The first game of the Adonai Hood Classic basketball tournament is over, and the victorious alums of Rainier Beach High have retreated from the August heat into the subterranean locker room of their old rival Garfield High. New York Knicks guard Nate Robinson is searching for a particular tattoo on his sweaty and extravagantly decorated limbs. There it is: a 206 inked on his right wrist. Terrence Williams, the New Jersey Nets' most recent lottery pick, counters by showing off the Space Needle etched into his left forearm. Atlanta Hawks guard Jamal Crawford doesn't have a tattoo of either Seattle's area code or its most famous landmark, but, he says almost apologetically, "I do have a mural of Seattle in my house!"
Dallas Mavericks guard Jason Terry, Franklin High '95, strolls in to say hello before he joins a squad of his school's alums in a game against Garfield's. He thinks he might have started the branding craze. "One day I came home from college," he says, "and I had the 206 tattooed on my chest, and everyone was like, Oh, that's cool!"
The Hood Classic, a more-or-less annual alumni tournament among three Seattle inner-city public high schools and a nearby Catholic school, O'Dea, has no agenda other than to entertain friends and neighbors. There is no prize, apart from bragging rights. But the NBA players who are alums wouldn't miss it. Rockets guard Aaron Brooks (Franklin '03), whose tattoo of a 206 overlaying the Space Needle takes up most of his left arm, flew in from an endorsement appearance in China on the second day of the event. Jet lag be damned, he drove in straight from the airport to play in the second half of the Quakers' game against O'Dea. He entered the stifling gym in a baggy black-green-and-white uniform, waved to the crowd and then made a flurry of pinpoint passes and launched a cluster of cold-blooded bombs as fans oohed and the Quakers crushed the only team in the field without a player earning an NBA paycheck. Brooks, his eyelids drooping, stuck around for the three-point shooting contest before departing to grab a nap. "I am so tired," he told a friend as he left.
Such are the sacrifices you make when you belong to the hottest fraternity in basketball: hoopsters from the Emerald City. The Seattle area has 13 players in the NBA, tied for fifth among the country's metro areas even though it's only 15th in population. Instead of wearing letter sweaters, brothers display their affiliation on their skin, on their walls, even around their ankles. "Guys wear 206 socks," says Garfield point guard Tony Wroten Jr., who was a top five recruit in the class of 2011 until he tore his right ACL in September.
Membership in the club is ecumenical: It includes players and coaches, pros and amateurs, inner-city blacks and white suburbanites, and even a few residents of area codes that neighbor the 206. There are public school kids and private school kids, towering bangers and fleet sharpshooters. Their mission? To give back to their community and to keep the city's promising young players on track to a college education and perhaps a pro career.
The Sonics may have departed for Oklahoma City, but Seattle is as flush as ever with basketball talent. In the last five drafts the area has produced eight first-rounders (chart, below). During the 2008--09 season the region had three McDonald's All-American guards: Franklin grad Peyton Siva, now at Louisville, and Abdul Gaddy (Washington) and Avery Bradley (Texas), who played together in the backcourt of Tacoma's Bellarmine Prep before Bradley left to spend his senior year at Findlay Prep in Las Vegas. Among former Rainier Beach stars, 6'1" point guard Reggie Moore is the second-leading scorer (13.6 points through Sunday) for Ken Bone (Shorecrest '76), the first-year coach at Washington State, and 6'4" shooting guard Aaron Dotson is starting for coach Trent Johnson (Franklin '74) at LSU. Coming up behind them are Wroten and his Rotary Select summer teammate Joshua Smith, a 6'10", 270-pound center from Kentwood High in Covington, who will suit up for UCLA next season (page 70).
Terry credits the boom in talent to "everyone working hard," but there are other factors, including coaches who stress fundamentals, a down-to-earth local ambience and, oddly enough, the area's geographic remoteness. "Because we're kind of tucked away, guys here aren't as tainted by the trappings of success," says Seattle University coach Cameron Dollar.
Of course, being tucked away was a big reason Seattle historically was not a national hoops hotbed. Until recently few college coaches outside the region or the Pac-10 bothered to scout the area. Occasionally Seattle players made names for themselves in the NBA, notably Steve Hawes (1974--1984) and James Edwards (1977--96), both of whom starred at Washington, and Clint Richardson (1979--87), who came out of Seattle U. But a first-round pick from Seattle was so unusual that after the St. Louis Hawks picked Seattle U's Tom Workman eighth in 1967, it took 25 years before the Sonics plucked former Rainier Beach High star Doug Christie out of Pepperdine with the No. 17 selection in 1992.
National recognition at the high school level was just as rare. In the first 30 years of the McDonald's High School All-Star Game, Washington had only three participants: Kim Stewart of Seattle's Ballard High in 1974 (when the game was called the Capital Classic), Quin Snyder of Mercer Island in 1985 and Luke Ridnour of Blaine in 2000.
But since 2004 there have been nine McDonald's All-Americans from the Seattle metro area alone, including Smith, who will play in the game this year. What happened? "There was always talent here," says Francis Williams, a former high school and AAU coach who is now a grassroots basketball marketing consultant for Adidas. "We just weren't doing a good job of getting the kids in this area the exposure they needed."