Nike Crown League Delivers NBA Talent to the Streets of Toronto


Nike Crown League Delivers NBA Talent To The Streets Of Toronto

Over the month of July, Nike basketball made a solid commitment to the city of Toronto in providing it with what could be the most competitive streetball league the city has ever seen.

More from Toronto Sports

The Nike Crown League, which had got considerable hype through Nike’s marketing machine, landed in Toronto a few weeks ago, consisting of six of the best rec teams this country has ever produced.

The tournament has taken place every Friday through July at Jarvis Collegiate in downtown Toronto, and to further cement a commitment to the community, Nike has made the admission to the tournament free all month-long, with the championship game and dunk contest scheduled this Friday, July 24.

To generate interest and support in the local community is one thing, but to actually recruit grade-A talent is entirely another. But then again, this is Nike we are talking about.

The first player I laid eyes on before I even got into the gym to witness this tournament was none other than Boston Celtics forward and British Columbia native Kelly Olynyk.

When I casually asked him if he was going to be playing or just watching he simply smirked with a mischievous grin and said, “play.”

And play he did.

About 31 points later, he led 1LOVETO to an 82-73 win over M.A.D.E for the right to play in the finals this coming week.

Boston Celtics forward Kelly Olynyk checks into the game for the first time. (Image Credit: Chris Okrainetz/Tip Of The Tower)

While this game was going on, I noticed a familiar face in the crowd holding his kid, with his signature tattoos winding up and down his neck, quietly taking in the game.

It was none other than Toronto Raptors forward James Johnson.

I thought to myself, “that’s really cool of him coming out and showing support to this event and his adopted home,” before realizing he didn’t just come to watch.

No, both James Johnson and Kelly Olynyk not only played for the Nothern Kings and 1LOVETO respectively, they both logged in some of the highest amount of minutes for their respected teams.

The crowd was even brought to a standing ovation during the final game of the night, in which Johnson hit a game tying three to make it 72-72 during overtime.

It was the moment of the tournament so far, but it was all for not as their opponents ACE would walk away with the 75-72 win, led by former Texas Longhorn standout and Toronto native Myck Kabongo, who finished with 19 points.

To say the pros came out with something to prove would be an understatement.

During the first week of the tournament back on July 3, the crowds were treated to a battle between two huge current names in Canadian basketball.

Minnesota Timberwolves forward Anthony Bennett, who dropped 30 points and eight rebounds for his Former AAU club CIA Bounce, faced off against Baylor alumni Brady Heslip, who dropped 44 points for 1LOVETO.

1LOVETO would walk away with that win as well, by a final of 101-88.

Along with the NBA talent, the teams mostly consist of CIS players, former and current NCAA standouts, and players playing professionally overseas.

Needless to say, I’ve never seen this much talent in a Toronto high school gym, and I doubt few have ever in the city’s history until now.

Toronto Raptors forward James Johnson talks briefly with one of the organizers during a break in play. (Image Credit: Chris Okrainetz/Tip Of The Tower)

But what makes this tournament so special from all others this country has ever seen can be attributed to more than just the impressive talent on the floor.

The gym is hot, with electric fans attempting to pump air into the facility at maximum output that do little to keep the players from being drenched.

Heavy hip hop beats bang off of the gymnasium walls, as you can hear the crowd ooh and ah at the site of Olynyk playing point guard, showing off his handles, and the ability to dish no look passes as if he was a seven-foot tall Steve Nash, a facet of his game you will never get to see in an NBA arena.

You can hear James Johnson openly bash the local ref after a few non-calls. The confrontation even led to Johnson getting T’d up for bumping the ref as he runs back up the court, much to the delight of the crowd.

The incident creates one of the biggest reactions from the packed stands during the night, all the while the emcee of the event tries to get a grip of the situation through a series of quick quips and laugh out loud shots at both the ref and Johnson.

It is the kind of atmosphere that is foreign to #WeTheNorth supporters. No, this certainly isn’t the Air Canada Center, the lights aren’t as bright, but the spotlight is just as intense.

It was as if I had stepped out of Toronto for a few hours and took a stroll right down to Compton’s King-Drew Magnet High School to watch The Drew League, and for most of the guys on these teams, it might as well have been.

For a lot of these players, it’s a chance to see how they stack up against some of the best in the world, to see if they can have a few seconds of glory by hitting a shot over Olynyk or Bennett, or if they can shift Johnson or Heslip with a killer crossover.

It could mean the difference between a new overseas or NBL contract, or a return to high level rec leagues.

You can see the determination in the way these guys are playing and it’s only going to get better this Friday.

Given all the talent that has already shown up, it will be fascinating to see who shows up to play next.

Next: Jamal Murray Shows No Fear Against Argentina

More from Tip of the Tower