The crowd at Mattamy Athletic Center had been waiting for hours, and when Scottie Barnes and Malachi Flynn finally led a group of players onto the court, they all rose to their feet.
Basketball fans had gathered to watch the first pro-am game in Toronto in almost three years after the pandemic interrupted what used to be a summer tradition, with NBA stars coming through the city to both shoot hoops and have some fun.
And they were not disappointed this Saturday night. The Barnes-Flynn connection was noticeably on display and hard to handle for the opposing team. Barnes brought the flash with no-look passes and highlight dunks that prompted loud cheers from a full capacity gym. Flynn eventually caught fire after starting the game on a bit of a cold stretch, hitting half-court heaves and corner threes in bunches, much to the delight of the cheering crowd.
In the end, the show put on by the Raptors duo was worth the wait, with Flynn recording 54 points and being presented with a UFC championship belt as the game MVP, while Barnes added 34 points.
The organizers, a Vancouver-based media platform known as Ball Don’t Stop, promised basketball entertainment as one of the main objectives in bringing the game to Toronto this summer.
“I love it all man, I love the energy this event is providing right now,” said founder Ekam Nagra during the game.
In addition to Barnes, Flynn and several other NBA players, the game saw a combination of talents from the Canadian Elite Basketball League, players from various universities and a few professionals who play overseas.
As a testament to how people had missed the return of pro-am festivities in the city, tickets to the Saturday event sold out days before the actual event.
“The Ball Don’t Stop pro-am is always a good chance for the community and youth who may not be able to go to a big NBA game at an arena to be able to see and touch this level of talent in an exciting environment ,” Nagra had previously told the Star.
The Mattamy Athletic Center in downtown Toronto had started to fill up early in the afternoon, with many families having brought their kids to the event in hopes of scoring an autograph or getting a jersey thrown their way. Many of the players took time to give fans a chance for pictures and sign some basketballs after the game.
Prior to the actual pro-am game, several high school and university students participated in a number of friendly games as part of the weekend festivities.
The last time Toronto hosted a pro-am basketball game was when the Drake-inspired OVO Bounce game took place in 2019, coinciding with the summer’s Caribbean Carnival weekend. Organizers of this weekend’s event said they had always wanted to do so in Toronto, but this year the timing was perfect — especially with the absence of any other summer games to compete against.
In 2015, Kevin Durant played at a pro-am game in Toronto. Andrew Wiggins and Anthony Bennett, the GTA products who were back-to-back No. 1 overall draft picks, attended the game at Ryerson campus in 2014.
Flynn, the 24-year-old backup point guard for the Raptors, grabbed headlines and was the topic of many sports debates on social media for his scoring output in earlier summer games. In July, he scored a staggering 73 points while participating in Jamal Crawford’s CrawsOver game in Seattle, where LeBron James and several other NBA stars were showcasing their talents on Saturday night. Flynn followed that with another 52 points in a Drew League game that took place in Los Angeles a few weeks ago.
Flynn was merely following in the footsteps of other recent NBA players who put up video game numbers during summer games. Last year Payton Pritchard from the Boston Celtics exploded for 92 points at a pro-am game in Portland. Isaiah Thomas, who is currently not employed in the NBA, also scored 81 points last year at the CrawsOver game. And Stanley Johnson, who was playing for the Detroit Pistons, dropped 86 points at the OVO Bounce game in Toronto.
Flynn is expected to continue his summer off-season activities by hosting a basketball clinic in Woodbridge this Sunday.
Just before the game ended, a 143-131 affair in favor of the Barnes-Flynn side, Ball Don’t Stop’s founder Nagra took the floor to thank everyone who attended, especially the NBA players who participated and made the night memorable.
“I’ve got to give a shoutout to Toronto. You guys showed love,” he said. “It’s been a great night.”
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