64 teams in a highly-competitive basketball tournament with everything to play for. Win or go home in an intense single-elimination bracket with the entire nation watching on TV or in a crowd packed with thousands of passionate supporters. No, I’m not talking about the NCAA tournament known as March Madness, I’m talking about the 2 million dollars, the winner-take-all tournament that is arguably the most exciting basketball tournament of the summer: The TBT, abbreviated as “The Basketball Tournament.” The TBT basketball tournament will be starting July 19th and will feature tons of former NBA players (64+ former NBA players this year such as Jared Sullinger, James Michael McAdoo, Chris Copeland, Ronnie Brewer, Hakim Warrick, etc.), very notable former college basketball players (Aaron Craft, CleAnthony Early, Kennedy Meeks, Thomas Walkup, Perry Ellis, etc.) and almost every player has played professionally overseas or in the NBA G-League. Not to mention there are plenty of current (and former) NBA stars involved in different ways, whether it’s a head/assistant coaching role, a general manager, a team booster/sponsor, or showing their support through media/showing up to the games. As general managers, Chris Paul and Demarcus Cousins have constructed championship caliber teams. Andre Drummond, Shelvin Mack, Darren Collison, and Bobby Portis are all head coaches. Derrick Rose is an example of an NBA MVP who has annually shown support for multiple TBT teams, Dale Davis (13th overall pick in the 1991 NBA draft) is an example of a longtime college legend being a booster for his team (Clemson alumni) and national icon Jimmer Fredette has decided to be an assistant coach this year for Team Fredette (he would be playing another year in the TBT if he wasn’t currently playing for the Phoenix Suns). Isaiah Thomas and Dwyane Wade have shown their support for ex-teammates in the TBT. TBT is only in its sixth year, but in its first few years it also had the likes of other NBA/College Stars such as Damian Lillard and Wesley Matthews as head coaches, Jason Williams (aka “white chocolate”) and Mike Bibby teaming up, Greg Oden and Marshall Henderson playing for their college alumni and Kristaps Porzingis and John Wall taking a booster position. These aren’t your average players at the local gym, these are world-class, high-level basketball players competing every minute. With every game broadcast on ESPN, there are an endless amount of reasons why you can’t miss “The Basketball Tournament.”
One key reason to watch the TBT is that the tournament revolves around professional American sports (to a certain extent). First and foremost, all of the TBT referees also officiate the NBA (if not NBA, NCAA Division 1). Also, there are some NFL connections as well as NFL defensive stars Dominique Rodgers Cromartie (cornerback for the Oakland Raiders) and Vic Beasley (defensive end for the Atlanta Falcons) sponsor teams in the TBT (Rodgers Cromartie will sponsor Team DRC and Vic Beasley will sponsor Team “Southern Gentlemen”). Additionally, the former Dayton basketball walk-on Joey Gruden has really helped organize the “Red Scare” (Dayton alumni team). For NFL context, Joey Gruden is the son of Washington Redskins head coach Jay Gruden. As mentioned already, many coaches, general managers, and boosters are current/former NBA players. Being the natural competitors NBA players are, they bring a lot of fury to the sideline and genuinely want to lead the players to victory. Guys like Chris Paul and Demarcus Cousins don’t do this for show, they do this to win. Both of these general managers have recruited teams to become legitimate championship contenders (Cousins is the GM for number 1 seed “Loyalty is Love” and Paul is the GM for number 2 seed “We Are CP3”). Somebody like Bobby Portis has much pride as anybody for his alma mater (Arkansas) and there’s no doubt his priority is winning. Also mentioned earlier is how 64+ active players in the tournament have NBA experience (and some pretty good experience for a lot of them to say the least) and even plenty of NBA guys not involved have truthfully shown their support to friends, coaches, current/former teammates, alumni, random teams and basically the entire tournament in general. However, what might be the most appealing to the NBA background is how several capable players have used the TBT as a platform to make or return to the NBA. After the 2017 TBT, 17 players were immediately called up to the NBA, with many putting up some great performances such as Mike James dropping more than 24 points three times and Jamil Wilson hitting 43 percent of his shots from three-point range with the Clippers (starting 10 of his first 15 games with Los Angeles). While Matt Barnes missed the 2018 TBT due to suffering a calf injury, Jimmer Fredette was the primary example of the 2018 TBT helping a competent player return to the NBA. Players who have made a name for themselves in the NBA Summer League have also solidified their talent in the TBT as these two tournaments do not overlap. Without a doubt, players can really help their case for a spot in the NBA (even the ones that don’t see it coming).
Having pride in a school you went to is pride like no other. Players have too much pride to let their alma mater down, especially against other alumni with in-state rivalries or conference rivalries. With plenty of college basketball rivalries having the potential to match up in the TBT this year, there’s no doubt the competitiveness and passion on the court will resemble the same fighting mentality these teams had in their college days. The Wichita Region alone (hosted by Wichita State University) has team “Self Made” (Kansas alumni) in a region with the “AfterShocks” (Wichita State alumni) and “Purple and Black” (Kansas State alumni). As great have those colleges have been in basketball and as strong as those teams look to be, none of those teams are even the top-seeded team in the region as the 2018 Final Four participant Golden Eagles (Marquette alumni) are the number 1 seed in the stacked Wichita region. Speaking of Marquette’s alumni team, last year Marquette had an extremely passionate fanbase behind them as they took down the alumni teams of their current Big East rivals in St. Johns and Seton Hall before later defeating their old Big East rival “Boeheim’s Army” (Syracuse alumni team who will return this year as one of the title favorites) on their road to the Final Four. Marquette isn’t the only alumni team with a passionate fan base on their side, however, as pretty much every college will have their loyal and energetic fans rooting them on, especially as Syracuse, Kansas State, Colorado, Ohio State, St. Mary’s and others have done in the past. Every year has tons of college alumni teams (from major and mid-major conferences) and this year is no exception with 23 college alumni teams in the 2019 bracket (definitely do not count out the 41 other teams though). While the presence of schools like Notre Dame and Gonzaga did not make the cut this year, there are plenty of new alumni teams that are more than enough to replace some past schools such as Kentucky (revised Kentucky team who have played in the past), Kansas, Wisconsin, Clemson, Manhattan, George Mason, Memphis, West Virginia and many others that shouldn’t go unnoticed. Through Twitter, John Calipari has expressed his support to the Kentucky players he coached. One of the most interesting teams in the tournament this year is “Iowa United.” Iowa State has had its own alumni team in the past but this year they are combining with the alumni of Iowa University and Drake University to form an alumni team with three different schools. Almost every player has played Division 1 basketball but there are some noteworthy exceptions. One upset-minded team known as Team “We Are D3” is a squad consisting of all proud former Division 3 players and another team worth paying attention to is a team composed of all former Division 2 players known as “D2.” Both of these teams have professional players overseas and players in the NBA G-League. “We Are D3” has definitely let their presence be known before this year’s tournament. Despite being an 8 seed (this year there will be 8 regions with 8 seeds in each region), the Division 3 squad has advocated to the media their confidence of pulling off some upsets. The head coach Mike Rejniak voiced his love for Division 3 basketball when saying “We want to bring pride and awareness to how great D3 basketball is. The TBT is the perfect platform for us to showcase our talents and give voice to the underdog.” While the Division 3 ballers will certainly face some tough competition, many underdogs have surprised the nation just like high-seeded teams in March Madness have. Just look at last year, when the 15 seed Talladega Knights (tributed to Will Ferrell) advanced to the “Super 16” and almost the Elite 8. Speaking of upset-minded teams, the “Hilltop Dawgs” (UMBC alumni) will look to kick off the TBT with a Virginia-esque upset against defending champion/number 1 seed Overseas Elite. While Overseas Elite has been on the verge of losing time and time again, they have proven to be the team to beat in the TBT as they have won the last four championships, taking home millions of dollars with them. Overseas Elite has been so close to losing many times but combined with their talent, they have the chemistry and experience like no other team. Nobody thought UMBC could pull off the upset against Virginia, maybe they pull off another miracle. Just like the UMBC alumni, numerous mid-major alumni teams who have been successful and resilient in March will try to repeat their success in the TBT. George Mason University’s alumni “Green Machine” will attempt another magical run like their 2006 Final Four Fin in March Madness (members of that team will be on “Green machine”) and the “Red Scare” (Dayton Alumni) will try to go back to the Elite 8 and beyond. Manhattan’s “Team Draddy” and Old Dominion’s “Seven City Royalty” will attempt to repeat the underrated success they have had in March. With many other mid-major alumni teams worth mentioning, number 2 seeded “Ram Nation” (VCU alumni) and number 1 seeded Gael Force (St. Mary’s alumni) are definite title contenders. Don’t forget VCU had a surprising Final Four run of their own back in 2011. There’s no doubt that compared to any other tournament, the TBT resembles the NCAA tournament most (especially considering both tournaments have the exact same format). As a matter of fact, after the encouragement of ESPN greats Scott Van Pelt and Fran Fraschilla (Fraschilla is one of the announcers for the TBT by the way), March Madness has recently began to use one of the all-time TBT traditions, which is the winning team of a given matchup placing their team sticker into the next bracket slot. Something that TBT has that March Madness doesn’t is the “Elam Ending.” While the Elam Ending may seem kind of strange on the contrary, it makes the endings of the games so much more exciting. Starting at the first dead ball under the four-minute mark of the 4th quarter, the game clock will turn off and a target score is determined by the leading team’s score plus eight. Whichever team passes the target score first will win the game. The main reason why the Elam Endings make crunchtime more exciting is because it makes the entire game at the same flow/pace, getting rid of the endless amount of fouls that will take place on almost all basketball platforms. The Elam Ending also forces every game to end on a made basket. While there are definitely significant differences between the two tournaments (especially the monetary value that TBT provides to the players and the NCAA doesn’t…), it’s not a complete stretch to say the TBT is the summer version of March Madness.
As previously noted earlier, every team in the tournament has everything to play for. First of all, everybody is playing for a chance at 2 million dollars. 2 million dollars is… well, 2 million dollars. There is even more of a money incentivized motivation this year as the teams that win their regions will receive 25 percent of the ticket sales their region produced. With each region expecting a ton of fans with even more fans this year than ever, that will certainly turn out to be a great amount of money as well. As I subtly pointed out earlier, there were 8 regions this year instead of 4 regions. It won’t be easy, but that means 8 teams will win at least some money. However, it’s unquestionably not just the money and colleges these players are competing for. Lots of these teams are playing and paying to charities. One of the best stories is “Team Challenge ALS:” Sean Marshall (one of the stars for this team and he professionally overseas) started this team in honor of his best friend/roommate Pete Frates (Frates is actually the person who started the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge) to #StrikeOutALS. Coached by NBA veteran Darren Collision, “Team Challenge ALS” was one possession away from defeating Overseas Elite in the 2017 TBT Championship. Rightfully so, “Sideline Cancer” is also one of the most respected teams in the tournament (their team and what they are playing for) as they have been in the TBT since its first year and have annually donated to prevent/limit pancreatic cancer. Sideline Cancer has raised money aside from the TBT as well and they are truly committed to finding a cure for pancreatic cancer. General Manager Billy Clapper has said that “What we have played for is something bigger. We are playing to raise awareness, to inspire the next generation of what they can use their gifts to be, and we believe always that one day a cure will be found.” A former basketball player at Youngstown State himself, Clapper linked a fantastic 3-minute video in his TBT website biography (I highly recommend watching). Making its TBT debut this year, team “Playing for Jimmy V (V Foundation)” will be playing for the great Jim Valvano. With a good amount of Rutgers alumni on the roster, General Manager Alex Neumann said “We’ve seen teams participate in TBT in past years for great causes, and it’s an inspiration to see the way people can rally around them. We’re hoping to garner that kind of support playing for Jimmy V this year.” Similar to the way players hope to represent their colleges, there will also be players reunited with their former AAU teammates. Team “Boo Williams” is a great example of this as they have their own AAU program and sports complex down in Hampton, Virginia. The fact that Team “Boo Williams” is an 8 seed shows how loaded the TBT field is this year as Boo Williams will be led by Cat Barber who averaged 23.5 points at NC State and is currently a high volume scorer in the NBA G-League. The rest of the team provides a solid amount of depth as well: these players are coming from major (and mid-major) schools with a head coach having NBA experience (Lamont Strothers). With James Daniel (averaged 27.1 points per game at Howard University before being a key role player for the number 3 seed Tennessee in 2018) and Cat Barber in the backcourt, don’t be surprised if this team makes a run in the tournament (they will face the number 1 seed Team Hines who will be a serious championship contender however). Above all, all of these players in The Basketball Tournament are true competitors. Yet again, everybody will be fighting for what is so much more than themselves. As Fran Fraschilla will tell you, “The TBT is a reality TV show.”
Another perk to the TBT is how it can be extremely beneficial to the fans. I’m not just talking about the joy of the team you root for winning or showing up the games, I’m talking about the thousands of dollars won by hundreds of fans every year. The TBT championship team receives 90 percent of the 2 million dollars which leaves over 200,000 dollars for the winning team’s fanbase. To win money as part of a given fanbase, your team has to win the tournament and you have to accumulate “points” in an organized point system. There are a number of ways to win points as the linked article explains (examples: filling out a TBT bracket, following the TBT Instagram account, etc.). With the top 1,000 supporters of a given team earning money, the most ambitious “supporters” definitely could have their hard work pay off immensely. Being in the Top 27 could earn you 1,000 dollars, being in the top 9 could earn you 5,000 dollars and the top supporter could earn 10,000 dollars. The potential money a fan can earn does not solely depend on the team they support, however. Those who fill out a successful bracket in the TBT will be rewarded with a lot of money and this year each selection picked correctly in the bracket will generate points (with the later rounds generating more points). With that being said, maybe you and some friends can make a TBT bracket pool just like the pools/groups for March Madness. Regardless of the team you support, TBT provides a ton of merchandise available to the public and anybody who earns at least 300 points will receive a discount if they decide to buy merchandise. Anybody who earns at least 600 points will receive 50 percent off of Championship Week tickets (which aren’t that expensive in the first place). The Championship Week will be from the Elite 8 (starting August 1st) until the 2 million winner-take-all championship (on August 6th). Championship Week will be played in Chicago, more specifically Wintrust Arena (this is where Depaul University and the WNBA team Chicago Sky plays). As if all that isn’t enough, any fans who reach at least 1,000 points will have a chance at winning 50,000 dollars. Yes, that’s not a typo (neither is the 2 million dollars part or any money section a typo).
The TBT is such a unique experience for the players and the fans that shouldn’t be taken for granted. At a time when the NBA, college basketball and overseas basketball is at a halt, the TBT fills the gap of exciting and highly talented basketball. With 8 regions in Richmond, Lexington, Salt Lake, Columbus, Syracuse, Greensboro, Wichita and Memphis, this should be a spectacular year with a fun journey to Chicago.