Ananth Pandian has a beard, two little dogs and owns too many esoteric basketball related t-shirts. He lives in Boston and he’s addicted to the NBA and ChapStick.
Kevin Durant may think that the summer league exhibition games are getting “played out,” but games are still being planned and tickets sold. The next game on the schedule is this Friday when DC’s Goodman League travels north to basketball mecca New York City to take on the Entertainer’s Basketball Classic team.
The man behind EBC for the last 30+ years is founder and CEO Greg Marius. Marius has been able to make summer games at Rucker Park a viable, competitive stop for players like Kobe Bryant, Gilbert Arenas, Baron Davis and Durant.
I caught up with Marius to talk about the summer, AND1’s place in streetball and Friday’s game.
TBJ: How did the summer go at Rucker and for EBC?
Greg Marius: I think it was a great summer. We got what we wanted out of it. It started slow but it picked up so its not how you start, its how you finish. I think we did a great job of representing our brand.
TBJ: It seemed like there were a lot more NBA players in different summer leagues this summer. What is the story behind Kevin Durant playing at Rucker?
GM: Last summer when Kevin came through for the World Basketball Festival, he said, ever since he was a kid, he wanted to play at Rucker. So he actually reached out to White Chocolate, from DC who always plays up at 55th, and told him he was going to come through this summer if I gave him a team. So I gave him a team and he came through at the right time.
TBJ: So you must have been there when he dropped 66?
GM: I went and got him something to eat before he dropped the 66. (laughs) It was the soul food I got him that made him play so well.
TBJ: I saw that you guys just had a celebrity All-Star weekend. How did that go?
GM: It went very good. We had fun out there. Durant wasn’t able to make it but you know they got him playing in too many games so he was taking a break. But [Michael] Beasley came and he really did his thing. It was a lot of fun. A lot of celebrities were there. The after party was great. So we enjoyed ourselves. I was glad I did it.
TBJ: Growing up I was a big AND1 Mixtape fan with all of the crazy dribbling and tricks. It seems like nowadays street ball is not like that anymore.
GM: AND1 capitalized on an idea I brought to them. You probably don’t know, but I came to them and asked them to be a sponsor/partner. I pitched the idea that there is a Rucker Park in every city and that we need to capitalize on that. They said street basketball was not national enough, and then two weeks later they went to every guy I had on that proposal and signed them to a year contract. And that’s how AND1 started. And that’s why its ending as well.
They didn’t have vision and didn’t know how to take it. They knew how to steal and duplicate but they didn’t know how to create. So eventually they got exposed as the weak version of the Globetrotters. What really hurt them was that they really should have stayed as a sneaker company. Focused on utilizing their events to sell shoes. If they would have done it the way I presented it we would have always had people touring, it would have been real. Players would have been really playing ball and they would be selling sneakers all day long. They forgot they were a footwear and apparel company and started selling DVDs.
TBJ: Yeah, it did seem like they were making DVDs like every other month.
GM: Exactly, that what’s killed them. Because the DVD market dried up. Once videos starting hitting the Internet, that was it.
TBJ: Interesting stuff. Let’s talk about the game on Friday. Who set that up, did you reach out to Miles Rawls of the Goodman League or did he contact you?
GM: What happened was that Miles and Kevin Durant actually wanted to play us, and Future (NYC streetballer) got in touch with me, so I said sure. I mean we are the foundation of summer basketball. I don’t look at it as street ball — AND1 created that name, we are summer basketball, true basketball.
We don’t need to be playing in so many games across the country. I mean when Kevin came and hit 66 and then he decided to go around and play all the circuits, people kept talking about his performance at Rucker Park whenever he went somewhere. But all these games have helped because with the lockout now you started hearing about the Drew League, who’s been doing their thing longer than I have. And you heard about the Goodman League that has been around for like 15 years. All of these leagues are being known now because of the lockout but what happens when the lockout goes away?
I think a lot of these leagues know that once the lockout ends these guys may not come back. But with EBC, I always had the superstars — the LeBrons, the Kobes, the Carmelos, I could keep going down the list. I had ‘em since Day 1. So when the lockout is gone, I will be able to get ‘em. With the rest of the leagues, those guys may not go back. So they are running with it right now and I called all the other leagues and told them it’s great that you guys are getting the exposure and have the opportunity to make some money, but at the same time you can’t oversaturate what you are doing. And that’s what they are starting to do. They are playing any and everybody and that is not what they should be doing. I told them they should hit key markets and keep it simple.
TBJ: Valid points. So whose on the roster for Team EBC?
GM: Right now Joakim Noah, Corey Brewer, Kemba Walker, JJ Hickson, Gary Forbes, Ron Artest…
TBJ: Oh Artest is going to be there? So what are your thoughts about the name change to Metta World Peace and his appearance on “Dancing with the Stars?” I know he’s a native New Yorker.
GM: I mean Ron is Ron. He’s the new Dennis Rodman. Ron is a good guy, a very good guy.
TBJ: So it sounds like this would be just the one game against another league for EBC.
GM: Yeah, Philly reached out to me but I didn’t respond back because I don’t want to have the responsibility of making sure guys show up. Because at any given moment the lockout could end and you put this game together, sold tickets, incur a lot of costs, I don’t really want to do that. I just do this one game and that’s it. Keep it simple.
TBJ: Why can’t you guys actually have the game at Rucker? Is the weather the main reason?
GM: I mean we were trying to. We were planning to do this at the end of August, but there wasn’t enough time to organize it. The weather is still great but probably if I tried having the game there on Friday it will drop down to 30.
TBJ: So what’s your prediction? You think the NY team will come away with a victory?
GM: I just think that no matter who wins, its a victory for both of us. The people get to see what they wanted to see.
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