All eyes are on the Drew League after Lebron James returned to play in his first Pro-Am game since 2011. His spectacular return also included fellow NBA star Demar Derozan. Kyrie Irving was expected to play but was unable to attend due to obligations tied to a basketball camp at Mamba Sports Academy.
While the buzz around James and Derozan brought a national spotlight to the Drew League, the organization has been around for over four decades and seems to be becoming more popular than ever. The league has also been the main stage for several NBA players throughout the years.
In 1973, Alvin Wills created the Drew League to try to improve the community. The league’s current mission is to create positive avenues for community residents, students, and at-risk youth through prevention, mentoring, and sports activities. The League’s goal was to have people build relationships with one another while playing basketball. The secondary goal was to have notable players of all levels return to play. The league started playing its first games at at Charles Drew Junior High School in Los Angeles.
Oris “Dino” Smiley first got involved with the League at the age of 13 and went on to coach one of the teams, the Dreamers, at the age of 15. Due to his success, Dino was given the opportunity by Wills to lead the league in 1984. Dino’s daughter Chaniel would later become the commissioner of the Drew League. Smiley still apart of the league’s staff and leadership. Once a six team league, it then grew to 14 teams in 1988 and today has 28 teams.
At the beginning, only local great players would play, compared to now where some NBA players have returned to the court. The first legendary Drew League player was Casper Ware. In 1987, Ware won the MVP award after scoring 41 points in the title game.
During his career in the 1980s, Ware won three Drew League titles as a player and later two titles as a coach. In 1989, the league’s best player, Clarence “Clank” Worship tragically died in a car accident. The Drew League MVP award was then named in his honor. Other impactful Drew League players included Robin Kennedy would later play for the AND1 Mixtape Tour.
The league also has a long history of grooming current and future NBA players such as Paul Pierce (2000), Casper Ware Jr. (2005), California native Demar Derozan (2005), Nick Young (2008), James Harden (2009), and Trae Young (2019).
During the 2011 NBA lockout, many NBA players used the Drew League to stay in shape. Lebron James, Kevin Durant, and James Harden played during the lockout. That buzz even made the late great Kobe Bryant come play, where he scored 43 points and the game winner over James Harden.
After a canceled 2020 season due to the pandemic, the league made its return in 2021. On July 16th 2022, Lebron James made his return, scoring 42 points and grabbing 16 rebounds. There were an estimated 2,000 people in or around the gym to watch Lebron’s return.
In the crowd were current NBA players Draymond Green and Talen Horton-Tucker, along with former NBA player Baron Davis. Chicago Bulls star small forward Demar Derozan also played on Lebron’s team in the game, scoring 30 points and grabbing 14 rebounds. Other notable players to play in the Drew League over the years have been, Lamelo Ball, Brandon Jennings, Chris Paul, J.R. Smith, Isaiah Thomas, and John Wall.
How to Watch
Select Drew League games will be streamed by the NBA until August 21st. The games are currently played at Kings Drew Magnet High School in Los Angeles, California. The games that will be streamed will be determined by the inclusion of NBA players playing or other top talent. All Drew League playoff games will be streamed by the NBA. Full game replays will also be available on NBA.com and the NBA app.
New York used to have the premier basketball spot with Rucker Park in Harlem. Along with other legendary courts like the Cage and Dyckman Park. Notable basketball legends like Wilt Chamberlain, Julius Erving, Kobe Bryant, Allen Iverson, Vince Carter, Kevin Durant and more all played at one of these courts. But in recent years, the Drew League in Los Angeles, California has been the most popular basketball spot for NBA players and other great players to show their skills during the summer. The Drew League only seems to be gaining more traction.