McGill hosts first annual Pop vs. Jock

Big stars and student athletes compete in a charity basketball game

  • by

Before the doors opened at 3:30 p.m., a large crowd waited anxiously outside the doors of Love Competition Hall. No, I’m not talking about when the New York Knicks practiced at McGill a couple of months ago, but, rather,  the first annual Pop vs. Jock basketball game. As part of the Pop Montreal Music Festival, Pop vs. Jock is a charity  game that features famous musicians, NBA stars, and athletes from both McGill and Concordia. This year, the proceeds from the game went to support DJ Sports Club, a non-profit organization in Montreal that promotes sports and recreational activities as healthy alternatives for youth. Notable players included Arcade Fire’s Win and Will Butler (brother duo extrodinaire), the San Antonio Spur’s Matt Monner, Vampire Weekend’s Chris Tomson, and many more.

When the game got going, it was as much a spectacle as basketball games can be: high quality competition, music by some of Canada’s premier entertainers, and a crowd that cheered whenever Win Butler so much as stepped on the court. The only thing missing were fireworks. The only non-typical aspect of the game was that half of the players and the majority of the crowd looked like they would feel more at home at a murky venue in Mile-End than in the well lit Love Competition Hall.

Despite this, or perhaps because of it, the energy of the game was the same as one might witness at one of the musical performances of Pop Montreal, and the indie rockers played basketball at a level you would never suspect. Even though it was a friendly charity basketball game, there was a ton of heat on the court, and the competition was great. With Régine Chassagne – another member of Arcade Fire – on the organ, playing a host of favourites, including the Super Mario theme, and Kid Koala spinning next to her, the ambience of the game mirrored the play.

You might expect that a bunch of indie rockers wouldn’t be able to hold their own against some of the finest members of the McGill and Concordia Varsity basketball teams. However, largely bolstered by professional ringers Matt Bonner and Paul Shirley – a former NBA player – the Pop team had far more skill than one would expect, even winning the game in the end.

But, no matter the score, the game was ultimately about the cause. Dexter John, the founder and executive director of DJ Sport’s Club suited up with team Pop. After the game, he was fully praised  those who played, and the crowd that showed up. He explained that the game was held to raise finances for DJ Sports Club to “improve [their] educational programs, really stabilize the organization, and can continue offering programs that help the youth” in the Sud Ouest region of Montreal.

But, arguably, nobody received as much attention as Arcade Fire front man and basketball whiz, Win Butler. Austere on stage, his demeanor on the court could not have been more opposite. He constantly heckled the opposition, the crowd, and even members of his own team, while nailing shots that seasoned veterans would have trouble with.

Before the game, Butler told The Daily that he “usually plays on [Matt Bonner’s] team. We have chemistry.” And it showed. The two men worked well together from the tip-off onwards, creating space for each other, making three-pointers, and creating turnovers for the surprisingly strong Pop team. By the end of the first half, the Pop team led 49 to 40.

Halftime was an oddity all in itself, split evenly between Win Butler attempting to compel the crowd through karaoke and band mate Richard Reed Perry’s Drones/Revelations, both of which left the audience wondering what exactly had just happened. Perry’s display featured almost twenty cyclists and roller-bladers circling the gymnasium floor, all equipped with white lights and speaker systems. The inspiration came from drone planes and the Book of Revelations. However, the constant hum, bass, and treble blaring from the speakers made the spectacle drone on rather than inspire.  It was simply the wrong artistic endeavor for the halftime show of a basketball game.

Coming back from this strange show, the second half made a comeback with a thrilling end.  The Jocks came within striking distance of the Pop team’s score for the first time since the opening moments of the game. With just twelve seconds left to play, the Pop team had a marginal three point lead, but the Jock’s missed a critical three point shot, and left the win to the Butlers and friends. Vampire Weekend’s Chris Tomson made two blocks in the dying moments of the game, but, when asked if they were the turning point, he responded, “Absolutely not, it was the NBA players.” In fairness, Tomson seemed happy just to play on the same court as Matt Bonner, “making a couple steals and a bucket” were, for him, just  added bonuses.  As for Matt Bonner’s contribution to the victory, he argued that with the looming lockout threatening his salary this year, Win owed him a position  with his band – “at least a guitar tech or something.”