Written by Bryan Horowitz (@SportsAngle)
The best high school basketball players in America descended on the Barclays Center in Brooklyn on Saturday for the Jordan Brand Classic, which over the past 11 years has become a mandatory rite of passage on the way to bigger things. The past six No. 1 NBA Draft picks played in the Jordan game as high school seniors, as did hoops royalty Chris Paul, Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Durant. In his final game as an amateur, an 18-year-old LeBron James scored a Classic-record 34 points; three days after his final NBA game, Michael Jordan observed the boy who would be King from the MCI Center owner’s suite.
Indeed, what sets the Jordan Game apart from other more established competitors is the cool factor from being affiliated with the greatest player of all time, not to mention a variety of unmatched amenities. For kids who grew up coveting anything emblazoned with the Jumpman logo, they get a backpack full of fresh gear and sneakers to take home. There was also a weekend full of activities all over the City, such as a tour of the historic Gleason’s boxing gym and a private film screening with Spike Lee. The players were treated to a fireworks-laden postgame concert from Drake, who shouted out Canadian prep star Andrew Wiggins and brought the entire Jordan All-American team on stage for “Started From the Bottom.” And best of all, up-and-coming players hoping to emulate Jordan’s rise to greatness get to show their stuff in front of MJ himself, who watched from a skybox.
That said, while players like LeBron grew up watching and idolizing Jordan, Wiggins had just turned eight years old when Jordan played his final game 10 years ago this Tuesday. Events like the Classic and the Jordan Brand’s efforts in the community continue to spread the gospel to new generations, but today’s players are still definitely more accustomed to seeing Russell Westbrook and Carmelo Anthony in J’s than the man who made them famous.
Which begs the question: What do Jordan and his iconic, eponymous brand mean to today’s future superstars? As the Classic came to Jordan’s birthplace for the first time, Complex polled 10 of the nation’s finest up-and-coming players about the importance to them of playing in the game that bears his name. As a bonus, we also solicited takes from two notable courtside spectators: Kentucky-bound junior Karl Towns, certain to be a Jordan Brand All-American next year, and Yankees ace CC Sabathia, a longtime member of Team Jordan. Click through to see the rest of the story.