In June, we ran a feature story, "Swoosh Dreams," that explored the growing commodification of elite summer league basketball, a world that talented and media savvy teenage ballers use as a platform for scholarship opportunities. The story focused on the Oakland Soldiers, "one of the most prominent collections of high school basketball talent in America." The program is bankrolled by Nike, which gives the players free gear and flies them around the country to play other top-notch travel teams.
It would be misguided, though, to view the Soldiers as some sort of exception. High school basketball has been a commercial enterprise for years (like many other amateur sports). Take, for instance, the McDonald's All-American Game, the highest-profile high school basketball all-star game in the world, a weekend-long spectacle that was first nationally televised in 1989 and has boasted a dunk contest since 1987 (2001 winner: David Lee). Almost every NBA superstar today -- from LeBron James to Jason Kidd -- once donned the McDonald's red-and-gold unis before graduation.
Yesterday, this year's crop was announced on a selection show on ESPNU. And, in another display of the Soldiers' prowess, two of the team's seniors, Aaron Gordon and Jabari Bird, made the roster.
Twenty-four total players were named, split up into an East team and a West team. Gordon, of San Jose's Archbishop Mitty, and Bird, of Richmond's Salesian, will join Marcus Lee of Antioch's Deer Valley to form a notably strong Bay Area presence. Texas, with four representatives, is the only state to outman the Yay.
Perhaps it's just another sign of the Bay Area sports renaissance. In recent years, our region hadn't had much of a showing in the McDonald's game. Last year, there was Brandon Ashley, who attended Oakland's Bishop O'Dowd for three years -- but Ashley, who is now at the University of Arizona, took the court representing Nevada hoops powerhouse Findlay Prep, where he transferred before his senior year. Really, the last Bay Area representative was Oakland Tech's Leon Powe in 2003.
Ashley and Powe, to be sure, were also Oakland Soldiers.