by Matt Caputo / @MattCaputo

Even when they aren’t on duty, the corrections officers from George Motchan Detention Center (GMDC) on Rikers Island are known for their lock-down defense.

“It’s tough out here because it’s like playing in a streetball tournament,” says Victor Rivera—a 1,000 point scorer at DIII NYC Tech, a corrections officer for 10 years and currently a member of the RMDC Gunners basketball team—of the Commissioner’s Tournament. “You see a lot of guys in here who played in college and in New York streetball tournaments. And this is one of the best teams I’ve ever played on.”

Rikers Island houses roughly 14,000 inmates on a given day, and its sprawling layout includes 10 indoor basketball courts. Each year, 10 teams of corrections officers from the Island’s biggest jails compete in the Commissioner’s Tournament. Motchan’s team, the GMDC Gunners, have dominated recently, winning three of the last four titles (’08, ’09, ’11) while compiling an overall record of 45-3.

“It’s good for the officers because it helps their conditioning, that’s a plus from the union’s standpoint,” says Norman Seabrook, President of the Corrections Officers Benevolent Association, which funds the team. “We have a tough job. This is something they can take pride in, and this helps them build camaraderie.”

The Gunners, who also participate in travel tournaments around the country under the name NYC Gunners, feature Arnold Fields, who was the MVP of the Commissioner’s Tournament in 2008 and 2009, 6-7 Quincy Oudkerk and 52-year-old Deon Walker, all of whom, along with the rest of their teammates, willingly adjust their work and vacation schedule to accommodate hoops.

“Everybody takes it very serious and it gets really competitive, but it’s fun,” says Gunners’ head coach Eric Bruce, a C.O. for 21 years and a former junior college player. “It’s a way to kick back and a different way for us to learn about working hard as a team.”