The chatter came from the crowd beneath the far basket, a call for Bakari Hendrix to do what he always does in these games — take over.
Oakland’s 6-foot-9, 260-pound power forward had attempted just one shot late in the first quarter of his team’s San Francisco Pro-Am game against South Bay earlier this season — a made 3-pointer. But he smiled as he looked at his fans and reminded them that Oakland had already accumulated a double-digit lead.
“I’ve been playing here since ’97 and people are used to me taking things on my shoulders,” said Hendrix, who still managed to pour in a game-high 28 points by the end of Oakland’s 95-78 win. “This is my summertime and I’m pacing myself. But if there’s a time when we need a basket or a stop, I take pride on being the guy who can get that done.”
The former St. Patrick-St. Vincent High School of Vallejo star, now 30, knows those big moments are just about to begin in earnest. Tonight at 8 p.m. at Kezar Pavilion, top-seeded Oakland (6-1) faces No. 4 SF City (6-3) in Game 1 of the three-game championship series. Theremaining games will also be played at 8 p.m. at Kezar, with Game 2 set for Wednesday and Game 3 (if necessary) on Friday.
This will be the first appearance in the title series for Oakland, which has been in the league since the Pro-Am began in 1979.
“This team has never won a championship,” Hendrix said. “And we’re hungry.”
Hendrix and Oakland teammate Mo Brown are two of the league’s top MVP candidates entering the finals, while SF City is led by USF forward Dior Lowhorn and Santa Clara big man John Bryant. Hendrix is the only player in the league to rank in the top 11 in scoring (27.2 points per game, second), rebounds (6.9, 10th) and assists (2.1, 11th).
“Bakari is just a phenomenal, dominating talent,” Oakland assistant Lawrence “Doc” Holliday said. “When you see his size, you don’t think he’ll be as agile as he is, but he reminds me of Karl Malone with his strength, shooting ability and the way he can run the floor. It’s just amazing to me he’s not in the league.”
The league, of course, is the NBA, and Hendrix has been excruciatingly close to making it twice. After being named the West Coast Conference Player of the Year at Gonzaga in 1998, he was invited to training camp by the Atlanta Hawks before being waived on the last day. He then made Utah’s opening day roster in 1999-2000 but was injured and released before appearing in a game.
He has since played domestically in both the CBA and NBA’s Developmental League and abroad in France, Greece, Italy, Portugal and Turkey. Hendrix, a journalism major at Gonzaga, has even written a fictional book called “For Love or the Game” based loosely on his experiences playing overseas.
He hopes his true-life story, however, ends a little closer to home with a happy ending in an NBA uniform.
“I’m just looking for one more opportunity to get in a camp and try to make it in the league,” Hendrix said. “I feellike I’ve established myself pretty well overseas and can go back and get a job. But I want that shot to play with the best in the world.”
San Francisco Pro-Am Championship
OAKLAND VS. SF CITY
(Best of three series)
All games at Kezar Pavilion
GAME 1: Tonight, 8 p.m.
GAME 2: Wednesday, 8 p.m.
GAME 3: Friday, 8 p.m.*
Will Bakari Hendrix find a home in the NBA?
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