Photo courtesy of ENY Memorial Classic/Gersh Park.
By David Cordova
When people talk about New York City basketball’s summer tournaments, you usually hear more about the tournaments in Manhattan & The Bronx. But nowadays, there is one tournament in another borough, perhaps one of the biggest in the city, that has a tournament that piques the interest of the public.
The name of the tournament in question is the ENY (East New York) Memorial Classic, most commonly and appropriately known by many as Gersh Park, which is located in the East New York section of Brooklyn.
“Basically, the Gersh Park tournament is about giving back to the community by providing high-level basketball and just an opportunity for kids that’s from this area to see quality basketball daily, to be able to produce that daily, for the community, for Brooklyn, for our local area,” says Gersh Park commissioner Damian “DP” Pitts.
Started in 2005, the Gersh Park tournament has been on the rise as one of the premier pro-am tournaments in all of New York City and has been the top event that showcases the best from the borough of Brooklyn.
When playing in Gersh, one notices immediately that it’s no cakewalk once they step on the court. The type of game that’s played on those courts is hard-nosed, tough basketball, in which no foul calls will just be given and also an environment that is even tougher to play in, which prepares college and pro players for road games in their respective seasons. If one can make it through Gersh, they can make it anywhere.
“When it comes to Gersh, you know, you gotta come in and work, you can’t just come off a name and ‘I was a star, I play at this college, I play overseas,’ that really doesn’t matter, because you have people that’s hungry, hungry to prove themselves. So that’s really what separates Gersh, you to have prove your stripes, that’s the key.” says Pitts when asked about how Gersh differentiates from other tournaments around the city.
Another thing about Gersh is that it’s the only major pro-am tournament in Brooklyn, and many of the other tournaments are uptown. Few ballplayers from the Bronx and Manhattan come down to Gersh, so primarily, you will see players from Brooklyn and Queens come out to do battle on those hallowed grounds.
“The thing about Brooklyn is, when you’re uptown, they have their whole aura. People here are knowledgeable, so people here follow players, follow stats, follow matchups. If they know you played against this person and you didn’t have a great game, if you see that person again, fans are gonna know. So when it comes to Brooklyn basketball, it’s a little different, fans here are very knowledgeable, very dedicated, they’re very loyal. The loyalty is different here. So a lot of times, players know and that’s the difference when it comes to Brooklyn basketball.”
For a few years, the tournament was without a corporate sponsor, but the league continued to thrive. But in 2013, Gersh finally arrived on the scene as they became sponsored by both Nike and Brand Jordan, a unique sponsorship that most tournaments don’t have.
When asked about the sponsorship, Pitts replied, “Well, you know, when you have a sponsor behind you, it always makes things better, offsets a lot of costs, makes things look better. However, the thing is, we still had the same energy when we weren’t sponsored, the crowds were still packed. But it’s still great to have the Swoosh, the Jordan symbol, it always enhances things, but regardless, if we didn’t have any sponsorship, we’ll still have our fans being loyal.
About the atmosphere? It’s as intense as a Duke-North Carolina game at Cameron Indoor Stadium or a Red Sox-Yankees game at Yankee Stadium or Fenway Park. Also, there is never a dull moment in the park, due to the great commentary of Tyreek “Fly Ty” Malone, the official emcee of the tournament. When he is on the mic, he gets the crowd into the games, and calls the games similar to what is heard in an NBA game.
“Well, the good thing here is, the players come out, because you have tournaments all over the city, players will make their way to Gersh, and the difference is people will stay at Gersh, so that atmosphere must be a comfortable atmosphere. If players have a game at 7:00, they’ll be done by 8:45, and they’ll stay until 10:30, 11:00, if it’s hanging out to eat, if it’s hanging out to socialize, that’s the atmosphere, that’s the culture of this park, and that’s what separates it. Some people go to games, and they go and leave, here they come to socialize, and that’s a good feeling, so that people are comfortable.”
Also on the rise is the tournament’s high school division, where there are teams such as the Orange Wave, comprised of players from Thomas Jefferson High School, the local high school located a few minutes away from the park. Then there are programs such as Almighty Force, BCAM, and the Brooklyn Avengers, which showcase some of the top talent in the city.
“The high school division, that’s something new we implemented, it’s our second year, we got a lot of elite high school players. You got some of the top programs, these programs have these stars, so you never know what you may see on a nightly basis,” says Pitts about the high school division.
On August 5th, a high school team comprised of players that were selected to represent Gersh Park won the championship of the New York vs. New York tournament, an event in which they and four other tournaments under the Swoosh umbrella (Tri-State, Dyckman, Watson and West 4th) played against each other for a period of six weeks to determine which tournament was the best in the city.
This summer, the Sean Bell All-Stars won the title in the pro-am (also known as unlimited) division and Almighty Force repeated as champions for a second straight year in the high school division. As the twelfth year has come to a close, there is no doubt that there is more in store for Gersh Park.
When asked about to what’s to be expected in the future of the tournament, Pitts says, “Well, basically, in the future, we’re just trying to expand, trying to grow and continue to sustain it, because sustainability is the best. You have to be able to sustain it year by year, because sometimes, tournaments go on a decline. God willing, we’ll be able to stay on the incline, because we’re on that point where people get to that cusp, when they get to that stardom and fall off. We’re just trying to stay rising up, because a lot of people make their way to Gersh Park. A lot of tournaments are on the decline, less fans, less star players playing in the leagues. That matters, that definitely matters, so we want to continue to sustain it, keep great players, keep doing things right and that’s what we’re trying to do.”
Highlights of Gersh Park:
Courtesy of Mix Gawds.
Courtesy of The Basketball Diary.
Courtesy of Shay’z Dayz.
Courtesy of Mix Gawds.
Courtesy of Jon Lopez.
Courtesy of Jon Lopez.