LOS ANGELES — While the NBA is still holding out hope it can salvage some semblance of a conclusion to the 2019-20 campaign, a longstanding pro-am basketball league in L.A. was left with no choice but to cancel its season.
The Drew League, whose legendary summer runs have hosted the likes of Kevin Durant, James Harden, LeBron James and the late Kobe Bryant in the past, announced Wednesday it canceled its upcoming season because of concerns about the coronavirus pandemic.
“Guided by the public safety recommendations by city and state officials, this was not a decision taken lightly,” read the statement on the Drew League website. “We share in the disappointment of not being able to come together to celebrate and take part in an annual summer tradition. However, it is the right thing to do to protect our community, fans, families and staff.”
Started in 1973, the league is known as much for its competition as it is for being part of the culture of South Los Angeles, providing a summertime activity for members of the community to enjoy.
With the 2020 season set to begin May 30 and news arriving this week that L.A. County’s shelter in place guidelines will likely be extended three more months, the Drew League decided to go dark for the first time in its 46-year history.
“When we got that announcement that it looks like they’re pushing us back to July, we just decided it’s best that we go ahead and close it out now,” Dino Smiley, the commissioner of the Drew League, told ESPN.
Smiley and league organizers were planning on moving the league from King Drew Magnet High School of Medicine and Science to El Camino College, about 10 miles away in Hawthorne, California, in order to accommodate more fans this summer.
With notable NBA names like Chris Paul, Trae Young, Pascal Siakam, DeMar DeRozan, Kyle Kuzma, Montrezl Harrell, Marvin Bagley and Andre Drummond rolling through the gym in recent years and rising prospects LaMelo Ball and Shareef O’Neal also making appearances, the league’s popularity was growing.
“We were looking at people standing outside [waiting to get in] in that hot sun, and it was, my goodness, this is getting a little dangerous,” Smiley said of the overspill crowd when the gym would reach its seating capacity.
For a brief while, the league considered forging ahead without fans and streaming the games online, but that would mean sacrificing the spirit of the summertime staple.
“With us, it’s the fans, the music, the noise. It’s so much,” Smiley said. “For us to be silent, people may not come back.
“We don’t have the type of luxury like the NBA. Even with them not having fans, they’re going to find some way to pipeline in sound [to the broadcasts] and all those types of things.”
Smiley, who works for the city’s parks and recreation department, said that seeing so many lively outlets shut down in response to the pandemic has been disheartening.
“The playground area is roped off. The outdoor basketball courts, they removed the goals. It’s kind of eerie,” Smiley said. “We’re at a park, but people can’t come in.”
While he said missing the Drew League means his community will miss out on “normalcy” this summer, Smiley knows that abiding by a new normal — with handwashing, face coverings and social distancing a must — will make for brighter days ahead.
“The community is going to miss it,” he said. “We’ve already been getting bombarded with calls from players, coaches, fans.
“The bottom line is safety. The one thing I don’t want is for Drew to have all these people in the gym and a few of them get sick, and then it becomes Drew’s situation and they could take the league spiraling down. So, we didn’t want to take that chance.
“We’re just going to look forward to ’21.”