There’s been quite a bit of buzz surrounding The Basketball Tournament, a $500K winner-take-all 32-team tournament held in Philadelphia earlier this month. Don’t let this tournament’s no-frills name fool you—even in its inaugural year The Basketball Tournament has turned into one of the most legitimate roundball competitions in America. The absurd $500,000 prize helps, sure, but TBT has found its niche by discovering a way to draw pro-caliber talent, deep-pocket sponsors, and the attention of many of the country’s most influential sports media members.
People like myself, for instance.
Okay, so maybe ya boy isn’t quite celeb status, but to a handful of frat bros in the New England area I might as well be. I used to work for a hilarious and lowbrow sports/smut website called Barstool Sports, and because of this was approached by TBT Commissioner Dan Friel to use our web popularity to build a team with some recognizable names and go after the cash. And build a team we did (I’m the one with the yellow socks and extreme handsomeness).
Long story short: I now know what it feels like to get dunked on by former Duke star/NBA journeyman Dahntay Jones.
I bring this up because Dahntay’s team—a squad put together by former Florida standout Matt Walsh and my ex-boss David ‘El Presidente’ Portnoy—is competing tonight at 7 p.m. EST on ESPN3 (read: online) in the championship game against a team of Notre Dame basketball alumni. The Irish squad is made up alums from the past 10 years, guys like former Golden State Warrior Rob Kurz and 6’11” center Torin Francis, a former McDonald’s Player of the Year.
One game. One winner. Five hundred thousand dollars.
The idea for a tournament of this scale with a prize this grand was the brainchild of Vin Martelli and Jonathan Mugar (a management consultant and TV producer, respectively), who later hooked up with youth basketball organizer Rob Kennedy to turn their vision of an open-to-anyone tournament with millions on the line into reality. Martelli and Mugar had been working on the idea for years, and as things finally began to take shape they made sure to spare little expense.
Personalized jerseys designed by the teams themselves? Check. TBT branding elements on everything from the complimentary sandals to the balls used during competition? Check. A professional video team quick enough to land The Basketball Tournament #1 on Sportscenter’s Top Ten after the first day of competition? Check.
It was clear to me and anyone who attended that this wasn’t your traditional summer league.
Martelli, Mugar, and the rest of TBT’s financial backers seem hell-bent on using the $500,000 tournament in Philly as a stepping stone to eventually introducing regionals, televised games, and a multi-million dollar prize. And from my experience I see no reason why they won’t get there. The Team Barstool vs. Irish Alumni game went from being only viewable in-person in Boston to being on ESPN in a matter of weeks.
Future iterations will probably include more NBA players, although from personal convos I can attest to their hesitance due to prohibitory language in their contracts. NCAA players also have difficulty getting on the TBT floor due to college basketball’s strict slavery regulations, but literally anyone else over 18 is allowed to create a team, recruit talent, and try to get enough fans to land them a spot in the tourney.
If this year’s competition was any indication, expect The Basketball Tournament to become a heavily anticipated event within the next several years. Also, you should probably count on seeing other F- web celebrities who stopped playing ball in high school get baptized on TV on someone else’s path to riches.