Vegas tournament 2005, as seen in AsianWeek

The following was written by DLNY’s commish Brian Yang and appeared in AsianWeek on 9/16/2005 (what a year it was!), entitled Wild Weekend Wrap Up, Rollin’ the Dream League Dice

Wild Weekend Wrap Up: Rollin’ the Dream League Dice
By: Brian Yang, Dream League, New York Director of Operations

If basketball is not your thing, I’m going to have to stop you here.

Actually, that’s not 100% true. Even though on the weekend of August 20-21 in Las Vegas, Dream League hosted its AsianWeek- and AZN TV-sponsored “Sin City Shootout” Tournament that saw close to 90 games played between over 40-some-odd teams, if you didn’t necessarily like the sport there was something for you.

Our weekend started early on Saturday morning at the Palms Casino, the hot spot made famous by the Maloof brothers, the same guys that own the NBA Sacramento Kings. It was ironic then that we were there to host a special presentation of the King’s Western Conference rivals Houston Rockets’ center Yao Ming. Yao’s journey to the NBA from China was produced in a documentary called The Year of the Yao and while his game is hoops, his name and fame mean so much more.

Co-producer Chris Chen of Endgame Entertainment was on hand for a lively Q&A session with filmgoers who braved the early morning hours to catch this engaging story on how the 7’5” Yao became not only a recognizable sports figure around the world, but also an instant cultural and political bridge between East and West, handling everything with a great sense of humor. The story was so sincere that you could have been living under a rock for the last three years and not known the difference between a basketball and a watermelon and you would have had the strings in your heart tugged on. The Year of the Yao is the story of man who overcame adversity to triumph against all odds — the successful formulaic plotline for any Hollywood tale.

Okay, maybe even if you didn’t like basketball, if you had set foot into one of the seven courts located in four different gyms where the tournament was being held and saw the vast gathering of Asian Americans under one (or four) roof(s) for a singular purpose, you had to be impressed.

This many AAs play roundball?

You bet.

About 500 crazed weekend warriors from all over the place: the Bay Area, Southern California, Arizona, Nevada, Hawaii, and even New York City were in the house (and mostly at the Tarkanian Academy which was the largest facility that saw 3 games going on at once at all times from noon to 10 at night — my guess is, had the namesake venerable former UNLV coach Jerry Tarkanian walked in, he would have been floored).

And these were just the players. Families and friends filled the sidelines as they took in the competition, enjoyed each others company, making new friends while rekindling the old.

That’s just the beauty with the Dream League tournament — the participants are crazy about playing the game, but the event has a greater purpose — to serve as a stage for the community to come together for having fun, developing friendships, and assisting inner-city youth.

Let’s not forget this last point as that’s the credo of Dream League, which currently has operations in the Bay Area and New York City: to use the game of basketball as a platform to give disadvantaged youth the opportunity to improve themselves in order to increase their GPAs, graduation rates, and admissions into four-year colleges. Teammate, husband, friend, mentor. These words are the essence and spirit of what Dream League is all about. Whether you were a team member, spectator, or volunteer, you played an important role for someone.

Speaking of playing, let’s not forget the games upon games upon games that took place. This is where if you weren’t so much a fan of the game, you might want to stop here. But since you have come this far, perhaps you are one after all.

Saturday was just a zoo of hoops. There was no other way to say it. Pool play in three divisions (6-foot-and-under, “Masters” aka over-35-years-old, and “Open” aka any and all of the above) showcased a whirlwind of backdoor cuts, three pointers, shake-and-bakes, rejections, stop and pops, coast to coasts, and even the occasional dunk. Yes, I said dunk. (A long time ago I might have said something smart about how yes, Asians can jam, but nowadays it’s so common that no remark is required.)

The best game of the day was a matchup in the Open Division pitting the San Jose Ballers against the New York City Dream League Selects. The much smaller NYC team gutted out a nail-biting 71-70 win against the favored bad boys from the South Bay that had the entire gym rocking as guards CB Liu and Quincy Tso drained 3 after 3 and NYC’s lone true big man Tony Hu played through a knee injury to score the upset.

While it was it was big win, it was one of only nearly 50 big wins on the day. When you come from far away to play, every win in every game is big. When all was said and done on Saturday, tournament coordinators Rich Twu (Dream League’s Executive Director) and Raffy Consing (who actually plays in Dream League back in the Bay Area) worked on Sunday’s playoff seeding and scheduling from midnight until 5am in the morning before notifying all teams at 8am of what time they were to play and where (remember there were seven courts on four gyms).

Is this beginning to feel like an episode of 24? Every hour counted and the pace was exhausting.

Sunday game time came and all the teams were up and at ‘em again. Heaven only knows how they spent their Saturday nights on the Strip, so for both the organizing committee and the participants, it was one looong weekend.

Playoffs finally began to eliminate teams to send them packing back on the road home, but before some teams left, many of the players had the chance to be interviewed by NBA TV, who was in the house to inquire about the Dream League tournament and what it means to be playing within the Asian American community. Props to the NBA for recognizing, even if it took a 7’5” man for them to stand up and notice, but the game in our community has been around starting since World War II when Japanese were placed in internment camps and had nothing better to do than play ball. Eventually, the Nisei Athletic Union was formed and today, up and down California, a league known as the “J-Leagues” thrives.

Over time, competitive leagues within the Chinese, Korean, Filipino, and South Asian communities grew and if you looked around the gyms over the course of the weekend at the Dream League tournament, you would have seen these various groups represented.

Comprised of Indian and Pakistani descent, a South Asian team called the California Shockwaves, who won the last Dream League’s tournament of champions also held in Vegas back in April, proved their standing was no fluke by advancing all the way to the finals after disposing of the Cinderella New York (Chinese) team in the semis. In the championship, the Shockwaves lost by 2 points to South Bay Shootout (Filipino), which had defeated the San Jose Ballers (Filipino) on the other side of the bracket.

This championship game couldn’t have been a better one. With the California Shockwaves trailing by two points with just 0.8 seconds to go in the game, Ripp Singh took the inbounds pass from under his own basket, but the 8-foot shot-put-like attempt hit the backboard and rim too hard and South Bay Shootout escaped with the 56-54 Open Division Championship. With the championship win, Shootout avenged an earlier pool-play 60-54 loss to the Shockwaves. Jo Jo Pierce was named the Open Division tournament MVP. It was a windy road to the championship for the Shootout, which survived a myriad of single-digit victories, including a buzzer-beater three-pointer by Ryan Mateo against Vegas ABL Select in the opening round of the playoff bracket on Sunday, perhaps the best game of the playoffs outside of the finals.

The basketball portion of the tournament was perfectly summed up by Twu, “Our top four seeds and semifinal games were proof that Asian Americans have talented ballplayers all across the country looking to play in ultra-competitive, high-quality, high-caliber tournaments and leagues, represented by all segments of Asian ethnicities. This was one significant step in a continuing direction. If we are able to work through various scheduling difficulties, we’re looking forward to including more of the Japanese and Chinese championship-caliber teams from coast to coast, and demonstrating the Asian Pacific American community’s ongoing dedication to the game of basketball to our entire nation.”

He also pointed out that the next national tournament brought to you by Dream League is expected to be held in San Francisco in early December. Purposely scheduled to include championship teams from the 65-year-old California Japanese leagues, the tournament will be headlined by an invite-only Elite/All-Star division restricted to championship teams from respective Chinese, Filipino, Japanese, Korean, Indian/Pakistani, and other Asian Pacific American community segments.

By the time all was said and done, it was well past 9pm on a Sunday night and players were speeding to get to the airports to catch the last flights out to return home. Some had an hour flight to LA, others a five-hour red eye back to the East Coast only to return to their lives as working stiffs Monday morning.

They may have all traveled various distances to get there, played in different divisions, or represented a different ethnic background, but they all had one thing in common: they could not wait to do this again.

If you weren’t a fan before, are you now?