Boston's Paul Pierce, left, playfully chokes Miami's Mario Chalmers after Chalmers hit a 3-pointer with 0.1 seconds left, which forced the "Legends of the Phog" exhibition game to end in a 111-111 tie Saturday inside soldout Allen Fieldhouse. (Photo by Richard Gwin, Lawrence Journal-World)
Last month, a summer league exhibition in Baltimore involving elite NBA players drew an overflow crowd of 4,500-plus inside Talmadge Hill Field House at Morgan State University, roughly 250 over the arena’s listed capacity.
On Saturday afternoon, the “Legends of the Phog” exhibition game involving past players from the University of Kansas drew a sellout crowd of 16,300 inside Allen Fieldhouse.
One school official estimated 30,000 tickets could have been sold, if made available.
KU’s historic venue erupted when coach Bill Self addressed the crowd before the game and said, “Only in Lawrence, Kansas, could this happen.”
Tickets were first made available to members of the Williams Education Fund and roughly 9,000 were sold. The remaining tickets were sold to students and the public and reportedly sold out in 43 minutes.
Appropriately, the game ended in a 111-111 tie. (More on that later.)
Participants included current NBA players Nick Collison and Cole Aldrich of the Thunder, Paul Pierce of Boston, Mario Chalmers of Miami, Brandon Rush of Indiana, Darnell Jackson of Sacramento, Julian Wright of Toronto, rookie Markieff Morris of Phoenix and twin brother Marcus Morris of Houston and Darrell Arthur, Xavier Henry and rookie Josh Selby of Memphis. Veterans Kirk Hinrich of Atlanta and Drew Gooden were unable to attend.
Other participants were Darnell Valentine, Wayne Simien, Jeff Graves, Nick Bradford, Scot Pollard, Ron Kellogg, Greg Ostertag, Ryan Robertson, Jeff Hawkins, Billy Thomas and Christian Moody.
The Blue team was coached by Larry Brown, who claimed the 1988 national title while at KU. The White team was coached by Oklahoma Sports Hall of Fame member Ted Owens, who coached 19 years at Kansas (1964-83), also coached at Cameron and Oral Roberts and played at OU.
No official statistics were kept for the exhibition game at Morgan State, which was won 149-141 by Anthony’s hometown Melo League that included James. Durant apparently scored 59 points for the losing team because that’s what the public address announcer said at the time.
The KU exhibition, however, was staged like an actual game – two 20-minute halves; media timeouts at the usually allotted times; every player was introduced with scoreboard highlights from their career. Official stats were kept and distributed to healthy throng of media.
Rules were lax. Defense was optional. Much like the NBA, no traveling was called. Only seven fouls were whistled and Owens used a timeout he didn’t have in the closing seconds.
During a break in the game, fan favorite Pierce wept as he spoke of his return to Allen Fieldhouse, where he hadn’t been since his jersey retirement ceremony eight years ago. Pierce also cried while discussing former TCU coach and KU assistant Neil Dougherty, a Leavenworth (Kan.) native who died July 5 at age 50 while jogging in Indianapolis.
Dougherty earned his bachelor’s degree in education at Cameron University in Lawton and his master’s degree at Oklahoma. He coached briefly at Cameron and replaced Billy Tubbs as head coach at TCU in 2002.
A portion of the exhibition’s proceeds (tickets were $20 and $10) were donated in memory of Dougherty and one of his favorite local charities, the Boys & Girls Club of Lawrence.
The Hollywood-like ending to the game was not scripted, which made it even more magical.
With the score tied at 108, an isolated Pierce was guarded by Rush at the top of the key and buried a 3-pointer as the shot clock expired with 5.0 seconds left.
During the ensuing timeout and with the ball inbounded at mid-court a la the NBA, fans chanted “Mar-i-o, Mar-i-o” wanting to see more heroics from Chalmers, who forced overtime with a 3-pointer in the closing second of regulation in the 2008 NCAA national championship game against Memphis inside the Alamodome.
Defended closely by Robertson at halfcourt, Chalmers drove toward the top of the key, roughly 5 feet to the left of where he lofted his San Antonio rainbow, gave a pump fake and swished a game-tying 3-pointer with 0.1 remaining.
Self, Brown and Owens immediately agreed there would be no overtime and informed officials the game would end in a tie, resulting in the final standing ovation of the night.
“I said to Mario, ‘That’s the way it’s supposed to end,’ ” Pierce said. “Everybody remembers his championship shot. It was just a replay of it tonight.”
Pierce never lost a home game playing at KU from 1995-98. “Now I’m 55-0-1,” said Pierce, who is actually 44-0-1.
“It’s the same, it’s just a lot louder,” Pierce said of returning to Allen Fieldhouse. “I was on the bench and could barely hear coach Brown in the timeouts. It was that loud.”
Collison finished with 14 points (6 for 8 from the field), a team-high 10 assists, seven rebounds and a game-high four steals for the Blue team. Aldrich had a game-high 19 rebounds (seven offensive), 14 points (7 for 11), three steals and one blocked shot for the White team.
A Putnam City High School product, Henry had a game-high 23 points for the Blue. Jackson, a Midwest City High School product, had 11 points for the White and playfully stared down Henry after committing a hard foul.
Following his post-game news conference, Pierce politely refused to answer when asked his thoughts on the NBA lockout, which on Friday forced cancellation 43 exhibition games and postponed training camp indefinitely. “That’s a conversation for another time,” Pierce whispered. “Right now, I’m just trying to soak this all in.”
Only in Lawrence, Kan., could an exhibition basketball game be celebrated so wildly in September.
It remains to be seen how many attend Sunday night’s charity exhibition game at The Palestra in Philadelphia, which will include James, Durant, Anthony, Paul, Selby and the Morris twins, but the place only seats 8,722.
John Rohde: 475-3099. John Rohde can be heard Monday-Friday from 6-7 p.m. on The Sports Animal Network, including AM-640 and FM-98.1. Follow him on Twitter @RohdeOK.