By Quin Nelson
Quin Nelson grew up in Mill Creek and has been a sports fan his entire life. He graduated from Archbishop Murphy High School and will be a sophomore at Whitman College.
I entered Hec Edmundson Pavilion and walked straight into my childhood.
My friends and I were excited to go to the Washington alumni basketball game Sunday and were expecting a decent crowd and a few local stars to jog up and down the court a few times. I was not expecting to walk straight into 2005.
The gym was packed and standing right in front of us was Nate Robinson, framed by the flash of iPhones taking pictures. As amazing as it was to see Robinson back in Hec Ed, I got giddy seeing Bobby Jones, Will Conroy, and Tre Simmons standing alongside him.
I had been a ballboy as the gritty Jones and Conroy and the smooth Simmons helped lead UW basketball to its apex. I had sat at the base of the basket when Robinson was swinging from the rim and Brandon Roy was slithering through the paint. Those teams had been exciting, the games fast, and the atmosphere at Hec Ed unbelievable. It always felt like the crowd, especially the student section, was pushing down on the court.
But mainly I remember the heat. In those epic battles against Arizona, the heat in the gym had seemed suffocating.
I was surprised to find that same heat back at Sunday’s exhibition game.
The gym was packed, with many, including myself, standing and watching from the tunnels. The game was sloppy, with plenty of failed lobs and missed three pointers. We cheered anyway. Roy played and was clearly not the same star he once was. We definitely still cheered.
Role players like Ryan Appleby, Jamaal Williams, and Mike Jensen (my sister’s childhood crush) played and were also warmly embraced by the crowd.
The event exceeded my expectations. As great as it was, that may reflect many of the more unfortunate aspects of Seattle’s current basketball scene. The current Huskies men’s basketball team is mediocre. The exhibition was more packed and exciting than many recent games. Since the era of Jon Brockman, Spencer Hawes, and Martell Webster, the wave of local prep stars has slowed to a trickle. The Sonics are gone, and since that subject is rehashed all too much, I’ll leave it at that.
This alumni game was the best assembly of basketball talent during these dark years, and that certainly contributed to the sellout. The people of Seattle have been unfairly starved of quality basketball and this exhibition was a wonderful, if temporary, relief.
However, it also points to something wonderful about the relationships of these players and fans. Fans flocked to see this game not only because Robinson and Isaiah Thomas play in the NBA, but because they were back on the floor where it all began. This gym is important to the fans and even more so to the alumni. Jones flew all the way from Italy to play. Robinson and other NBA players played despite contractual restrictions that limited their participation. Roy played despite knees that have abandoned him in what should have been his prime.
The game inspired nostalgia over and over. Roy did his patented stepback and Tony Wroten threw up some wild layups and complained to the refs, just like old times. Thomas even reenacted his game-winner against California dribble for dribble. The wild reaction of the crowd came not only because fans are desperate to relive good times, but also because they simply love Thomas and the many other Huskies who played on that court and made UW basketball relevant again.
Even after all these years, these alumni – from NBA standouts to guys who never even played overseas – needed this day and these fans. And even after all these years, we needed them just as much.
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