When Slam Dunk to the Beach returns to Cape Henlopen High School in December 2014, state officials hope the revered basketball tournament will pack the same economic punch as it did 10 years ago.
With state and local dignitaries on hand, the Delaware Sports Commission officially announced the return of the national showcase event. The DSC will work with national sports-marketing firm Position Sports to recruit the country's top teams and players to Lewes for a three-day tournament Dec. 27-29, 2014.
“We want it to be an event that will leave a mark on the state of Delaware and leave a mark nationally, and create that recognition this state deserves,” said Dr. Matthew Robinson, who serves as chairman for both the DSC and the tournament. “We are the First State, and we're going to put on a first-rate tournament; a tournament that's going to make everyone in this state proud.”
The tournament previously ran from 1990 to 2003 at the now-demolished Cape High. The event attracted some of today's top professional basketball players during their high school years, including reigning NBA Most Valuable Player LeBron James and perennial all-stars Carmelo Anthony and Dwight Howard.
Cape Athletic Director Bob Cilento said he has been working with the DSC to revive the once prominent and lucrative tournament. He said he is confident it will enjoy the same success when it debuts next winter.
“People have talked to me for years about it, and I think most people are very excited,” he said. “I think when the tournament left, there was a bad taste in some people's mouths because some things went wrong, but the group we have running it now is first class.”
Slam Dunk founder Bobby Jacobs unexpectedly folded the tournament in 2004 after 14 years. At the time he cited health issues; however, it was later discovered Jacobs mishandled tournament money and was unable to pay many people associated with the tournament. He was arrested and eventually served eight months in prison and was ordered to pay about $200,000 in restitution.
Mark Steigerwalt, vice president of Position Sports, said the tournament's checkered past should not affect his company's ability to draw in top-tier talent.
“A lot of people don't even know the behind-the-scenes stuff that happened,” he said. “They know they came and played in front of a packed house and had a great experience. A lot of the outreach we've done so far has all been positive.”
Position Sports is based in Phoenix and specializes in branding, marketing, consulting and event operations. The company has worked with many well-known brands, including Nike, Jordan, the basketball hall of fame and USA Basketball.
Steigerwalt said the tournament will likely start small, with scheduled showcase games between highly ranked teams instead of a bracket format. Regardless of size, he said, there will always be a division of the tournament for local and regional teams, including Cape Henlopen.
Cape boys' basketball coach Steve Re said he is excited about the prospect of his players getting exposure to big crowds and college scouts.
“I've heard a lot of good things about it, and we're super excited about it coming back,” he said.
Former Caesar Rodney High School basketball star Janavor Weatherspoon played in the Slam Dunk tournament in 1998 before moving onto a successful career at Oklahoma State University. He fondly remembers scoring a career high 50-points in a Slam Dunk game.
“The Slam Dunk is a kind of tournament that gives us a reason to dream,” he said. “Dream that one college scout in the stands will see your skills, write down your number and give your coach a call.”
Following college, Weatherspoon went on to play professional basketball in Europe. He's now employed at his alma mater as a paraprofessional working with autistic children.
“I will never forget those days in the gym at Cape playing the best at Slam Dunk,” he said. “With Slam Dunk as motivation, I trained harder, tried harder and played harder, which is exactly the mindset young men and women need to embrace to succeed not only in basketball but in life.”
For Slam Dunk to the Beach updates, go to www.slamdunktothebeach.com.