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FAN OF THE HOUSE

L.A. vs. New York, amateur athlete version

Get ready for the People's Games, wherein budding Cinderellas from each city can square off. Tryouts start Sunday.

March 09, 2011|Chris Erskine

Of all the harebrained ideas….

Picture this, a competition between L.A. and New York, featuring each city's best amateur athletes in basketball, soccer, football. "The People's Games" is what they're calling it. Tryouts start Sunday, at a playground near you.

Of course, a competition between New York and Los Angeles is a fine idea. We trump that big dump in so many ways, why not start keeping score? Besides, anything that'll get sports fans off the couch and onto the court is a good thing.

Admittedly, the guys behind it have a certain amount of cred in their respective fields. Armyan Bernstein made a mint in movies and has this dream of this being the first stage in a 16-city league featuring local amateur talent.

He's approached longtime buddy Terry Jastrow, a television sports executive with an Olympics resume that reaches from here to Sarajevo. You know all that "up close and personal" stuff? These guys want to take it to your 'hood.

"It sounds a little too beautiful to be true, but this is all about people who play for the love of the game," says Jastrow, winner of seven Emmys.

Of all the loopy, ludicrous concepts....

What Bernstein and Jastrow are hoping to do is gather a bunch of budding Cinderellas who never got their big chance, or blew their big chance, or played for what one of the principals calls "idiot coaches."

This is that most American of things, a second chance.

From what may be thousands of candidates, they will form a 20-player team that will play a three-game series against a similar team from New York. L.A. team tryouts are Sunday at six locations; final cuts will come March 27. April will be reserved for practices, and the initial game will be here May 1. The series then moves to New York for Games 2 and 3, May 3-4.

"Fans will vote for the team name," Bernstein says, one of many things — including cheerleaders and some player cuts — left to the community.

This year, the sole sport is basketball. If the league lasts, it will expand to include soccer and football. There are plans to eventually form women's and coed teams.

Players must be 18, residents of their respective city and never have played professional basketball. So, yeah, college players are eligible.

Where's the money coming from? Mostly Bernstein for now. The two organizers say they've turned down network and sponsorship offers until they get things figured out. For now, all the promotions and marketing will be mostly Web-based (PeoplesGames.com).

Of all the crazy, noble-sounding causes....

One goal, among many, is that the website becomes a social networking outpost for sports fans looking for neighborhood pickup games (no pun intended). In addition to following their city's all-star teams, weekend warriors could use the site to connect with players or teams in their area.

For this initial New York-L.A. matchup, each city's parks and recreation department will receive $30,000 to $40,000 based on use of facilities and $20,000 more will go to the winning city.

Like me, you're probably thinking: Where's the collective bargaining agreement? Where's the threat of a lockout? How can this be a legitimate league without some players' rep harping about salary caps and owners lying about not making a nickel while charging $300 a ticket?

Those are the only questions I would raise.

Meanwhile, Bernstein and Jastrow have hired former UCLA standout Lucius Allen to coach the L.A. team and Earl "The Pearl" Monroe to work with the baby Knickerbockers.

"It's a novel concept," Allen says, "and it gives a lot of good players who didn't get a chance another opportunity."

Thing is, I can't think of anything New Yorkers do better, besides muggings and pizza. Our kids are smarter, our topography — human and otherwise — more impressive.

Our outdoors is more comfortable than their indoors. Our cuisine is more diverse. And our streets smell of jasmine instead of that New York street musk (incontinent drunks and sweaty stockbrokers).

Can they pull it off? Bernstein, the founding father, will evaluate its success based on how well it fulfills players' dreams, the success of the website, and ultimately whether he and Jastrow don't take a bath on the whole thing.

So, what the heck. Bring on the People's Games and let's settle this Battle of the Behemoths once and for all.

Of all the harebrained schemes out there right now, I'm starting to like this one the best.

chris.erskine@latimes.com

twitter.com/erskinetimes

The tryouts

Los Angeles tryouts will take place Sunday at the following locations. To register, visit PeoplesGames.com.

Balboa Sports Complex, 17015 Burbank Blvd., Encino

Expo Center, 3980 S. Robertson Lane (formerly Menlo Avenue), Los Angeles

Normandale Recreation Center, 22400 Halldale Ave., Torrance

Pan Pacific Recreation Center, 7600 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles

Pecan Recreation Center, 145 S. Pecan St., Los Angeles

Westwood Recreation Complex, 1350 S. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles

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