No game in town exudes a prizefight vibe quite like the finals of the D.C. Interscholastic Athletic Association basketball tournament. Though public-school hoops in the city ain’t what it used to be—if Elgin Baylor, Dave Bing, and Sherman Douglas came along today, they’d all go to DeMatha, not Spingarn—this game still feels big-time.
The setting is key: The championships are always held at Coolidge Senior High, and it’s easier to get on an airplane than to get into the gym on game night. Before taking a seat, you’re forced to buy a ticket from somebody behind protective glass, walk through metal detectors, have all your belongings searched, and endure a full-body pat-down from security guards. The sitting mayor usually shows up with even more law enforcement.
The grandstands are always packed with several generations of alumni from all the city schools, not just those who make the finals. And though Coolidge has the best gym in the D.C. Public Schools, there’s no air conditioning. The uncomfortableness, like the overwhelming security presence, adds glorious amounts of tension. Go once, and you’ll go every year.