Hal Pastner Returns With Bigfoot Hoops
One of the most influential men in high school basketball is back with his latest venture.
by David Cassilo / @dcassilo
Hal Pastner is one of the people that make you remember why you love basketball. His passion for the game is in every word he speaks, and after a brief hiatus, he is back to renew that passion with his latest venture, Bigfoot Hoops.
Much like his previous company, Vision Sports, which ran tournaments in places like Las Vegas and Pastner’s hometown of Kingwood, Texas, Bigfoot Hoops is dedicated to putting on first-class basketball events for the top basketball talent in the world and has seven tournaments lined up for 2011, including four in Las Vegas.
Pastner is the first to admit that he is not a basketball genius by any means, but his previous career stops have helped him run top-of-the-line tournaments.
“From my business experience in sales and marketing, I was dedicated in these tournaments to give good service and to market it,” Pastner says. “Doing all those tournaments, all those years was probably the hardest thing I ever did. Harder than 20 years of working for these companies.”
Anyone who has been a part of one of Pastner’s tournaments knows why they are so popular. If a coach is coaching multiple teams, Pastner adapts the schedule for them. He works with coaches on arrival dates to make sure they get a schedule that works and gives them a good fare. Perhaps most importantly, his tournaments have just one entry fee that has an umbrella policy that includes major medical insurance for everyone on the team.
It’s that dedication to the players and coaches that have given his tournaments such a strong standing across the country.
“The worst player at the tournament is as important as the biggest star,” Pastner says. “I wanted to make it a good atmosphere.”
Along with Vision Sports and Houston Hoops, the AAU team he started, Bigfoot Hoops adds to the reputation that Pastner has of being one of the most important figures on the AAU and high school basketball scene. It is all quite the surprise to Pastner.
“People think I’m this great coach or something,” he says. “I’m not. I’m just a guy who loved the kids, has a passion for the game and tries to do the right thing for all of them.”
Pastner, a basketball junkie to the extreme, fell in love with the game when he was eight years old, when he got a shot to be a ball boy for the Philadelphia 76ers. His hustle caught the eyes of those in charge and he landed a full-time gig. He worked in that position until he was 16 and in the process saw the Sixers win a title while being around greats like Wilt Chamberlain.
That experience was enough to get Pastner hooked.
“I wasn’t a basketball player,” Pastner says. “I was slow and couldn’t jump but developed a love for the game because I was around it every night.”
Although he never shied away from a pickup game, Pastner thought he was done working in sports. He got married and shortly after moved his family down to Houston for a job.
If it wasn’t for his eldest son, Josh, who also developed an early love with basketball, he might never have been reunited with the game.
“When he was eight he said, ‘Dad, I’m going to do this the rest of my life,’ ” Pastner says. “I remember thinking who am I to say he won’t.”
It all started when Josh, who 23 years later would become the head coach of Memphis at 31 years old after spending years as a player and assistant at Arizona, broke down and cried after his YMCA basketball season ended and all the other kids were getting ready to play soccer. Willing to help his son continue his passion, Hal then decided to get some kids in the Houston area together to play on a team. It was something that wasn’t well-received at first.
“To be honest, in the beginning people looked at me like I was crazy, because it was all football,” Pastner says. “Basketball? No one cared about it.”
He did find the players, though. They called themselves the Houston Hoops. When AAU started to develop in the area, they looked for better players. Twenty-four years later, 12 of its alumni have played in the NBA, including Emeka Okafor, Rashard Lewis, T.J. Ford, Stephen Jackson, Daniel Gibson and Kendrick Perkins. Add to that one Division I head coach, Josh, who coached Okafor’s team — when he was 16 years old.
“My dad just wanted to be around me,” Josh Pastner says. “Houston Hoops is extremely important to my development, just the opportunity as a coach dealing with parents.”
Josh, who calls his father “the legendary Hal Pastner,” loved Houston Hoops so much that Hal kept it going even after his son left, working nights and weekends to do so.
But in 2000, Hal’s basketball influence reached beyond just one team. His company had just been sold, and Pastner was looking for a job. It didn’t take long for him to turn to sports.
“I just felt like I didn’t want to sit in an office all day again and maybe do something on my own instead,” Pastner says. “My wife says, ‘Maybe, look at sports because of all the Houston Hoops stuff.’ I didn’t really want to go into the sports business because I enjoyed the hoops just for the love of the kids, but I really thought I had good motives. I didn’t want anything. I’ve never asked the kids who have made it from our program for anything.”
So Pastner created Vision Sports and began organizing basketball tournaments. He held one in his hometown, the Kingwood Classic, and it put the city on the map. Teams came from all over the world, as far as Australia and New Zealand, to compete.
The tournaments started to spread nationwide, several of which were in Las Vegas, including what he calls “the grandaddy them all” — the Las Vegas Live. Held from July 22-26, the tournament had 600 teams, 2,000 games, 35-40 courts and 300 people working.
It wasn’t too long before Pastner was seeing the results of his tournaments.
“I’ll watch an NBA game and my younger son will say, ‘Dad, everyone on the court played in one of our tournaments,’ ” Pastner says.
What all started as a way to support Josh’s love for basketball turned into something that put Houston basketball on the map and created elite tournaments that have included 184 players that would go on to the NBA.
“Anywhere I go I see kids wearing shirts from his tournament,” Josh says. “Everything is done at such a high level. He gives an opportunity to a lot of kids out there.”
Hal sold Vision Sports in 2007 and spent much of his hiatus following Josh’s career by making the one-hour-and-fifteen-minute flight back-and-forth from his home to Memphis. Now, after three years off, he is back in the tournament business with Bigfoot Hoops.
“I’ve got a renewed energy,” he says. “I have a real positive energy. I feel a greater spirit.”
He’s set to provide another stepping stone for more kids to reach their dreams of the NBA, and in the end, that will be the legacy of the legendary Hal Pastner.