Marshawn Lynch, wearing a leather snapback that says simply “BOSS,” is running down the court—not with any great urgency, but it’s clear that for the first time in the game, the packed bleachers are seeing the now-infamous “Beastmode.” He dribbles, spins, and charges to the basket for the layup, forcing the foul for a three-point play and earning cheers from teammates Richard Sherman, Michael Vick, and Pusha T.
No, this wasn’t just some all-star game of pick-up or a Rock-N-Jock revival. This was the scene at Kam Chancellor’s inaugural Spring Jam Celebrity Basketball Game last Saturday, held in the place where it all started for the Seahawks strong safety: Norfolk, Va.’s Maury High School gymnasium.
“I’m here because Kam cares,” Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch told Complex, alluding to Chancellor’s Kam Cares Foundation, his 501(c)(3) devoted to equipping “children from underserved communities in Hampton Roads, Va. and Seattle areas with educational, health, and wellness tools,” and the beneficiary of the game’s proceeds. Kids were everywhere, from the cookout (which featured face painting, bouncy houses, and a band playing—in true DMV style—“Frontin’”) to the game itself, where the brave ones joined athletes and local celebrities on the court to warm up. Watching Marshawn go shot-for-shot from three with a child—and demanding push-ups when the kid missed—was more than a little entertaining. The closed-mouthed football player who prompted 1,000 thinkpieces had disappeared, replaced by a well-intentioned dude inexplicably playing basketball in boat shoes.
“I want to create a big family out here,” Kam Chancellor told the crowd at the cookout. Hundreds of diehard Seahawks fans and Tidewater, Va. natives alike stood in line for the (incredible) pork chops, wings, and more, all free and cooked by Chancellor’s uncle Jeff Turner and his wife. “I used to coach him right here, in this park,” Turner said while sporting a Seahawks apron. The day featured a bit of a Super Bowl XLVIII reunion, as well. "You got all that money now, man!" former Seahawks fullback Michael Robinson said the second he spotted now-Eagles cornerback Byron Maxwell, who looked every bit his new six-year, $63 million contract. Not far away, Richard Sherman held court at a table with Earl Thomas, Brandon Browner, and Bobby Wagner, who brought along his younger brother Robert Wagner.
When King Push is getting in the key and blowing kisses to longtime girlfriend Virginia Williams after layups, NFL players airballing jumpers is not a concern.
The warm and fuzzy parts aside, the game, for charity or not, was still a competition (“Win Forever,” as Pete Carroll is wont to say). “Is Bobby [Wagner] playing?” was the most common response to inquiries about the game’s best potential player (he didn’t). But, as usual, Lynch’s take was the most memorable: “I don’t care who the best is—as long as I ain’t the weakest, I’m good.”
Unsurprisingly, the only actual basketball player on the court—the Orlando Magic's Kyle O'Quinn—had the best game, but it certainly wasn't for lack of trying on the part of his NFL and civilian teammates. Sherm and Kam were on the court an hour before, taking shots with such intensity you could almost feel Pete Carroll cringing (both players finished the Super Bowl with injuries). The game itself was about one third dunks, one third three pointers, and one third air balls, which made the most amusing aspect of the exhibition the seven or so attempts that preceded each made basket (to their credit, if there's one thing the NFL’s best defensive players can do, it's get the rebound). But advanced basketball skills or not, nothing can take away from the preposterous joy of hearing an announcer say things like, "Mike Vick with the assist to Pusha T!” When King Push is getting in the key and blowing kisses to longtime girlfriend Virginia Williams after layups, NFL players airballing jumpers is not a concern.
The basketball game was equally amusing for the glimpse it gave into each player’s off-the-field personalities. Anyone skeptical of Marshawn’s love of Skittles need only to see the look of unabashed glee when someone handed him a pack in the middle of the game (they’re his power pellets!). It’s hard to hate Saints cornerback Brandon “Try to break it if you can” Browner when you’re watching him do Kendrick Lamar’s “King Kunta” dance on his way to the free-throw line. Richard Sherman talks just as much smack during basketball as he does during football (though always with a grin on his face). Is there a greater sign of brotherhood than the gift of a handful of Cheetos, as Bobby Wagner bestowed upon Marshawn from the sidelines?
When the teams left the court tied at the half, things started to get a little heated. Though one would think a matchup between the “Dream Team” and the “All-Stars” would feature no losers, nobody on the floor wanted to go home without the trophy (...again). “Just give me 45 seconds,” Marshawn said to his teammates during a late timeout. Football players playing any sport gets physical, and the fouls ran rampant at the end to say the least. "Sherm took it too far," a clearly frustrated Tyrod Taylor (possible starting QB for the Buffalo Bills) said to an NFL cohort in the bleachers (his team ended up winning by one point, after which he promptly removed his jersey). “I think it went awesome,” Chancellor said afterwards. “Aside from the referee cheating for the other team.”
“It was all fun and games at the end of the day,” he would later add (although by the looks of Instagram, Kam may not have come away from the weekend unscathed). When pressed for highlights, Chancellor readily listed off his “alley-oop at the beginning and the three-pointer at the end” as his favorite moments of the game, adding that he “felt proud of them” since he hadn’t played basketball there in seven years.
“It felt good to be back on the hardwood and play a little ball,” the three-time Pro Bowl safety said of reliving his high school basketball glory days. “Thought I didn’t have it, but you know, I still had a little something left in the tank.”
Natalie Weiner is a writer, originally from Seattle and currently living in New York. Read her work on Billboard, NPR Music, Pigeons & Planes, and (more concisely) on Twitter.