shiiii…” Then when SpongeBob strolled in, the anticipation jumped again. He was rumored to be coming. Now it was official. By the time Baby Shaq rolled up, other nervous players were already looking at the board, predicting their fate, their eyes darting from the And1 Mixtape star to their spot on the bracket and back again.
Arriving almost too late, Baby Shaq filled out his paperwork, threw on some sneakers, walked out to the court and went to work.
All of the tournament’s biggest names advanced early. Antoine “Do Dirt” Brown, a crowd favorite despite hailing from South Philly, drew a tough game in the first round, 6-3 inch, 250-pound Charles Adams, rocking a headband and wielding a physical inside game. But Do Dirt, who had almost won the King of the Rock Philly stop just a week ago after playing the final few games after nearly fracturing his hand, used his quickness and wiry strength to advance 13-9. Marius Bausys dropped a tournament-high 25 points in his first game of the day, unsuspectingly destroying a local cat who had his boys yelling, confused the whole time, “Take it to him, man! Come on…”