Drew League: Changing the Game
BY: RAHUL LAL | FEATURED + LEAD IMAGE COURTESY OF DREW LEAGUE
Basketball isn’t about big contracts or sold-out arenas. It isn’t about jersey sales and sponsorships either. Ask Kareem Abdul-Jabbar about his playing at the legendary Rucker Park in New York. Listen to Kevin Durant tell you about how meaningful it was that he dropped 66 points at the Goodman League in his hometown with friends and family watching. Listen to locals talk about the competition they saw at Dyckman in Harlem, Mosswood in Oakland, or The Dome in Baltimore. Basketball is about trash-talking, heart, and creating a place where people can escape the world.
At Charles Drew Middle School in Compton, California, the Drew League was born. The original commissioner, Alvin Willis, sought out to create a place for ball players to get away from LA’s gang violence and drug abuse. While staying open during tragedies such as the Los Angeles Riots back in 1992, the culture of the Drew extended beyond the game of basketball.
“I think that it’s multi-dimensional,” said Drew League reporter and owner of LoJo Media Lauren Jones. “You don’t have to worry about gangs, affiliations – I mean, there’s bloods and crips sitting right next to each other. It’s a safe haven for a lot of people. They bond over this unique brand of basketball. The fact that you’re in the middle of Compton or Watts and you see people from Australia, India, everywhere in the world, not speaking English but they’re there because they love basketball–it’s amazing.”
The growth of the league into an international draw was completely unintentional. It all began as a way to bring the community closer. As teenagers who played in the league made it to higher levels of fame, they continued to come back and play in the one thing that never changed – the Drew. On any given night, you can see native Angelenos Russell Westbrook and James Harden putting on a show alongside their childhood friends and NBA teammates. This year’s winning team, Birdie’s Revenge, inspired by the 1994 Tupac Shakur film Above The Rim was headlined by one of Compton’s native rappers, The Game.
“It doesn’t matter who you are, where you’re from, or who you play for during the season. It’s all about that game, that’s where the heart of basketball lies,” said Jones. “It’s very much about the competition that day, that moment because, NBA or not, if you can ball, you can ball.”
One of the players who took this sentiment to heart was Frank “Nitty” Sessions. Sessions has won MVP’s and led his team to an undefeated record. In the process, he’s not only held his own against NBA stars but he’s come out on top. Sessions was born and raised in the Jordan Downs projects in Watts and earned a scholarship to play alongside NBA All-Star Damian Lillard at Weber State University. Instead of playing professionally today, he works at Verizon because of his hesitance in dealing with the politics of the basketball world. Above all, his priority is to his family and he would never sacrifice that to go overseas or stress himself dealing with agents.
Whether you look at players like Sessions who play at the Drew because it’s their best connection to the game they absolutely love or players who are stars at the game’s biggest stage; the bottom line is that the Drew is connected like a tight knit family and at the end of the day, all that matters is if you can play ball. This league is way more than just a basketball league, since its inception, it’s given players, fans, and admirers a home away from home.