’The Basketball Tournament,’ Much More Than A Game

Race and Politics

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Baltimore native Carmello Anthony, a perennial NBA All-Star with the New York Knicks and surefire hall-of-famer is the face and host of, “The Basketball Tournament,” a $2 million, single-elimination tournament featuring 64 teams (a mix of professionals, college players and neighborhood blacktop legends, among others), which will end in Baltimore with the semi-final and championship games played at Coppin State University in West Baltimore.

But, it’s two long-time Baltimore entrepreneurs and impresarios, LaRian Finney and Derrick “D” Chase, who collaborated in the style of former Knick legends, Earl “the Pearl” Monroe and Walt “Clyde” Frazier to bring the tournament to Baltimore. And most importantly infused it with purpose that resonates in some of city’s most needy communities.

“I got a phone call from Chase, he said, `Finn, we need to figure out a way to bring this game to Baltimore.’ I said, what are you talking about?” Finney explained. “So, we pitched these guys out of Boston (the tournament was founded by Jonathan Mugar in 2014)…we’re going to get you support from the political community, we’re going to get you support from the institutions, we’re going to get you support from anchor institutions…now, you have Kaiser Permanente, you’ve got Johns Hopkins, you have Shoe City, you have the State of Maryland, all who have come on board to support this endeavor.”

Sean Yoes (Courtesy Photo)

It seems like Baltimore has played the stepchild  to New York on countless occasions when it comes to these type of business, entertainment or sports endeavors. But, this time it was Mobtown on top.

“We took this tournament from New York City; the semifinals and  championship were in New York City last year. So, we went and met with some folks from Boston and said, look, this is why you need to believe in Baltimore,” Finney said.

“Despite some of the naysayers on the sidelines, we’re going to be in Coppin, we’re going to be in West Baltimore, and at 7 o’clock on August 3rd a $2 million check will be presented at center court in West Baltimore. It’s a big, big deal.”

Indeed it is. The semifinal and championship games will be aired on ESPN and it is the first time in many years a basketball tournament of this magnitude has been played in Baltimore, specifically in West Baltimore. But, it’s the neighborhoods that surround Coppin that stand to gain the most in many ways.

“It had to have some components that directly impacted the community. So, what we created was a, “Day of Giving,” where we partnered with the Mondawmin Mall and the Baltimore City Health Department to do a very extensive health and wellness initiative, over 40 vendors, eight mobile units that will have education services,” Finney said.

“Another key component was partnering with Ray Lewis and the Global 1000 Baltimore, this will be their second endeavor in Baltimore, where they have committed to source at least 300 jobs. They provide services around reentry, expungement, workforce development,” he added. “And then we intentionally went into the Upton, Penn-North Sandtown-Winchester area, where we are going to do a complete clean-up and also going to the Avenue Market. We’ve designated four of the stalls at the Avenue Market where we’ll completely refurbish them.”

Chase said this is an opportunity for West Baltimore to be in the spotlight, this time for all the right reasons.

“After April 2015, after the riots…we were already moving, but we needed to move more expeditiously. So, we created something called, “Stand Up Baltimore,” and we began to engage over 120 organizations that were out there doing positive things in the community,” Chase said.

“But, we said that we were losing because there was no connectivity, nobody was talking to each other, the left hand wasn’t telling the right hand what to do. So, as it relates this particular event it’s the same format,” he added.

“We use basketball as the cornerstone for community transformation. And that is what makes this so incredible.”

The Basketball Tournament is coming to Baltimore this year at no cost to the city. The only thing Finney and Chase want is for the city to support it with love and enthusiasm.

“Our hope…is for the community to come out in droves. See, we always talk about what people have done in the past and how great the past was. But, how great will our future be?” Chase asked.

“This is not just a basketball game, this is the seeding of our future. We have an opportunity for the millions of people who are watching, who are going to watch this game on ESPN on prime time…to see what and who Baltimore is. And the question is…who is going to be there to show them who they are?”

Sean Yoes is the AFRO’s Baltimore editor and host and executive producer of First Edition, which airs Monday through Friday, 5-7 p.m. on WEAA, 88.9.