Max Berger (MB): Pop Montreal was dubbing its third Win Butler-hosted Pop vs. Jock charity basketball game as the “crossover sports-culture event of the year in Montreal.”That was certainly the case on Saturday afternoon as hundreds of spectators filled McGill’s Love Competition Hall bleachers to take in the match and support Montreal’s non-profit DJ Sports Club. The Jock team was made up of members of the McGill and Concordia basketball teams, and suiting up for the Pop team were internationally acclaimed musicians and professionals—including 2014 NBA champion Matt Bonner as coach. As advertised on the website, Justin Vernon of Bon Iver and Nikolai Fraiture of The Strokes were active for the game. Unfortunately, former NBA Slam Dunk champion Brent Barry was not, but, his absence cleared a space on the Pop team bench for a surprise appearance from the one and only…
Wyatt Fine-Gagné (WFG): Brian Scalabrine! I was walking to the venue when I found out that the man known as ‘White Mamba’ would be playing in the game. Despite the fact that he rarely played meaningful minutes during his NBA career, Scalabrine became a fan-favourite towards the end of his tenure in the association. His monster fourth-quarter dunk made me literally leap out of my seat. Royal Ivey was the other former-NBA player on team Pop, and he also put on a good performance, but Scalabrine shined brightest. Ultimately though, I think the crowd was most vocal in supporting one of the musicians on the floor in particular. In terms of basketball-talent, who do you think stood out among the non-professional athletes?
MB: I’ll give you a hint: all he does is win, win, win no matter what! Win Butler didn’t crumble under pressure or stiff competition at his own event, proving to be a key contributor on the winning squad. His versatility on the court mirrored his unique musicianship on stage as he flitted between the three-point arc and the low post with the same ease that he switches instruments at his concerts. Except for a series of ill-advised second half outlet passes and a possession where he flagrantly fouled former Martlet star Hélène Bibeau, it was a thrill to watch the Arcade Fire front man find success against the Jock foes all game. While Butler was undoubtedly the musician MVP, Vernon seemed to be the fan-favourite, drawing strong applause from the crowd in his limited minutes.
WFG: Vernon definitely got a lot of love from the crowd, but I think everyone would agree that he was far more impressive during halftime than he was during the game. Following a few shenanigans, including a ‘kazoo-battle’ between two audience members and a humorous karaoke performance from Team Pop’s Luke Bonner, the musicians on team Pop came together for a special performance of Phil Collins’ “In The Air Tonight.” The “Pop All-Star Band,” as they called themselves, featured Win and Will Butler, Régine Chassagne, Vernon, Fraiture, A-Trak, and Kid Koala. The cover was a bit rough around the edges, but it was clear that the crowd loved it—especially when Vernon sang the second verse on his own. I think it’s worth mentioning how impressive Chassagne and Kid Koala were. The two provided music throughout the game, playing their own instrumental versions of songs such as “Eye of the Tiger” and “Jump,” as teams Pop and Jock squared off.
MB: Yes, those renditions certainly didn’t go unnoticed, upping the intensity of a game that was decided in a hard-fought fourth quarter. After swapping sizable leads in the first half, a late Jock surge knotted the score at 71-71 entering the final frame. But once it began, the older Pop squad was in top gear, going on an immediate run en route to a dramatic 101-92 victory. They seemed fresh throughout the game, largely thanks to Matt Bonner’s astute managing of his players’ minutes—a tactic that surely rubbed off on him from his time under Coach Gregg ‘Pop’ Popovich in San Antonio, and very much befitting of a game in which Bonner coached the Pop team.
WFG: I was a bit shocked by how well team Pop performed. The quality of play was actually quite high compared to what I expected, and though the game was competitive, it remained friendly and fun throughout. That, coupled with the special half-time performance, had the crowd singing a happy tune as it filed out, which is exactly what a charity event like this one is meant to do.