Men's basketball gold at Gay Games VII
by Jim Provenzano
The Castro Rockdogs men's basketball team once again regained its gold medal status at Chicago's Gay Games VII. Playing almost each day of the games, from Monday, July 17 to Friday, July 21, at University of Illinois at Chicago, the all-gay team dominated the tournament, which featured superior talent over prior Gay Games.
In the final game, in front of a full house including fans, Cheer San Francisco, and the San Francisco Lesbian/Gay Freedom Band, the Rockdogs defeated the New York Warriors 48-33.
What is amazing is how little time the victorious team had to prepare. Seeded eighth at the Games, "We only had one weekend as a team to practice," said point guard DeMarco Majors.
While several key players have been with the team since its narrow defeat at the 2002 Sydney Gay Games, and some even earlier, as Chicago drew near, their roster switched frequently.
"When we lost in Sydney, I said we weren't done yet," said coach and guard Alex Herrera. "This team had a lot more to do. Everybody was a little disappointed, so we couldn't wait until this Gay Games."
Practicing three times a week paid off, as did some players who competed in the annual Chicago Hoops Classic. Herrera said nearly all of the players from 2002 competed in Chicago.
Majors said the Rockdogs played 11 games through the week in the much-reported sweltering heat, which wasn't made any better in non-air conditioned gyms. "After the second day of game play, we got some tips about rehydrating ourselves. Everyone started drinking pickle juice," said Majors, who now swears by the stuff. Asked if it left any odd smell, he replied, "I smell like a gold medal!"
Majors said the team's advancement in the tournament was due to its focus on improvement every day, "Then you get a game like we had against New York."
After losing two players to injury in one early game, team manager Joe Robinson, who kept tabs on the score via cell phone while accompanying injured player Clinton Walker to a hospital, was concerned when the Rockdogs were nine points behind. Yet he said he felt better upon hearing that their only loss was by four points, "I realized their hearts came out, their capacity to present themselves was there. They came together as a unit to make a game."
"At every game, we got better," said Herrera. "We were fortunate to have a deep team; 13 players. We were able to play everybody in, and I think that paid off."
James White, power forward/center, who also played in Sydney's Games, said, "I'm still hungry for it. I haven't gotten over it yet. I'm still itching for another tournament."
As recently as a San Diego tournament earlier this year, White said the team hadn't really gelled. Adding returning players, who knew their faster style, put them over the top. "We didn't even get to show off our offense," said White. "We won the gold medal by defense alone."
In Chicago, the Rockdogs had little time for other activities, but when several players took off their shirts at the Games' opening ceremonies, many members of the media understandably flocked around them to take pictures.
"You would have thought Madonna had shown up," joked Robinson. "The way they look is the epitome of what our culture values, but they didn't know the inner beauty that exists in them as a team."
Herrera added that the Rockdogs were also the smallest team of all, in height. "The average New York or Los Angeles player was 6 feet 5 inches. We were the runts," he said. "We have small stature, but high output."
"The thing I'm most proud of about my teammates is not the fact that we won," said Herrera, "but that they know about their past, the veterans from other cities. They know us. There are people on the court that paved the way for us, and we respect them."
The other men's open-A San Francisco team, the Fusion, held strong until the quarterfinals, until they were defeated by the Rockdogs 43-26.
Said Fusion player and team organizer Jim Oakley, " We were a high seed going into the playoffs and smashed the Memphis team by about 50 in the first round. When we met the Rockdogs in the second round, we put up a good fight, but they were on a roll and pulled out a double digit win."
Oakley added outstanding players included Jan Taylor, Stuart Leung, Pete Myers and Mark Prunty. "The level of talent in the men's competitive bracket at the Games this year was phenomenal," said Oakley.
"There are a number of former college players on the various teams, including guy
Of his team's loss to another squad from the Bay Area, Oakley added, "The Rockdogs are an example of that dramatic rise in talent. Some of their bench players would have been among the top 10 scorers at any previous Games."
Bay Area players even filled the ranks of other teams. The majority of the Dallas team members were San Franciscans. One of the over-35 teams involved several Bay Area residents, as did a team from Sacramento.
The Rockdogs dedicated their performance in the gold medal game to Martin Williams, who died of brain cancer at 35 and had played on the gold medal team at the 1998 Gay Games V in Amsterdam.
Last month, the Rockdogs were honored with a proclamation from Supervisor Bevan Dufty on behalf of the Board of Supervisors at a celebration that also honored longtime gay men's basketball league organizer Tony Jasinski. Although not at Chicago's Games, Jasinski spoke of his pride in this year's teams as he retired from two decades of organizing the gay men's league.
"I am very proud of this achievement, and these young men deserve our recognition and continued support," said Jasinski. "We have maintained the legacy of the SF teams winning every other gold medal in the games, starting with the first one." All gold medals in Gay Games history in men's basketball have been won by California-based teams (one for San Diego, two for Los Angeles, and four for San Francisco teams).
The Outgames, which took place July 29-August 5, had only five teams in men's basketball; three from Paris, one from London, and one from Montreal, what Jasinski called "a very weak turnout, and more representative of a small regional tournament than something very competitive. The EuroGames on their own is far more credible as a basketball event than the Outgames turned out to be."
In other Gay Games competition, the Sacramento Assassins were knocked out at the quarter finals by the Chicago SoFo 55-36. There were no women's basketball teams from the Bay Area at this Games.
For full scores of other categories, visit www.gaygameschicago.org. Local basketball leagues will start this month at Eureka Valley Recreation Center in the Mark Bingham Gymnasium. For info, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Read more columns at www.sportscomplex.org.
Sporting Life reception
Don't forget the Sporting Life post-Games reception tonight (Thursday, September 7) from 6 to 8 p.m., at the GLBT Historical Society. Meet and greet other Gay Games VII and Outgames participants. The event includes food generously provided by the Golden Gate Wrestling Club. Can't make it tonight? You have the rest of 2006 to see the exhibit, which includes a new display case of Gay Games VII and Outgames medals and memorabilia. Tuesday through Saturday, 1 to 5 p.m., 657 Mission Street, #300. (415) 777-5455 www.glbthistory.org.
Giants go gay
The San Francisco Giants will host their next LGBT night at the ballpark Tuesday, September 12 when they play the Colorado Rockies. Enjoy a pre-game social hour, and sit with other LGBT fans and their friends and families. See sanfrancisco.giants.mlb.com/NASApp/mlb/sf/ticketing/group_special_events.jsp?loc=lgbt.
Interestingly, the Giants telecast on Saturday, September 2 plugged the event, with sportscaster Jon Miller announcing the upcoming LGBT night, but not mentioning specifically what the letters stood for. That's okay; it's the first time that we have seen the announcers advance the event on TV, like they do with other special promotions, such as singles night and Irish night. Way to go, Giants.