For over 28 years Greg Marius has crafted an unmatched legacy in the summer basketball circuit, converting a friendly roundball challenge between rap groups into a worldwide spectacle featuring high school and college All-Americans and dozens of professional/NBA stars. Rucker Park is one of ESPN’s 100 Most Important Sports Venues in America and the EBC’s global footprint has expanded through exposure on national outlets including MSG, MTV, BET and NBA TV.
PRC: Greg, please take Bouncemag.com’s readers and EBC fans back to the inception of your brand. Tell us how this phenomenon began.
Greg Marius: In the summer of ’80, I was in a rap group called the Disco Four. The group was comprised of Greg G (me), Ronnie D, Cool Gee, Mr. Troy, Country and DJ Al Bee. One night Ronnie D started talking about basketball while partying at the famous Harlem World Club with some members of the Crash Crew, a rival rap group, who were on the way to Mr. Magic’s radio show on WHBI, 105.9 for an interview. Ronnie D decided to tag along. At the time Mr. Magic’s show (premiering at 2 am – 4 am) was the only radio show that featured hip-hop music, so a lot of people listened to it. Jalil from Whodini and I used to volunter there during Mr. Magic’s Hour to help with the request line. Anyway, both groups started talking trash back and forth about whose squad was better at basketball and Mr. Magic (“Be there or be square”) publicly declared it a challenge. I set up a game for the following Sunday at Mt. Morris Park on 122nd Street and Madison Avenue. When we showed up at the park that day, I kid you not—there were over 1,000 people, rappers and radio listeners, waiting to watch the game. I couldn’t believe it. We ended up winning by 59 points, which provoked even more challenges from other rap groups. We created a tournament out of it (Disco Four won that year) and the EBC was born.
PRC: When did the EBC make the shift from featuring entertainers, in the musical sense, to big-time ball players that it hosts today?
Greg Marius: That next summer, in ’81, the rap club Fever brought a team of ringers to the tournament. I mean they had guys playing ball overseas and everything. I was like that ain’t fair. So I got on the phone and called in an army: Walter Berry, Dwayne “Pearl” Washington, Kenny Hutchinson, Richie Adams and Greg Springer. They were All-City high school players at the time, some of them All-Americans, and I knew most of them from playing with the Riverside Church Hawks. The rule, though, was that you had to have two entertainers on the court at all times.
PRC: That’s a good provision. After the arms race in talent took place in ’81, did the EBC explode the following year?
Greg Marius: Well, in ’82 I decided not to do the tournament at all. I was practically running it all by myself except for some help from my boy JR and my group member Cool Gee. I was working at A.J. Lester’s at the time on 125th Street, where all of the hustlers shopped for their clothes. It was there that I met a salesman we called “Big Chuck” who was shocked by the fact that I stopped hosting the tournament. I knew it was big, but I didn’t know it was that big where people actually missed it. Chuck offered to help me get it going again and we moved the EBC up to 139th Street & Lenox Avenue the following summer. A.J. Lester’s was our first clothing sponsor.
PRC: Is that when the EBC outgrew its venue and headed further uptown to Rucker Park?
Greg Marius: Not just yet. In ’83, the dynamic shifted. College players like Steve Burtt, Troy Truesdale and Fred Brown were drawing massive crowds at the park. We also moved the tournament from the weekend to the weekdays because rap groups were traveling on the weekends to do shows. That is how the EBC evolved into its current Monday through Thursday format. The explosion took place in ’85, when I was introduced to a family friend who worked at The Athlete’s Foot. He had a business relationship with a company called Brooks, where Dominique Wilkins was the spokesperson.
PRC: Dominique wore Brooks?
Greg Marius: Yeah and my friend told me that he could get Dominique to the park to judge a slam dunk contest. We tied down the date for July 17, 1985. The reason I remember it so clearly is because it was the same day that my daughter was born. My daughter arrived into this world at 3 a.m. on that day. It was raining hard all morning with no sign of letting up. Twelve hours and a quick nap later, the rain stopped and the sun came out strong. It got hot out there and we were able to dry off the court by 5:30pm, just in time for the game. I was thanking God all day. By the time Dominique got out of his limo, people were everywhere – on buildings, hanging off roofs – and traffic was backed up Lenox Ave. and 139th St. in Harlem. Dominique judged the dunk contest and after numerous requests, he gave the crowd a windmill dunk that literally vaulted the EBC out of 139th Street to Rucker Park.
PRC: So, the Human Highlight Film was the tipping point for the EBC?
Greg Marius: Yep. We moved up to Rucker Park in ’86, were sanctioned by the NCAA in the mid-‘90s and the NBA in 2000.
PRC: There’s a lot of history here and I’m sure we can craft a book out of it and hopefully we will. But, in the meantime, what is your favorite moment in EBC history?
Greg Marius: To be honest, it goes back to that first day when I walked in Mt. Morris Park and saw 1,000 people in the crowd.
PRC: The beginning of a legacy. And who is/are the best player/s to come out of the EBC?
Greg Marius: Oh man, there’s too many to name and I don’t want to forget anyone. About every five years there was a significant shift in the pool of talent. In the beginning there were the players I mentioned above, plus the likes of Hilton Graham, Billy Banks, Olden Polynice and Wendell Ramsey. Then we had Steve Burtt and the Thornton Brothers, Lamont (“Tip”) and Mike (“Boogie”). There was Rob Wright, Master Rob, Kerry Thompson, Troy Truesdale, Pookie Wilson, Cornbread and David “Dunkenstein.” The more recent stars include Kareem Reid, Alimoe, Wally Nixon, Adrian Walton and the Future. Today we have guys like Lance Stephenson, SpongeBob, Steve Burtt, Jr., Kenny Satterfield, and the Woodward brothers. There’s so many great players and I apologize in advance for any exclusions on this brief list.
PRC: The list does go on and on. My last question is two-fold: What is your vision of the EBC and what would you like to accomplish in the next 5 years?
Greg Marius: Aside from expanding our platform and producing special events like the National AAU Invitational, the EBC International Challenge and Battle of the Boroughs (Men’s & High School), the underlying goal is create a scholarship program for our youth. We would love to watch the progress – academically and athletically – of our youth from 8 years old through the completion of high school and college. There’s no better feeling than ensuring that our next generation of children are prepared in the classroom and on the court for life after basketball or during their professional playing careers.
PRC:Thanks for your time Greg. I’m looking forward to the start of the 2009 EBC season on June 15th.
Peter Robert Casey recently earned an advanced degree in Organizational Psychology from Columbia University and is an authoritative basketball columnist – www.peterrobertcasey.com – and Director of Sponsorships & Business Development for the EBC at Rucker Park. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.