The Kenner League is an NCAA sanctioned summer basketball league that is played at McDonough Arena on the campus of Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. For hoops junkies, it is the Mecca of Basketball in the District that fills the basketball void that exists from the end of the NBA Finals in June to the beginning of Midnight Madness in October (at least for us cowards who aren’t brave enough to take in the games at the Goodman League at the Barry Farms projects).
The Kenner League is a free event (which is exceedingly rare in this economy) whose main purpose is to develop Georgetown’s freshman who all play on the same team. In 1994 a skinny freshman from Hampton, Virginia made his debut in the District at the Kenner League and cemented his legend. The Kenner League is also a Pro-Am comprised of college and NBA players with district roots. So in a game you can have local legends such as Isaiah Swann (formerly of Magruder High School and Florida State University) running the break with guys like James Gist (Good Counsel/Maryland) or Jeff Allen (Dematha/Virginia Tech), or Jeff Green blocking a Chris Wright attempt off the backboard. And who is that watching in the stands? Is that Patrick Ewing? Is that Alonzo Mourning? Is that Victor Page? Wait a minute, Victor Page? Oh, boy. This changes the story. It was at the most recent summer league game that I saw Victor. He was the player that forever changed the Georgetown basketball program. Fourteen years later, my feelings about him remain mixed.
All my family went to Georgetown, so becoming the diehard fan that I am today was probably inevitable. But it couldn’t have happened as quickly as it did without the success of those mid-nineties Hoya teams. And as good as Iverson was, it could not have happened without Victor Page. The Hoya teams at the time were just some tough mother@%&#*s. Guys like Jerome Williams (later appropriately nick-named the “Junkyard Dog”) and Othella Harrington did not back down from anybody. But even amongst those guys, Victor was an anomaly. Victor, as a shooting guard, played with a violence that no one else on the team approached. When he played defense his nose touched yours. When he dunked the ball, defenders got the hell out of the way. The play is supposed to go to Iverson and Victor was already in John Thompson’s doghouse? Well if Victor even had a glimpse of day light that shot was going up. Consequences be damned.
Victor Page came in as a freshman in 1995 from Mckinley High School in Southeast Washington, D.C. Page was the product of a broken home. His father was mostly absent and he had a mother who died of AIDS. But Page was a star at McKinley and ultimately became the Washington Post All-Met player of the year. But Page was no stranger to controversy. Instead of recognizing his talent and avoiding the pitfalls of living in poverty, he embraced them. Before his senior season at McKinley, he was arrested for cocaine and gun related charges. It began a pattern that ultimately would have disastrous consequences for Page, and ultimately would render the Georgetown Hoya basketball program irrelevant for almost a decade.
But none of that mattered during that 95-96 season. Page, wearing Air Jordan XI’s (still the greatest basketball shoe ever made) and the grey and black Georgetown colors, looked like central casting from a Tupac video. And the team dominated. They went 16-0 at home, back at the old US Airways Arena. I still can remember the second-to-last game home game against Boston College; Page sealed the win by jumping the passing lane in the closing seconds, taking off from what seemed to be the three point line, and slammed it home for a 3 point win. Back in those days, at US Airways, they didn’t really have barriers separating the fans from the floor. So after the game my brother and I rushed down to the court for the post game interview with Allen Iverson and Victor Page. We tried to get Iverson’s attention but he completely ignored us. Page didn’t. He stopped, gave us a fist bump, and talked to us for a little bit. It’s one of my best memories as kid. (Other than Patrick Ewing eating dinner with us at my grandmother’s house . My aunt dated his best friend in college, John Duren, and Patrick actually helped my grandparents move in to their current house when he was at Georgetown. But even when he got to the NBA he stayed in touch and would occasionally visit during the summers or if he was in town to play the Bullets/Wizards. How can you not be a Georgetown fan after all of that?)
The season ended in disappointment with a blowout loss in the Elite 8 to a Marcus Camby-led UMASS team. But, even though we were losing Iverson, the fan base was still hopeful. Victor was only going to get better right? The next season Page led the Big East in scoring, but in a weird way he actually seemed to have gotten worse as a player. He scored a lot of points, but he was a high volume shooter and rarely got his team involved. Victor mostly shot you out of games rather that kept you in one. The Hoyas still were able to make the tournament but ended up losing in the first round to Charlotte. A few weeks later, he shocked everyone by declaring for the NBA draft.
The program couldn’t recover. Victor left during a poor recruiting year for Georgetown. However, with Victor on the team, the Hoyas still could have fought for an NCAA tourney bid. Without him, the Hoyas had to settle for the NIT. The following year, and another poor recruiting class, John Thompson retired and the ill fated Craig Escherick Era began. Escherick, with star player Mike Sweetney, was able to take Georgetown to the Sweet 16 in 2001, but that season was an aberration. During his tenure, the Hoyas became known more for Escherick’s postgame meltdowns rather than any on court success. Until JT III replaced him in 2004, the Hoyas were nationally irrelevant.
Victor’s path mirrored the fall of the Hoya program when he prematurely left. Page was projected by some as a late first round pick. However, off the court rumors, including one in which he missed a workout with the Minnesota Timberwolves because he was to hung over from the night before, prevented Page from hearing his name called on draft day. From there, Page bounced around in obscurity. Page went 11th in the CBA draft where he played for the Sioux Falls Skyforce. Page actually had a solid career with the Skyforce and had his jersey retired in 2004. But even there, Page couldn’t get out of his own way. On Christmas Day, in 1997, during an in game fight, Page took a broom from behind the basket and chased and jabbed opposing player of the Idaho Stampede with it. In Sioux Falls, the incident is referred to as the “Christmas Day Massacre.” More disastrously, in 2003, Victor Page was shot in the right eye while in his childhood neighborhood. Page lost the eye completely and now wears an eyepatch. Additionally, in 2004, Page was arrested for another weapons offense and plead guilty to a lesser charge to receive probation. Also that year, his cousin Jerome Stroud killed two teenagers; prosecutors at Stroud’s trial suggested that the shootings were in retaliation for the shooting of Page.
The Kenner League is an interesting place in which, if you follow basketball, you never know which legends from your past might show up. When I walked by Victor, it immediately brought to mind all those great memories from childhood, when Victor seemed indestructible. But as much as I loved him, for years I blamed him for the demise of the Georgetown program. Yet seeing him with the eye patch, missing teeth, and disheveled appearance, I felt guilty. The hero was simply human, after all.
A telling moment occurred later in the game. At the Kenner League, the older Thompson usually holds court in the corner of the gym. Thompson made millions off the backs of kids like Victor Page and he certainly looks the part. While Thompson was cavorting with his entourage, out of the corner of my eye I saw Victor walk over to him. He was standing next to Thompson for awhile, sheepishly waving his hand at him, trying to get his attention. Thompson either didn’t see him, didn’t recognize him, or, to my horror, seemed to have purposely ignored him. Thompson is another central hero from my youth, but his behavior in that moment sickened me. Victor may not have had any NBA success, but he was a vital member of the team while he was at Georgetown. Eventually, Victor was able to get his attention and he and Thompson laugh with each other for awhile. But the moment passes and Victor walks away out the side door.
I do not know the nature of Victor’s relationship with Thompson, but that exchange seemed a perfect analogy to Victor’s relationship with the rest of the Hoya community. We loved him for what he did there and the promise he represented, but we also resent him because his early departure sent the program into a tailspin. We also keep our distance from guys like Page. Georgetown used to consistently recruit kids from the inner city of the District of Columbia. Guys like Michael Graham, John Duren, and Page. After Page, that changed. Georgetown tries to recruit “character” guys now. Not necessarily a bad thing, but it means a central element of the Georgetown identity, “Hoya Paranoia,” etc., no longer exists.
What Victor Page symbolizes, I still am not completely sure, but apparently he still hangs around McDonough and has a membership to the gym. I think it is fitting in that way. Victor, like the rest of us, prefers to remember the Victor Page “The Legend” at Georgetown, rather than be confronted with Victor Page “The Reality.” Just another day at the Kenner League.