The Champions of Change charity basketball game, a rookie event on the Seattle sports scene this year, brought out the local sports star power for sure, but didn’t really start to sizzle until co-organizer Michael Bennett took the mic. More on that in a few.
Bennett, Cliff Avril and Doug Baldwin, all teammates on the 2013 Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks, founded Champions of Change recently with the stated intent of raising “awareness and support for organizations that serve our communities by sustaining pathways for families to have stable, healthy and loving homes.” The trio told the Seattle Times they have been talking about starting a charitable organization together since 2018.
Hence a star-studded exhibition. And for a city in dire need of any basketball it can get its hands on, the event drew well, mostly filling up the lower bowl. And why not? It was for a good cause, you got to see the players who made Seattle fall even more deeply in love with its football team a decade ago, coached by and paired with actual basketball players, beat the heat on the hottest day of the calendar year*.
Highlights (not exhaustive):
- Team Black was coached by Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp, who argued calls, interacted with fans, fantasized about alley-oops, and were generally their regal selves. They won in style, scoring the final 12 points with 19-year NBA vet Jamal Crawford dominating down the stretch.
- Team White got Sue Bird and Marshawn Lynch to guide them. Beast Mode was as businesslike as ever among friends:
The Beast Mode handshake lives pic.twitter.com/HUO2P6xKT8— John Fraley (@johndavidfraley) June 26, 2022
- Pregame introductions were done NBA-style, with the largest cheers for Bird and Lynch. (As it should be, frankly.)
- Play-by-play announcers were the all-world Kevin Calabro and “Community” star Joel McHale — excuse me, former Huskies football player Joel McHale.
- Halftime performances came from local musical icon Draze, followed by the Massive Monkees. They’re a hip-hop dance troupe who you might have seen at Sonics games 15 years ago. They went throwback with a routine set to “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” because if you’re gonna throw it back, throw it back all the way. (Regrettably, they did not throw any fish.)
- You got a dunk contest between the third and fourth quarters, “won” thusly:
Dunk contest before the fourth quarter! pic.twitter.com/jOjZqpIbdf— John Fraley (@johndavidfraley) June 26, 2022
- So it was all fun and games, which ratcheted up after Bennett hopped the scorer’s table and grabbed a mic alongside Calabro and McHale for the third quarter. Turned class clown, MB razzed former teammates, even those who weren’t on hand to defend themselves. His best zingers brought down the house.
When Baldwin stood next to anyone who played basketball for a living: “Doug you’re looking tall. Maybe not that tall. Still taller than Russell Wilson though.”
When McHale had the temerity to call the nameless Kemp-Payton squad, clad in all-black uniforms, Team Black: “That’s racist.”
After McHale sparred back, mentioning he and Bennett had the same amount of points in the game, zero: “We got the same amount of Oscars and Emmys too.”
When Lynch started messing with the baseline official during a free throw and stubbornly wouldn’t surrender the ball: “Just give him the ball. You know what happened when we didn’t give him the ball last time.”
- Baldwin got his revenge on the game’s last play, when he went baseline for a dunk that thrilled the crowd adorned in every sports jersey the city has to offer.
- Jermaine Kearse is borderline unstoppable when he decides to attack the rim. Finished with 16 points, mostly on drives to the hoop. And he wasn’t even whistled for any offensive fouls.
- Richard Sherman for 3? Richard Sherman for 3.
- The final box, if anyone cares about that sort of thing, comes courtesy of ESPN NBA writer Kevin Pelton:
Yes, that’s Huskies great Eldridge Recasner in there, sporting gray in the goatee and everything. Plus sightings of Jeremy Lane, Derrick Coleman, Nate Burleson, Garfield High standout Malia Samuels and even long-lost Mariner Charlie Furbush. Among so many others.
According to language on their website, Champions of Change’s goal is “shepherding awareness and support for organizations that serve our communities by sustaining pathways for families to have stable, healthy and loving homes.”
Some of their early partners receiving benefits are Odessa Brown Children’s Clinic, DADS, Women United Seattle, Dignity for Divas and Humble Design Seattle.