This Is New York: Part 15: The Renaissance of Nike Pro City

Photo courtesy of Dave’s Joint.

By David Cordova

This is Part 15 of our sixteen-part series, “This Is New York,” as we are talking about the Nike Pro City tournament, which is one of the premier pro-ams in New York City during the summer time and is a haven for pros and college players to compete.

During the summertime, many people love to see summer basketball at many parks or gyms. The months of June, July and August are as anticipated in New York City because of all of the events or games that are taking place.

Although outdoor basketball tournaments are so revered, there are days when mother nature (rain) prevents games from going down, especially with the prices for indoor facilities being very high for the tournaments.

But out here in New York City, there is one indoor tournament that everybody can go see a game without interruption and see a good game and watch college stars, overseas pros and even the occasional NBA player for free.

Mason Plumlee of the Denver Nuggets throws down a dunk. (Photo courtesy of Dave’s Joint)

Enter Nike Pro City. Since 1995, the tournament has been an indoor haven for the best of the best in the city and for pros everywhere to compete in. From Hunter College to Baruch College in downtown Manhattan and now Columbia University’s Levien Gym in Harlem, the games have provided excitement and entertainment.

“Pro City as a tournament, for me, is like having something for the pros and the overseas guys. When they come back home to New York, the New York guys, pretty much, they have somewhere to play,” said commissioner Bernard Bowen, in his first summer at the helm, after taking over for longtime commissioner Ray Diaz. 

Several former NBA players such as the late Anthony Mason, Nate Robinson and two of the Brooklyn Nets’ newest acquisitions, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant, have at one time or another, played in the tournament.

Pro City commissioner Bernard Bowen (center) with Noah Vonleh (Minnesota Timberwolves), Mason Plumlee (Denver Nuggets), Miles Plumlee (Memphis Grizzlies) and Shabazz Napier (Minnesota Timberwolves). (Photo courtesy of Dave’s Joint)

For the NBA players, the hardwood is valuable as it is a great alternative from the concrete courts of the playgrounds, where knee injuries and torn ACL’s are more likely to occur. 

“A lot of guys, now, the way the culture has shifted, they don’t like to play outside,” said Bowen, “Guys don’t like playing outside as much anymore, so you know, I wanted to kind of create some energy where our pros can come back to New York and say that they have a home where they can play.”

This summer, after years calling the ARC Gym at Baruch College home, Pro City moved uptown to the Ivy League oasis of Harlem, Columbia University. On June 24th, another summer tipped off and eight teams squared off to battle on the court every Monday and Wednesday night.

Noah Vonleh of the Minnesota Timberwolves gets past his defender to get to the basket. (Photo courtesy of Dave’s Joint)

On August 14th, a crowd of about a few hundred got to see a great championship game between the Sean Bell All-Stars and Dyckman/NYAC. In the game were pros such as Coney Island native Lance Stephenson, who is now playing professionally in China and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson of the Toronto Raptors and Noah Vonleh of the Minnesota Timberwolves. In attendance that night was five-time NBA All-Star John Wall of the Washington Wizards.

When asked about having an All-Star like Wall in the building on such a glorious night, Bowen replied, “Oh, that’s my guy, he always comes out to my tournament in Miami (Miami Pro League), and either plays or he comes and watches. Just to have him come in the building tonight, in New York, it was just great to have him here [to witness] the atmosphere and the support.”

When asked what was his favorite moment of the summer, he said that it was that exact same night, on championship night. “Being able to bring something together for New York City, to have everybody come together and see what the new Pro City is all about.

Five-time NBA All-Star John Wall (Washington Wizards) came out on championship night to catch the action at Nike Pro City. (Photo courtesy of Dave’s Joint)

On having a large crowd for that epic championship game, in which the Sean Bell All-Stars emerged victorious, he replied, “It was great, I think that’s what it’s about, right? It’s free, you know, you get a lot of kids that can’t afford a ticket to go to an NBA game, so platforms like this is one of the reasons why I wanted to get behind it, so kids can come to see some of their favorite NBA stars, up close and personal, for free.”

Every week, this summer, many people were able to see some good basketball two days out of the week and got to hear the sounds of DJ Authorize on the turntables as well as the comedy and game calling of famed emcee Joe Pope on the mic. But next year, as the tournament moves to its 25thanniversary, there’s nowhere to go for the event, but up.

“For next year, for Pro City, it’s just going to keep getting better and better,” said Bowen.

Check out Part 16, our last feature in our series, on Thursday, September 19th, as we will be chronicling R.J. Davis, a Greenburgh, New York native who is also a top-40 recruit nationally in the Class of 2020 out of Archbishop Stepinac High School in White Plains, New York.

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