Shabar Ewing has always been the guy with the key to New York, be it getting dinner reservations at one of the city’s great steakhouses or bottle service at exclusive clubs for NBA stars. Since his injury-shortened college basketball days, he has been hooking up NBA players with whatever they need when they come to New York, earning him an ironclad rep around the League as the perennial plug.
The NBA is a relatively insular league and, for Ewing (no relation to Patrick, another New York legend), that means trust is paramount and word-of-mouth is the best advertisement. But since he has close relationships with stars like Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant and Kemba Walker, his work precedes him. So when players change teams, Ewing’s potential client list grows.
“If I’m hanging with Kyrie and he’s traded to the Celtics, you have a player on the Celtics who’s gonna hang out with Kyrie when they come in town so he’s a guy who might contact me,” he says. “Or you have KD, who left for the Warriors, and now you might get a Steph Curry or a Draymond Green who might hang out with me. Teammates usually go out together so when one teammate that I’m cool with goes to another team, I get players on that new team.”
The Far Rockaway, Queens native got into the promoting game, fittingly, thanks to his own connection. After a successful playing career at Cardozo High School in Bayside, where he was teammates with former NBA player and current Thunder assistant Royal Ivey, Shabar’s college career ended abruptly due to a knee injury.
As a Hawks rookie, Ivey recommended Ewing — who had started promoting clubs and parties in New York after leaving school — to his teammates when Atlanta came to play the Knicks or Nets. It took off from there and, according to Complex, Ewing could make as much as $25,000 a night. But as promoting has become less lucrative, Ewing’s priorities have changed, leading to his newest venture, Hype City Sports.
“Promoting was a platform,” Ewing says. “When I stopped playing, I always wanted to stay around sports. That’s the hidden secret behind me starting the Hype City program.”
Through youth basketball camps, leagues and tournaments around New York City, Hype City Sports is Ewing’s way of both giving back to the community that raised him and of helping develop kids’ talent, both on the court and off of it. He stresses player development, in all facets, as the organization’s major goal.
“I want to grab these kids’ attention and one of the ways to do that is through sports. Once you get their attention through sports, you can start giving them the stuff they need to succeed. Take Jay-Z for example. The way he raps is informative, and information-based, but you have to spoon feed him, and give him some sugar. Once he’s like that, you give him more and more. I want to teach these kids that there’s more they can do if they don’t make it to the NBA.”
While Ewing never played in the NBA, he’s an integral part of how the league operates, especially in one of its cornerstone cities. It’s an aspect most fans don’t see, and that’s by design. When players want privacy while spending their free time in the Big Apple, Ewing gets it for them. It’s an underrated part of the seven-month grind of the regular season.
He’s attuned to the struggles players deal with, mostly because he’s with them at clubs, restaurants and bars. Ewing might even hear about team discord or player unhappiness days or weeks before members of the media.
“A lot of the time, I know they might be unhappy or want to go somewhere else,” he says. “I never know exactly why certain things happen, why there’s turmoil between players and their general manager. I just know there’s something going on.”
Ewing has seen firsthand what it’s like to reach the highest levels of the sport. And, from his own personal experience, he knows how important it is have a backup plan if playing doesn’t work out.
That’s why, down the road, he envisions Hype City as being more than just an organizer of basketball-related events. With his industry connections, Ewing has struck up relationships with financial advisors, journalists and marketing professionals, among others, who he thinks the kids involved in his programs could learn a lot from.
Another motivating factor for Ewing (above) is helping New York basketball return to the level of national prominence it was at when he was growing up. He reminisces, with a touch of sadness in his voice, about the last time the city produced three high school All-Americans, back in 2000. Omar Cook, Taliek Brown and Andre Barrett all earned the honor that season, which hasn’t been replicated since. He wants to change that.
“That was hardcore New York City basketball,” he says. “So, for me growing up in that era and knowing what it takes, watching those guys’ work ethics, seeing what they did to become those All-Americans, that’s knowledge I have these kids might not know about, and I want to bring it back to the city.”
In recent years, the city has struggled to retain the talent it has produced, on both the high school and college level. Whether it’s players like 5-star Texas commit Mo Bamba (a Harlem native) playing at prep schools in New Hampshire and Pennsylvania or Isaiah Washington (from The Bronx) heading out to Minnesota for college, New York’s talent drain is a real thing.
With Hype City, Ewing wants to bring back some of the swagger and pride that made St. John’s — led by Cook, Ron Artest, Erick Barkley and Anthony Glover — a powerhouse at the turn of the century. Those guys, he says, “were born and raised here, and stayed to make a name for themselves.”
But turning around the fortunes of one of the country’s historic basketball havens isn’t an easy job, and it’s a task Ewing knows he won’t be able to accomplish just by helping kids with their jumper or teaching them about financial literacy.
Those typically overlooked partners are brands and apparel companies that young players cling to when they release the newest kicks or clothes. Ewing says he eventually wants to work as a consultant to brands to get them to consider what’s at the other end of the supply chain, especially in inner cities like New York: kids who often don’t have the money to blow on a new pair of basketball sneakers every few months.
“I feel like they want the culture but they need to get back to the culture,” he says. “A lot of the kids out here can’t afford the sneakers these guys are selling. These brands need to start giving back to these neighborhoods that they’re making millions off of.”
Ewing grew up in the neighborhoods he’s referring to, and feels the pride and responsibility toward them that can only be felt by a native.
That familiarity helps Hype City since Ewing has already been through the same stuff the kids he’s trying to help are going through as they grow up. New York, he says, “is hard living” and it takes someone with his background to truly resonate with his organization’s target population.
“From the day you’re born, living in New York is tough,” he says. “They say if you can survive here, you can survive everywhere. Being in New York, stuff changes everyday, so it makes you stronger and helps you overcome adversity, because if you don’t, you won’t survive.”
The 2017 Hype City HS Boys Preseason Tournament is going down this weekend (September 9-10) at South Shore HS in Brooklyn. See below for complete schedule.
Photo Credit: Shareif Ziyadat