LEBANON – From the outside looking in, ‘Sweep the Streets’ is a pick-up game during basketball’s off season. But from the inside looking out, it’s much, much more.
Besides, all insiders know that there is no off-season for basketball in Lebanon.
So exactly what is it? ‘Sweep the Streets’ is a celebration of what once was – and obviously still is – the city of Lebanon’s favorite sport. Conducted on the blacktop of the city’s Southeast Park, it is contested in a carnival atmosphere, complete with music blaring in the background, the smells of ethnic dishes floating through the air, throngs of interested on-lookers just a few feet off the court and kids in the background playing real ‘pick-up’ basketball.
It is street ball for a reason.
The nuts and bolts? ‘Sweep the Streets’, the sixth edition of which was completed on Sunday afternoon, is a two-day, 16-team, double-elimination open basketball tournament staged by local entrepreneur George Rodriguez to benefit the area cancer cause and the Salvation Army’s youth program. It has grown in stature since its inception and now attracts athletic and talented teams from Baltimore, Philadelphia and New Jersey, as well as some of Lebanon County’s finest.
Yesterday, on a warm but not oppressive August afternoon, some 200 attendees took in the festivities, in one form or another.
“It means come up, get the kids off the street, and get up on the court,” said the fast-talking Rodriguez, who also serves as the event’s master of ceremonies and color commentator. “We’re trying to clean the streets.”
“It is playground ball,” said Brad Connor, a member of the championship-winning New York Fitness club who doubles as the Elco boys’ basketball head coach during the winter season. “But it’s a lot more physical. I thought the officials did a great job keeping things under control.
“There was a lot of talent, and a lot of Lebanon County talent,” Connor continued. “A lot of Division Three (college) players. A lot of Division Two players. And some Division One players. There’s some athleticism here.”
“I’d say it’s a mixture of street ball and organized ball,” said Brad Himelright, sponsor of runner-up Himmy’s Barbershop. “The teams who play together usually win. I’ve seen tournaments like this in big cities. It’s a great event. Those kids right there, they’re going to be playing in it in ten years. It brings people together.”
The games are fast-paced, 20-minute affairs, and when Sunday’s sun began to cast long shadows on Southeast Park, New York Fitness and Himmy’s Barbershop were the last two teams standing in the championship contest. With a strong offensive showing in the second half, New York Fitness walked away with the title trophy, in an undefeated fashion.
New York Fitness’ Tyrone Nesby, a former professional player with the NBA’s Washington Wizards, earned the MVP award for the tournament.
“He was big,” said Connor of running mate Nesby. “His threes were like daggers. There were guys daring him to take them. And he said, ‘those guys don’t realize I practice those shots.’
“I remember going inside,” added Connor. “It felt like early on, both teams were a little sluggish. But then it seemed like it started to pick up a little bit. It was physical. One or two times up the floor and you were out of gas.”
“I have four core guys and what they do is pick up guys. And I have two local guys,” said Himerlright. “They win tournaments in bigger cities. For them to get second, that means Lebanon has got some ballers. It’s good competition. It’s what people want to see.
“They did good,” Himelright added. “They played their hearts out. They did everything they can do. But yeah, there’s always room in the shop for another trophy.”
“This year, the sportsmanship has been great,” said Rodriguez. “The players should be commended for that.”
With it employing some suffocating defense, Himmy’s Barbershop ran out to an early 8-4 lead. But Nesby and New York Fitness caught fire early in the second half and used a 14-5 spurt to assume an 18-13 lead.
“This was my fourth year playing in it,” said Connor. “It’s a great event. It’s a good cause and it was competitive. You’ve got little kids from Lebanon County balling, which is great for local basketball. It seems like it’s gotten bigger every year. And the last year I played, Sam Bowie was hanging out watching us play.”
Teams plucked down $350 apiece to compete in the tournament. Rodriguez said he did not know how much money was donated towards ‘fighting for a cure for cancer’ in the event’s first five years.
“The big guys were key for us,” concluded Connor. “Justin (Huey) and I are older guards and we’re not looking to do too much ball handling. We need guards to get the ball up. But once they do, the big guys take over.”