LOS ANGELES — The year was 1984. The gym was hot, the floor slippery, and the excuses rampant.
Dino Smiley wasn’t going to have it. So the director of the Drew League needed a motto. It had to be something catchy — think the NBA’s old “NBA Action: It’s Fantastic” — and one that would limit the stream of complaints Smiley was hearing.
“We were trying to come up with some kind of saying and we had a lot of guys complaining about referees, complaining about the floor was slippery, complaining about how they got in late last night, their legs are heavy,” Smiley said. “I thought about it and I said, ‘Man I don’t need y’all’s excuse. Y’all just need to produce.’”
“No Excuse, Just Produce” has stuck ever since, and can be seen everywhere in the King/Drew Magnet High School gym. It’s on the banners on the walls, it’s on the court, and it’s on social media.
And, since 2013, it’s been on apparel.
Nike started sponsoring the Drew League in 2013. Players receive Nike shoes, socks and bags as well as Nike uniforms. If a team advances to the playoffs, the players get an extra pair of shoes.
At first, wearing Nike was the rule. But as players began coming in with shoe deals in place — Brandon Jennings (Under Armour) and James Harden (Adidas), to name a couple — the rules loosened. It’s no longer required, but it’s strongly encouraged. The iconic swoosh is still the overwhelmingly popular choice among players.
Off the court, Nike has brought the league and its motto to the fans. After selling the gear out of a truck in its first few years as a sponsor, the sportswear company has now set up a pop-up shop in the hallway outside the gymnasium. Fans of all ages can design their own shirts, choosing logos for the front and the sleeve.
According to Josh Clouden, who has worked at the stand throughout the summer, the stand sold 40 shirts through six hours of play on Saturday, July 22 alone. While the Drew League logo was the most popular, Clouden added the “No Excuse, Just Produce” shirt sold well, too. The motto and the brand are a natural fit given Nike’s “Just Do It” mantra.
Clouden — wearing a Drew League shirt himself — said he sold shirts to kids as young as 3 and adults as old as 70.
“I think that’s amazing, because you get the chance to watch pros [and] semi-pros come in and hoop for free,” Clouden said. “It’s an amazing experience for young athletes, old-head athletes and just sports fans in general.”
The former University of Arizona big man went undrafted in June after leaving school early, and he didn’t play in the Summer League. He got in an extended run at the Drew, and impressed with several dunks and polished post moves.
“[Players] have to go with the mindset [of] no matter what’s happening — whether they’re only getting 10 minutes of game time or whether they’re getting 30 minutes of game time — that 10 minutes, you have to produce,” Smiley said. “No excuses. You’re on the floor now, you’ve got to produce.”
“No Excuse, Just Produce” means different things to different players, especially considering the wide swath of talent from which the league draws. For Comanche, it hits home as an ultimatum as he looks to impress a professional team, whether in the U.S. or abroad. For Nick Young, long one of the Drew League’s most popular players, it’s not quite as dire, but it’s still a chance for the newest addition to the Golden State Warriors to get some live game action in the offseason. And if you don’t think Swaggy P takes the circuit seriously, think again. On Saturday, he added former Los Angeles Lakers teammate and current Houston Rockets forward Tarik Black to his MHP team for a game loaded with playoff implications.
For Chris Allen, a talented guard who was kicked off the Michigan State team back in 2010, it’s an opportunity to showcase his skills. Allen, who finished his college ball at Iowa State and has played professionally in the then-D League and in Europe, suited up for NWA and went toe-to-toe with Young, holding his own before Young’s team ran away with things. Allen has no excuses. The Drew League gives him the platform to produce against some of the world’s best.
The story is different for every player. Some are NBA stars, others unknown pickup players. Some played at big-name colleges, while others aren’t even old enough yet to play at the NCAA level. No matter the player or his background, the Drew League provides a platform to put his craft on display. Once you’ve got that, there’s no excuse for not producing.