NEW YORK — New York City as the Mecca of basketball, or the epicenter of the sports’ culture, exists mostly and only in nostalgia.
A reminder was sent recently from SHOWTIME, which is airing a documentary this summer about NYC point guards who earned mythical status before they entered college or turned pro.
Kenny Anderson, Kenny Smith, Pearl Washington, Rod Strickland, Mark Jackson, Nate Archibald, Stephon Marbury and God Shammgod — all familiar names who, if they came up today, would’ve likely been sent elsewhere given the options within the five boroughs.
Out-of-state prep schools, for instance, snatched away Taj Gibson, Obi Toppin, Joakim Noah, Kofi Cockburn and Cole Anthony. A city championship isn’t what it used to be.
Now two New York entrepreneurs, with the backing of Carmelo Anthony, have dedicated big ideas and big money toward redirecting that trend. Griffin Taylor and Jared Effron plan to launch “The Program,” an academy wired to compete with the likes of Oak Hill, Montverde and IMG.
“What I want to do, and what we want to do, is restoring the narrative that New York City is an elite place in terms of producing high level basketball talent and culture,” Taylor told the New York Daily News.
So how might this work?
According to Taylor, they’ve raised about $2.5 million for the project — or half their goal — and plan to open next year with a facility in either Williamsburg or Long Island City.
Their proposal is complex but the goal is to create a team with the most talented players in New York, sprinkled with national recruits, and turn basketball development into primary focus. The Program would also work with local schools to provide online courses, thereby fulfilling NCAA requirements, and pay to house players.
But the gym is the draw.
“A big reason New York fell off is there just isn’t that many gorgeous gyms in the city because rents are so expensive and they’re used for other things,” Griffin said. “We want a facility where kids know they have 24-hour access to basketball and be taught by the best teachers.”
Carmelo Anthony, JJ Redick and Kenny Smith signed on as strategic advisors. Book Richardson, the former Arizona assistant coach and New York Gauchos director of operations, is the head coach.
They’re starting with a camp in The Hamptons this weekend, with Cole Anthony and Knicks guard Miles McBride expected to attend.
The concept of ‘The Program’ isn’t necessarily new to New York, just reimagined to fit the basketball landscape 2022. As the Parks Department was cutting its budget in the 1980s and 1990s, millionaire Louis d’Almeida constructed the Gaucho’s Gym in the South Bronx and built a barnstorming AAU dynasty. Similarly, Ernie Lorch, a wealthy corporate lawyer, turned the Riverside Hawks into a powerhouse.
Effron, the nephew of powerful banker Blair Effron, brings the financial connections to ‘The Program.’ Taylor, the CEO of The Program, holds a basketball background after organizing teams for tournaments at Rucker Park, Dyckman and Gersh.
Their idea spawned about a decade ago, when Effron and Taylor were too young and unversed to assemble such a project. Then the former Jewish rec league opponents reconnected at a wedding last summer and picked a conversation they believe will reinstall the glory of NYC basketball.
“The same hole in the market that existed 10 years ago, exists today,” Griffin said. “Someone is going to bring New York City basketball back because it’s so meaningful to the sport, it has so much history and culture, why not us? You always have to dream big in life.”