Each year, state lawmakers drop their partisan ties for one night, in an event that’s become an odd tradition in New Mexico.
Started more than 15 years ago as a way to bring legislators together outside of the Roundhouse, the annual “Hoops 4 Hope” basketball game pits the state Senate and House chambers against each other to raise money for cancer.
But while the event is friendly on the surface, several key lawmakers last week brought in the dirty elements of basketball—showboating, trash-talking, fouling hard—into a game that, by the end, became as physical as a bullfight. After the last buzzer, the 15-point underdog House of Representatives, a team composed of many unproven rookies, upset an overconfident state Senate team 40-33 in four eight-minute quarters.
“The Senate was talking a lot of smack,” state Rep. Carl Trujillo, D-Santa Fe, says. “There was a lot of motivation there.”
Though the Senate Lobos came into the game with the proven athleticism of Howie Morales, D-Catron, and Bill O’Neill, D-Bernalillo, the House Aggies ultimately played better as a unit, finishing the game with nearly twice the rebounds and double the assists and blocks of the Senate team.
“They outplayed us,” Morales tells SFR. “They had it in their eyes; you could tell. They were determined to make sure to win.” Here’s SFR’s totally serious play-by-play, in case you missed the action.
Morales’ flashy red and yellow “hyperdunk” Nike shoes—which resembled the New Mexico state flag, but with a Nike swoosh in place of the Zia—complemented his quick ability to drive to the rim. (The only other accessory worthy of Morales’ shoes was state Sen. Peter Wirth’s goggles, a throwback to the fashions of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Hakeem Olajuwon.)
The Senate’s most well-rounded player, Morales, finished the game with 12 points, 2 steals and 2 rebounds.
Though he’s known as a deferential, non-divisive lawmaker in the Capitol, Morales’ moves on the court resemble the more selfish, shoot-first style of play embodied in National Basketball Association point guards like Stephen Curry and Derrick Rose.
Morales also shows discipline on defense: In the first minute of the game, for instance, he quickly drew a charging foul from trash-talking state Rep. Antonio “Moe” Maestas, D-Bernalillo.
Morales’ style contrasted the old-school play of his House counterpart, state Rep. Carl Trujillo, D-Santa Fe. A freshman lawmaker, Trujillo campaigned last year on a pledge to listen to his voters and was often criticized for not taking stances on key issues (“This campaign is not about my agenda,” he told SFR last May).
But on the court, Trujillo’s mean ball-handling skills trump his on-the-job respectability. He led the House to victory with the pass-first approach popularized by NBA forefathers like Bob Cousy, and carried on today by point guards like Steve Nash and Ricky Rubio.
More impressively, Trujillo, who stands at a paltry 5 feet, 6 inches and weighs just 150 pounds, assumed the role of rebound machine, at least as far as legislative basketball standards go. He finished the game with 6 points, 2 assists and 5 rebounds—enough to qualify as SFR’s unofficial Most Valuable Player.
It might be just a game, but plenty of lawmakers took it seriously.
In the third quarter, state Rep. Emily Kane, D-Bernalillo, went for a fast break, except that she went to her own team’s hoop. When she missed her layup, her defender, state Sen. John Ryan, R-Bernalillo, got the rebound and mockingly gave the ball back to Kane, encouraging her to shoot again.
One physical play involved state. Sen. Cliff Pirtle, R-Chaves, the 27-year-old Tea Party freshman who beat longtime Senate President Pro Tem Tim Jennings last fall in the year’s ugliest campaign. Pirtle, a reserved politician who pulled an upset in the race with lots of outside help, sneakily rammed his shoulder into the jaw of state Rep. Bill McCamley, D-Doña Ana, another freshman lawmaker, knocking him to the ground.
McCamley, who in the Roundhouse is developing an in-your-face reputation that favors passion over diplomacy, was just as intense on the court. He also took an elbow to the head from state Sen. John Sapien, D-Bernalillo, who was ejected late in the game for his action.
McCamley finished the game with a bloody knee. He also came away with 8 points, 1 steal and 1 rebound, enough to qualify for SFR’s Rookie of the Year award.
The game-changing play came on a fast break, when state Rep. Zach Cook, R-Lincoln, knocked an ugly shot in and got fouled to the ground for a 3-point play, commencing the house’s 15-2 run in the fourth quarter.
But the most surprising move came in the first half, from state Rep. Dennis Roch, R-Colfax, who grew up watching NBA little men like Spudd Webb. Roch, whose round frame doesn’t suggest avid athleticism, was being fiercely guarded near the baseline by state Sen. Bill O’Neill, D-Bernalillo.
O’Neill, usually a disciplined defender, went for a steal on Roch’s right side. Roch brought the ball to his left, ran past O’Neill and scored 2 points with a fingertip layup. Roch’s spirited play characterized the overachieving team play that led the state house to its improbable victory.
“I felt [that O’Neill], he overplayed it on one side, trying to steal the ball,” Roch says. “So I teased him with it and went the other way.”
State Senate Lobos
Pts Blk Ast Stl Rbd
J. Sapien 8 1
H. Morales 12 2 2
J. Ryan 2 2 3
C. Pirtle 1 1 4 1
T. Keller 2 1 5
B. O’Neill 8 2 1
M. Moores 2 3
J. Cervantes 1
State House Aggies
Pts Blk Ast Stl Rbd
J. Strickler 5 1 2
Z. Cook 8 1 3
C. Trujillo 6 2 5
P. Pacheco 2 5
N. Gentry 4 1 1 2 1
B. Rehm 1
D. Roch 2 1 1
B. McCamley 8 1 1
T. McMillan 2 6
M. Maestas 3 1 1 4