Sunday afternoon -- after enjoying a baseball game at Christie Pits -- I stumbled across an interesting event at Trinity-Bellwoods Park. It was a one-on-one basketball tournament hosted & sponsored by Nike.
It was an interesting scene. I didn't have a ticket, but I hung out around the VIP entrance area, watching the crowd. Everyone was decked out in hip-hop gear and a DJ was spinning under a tent inside the arena (which I think was actually the fenced-in tennis court surface). A few huge guys were warming up under a single basket. The large crowd was slowly filtering in, with each guest being methodically searched for weapons.
I eventually figured out that this was a tournament matching the 8 most-legendary street basketball players in the city. These guys weren't bussed in players from a second rate league... they were amateurs who represent various neighbourhoods around town.
This is the first of two major Nike events in Toronto this summer. The other is the heavily advertised "Run TO" race that will be held this July 27. It looks like Nike has adopted a strategy to counter the sense that it is an out-of-touch mega-marketed brand. They have switched gears, and instead of bringing Michael Jordan to us, they're trying to bring us into the sports spotlight.
I can see through it, but it still works. As much as what they're trying to do is transparent, I feel that they have done it in a unique enough way that I appreciate it. They actually get my respect for creating some very cool, very local events -- even though I know that they're doing similar events all over the place.
A guy named Phil Dixon won the tournament and was crowned "King of Toronto". Nike's press release neglects to mention what neighbourhood Dixon represents, but they are going to give his local court a refurbishing.
Dixon also won $10k for himself. Unlike the stars we're used to seeing wearing the swoosh, this guy seemed genuinely impressed by this human-scale prize.