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For the Love of The Basketball Tournament

64 teams. 5-on-5. Single elimination. $2M. Winner takes all.

The buzzer sounded and white confetti rained down onto the floor of Fordham University’s Rose Hill Gymnasium. Myck Kabongo, a former University of Texas point guard who now plays for the NBA Development League’s Erie BayHawks, tossed a gold championship belt over his right shoulder and danced around with teammates at center court. Shannon Sharpe, a former guard at Colorado University, stood under the basket and cried into the shoulders of a friend.

A few minutes later, Kabongo and other members of Overseas Elite filed into a small room behind the court to discuss their 77–72 victory over Team Colorado in front of a packed gym. More importantly, they were there to share what plans they had for the giant check that moments ago had become theirs.

“Two of these guys already booked their flights to Vegas,” said Matt Morrison, an agent and the team’s general manager. It was Morrison who convinced a dozen professional basketball players from oversees to come to the United States and compete in The Basketball Tournament, a now-annual single-elimination contest open to the public (register enough fans and anyone can join) where the winning team goes home with $2 million. Overseas Elite won last year’s tournament as well.

The game had been broadcast live on ESPN, and Kabongo continued on as if his post-game remarks were being televised, too. He thanked every one of his teammates, heaping the most praise on tournament MVP Kyle Fogg, the sweet-shooting guard from Arizona, and D.J. Kennedy, a former swingman from St. Johns.

Back on the court, the group of former Colorado basketball players who had just watched a 40–25 lead slip away, and with it a six-figure cash prize for nearly everyone on the roster, dropped their heads and retreated back to their locker room.

Their team had first come together in June, for a makeshift training camp on the school’s Boulder campus. During the morning they focused on individual skills and conditioning; in the afternoons they scrimmage the school men’s basketball team. One night they enjoyed a barbecue at the home of the school’s head basketball coach, Tad Boyle. Many left jobs behind. Calvin Williams, a 6'8 forward, works in maintenance department for a Nike factory in his hometown of Memphis. Levi Knutson, a 6'4 shooter, is a financial advisor.

“The money is obviously nice, but we’re really doing this for CU,” Knutson said before tip-off Tuesday night. Added Williams: “I was in right away before I even knew the details. I just wanted to hang out with the guys.”

Beckley says that, and not the cash prize, was the goal all along.

“The program has made tremendous progress over the last six years,” he said. “But we want to show that this is a family and that there’s a strong alumni program here that can help you after you graduate.”

Two hours later Beckley was sweating and yelling out instructions from the team bench. His face was tomato-red. A few rows behind him, about 10 feet away, sat Boyle, who had flown into New York for the game. To his left was Andre Roberson, the Oklahoma City Thunder forward who graduated from Colorado in 2013. Both looked on as Colorado guard Marcus Hall danced around and past every Overseas Elite defender and put up a game-high 24 points. The game was fast-paced, physical and sloppy. There were half-court alley-oops, one-legged three-pointers and tons of loose balls.

With less than 10 seconds remaining and his team trailing by three, Knutson stood on the left wing, hands ready to catch and launch. He had drained two his four shots from downtown — only this time he rushed his release, and the ball slipped out of his hands before he could even get his feet off the ground.

As the ball bounced into the hands of Overseas Elite, Knutson’s shoulders sagged and his head dropped.

Moments later the $2 million check was being handed to someone else.

Photography by Karim Mustafa