Jennings has a clause in his contract called Love of the Game, common for NBA players, which allows him to perform in unsanctioned events. "Brandon maximizes that clause," says his agent, Bill Duffy. Durant told Jennings he was overdosing on lockout ball, and indeed, a glance at the Twitter feed @H00dFavorite reveals a hoops junkie in constant withdrawal: "I want to hoop in Philly, Houston, Seattle, Boston" ... "LA needs to set up a travel team and travel to different Hoods and hoop!." ... "I just wanna hoop, why not go to different hoods and Just Hoop!!!" Jennings constantly changes his Blackberry Messenger status from "Hooping" to "I want to hoop."
Sitting in the lobby of a hotel in downtown L.A. last month, he tweeted, "Soooo where is everybody hooping today???? #LA." He scrolled through invitations from San Diego, Orange County and Calabasas. "It's easy to find a game," Jennings muttered. "It's hard to find a good game." Frustrated, he checked his phone again, and nodded slowly. "Westchester park," he says. "Be there."
Two and a half hours later, Jennings parks his Jeep Wrangler outside the Westchester Recreation Center and walks past the teenagers in the skateboard park, the toddlers on the playground. He wears a red backpack, to carry his shoes. Jennings has already renovated an outdoor court at Rowley Park, and someday he'd like to make the indoor gym look more like Westchester Rec. The walls are brick, with cutouts for windows, and all the lights are on. Even the scoreboard works. The rules are a bit different: three-pointers still count for two and two-pointers for one, but the games last 10 minutes on a running clock, and the team that's ahead at the buzzer plays again. Everyone contributes $2 for expenses. Jennings scrawls his name on the bottom of a list at the scorer's table and waits to be called. It's as if Sergio García strolled up as a single to the 1st tee of a muni course. Jennings waits a half hour.
Students from Westchester High, who follow Jennings on Twitter, trickle into the gym. So does 24-year-old Matt Fosburg, an architect's assistant on his way to LAX. "Now I don't have to pay $250 to see the Bucks at Staples Center," he says. Jennings sinks his first shot, a 25-footer coming off a screen on the right wing, but then goes cold. The game is tied at 11, and he is in danger of another long wait. Jennings nails a pair of threes—er, twos—one from the right corner and another from the left wing, to keep the court.
The competition at Westchester is much stiffer than at Rowley. Marcus Johnson, who played at USC and professionally in Croatia, teams with Jennings. Leon Jacob, who played in Mexico, and J.R. Lewis, who played in Spain, Germany and Finland, go against him. Gabe Pruitt, who played for the Celtics two years ago and in Israel last season, sits in the bleachers and tries to arrange a night game with Paul Pierce at Inglewood High. "I have to step it up," Jennings says after one game. When he catches the ball on the perimeter, he has a hand in his face. When he drives inside, he is slammed to the ground. Players call their own fouls, and just about every call prompts a shouting match. Jennings wins the first three games, working inside more than he did at Rowley, sending the high school kids into hysterics with his crossover dribbles and slithery scoop shots. In the final seconds of his fourth game, with the score tied at 10, he steps back and splashes a 35-foot fadeaway over two defenders.
Jacob and Lewis walk back to the bleachers and check their phones. They are waiting for calls from their agents with overseas offers, but spots are scarce because of the lockout. International teams, which used to settle for American players who couldn't make it in the NBA, suddenly have a shot with the league's megastars. "It's frustrating because those guys are already millionaires," Lewis says. "They don't need the financial help and we do. But they love the game too, so they want to play." According to a list on hoopshype.com, 59 NBA players had already agreed to contracts with foreign clubs at week's end. Jennings thinks seriously about returning to Italy. Of course, he also thinks about forming his own inner-city barnstorming team and about coordinating his own Bucks training camp. The possibilities can seem endless one day, unrealistic the next.
Over the next week Jennings continues to tweet requests for games in L.A., but he doesn't like any of the proposals, with college players back at school and college gyms overrun with students. UCLA's Student Activities Center was a refuge during the 1998 lockout, jammed with so many NBA stars that general managers stopped by to watch. This summer, the fabled 3 p.m. games drew Westbrook, Carmelo Anthony, Blake Griffin, Jrue Holiday, David Lee, Kevin Love, JaVale McGee and dozens more. But UCLA's men's and women's volleyball teams are now using the Student Activities Center. Of course Jennings could always head to Las Vegas, where more than 70 NBA players are training at the Impact Basketball Academy, but the destination does not appeal. "Too many distractions in Vegas," he says.
He returns to Westchester and makes more 40-footers in front of more giddy high schoolers. He wins five straight games, scoring nine of his team's 11 points in one of them, and all 11 in another. He is bothered only after he cuts his hand on the rim with a dunk. "He put one move on me, and I'm still not sure what it was," says Khalif Parker, a 26-year-old Transamerica Retirement Services employee who used to play at Clark Atlanta University. "I think it was a behind-the-back, spin-move, 80-foot fadeaway. What can you do? We're giving him the best we've got. It's just not enough." Parker looks out at the court, where Jennings continues to expand his range, though not quite to 80 feet. "Do you know why he's here?"
It is a question for Stern and union leader Billy Hunter, busy at the bargaining table. Hoopers, Jennings says, hoop. He has spent the summer digging up his playground roots, rediscovering the streetwise confidence behind all great scorers. But it is possible, as Durant suggested, to overdose on pickup. Basketball is not simply performance art. True stars strike a balance between the park and the practice facility, creativity and control. Jennings hasn't just spent the past four months throwing balls off people's heads. He has honed his midrange jumper and added 10 pounds of muscle, which should allow him to absorb more contact and get to the line more often. From his hotel in L.A., he looks out the window at Staples Center. "I shouldn't be here," he says. "I should be in Milwaukee." With all due respect to the students of El Camino College, it's time to get ready for Rose.
Finally, after 13 pickup games, Jennings loses one. The guys who beat him scramble to their phones and tweet the news. They took down @H00dFavorite. They neglect to mention that after 90 minutes playing without a break he could barely walk. Jennings slumps into a folding chair on the sideline and, with whatever breath he has left, tells anybody who can hear him, "I'm looking for another place to hoop."