A steaming Blackjack pizza with mushrooms and pepperoni will not be delivered to the Pink Palace, aka cell block 22C, inside Denver County Jail. The cell block's basketball team had been the heavy favorite to win the jail's tenth annual basketball tournament, but after team captain Mark Skipper was transferred to the state penitentiary at Canon City, the rudderless 22C was eliminated from the tournament on June 7. That left this week's battle for a championship--and dinner from outside--wide open.
Without cheerleaders, the atmosphere at this year's final was subdued compared to previous games, says Dwayne Burris, programs coordinator for the jail. A few years ago, family and friends of the players were allowed to visit the gym to watch the series, but rowdy fans became too hard to control, and the onlookers had to be banned from the arena, Burris says. Other than a certain writer for Westword--who received the first-ever tournament MVP award in recognition of last week's cover story, "Nothin' But Net" (my first sports-journalism honor)--guests at the contest included Denver County Jail chief Fred Olivia and Denver Manager of Public Safety Butch Montoya, who made brief appearances.
Olivia's bureaucratic approval was needed to reunite inmates from the 11B team after the wing that houses the kitchen was closed for renovation last week, sending the inmates to live in different cell blocks. Made up of misdemeanors who work in the kitchen, 11B had lost the first game at the start of the annual tournament last March but won five straight contests to enter the championship series.
"It wouldn't have been fair to let them come this far and then not play together," Olivia said.
The group of unlikely contenders from 11B shocked the felons from 8ABC on Monday by stealing the first game 53-48.
"This I did not expect," Burris said after watching the upset.
But 8ABC came back hard in the next game, even sending one player from 11B to the infirmary to get two stitches in his lip after he caught an accidental elbow in the mouth. 8ABC won the second game, also played on Monday, by a score of 59-43.
And 8ABC's larger inside players used muscle and meat to fend off 11B's size-challenged squad in the series final on Tuesday, winning 54-38. 8ABC's center, Bobby Mingo, uncle to former Building 8 player Bruce Mingo (who scored fourteen points in a March 22 tournament game, then was sentenced to life without parole the next day), scored 24 points in the deciding game.
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"Basketball runs through the blood of the Mingos," Bobby said.
Instead of a championship trophy, 8ABC will receive a meal from the restaurant of their choice--within reason. 8ABC's coach, inmate Ronald Johnson, said most of the players are suggesting chicken, but a few are holding out for pizza. "We're gonna go back [to the cell block] and talk about it," Johnson said, smiling, after Tuesday's game.
In previous years, members from the second-place squad were given a new pair of basketball shorts. But after an inmate dressed in Bermuda shorts escaped from the jail two weeks ago, jail officials have banned clothing from the outside. (The inmate has since been captured and returned to the jail.)
This year, the runners-up were given one free token for the soda machine.