Sam Cassell glided down the court last night like a gazelle, that familiar bald head gleaming under the lights, that smile revealing teeth as white as piano keys.
As he dribbled past the half-court line, he reversed the ball to a waiting teammate.
People screamed and cheered, and there was a question as to who was having more fun – was it the crowd of 5,000 who paid to watch Theo Ratliff’s NBA and Celebrity Charity Basketball game at the Baltimore Arena?
Or was it Cassell?
A tough call.
The people know that smile – it’s the same one that starred at Dunbar High, at Florida State, where he led the Seminoles to the NCAA tournament, and at Houston, where he led the Rockets to two NBA titles.
Last night, Cassell was one of 16 NBA players who played in the contest that raised money for the Associated Black Charities. He scored 35 points, but the West defeated his East team, 114-110.
Cassell’s teammates on the East squad included Portland Trail Blazers forward Rasheed Wallace, Atlanta Hawks forward Alan Henderson and Houston Rockets guard Cuttino Mobley.
Ratliff, the Hawks’ center, starred for the West squad, which also featured Atlanta teammate Jason Terry and Memphis Grizzlies guard Brevin Knight.
“This is just great for my city, the city of Baltimore,” Cassell said. “Our job is all about having fun, giving back to the community and making a difference.”
Cassell, who plays for the Milwaukee Bucks, said that he and fellow NBA player Muggsy Bogues, who also attended Dunbar, will team up to bring another charity event to the city next year.
Ratliff provided the players last night, and said Cassell’s presence influenced a lot of players to attend.
“It’s so hard to get a lot of guys to come out,” Ratliff said. “Guys are worried about free agency and getting injured and things like that. They need to look at Sam and other guys and see how much fun we’re having, and how much good we’re doing for people that are less fortunate than us.”
The Associated Black Charities has been working for 15 years to address the needs of African-Americans in Maryland. The organization hoped to raise as much as $1 million from last night’s game.
“We reached out to these players, and Sam especially, to help bring a lot of sports like the NBA back to Baltimore,” said Russell Carrington, president of the Culture Shock Marketing Group, which works directly with the Associated Black Charities. “We know he’s a hero in Baltimore, and we know people love him here.”
One fan who was interested in Cassell was 9-year-old Jumah Sutton, who came with his dad to watch the NBA players.
“I like Sam Cassell,” Jumah said. “But he’s not my favorite player. You know who my favorite player is? Allen Iverson. But Allen Iverson isn’t here, so I guess I’ll cheer for Sam Cassell.”
Cassell’s team lost, but Jumah really didn’t care what happened during the game.
His brown eyes were fixed on Cassell and that wide smile. And it may have been contagious.
Because Jumah was working on a little grin of his own.