Photo courtesy of Dave’s Joint.
By David Cordova
This is part one of a sixteen-part series involving basketball in New York City called, “This Is New York.” The opening installment is about the Watson Basketball Classic, a Nike-sponsored basketball tournament in the Soundview section of The Bronx, which is in its 20th year of existence and is one of six tournaments involved in the NY vs. NY Tournament.
It’s June 25th and it is the end of the first week of the NY vs. NY tournament. There was a tremendous game that just took place between the Watson Classic and the Gersh Park Tournament in the East New York section of Brooklyn. After that game, despite the loss, Watson Classic commissioner Lee Green still keeps a smile on his face. The reason for that is because he knows how far he has come with his tournament.
For those that don’t know about the Watson Basketball Classic, it is a tournament that is located at the Parque de Los Ninos Playground on Metcalf Avenue in the Soundview section of The Bronx. To get there, you must take the 6 train on the subway or take the BX 27 bus. When going on both or even driving on the Bronx River Parkway, you’re very likely to see some good action taking place on the courts.
“The mission for Watson is to unite the communities and keep these kids off the street,” said Green.
The tournament was started in 1999 by Green and his friend Albert Washington with six teams, a microphone, a speaker and an emcee named Joe Pope, who is one of New York’s finest at calling games on the mic.
When asked about how he feels about the tournament having made it to its 20th anniversary, Green replied, “It’s a blessing, man, it’s a blessing. I couldn’t have done it without the community. If you have a strong-based community, and longevity, it’s a possibility, and I couldn’t be doing this, this long without my community.”
What’s a regular day like at Watson one may ask? “A regular day at Watson is like family-oriented, come, have a good time, relax, come watch some good games, and really just enjoy basketball, man, with no worries in the world,” said Green.
Many players have come out to play at the hallowed grounds at Watson, including former Arkansas guard Kareem Reid, former LIU Brooklyn guard Charles Jones, former NBA player Kenny Satterfield and three-time NBA All-Star Kemba Walker of the Boston Celtics, who grew up ten minutes away in the Sack Wern Houses.
When asked about the basketball culture in The Bronx, Green added: “Oh, the basketball culture is rich in The Bronx. Kenny Satt [Satterfield], Andre Barrett, Kemba Walker, Corey Fisher, Mike Tuitt, Dana Dingle. We got a lot, The Bronx has always been traditional with basketball talent.”
But one signature moment that the Watson Basketball Classic will forever be known for, happened on August 7th, 2010, when Fisher, then a senior at Villanova University, scored 105 points. The news of the feat sparked national attention from publications such as the New York Daily News, SLAM Magazine, Bleacher Report, Yahoo and last, but not least, Sports Illustrated. That performance was the one that helped put Watson on the map.
“That was great, I actually got the game ball in storage, one day, I’m gonna bring it out,” said Green, “But that game was remarkable, it was against the GymRats, if I could remember, correctly, it was crazy. Me and Kenny Stevens from Dyckman, he was there with me to witness it and I was glad I had somebody there to witness it. We have film on it, one day we’ll release it, but that day was incredible.”
Just a few years ago, the tournament secured a sponsorship from the arguably the best sneaker brand in sports, Nike, and has been with them ever since. When asked about the relationship between the tournament and the international brand, Green added, “I couldn’t be doing this, this long without the [Nike] family. When they brought us in, they helped elevate us, they helped take us to another level, and I will be forever grateful.”
So far the Watson squad is 2-2 in the NY vs. NY tournament and boasts a who’s who of prominent high school ballplayers in the tri-state area, including two nationally-ranked rising seniors in Posh Alexander of Our Saviour Lutheran and New Jersey’s own Clifford Omoruyi of Roselle Catholic. Other prominent players include rising senior Anthony “Rome” Marshall of Brooklyn Democracy Academy, sophomore Jaquan Sanders and seniors Max Amadasun and Dylan Wusu, whom are also both from Our Saviour Lutheran.
When asked about the NY vs. NY tournament, which is in its third year of existence and is one of the most heavily attended summer events in New York City, Green replied, “It’s a blessing, man. We’re looking to really win this whole New York vs. New York, man, we’re trying to bring this title to The Bronx. The Bronx needs this, we’re hungry, and the last two years, we came up short, this year, we retooled, got a better team, a better coaching staff behind us, and we’re just looking to bring this home to The Bronx.”
With all of the success of the Watson Classic or “Watty,” as it is commonly referred to by the locals, there is no signs of slowing down anytime soon. The tournament plans to get better and better in the near future.
“I’m hoping to do another 20 years, that’s my future. Another 20 years with the community, if I could get another 20 years, I’m forever grateful,” said Green.
What’s next for the Watson Basketball Classic? “What’s next is to build with Watson Youth, get the youth together, ‘cause now we got Watson Youth, because it’s all about the kids now and just continue to grow,” said Green.
For eight to ten weeks during the summer, the Watson Classic is one of the most prominent tournaments in the city and holds at least 30 teams in its tournament. There’s the college division and also the popular high school division. If you’re ever in Soundview, swing by “Watty,” and check out the action. There’s never a dull day at Parque de Los Ninos Playground.
Check out our second installment of “This Is New York,” on Friday, August 3rd, as we chronicle the Future Talent Tournament in The Bronx.