The Drew League has long catered to our imaginations, pairing past and present NBA players who will never share a roster. But Sunday, the Los Angeles–based league gave basketballites their first glimpse of a sure future, that of Houston’s 2017–18 backcourt. James Harden and Chris Paul teamed up for LAUNFD (pronounced L.A. Unified), playing together publicly for the first time since CP3 was traded from the Clippers in June.
Harden, a Drew veteran, nabbed a game-high 27 points and 12 rebounds in the King-Drew Magnet school gym, beating out the Hometown Favorites 83–81 in front of a 1,500-person crowd. And those were just who could get in; almost 500 people hovered outside.
Star power alone led the line around the corner starting at 8 a.m., as it was Paul’s first time playing in the Drew after years of living in Los Angeles, and he, Harden, and Russell Westbrook were all expected to show. "Minor ailments" kept the NBA MVP away. We might have to wait for the regular season to see him and Harden on the same court again, the first meeting since the decade’s most hotly contested MVP race.
But Paul and Harden were worth the wait. No other offseason acquisition has created such a polarizing question of fit. How will this backcourt work? Paul, who has built his career on ball dominance, arrived in Houston the summer after Harden switched to CP3’s native point guard role. The Beard had a positional breakout season, thriving all the way to MVP runner-up. Within the smorgasbord that was LAUNFD’s roster — shout-out Bobby Brown and Pooh Jeter — the ballhandling alternated between Houston’s stars, per ESPN, with one of the two running the ball down and the other spotting up in the 2 position.
It was one game, sure, but the Drew was handing out some preseason appetizers.
The beauty of the Drew is marrying unlikely combinations of playmakers just for fun — Dwyane Wade, who cheered from the sidelines, can vouch for that — but Harden and Paul brought a little piece of the future. So did their LAUNFD teammate, top high school recruit Marvin Bagley III, and their opponents, Hometown Favorites, which featured Knicks guard Tim Hardaway Jr., USC’s De’Anthony Melton, and Warriors rookie Jordan Bell, which, speaking of the future —
—Golden State is still the proud owner.