There’s a sports rivalry between Washington, D.C. and the city of Baltimore that can’t be captured by the professional leagues. The cities’ two football teams – the Washington Redskins and Baltimore Ravens – play nearly every preseason but meet only once every four years in the regular season due to NFL scheduling. Neither of the cities’ baseball clubs – the Baltimore Orioles and Washington Nationals – has finished with a record over .500 since the Nationals franchise was erected in 2005.

Since the two cities’ only shared professional sports are MLB and the NFL, locals are forced to rely on collegiate and high school sports as well as alternative measuring sticks, like Saturday’s D.C. vs. Baltimore street ball game, to tussle over bragging rights.

Sponsored by Downtown Locker Room and held at Morgan State University’s Hill Field House, the D.C vs. Baltimore basketball game lacked a true rivalry-type intensity, but it certainly didn’t lack star power. Former Baltimore high school player and current Sacramento Kings small forward Donte Greene joined forces with Morgan State star Reggie Holmes to lead the Baltimore team. Former George Washington University center Pops Mensah-Bonsu teamed up with Tennessee Volunteer guard Bobby Maze and international hoopster Andrew “SpongeBob” Washington, both District locals, to pace an undermanned D.C. squad.

Mensah-Bonsu and Washington led the charge for the D.C. team, who played much of the game with only six players. The 6-foot-9 inch Mensah-Bonsu regularly found his way to the rim for crowd-pleasing dunks while Washington supplied the perimeter defense and led the team in scoring with 22 points. But in the end, Greene and Holmes proved too much in the makeshift “Battle of the Beltway,” leading Baltimore to a 70-66 win. Holmes and Greene combined for 45 points, highlighted by a three-point shooting exhibition from Holmes, Morgan State’s all-time leading scorer.

Despite a close game and a fairly successful crowd turnout, play-by-play announcer Miles Rawls was hesitant to add Saturday’s game to the history books of storied beltway battles. Rawls, who hosts the District’s Barry Farms George Goodman Summer Basketball League, has seen his share of classic street ball games between the two cities but was disappointed on Saturday.

“The D.C./Baltimore rivalry as far as basketball has died,” Rawls proclaimed. “It needs a big boost. It doesn’t compare to the old rivalry of the Michael Lloyd days. It just doesn’t compare, it’s just a total different breed . I wouldn’t even call it a rivalry anymore until it gets that intensity back in it.”

A six-player showing from the D.C. team may have prompted Rawls’ statement. The game’s 8 p.m. tip-off was originally scheduled for 6:30 p.m., but late arrivals from the D.C. team pushed the start time back. District native and AND #1 participant Hugh “Baby Shaq” Jones didn’t arrive until after halftime to provide the D.C. team with a seventh player and they were still outnumbered.

After promoting Saturday’s game for over two weeks through daily announcement at his own league, Rawls saw the lack of district player participation as a statement – one he believes speaks to a lack of understanding of the two cities’ rivalry. “We have to get the players down there that understand the rivalry that want to compete and not just be down there,” Rawls said.

“It’s a heated rivalry. It’s always been that way so we have to get the players that down there for the love of the game and not down there for other alternatives.”

With behind the scene events such as Saturday’s continuing to fuel the “Battle of the Beltway,” Rawls’ request sounds more like a mandate.


Stephen D. Riley

Special to the AFRO