IRVINE — Considering the fact the payments went toward a charity for children, everyone appeared to have received their money's worth in the inaugural Harmony and Hoops Charity Basketball Game at UC Irvine's Bren Events Center on Saturday.
An 88-87 win in double-overtime by the Hoops team, which trailed by 19 points with 15:41 left, was icing on the cake. The only non-celebrity player, Kris Gallop of Cal State Monterey Bay, hit one free throw to break a tie with four seconds left to win it. Gallop scored a team-high 25 points.
A reported 1,000 people paid for tickets for either $15, $25 or $50, although it appeared like there were fewer than 500 people who actually attended the game, including several children.
But $50,000-$100,000 was raised for several charities and organizations: Autism Speaks, the OC Neurodevelopmental Center (part of the UCI Healthcare System), Reachback LA – Inner-City Health Program and the Tyler Foundation for Disabilities, founded by Tina Marie Tyler, who was at the game.
"It was the first basketball game I've ever gone to," Tyler said. "It was even better than I expected. We had more celebrities who were able to show up. They really came out for the kids. I have a 9-year-old son who has autism and I have epilepsy, which is why I started the foundation. We were blessed with a lot of stars. We wanted to promote anti-bullying efforts and kids who are a little different than other kids. It was part of the United Nations' International Day of Peace, which is on Sept. 21."
Former Los Angeles Lakers and UCLA star Jamaal Wilkes was a guest coach on the bench. On Sept. 8, the four-time NBA champion and two-time NCAA champ was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame and is 10th on the Lakers' all-time career list in points with 10,601. He is also the vice president of the NBA Retired Players Assn. During the game, Wilkes came off the bench as a coach and attempted two shots – he airballed the first, missed short on the second and appeared to strain his right shoulder – but it was nice for everyone watching the man known as "Silk" take some shots. Wilkes' No. 52 jersey will be retired sometime next season by the Lakers.
"I think as far as autism goes, people are becoming more knowledgeable about it," Wilkes said shortly before game time. "I went to come out and see some good entertainment, a nice family event."
At halftime, there was a hip-hop remix of DJ Jazzy Jeff and (Will Smith) The Fresh Prince's hit 1991 song, "Summertime" by Carlon Jeffery, a Disney Channel star on the show "A.N.T. Farm" who also played in the game and had an acrobatic layup and went one-on-one with fellow short guard Jordan Newt, a 14-year-old rapper. There were also silent auctions for sports memorabilia, such as Kobe Bryant's photo and autograph.
Cheerleaders from Culver City Middle School gave an impressive halftime routine.
Tyler's foundation helped make the game very kid-friendly, especially those with autism who attended. There was a master of ceremonies who announced the starting lineups, halftime and postgame activities, but did not really announce who scored which baskets. There were no bands or loud rock or hip-hop music that played as often as most NBA or college basketball games. There was a separate room with a television showing the game for anyone who felt overstimulated by the action on and off the court.
"I didn't want high-sensory things a normal game might have," Tyler said. "We had the lights low; we didn't have that much music playing. We wanted to hold a game the kids can go to. We didn't want to overstimulate the kids. We gave a lot of tickets away to schools with children who have disabilities. A lot of stars came out, we didn't pay them any personal appearance fees."
In an earlier press release, the game claimed to have game appearances by Dennis Rodman and Sam Cassell. But Tyler said Rodman told her he just came back to the U.S. from China and Cassell was also not able to come.
"We had a scheduling conflict with Dennis, but he's been very supportive," Tyler said.
As for the game, Bay Area native Gallop came thanks to an invitation by one of his celebrity friends. Harmony guard Arlen Escarpeta, an actor who starred in"American Dreams", the recent movie "Friday the 13th" and "Final Destination," had a pass go through his hands with two seconds left. He scored 11 points and tied the game in the first overtime with a fast break layup right before the buzzer,
"I wasn't nervous," Gallop said of the charity game. "It was fun, it was definitely worth it."
Harmony celebrity coach Shannon "The Cannon" Briggs, the last American to hold the WBO heavyweight boxing title, loved all the fun. He was among several celebrities who provided autographs for children.
"It did look like it was scripted, but it was not," Briggs said of the huge comeback. "It was a great show for the fans, it was fun. It's a phenomenal thing to give back to kids. Tina is a great spirit, she's a very strong woman. I'm looking forward to seeing it grow."
One of several children who received autographs was Anthony Veloz, a 13-year-old from Anaheim who has autism. Veloz watched the game with his parents and other relatives.
"It's my first time meeting celebrities," Veloz said. "It's interesting to watch."
Jeremy Sumpter, star of"Peter Pan"and "Soul Surfer", had a team-high 32 points on 12-for-17 shooting. Sumpter, who plays for the celebrity team the Hollywood Knights, clearly showed strong shooting skills against fairly good defense.
"It was good to come out here and see smiles on all the kids' faces," Sumpter said. "I had to fight for a couple rebounds and threw the ball in. I was feeling it from three."
Sam Williams, president of the NBA Retired Players Assn., thanked the charities at halftime.
"We support kids with autism," Williams said. "I've been the president for four months. We went through reorganization. Tina contacted us and we offered our support."
Assad Ali, son of Muhammad Ali, played guard and scored five points.
"This is for a great cause," Ali said. "I wanted to be there for the kids. This is great for us, but it's not about us, it's for the kids."