March Madness for everyone. Winner takes home $500,000.
That’s the idea behind The Basketball Tournament, a 32-team, open event coming to Philly on Thursday, June 6. A ton of current and former players like Hakim Warrick, Josh Selby, Josh Boone, Rashad McCants, Aquille Carr and Marshall Henderson have committed to play.
Organizer Jonathan Mugar said The Tournament, which is open to any US citizen over the age of 18, was born out of a simple idea: What if you took everything great about March Madness and opened it up to everyone?
He pictured an everyman’s March Madness, but the response from elite players was even greater than he expected.
Around 150 teams registered, and in addition to the names mentioned above, a group of players from the 2009 Villanova Final Four squad formed a team. So did a group of former players from the legendary St. Anthony’s High School in New Jersey, and a group from the 2010 Cornell team that crashed the Sweet 16.
The Cornell squad had particular significance to Mugar, because they were exactly the type of team that had inspired him to create The Tournament.
Mugar read an article in the New York Times in 2011 about how several players from that Big Red squad, which upset Temple and Wisconsin before falling to top-seeded Kentucky in the Sweet 16, had stayed together, balling at the New York Athletic Club in the city.
“We talked about wanting to go back and seeing how far we’d make it,” 2010 Ivy League Player of the Year Ryan Wittman told The Times. “I think you are always going to miss it when you watch the NCAA tournament. It brought back a lot of good memories.”
The article sparked Mugar’s interest.
“That was a huge shot in the arm,” he said. “I always had that team in the back of my mind, and when they said they wanted another shot in the tournament, I thought, this could be it.”
So he pitched his idea to a Boston investment firm, which put up the $500,000 prize money. His buddy Dan Friehl, who works as an attorney in New Orleans, took a few months off to help administer the event.
The duo set off to alert ballers everywhere with just a $1,000 advertising budget.
“The entire process took about three years,” Mugar said. Now, the event is set to go on June 6—as 32 teams will play down to the final two over the course of three days at the Gallagher Center on the campus of Philadelphia University.
The finals will be contested on June 28, and fans will vote on which team gets to host. In fact, the social media component is a huge part of this tournament—24 of the 32 teams in the field were selected based on their total number of “fans,” which are recruited by teams through the TBT website. The other eight were chosen by the TBT itself.
Entry for players is free, but even though 150 teams registered, only the 24 with the highest following make the cut. It’s a strategy Mugar is hoping will bring more attention to the event.
So far, it’s worked—as the tournament has seen pub on various media outlets and of course, here with SLAM. Mugar said he envisions the tournament being streamed live in the future, and said the business model is like that of any other professional sporting event.
“We want to create a massive summer event, something that people can look forward to,” Mugar said.
So far, it’s a success.
Kels Dayton is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in SLAM 162. He writes a weekly column on the Most Improved Players in the NBA for SheridanHoops.com. He also serves as the Executive Producer of Sportzedge.com, which covers UConn basketball among all things Connecticut sports.