Tyronn Lue was frustrated with his team’s lackadaisical performance. After weeks of playing unselfish basketball and convincingly winning their best-of-seven series, his squad was getting away from the smart shots and swarming defense that fueled their impressive run. Lue knew that everyone was doubting his squad; they clearly weren’t as talented or experienced as their star-studded opponent. After all, two of Lue’s starters weren’t even on an NBA roster.
Oh, to be clear, I’m not talking about the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors battling in the NBA Finals. I’m, of course, referring to Lue’s dominant 2010 pick-up squad that is the stuff of legend at Las Vegas’ Impact Basketball – where many NBA stars have trained over the years.
Back when Lue was still playing, he was the captain of a five-man squad that also featured Alan Anderson, Jared Dudley, Tayshaun Prince and Patrick O’Bryant. This team managed to win every seven-game series during Impact’s open run for three straight weeks – meaning they were king of the court for a significant portion of the offseason.
“Here’s why I always knew that Ty Lue would be a great coach: He’d secretly be in the gym before everyone, scouting players and assembling his pick-up team,” Chauncey Billups said with a laugh. “It wasn’t ‘coincidence’ who ended up on his team!”
Lue’s group faced plenty of challengers. Dudley recalls Billups, Jermaine O’Neal, Baron Davis, Al Harrington, Kyle Lowry and Stephen Jackson assembling teams to face their squad. However, they all came up short.
“They were a problem,” Billups admitted. “I do remember that team and they did win for a few straight weeks. They beat a lot of great players; I’ll give them that. They all knew their role and they had the right group of guys.”
Some things to keep in mind: Lue was approaching his mid-30s and his playing career was about to end. Anderson had yet to receive his NBA break and was under contract overseas. O’Bryant was an NBA journeyman who signed abroad for good several months after this pick-up team’s run. Prince and Dudley were solid players, but Impact was typically full of stars like Billups, Davis, O’Neal, Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Gilbert Arenas, Rashard Lewis, Andrei Kirilenko and Corey Maggette among others. Impact also provides pre-draft training, and their 2010 class featured 15 players who were selected including John Wall, Avery Bradley and Lance Stephenson. In other words, there was a lot of star power in that gym.
So how did Lue, Anderson, Dudley, Prince and O’Bryant manage to beat talented squad after talented squad (some of which were assembled with the sole purpose of beating them in mind)?
One Impact staffer explained why the underdog squad was so good: “Alan Anderson was pissed off that he wasn’t in the NBA yet, so he would score lights out and always played with a chip on his shoulder. He wanted to show he belonged. Ty Lue ran the pick-and-roll to perfection. Jared Dudley always made the smart play and was shooting really well. Tayshaun Prince was probably their best all-around player. Overall, they were a really smart team; their basketball IQ was excellent. Even though it was a pick-up game, they played excellent help-side defense. They would double-team and frustrate the other team so much. For a while, they couldn’t lose.”
“Everyone was wondering, ‘Why can’t we beat them?!'” Dudley said with a laugh. “Everybody wanted a shot at us. This kind of thing hadn’t really happened before.”
“That’s true,” Billups said.
“And Ty Lue talked a lot of shit,” Dudley adds, “which only made people want to beat us more.”
“That part is absolutely true too,” Billups said with a laugh.
At the end of the day, Dudley said that the team’s success just came down to their high basketball IQ, the fact that their players complemented each other really well, the chemistry they quickly developed over those three weeks and a little bit of luck.
“We had all been playing together at Impact for years, so we had great chemistry and we all knew our role within the team,” he said. “T-Lue and I used to always be on the same team. He’d form his team and we’d usually end up on the same squad. And we used to call Alan Anderson ‘Kobe’ because he was a pick-up killer. He was playing overseas at that point, but he was a monster and would score the majority of our points. He was trying to prove himself. Patrick O’Bryant was playing overseas at this point too. Everyone was asking, ‘How are these guys winning without a true star?!’ Tayshaun was our most well-known player, but we really played a Detroit Pistons-style where we all played together and knew our role.
“Our team had a high basketball IQ and we played the right way defensively. Most times in pick-up, you let someone defend one-on-one, but we would help. If a guy started scoring, we’d double. The teams didn’t have plays so they struggled to pass out of doubles and adjust to our help defense.”
Dudley said that things got crazy when players started flying in from out of state to face their squad.
“I remember the Warriors flew in as a team to play us – Stephen Jackson brought out Matt Barnes and Kelenna Azubuike,” Dudley said. “I remember thinking, ‘Wait. What? The Warriors are flying in to play our pick-up squad? What’s happening?’ People were flying in to play us or asking us to travel to different gyms! It’s not like we entered the offseason thinking, ‘We’re going to go into summer basketball and destroy everyone!’ No, we were just working out, trying to get better and this just kind of happened.”
Like all good things, this unlikely run came to an end.
After three weeks of dominance, they were finally dethroned. Dudley didn’t remember the exact squad that beat them, but he remembers feeling like “the deck was stacked” with Impact veterans who had experience playing with each other.
“Yeah, it was me, Dahntay Jones, Al Harrington, Melvin Ely and, I think, Kyle Lowry that beat them,” Billups said.
“And when was this? This was 2010, right? See, there you go; I was barely there because I was playing with USA Basketball. I think I lost one game to them, but I beat them when I put my team together!”
When reminded that Harrington also played sparingly due to an injury, Billups joked: “Mhmm, see! Right place, right time!”
All kidding aside, Billups acknowledged that whenever Lue, Anderson, Dudley, Prince and O’Bryant would reassemble, they were always very difficult to defeat.
He also made it clear that he has a ton of respect for those five guys because they always worked extremely hard and did whatever their respective NBA teams asked of them – even though he saw firsthand what each of them could do with an increased role.
“All of those guys showed things at Impact that they didn’t get a chance to do in the regular season,” Billups said. “For example, T-Lue is probably the all-time leading scorer in Impact Basketball history. But then during the season, he was back to playing tough defense and doing all the right things as a back-up point guard. All of those guys were unselfish and did what was best for the team.”
After a brief pause, Billups chuckles.
“Man, those were good times,” Billups said. “That was so much fun.”
Longform, Top, Al Harrington, Alan Anderson, Baron Davis, Chauncey Billups, Dahntay Jones, Jared Dudley, Jermaine O'Neal, Kelenna Azubuike, Kevin Garnett, Kyle Lowry, Matt Barnes, Melvin Ely, Patrick O'Bryant, Paul Pierce, Rashard Lewis, Stephen Jackson, Tayshaun Prince, Tyronn Lue, Detroit Pistons