The Final Four has offered no shortage of opportunities to watch or play basketball, but I have to imagine the only place you were able to see Hall of Famer Charles Barkley participate in a game of musical chairs or Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph dunk a basketball came Sunday at the Celebrity Crunch Classic.
The game, played at the University of St. Thomas, sometimes stretched the definitions of both “celebrity” and “basketball,” but in the end it hit the mark with the only people who really mattered: the fans. Here are some takeaways from the afternoon:
• The 6-6 Rudolph is an outstanding basketball player — in a game filled with former NBA players, he was named the MVP after helping his team to a 69-66 victory. Many fans who filled the arena for the free event did the “Skol” clap with Rudolph in celebration.
He made a four-point shot early on — Monday’s NCAA title game won’t have a similar spot on the floor for an extra point, but maybe it would help boost scoring in what figures to be a defensive battle between Texas Tech and Virginia — and later dunked twice. The latter was a breakaway in which he flipped the ball off the backboard to himself before throwing it down, to the delight of the crowd.
“I tell people all the time that deep inside me there’s a basketball player,” Rudolph said. “To be able to come out here today and let that basketball player out a little bit, it was a lot of fun.”
• Even though it was just for fun, competitors want to win. As the score tightened in the second half, former Timberwolves Donyell Marshall and Wally Szczerbiak started trading long three-pointers for their respective teams. Ultimately, it was Szczerbiak’s tiebreaking three with 18.1 seconds left that determined the outcome.
“When they keep score, we’re going to try to win,” Rudolph said.
• The coaches for the teams were Hall of Famers Charles Barkley and Shaquille O’Neal. If Barkley was still hurting from his Auburn squad’s controversial defeat in Saturday’s semifinals, he hardly showed it Sunday.
Barkley was engaged and smiling throughout, giving players a hard time and barking at them to “stop crying and get back on defense.” He told one of the two game officials that he had “some of the best hair I’ve ever seen” and participated in a late-game musical chairs promotion.
He only mentioned Saturday’s game once — shouting at a player that he committed a good foul before referencing the game-deciding foul called against Auburn vs. Virginia.
• It’s easy to be cynical about these sorts of events because on the surface they seem like one big branding opportunity. The squads were divided into “Team Pringles” and “Team Cheez-It,” and the four-point shots were from spots on the court denoted by those snack decals.
But attendance was free, and there was plenty of casual interaction between fans and players. When Rudolph waved to and later high-fived two young fans, they looked about as happy and excited as possible. When O’Neal called a youngster over during halftime for a selfie, the reaction was the same.
As Barkley shouted before the game started, “Let’s have some fun!”
Everyone in the building seemed like they listened.