Dion Wright did not run away from an opponent on the basketball court. But now his friends fired text message after text accusing him of doing exactly that.
It was mid-July, and the former Saint Bonaventure University player was on a team competing in DrewThe popular summer league that regularly attracts NBA stars in an effort to keep their skills sharp during the holiday season. Wright was supposed to miss some time at Drew, which as usual was taking place in his hometown of Los Angeles, because he flew to Buffalo for another tournament offering a $1 million cash prize.
But the timing was bad. LeBron James He had surprisingly scored to play one game for the MMV Cheaters of the Drew League, who also appeared on another NBA All-Star, DeMar DeRozan. They were due to play Wright the Black Pearl Elite the following night.
Wright’s friends offered him no mercy for being out of town when there was a chance to meet four times NBA a hero.
“I heard you were going to play Bron and got out of Cali really fast,” someone wrote to him. Another added that Wright would “never go back to Drew anymore.”
Wright couldn’t let the sarcasm pass. And he knew he might never again have the chance to measure himself against one of the greatest basketball players in history. He promptly canceled his plans to play at Buffalo and bought a ticket home to Los Angeles at 6 AM the next day.
“The rival came out in me,” he told the Guardian.
What happened next was a dream-like blur that made him teeter with legend. Wright went viral with social media users teasing him for the wide-eyed expression he wore while defending James, with some joking that he was afraid for his basketball life.
But Wright and his team played James as close as anyone – even the best player in the NBA – could possibly hope for. And now it has opened up a professional opportunity for Wright that he might have otherwise missed, giving the sports world the kind of underdog saga in which to thrive.
“All my life I’ve been trying to make my way up,” says Wright, 29. “It all looks really good.”
Wright stopped home briefly after returning from Buffalo before heading straight to the high school gym that hosts Drew.
The first thing that caught Wright’s attention was the 2,500 spectators crammed into a gym designed to hold less than half that number – just to catch a glimpse of James. They were probably the most energetic crowd he’s ever played in front of him.
However, the 6-foot-8-inch Wright knew he had the experience to handle the challenge. He doesn’t have James’ NBA pedigree, but he played several seasons of professional basketball in Japan and Ukraine before Russia invaded the latter country earlier this year.
So when their game against cheaters came close to MMV, Wright made it clear to his Black Pearl Elite teammates who would defend James. He did not travel across the country to be just another spectator. He told them, “I got a ‘Brun’.”
The goal was to stop the 6-foot-9 James from scoring 60 or – if that failed – 70. And he went better than Wright had expected, in his wildest dreams.
James scored 42 points, as the crowd greeted both one-handed dunks, and his three-point shot faded to deafening cheers.
But James didn’t make all of his shots. Wright, who spent much of the game on the defensive end of the field with wide eyes and a focused bend, would like to think his guard convinced some of King’s mistakes.
Meanwhile, at the end of the attack, Wright was throwing the haymakers on his own. In one of the surreal sequences, he got a pass from a teammate, lowered his shoulder to James to create space and hit a hook ball with his right hand.
Wright also sent a fast alley to his teammate and scored a rebound to his right hand after collecting an offensive rebound. Three times, he sprinted from a three-point range and called, each punctuated by staring at the crowd defiantly and raising his right hand at the “W” of the West Coast. One of those trios was about 30 feet tall, and James—who led the Miami Heat, Cleveland Cavaliers and Los Angeles Lakers to the championships—was a guard.
“A lot of people would never have balls to catch balls like this,” Wright says. “But you know I’ve been in the gym my whole life and I have confidence.”
In the end, James, DeRozan, and the MMV Cheaters won by two points against the Black Pearl Elite, who didn’t have NBA players on their side. Wright finished with 20 points captain.
James shook Wright’s hand after the final whistle blew and told him, “How to shoot there.” He agreed to take a picture with Wright, who thought the story – as it is – would soon be forgotten.
However, when the dust settled, Wright grabbed his phone, checked his social media and saw a huge number of people sharing photos and videos of him with his eyes bulging out as he crouched to defend the dodgy James.
One of the most common pranks targeting Wright came from the verified Twitter account of sports and humor site Barstool, which has 4 million followers. “The man guarding LeBron in League Drew is fighting for his life,” Barstol’s tweet read. “He didn’t get involved in this.”
Another social media account joked, “You can see the fear” in Wright’s eyes.
Wright insists that’s what his eyes do when he’s in the zone while playing basketball.
“Obviously they don’t know basketball, but they were acting like… I was just a random guy at Walmart,” said Wright, who, with the help of his brother, Brian, created iconic footage of his finest moments against James which he posted on his site Twitter Account TheWrightHoops and Instagram Page @ hooper21.
“I am not saying that I am the best player in the world. But – you know – I am far from sorry.”
The ignorance on social media was annoying but easy enough to get over it. After all, there was other business to attend.
Wright and the Black Pearl Elite—who were helped by NBA players Trae Young and John Collins in a later game—played in the Drew League championship match. On the way, the Black Pearl Elite defeated the MMV cheater less than James in a rematch.
Drew honored Wright with the Most Inspirational Player award, largely due to his performance against James.
With the war in Ukraine still raging, Wright was supporting himself financially by working in a holiday sales office run by Brian. But the possibility of taking a break from that job looms after his story caught his attention Metta Sandiford-Artistthe former NBA Champion known as Ron Artest and Metta World Peace during his playing days.
Artest has since helped Wright arrange a trip to the Philippines to work with the coaches and general managers of that country’s professional basketball league.
Wright said he would be forever grateful for his time at Drew last summer as well as his encounter with James, which he admits is the closest he feels to playing in the NBA, the culmination of his career. But, as the summer faded, the idea of continuing to play professional football abroad was something of interest to Wright.
“I just want one team – one person, one general manager – to take a real chance with me,” Wright said. “I know for a fact that they will never regret it.”