By Benjamin Hughes
Heart. That is one word to sum up Baltimore streetball. Spend a summer night at the Cloverdale courts on the 2500 block of McCulloh Street and you’ll see their heart. Kids are leaving everything on the court, even with no cameras rolling, no press taking notes and no college coaches recruiting from the stands.
“You gotta have a lot of heart,” said James Hammand from Woodlawn. He calls Baltimore streetball “tough and competitive” and he knows why city kids play so hard. “They have more heart because of what they are coming from.”
Hammand, 21, has played with and against these ballers at Cloverdale, Dorsey, Federal Hill, and the Dome. Carl Free, who lives across the street from the Dome, says kids have “got nothing but to play sports.” They play because basketball might be all they have to hold on to on the unforgiving Baltimore streets.
The Dome, located on North Eden and East Biddle Street, used to be another hotbed for great streetball games. NBA players like Carmelo Anthony, Juan Dixon, Reggie Lewis and Muggsy Bogues all played Midnight Madness games at the Madison Square court.
“It was really even,” Carl Free, 43, said about the competition at the Dome. “But East Baltimore always won.”
"Midnight Madness used to be the truth,” said Tony Jackson from Baltimore, who used to watch the games there during the summer months. Jackson, 24, says now the large chains wrap around the gates because “somebody got shot during a basketball game.” The green metal fence around the historic covered court makes it look more like an empty prison yard. Now players have to find other places to play, but that is not too hard in the city with a court every few blocks.
“You see more basketball courts than football fields or soccer fields,” said Denzel McCoy from Baltimore. He thinks so many kids play basketball around the city because it is “convenient.” The courts were all his on a cool and breezy Saturday morning in October. Just McCoy, his ball, and the legendary court he grew up near. While other kids might be sleeping, watching TV or playing video games, McCoy was working on his game.
McCoy had a casual look like “What else would I be doing?” The 13-year-old freshman at St. Frances Catholic School was working on his jumper for the upcoming season.
McCoy got a lot of practice this summer playing in the Cloverdale League and Carmelo Anthony’s 3-on-3 tournament. He was able to see how different cities play and why Baltimore is better.
“Philly is aggressive: they will do anything to get the ball,” McCoy said. “But we hustle more.” Hammand was not as gracious with his adjectives to describe the play of other cities not Baltimore.
“D.C. is soft and New York is flashy,” Hammand said. Still he thinks Baltimore is more about business, which causes them to win. “We have a lot of scorers who just put the ball in the hoop.”
Jackson calls New York basketball players “the Harlem Globetrotters” because of the tricks they try to use instead of just playing.
It is obvious that Baltimore players are going to knock players from other cities, but how do they treat their own?
“You get a lot of friends,” Hammand said referring to fraternal part of Baltimore basketball. But since there is so much emotion and energy put on the line for any game “You also get a lot of enemies.”
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