Three days, 30 games, $500,000 on the line. The inaugural edition of The Basketball Tournament delivered 72 hours of nearly non-stop action, delivering on its promise of an open March Madness-style tournament at Philadelphia University.
TBT brought out players from all walks. There were former NBA players, overseas stars, full college alumni squads and NCAA standouts alike, all putting it on the line for the winner-take-all prize.
After playing four 36-minute games in three short days, two wildly different squads were left standing: Notre Dame Fighting Alumni, a group of former Irish players from across several years at the university, and Team Barstool, pulled together by the founders of Barstool Sports and featuring former NBA players Dahntay Jones, Matt Walsh and Josh Boone, as well as a host of former college stars. After dominating its first three games, Barstool had to fight through overtime against a team featuring Smush Parker and Luke Bonner, brother of Spurs’ Matt Bonner.
The Barstool and Notre Dame will face off on June 28—each team will choose a potential location to hold the championship game, and fans will get the chance to vote on which team will host.
The level of play exceeded expectations, even for the tournament’s creator and director, Jon Mugar.
“When we first opened the doors, it’s a new concept,” Mugar said. “Within a couple of days, the Cornell 2010 alumni team signed up, and it was a surprise as to the caliber of team signing up after that.”
On top of Notre Dame, Cornell, and a team from Villanova, Air Force Bomb Squad, a collection of former players from the Air Force Academy that reunited for the weekend. The team included one Airman who had to get leave from his training program in Alabama. Unfortunately, Bomb Squad and its sharp Princeton offense were eliminated in the first round, despite digging out of a double-digit hole.
“We’re just trying to enjoy our time together while we have it,” said Matt Holland. “I think it’s tough [to be eliminated] because we don’t play basketball for a living, none of us really put serious time into being in the gym.”
Aside from a shot at taking home a share of the half-million dollar prize, participants came to play for plenty of reasons. Nikki Teasley, the former WNBA All-Star point guard, was the only female participating in TBT. Although her team, Teasley’s All Stars, was bounced in the opening round, she still met her goal of getting her WNBA comeback rolling.
“I’ve been training, this is kind of like my coming out to let people know I’ve been working to get back to the WNBA, hopefully in the next year or two,” said Teasley, who has spoken to two WNBA teams.
The former Tar Heel also was hoping to send a message to the girls in her AAU program, Teasley Assist, based in Maryland.
“I’m always looking to do something different. This was a big deal to let young women know they can do anything they imagine.”
After spending time in the NBA D-League and China, YouTube sensation Aquille “The Crime Stopper” Carr joined up with Rep Your City, along with several former University of Miami players, as he prepares for a shot at the NBA Draft. Carr said he’ll go back to China, where he spent part of this past season, if he doesn’t get an NBA shot.
“It’s my first time getting out here running with these guys. We just need to get out there and play basketball,” Carr said before his team ran through its opening round matchup.
The 5-6 Carr was involved in one of the highlights of the weekend, tossing a half court alley-oop pass in his team’s opening game that made it to the No. 1 spot on SportsCenter’s Top 10.
Of course, part of the draw was the healthy purse going to the winner. “One of the hurdles at the outset was trying to prove that this is a real event with real money on the line, that they’re really going to get paid out,” Mugar said.
Some players were in disbelief when they heard about the fat paycheck waiting for the winner.
“I thought the money was fake at first,” said Chris Wright, the former Georgetown point guard. “It caught me off guard.”
Matt Walsh, the curly-headed Florida star of the early-2000s, had no qualms about coming out for a crack at the cash.
“I’m just here for the money,” said the Philadelphia-area native in between jokes from David Portnoy and Dan Katz from from Barstool.
While the Barstool leaders are debating between locations like Las Vegas and Nantucket, as well as their home-base in Boston, the Fighting Alumni squad hopes to take the game to either South Bend or Chicago to play it in front of the Irish faithful.
“Notre Dame is the embodiment of the word ‘family,’” Carter said. “Anytime Notre Dame wins, it could be checkers, it could be anything, you’ll have a million followers because it’s blue and gold.”
They also have some plans for the money. Longtime Irish coach Mike Brey is heavily involved in Coaches vs. Cancer, and the Notre Dame team plans to donate a portion of their winnings – $100,000 – to the organization.
Mugar said after the conclusion of the semifinal games that he felt the inaugural tournament was a huge success.
“Thirty games over three days without a hitch,” he said proudly. “Next year, we’ll look to add more tournaments, maybe in Chicago and New York.”
For now, fans can visit thetournament.com to vote on which team will get to host the championship game, and check out the photos above, courtesy of The Basketball Tournament.