Canada Basketball looking to turn GLOBL JAM into an annual destination

The plan is that – eventually, and maybe sooner rather later — it will be a ‘thing’:

A summer fixture on the calendar of everyone who loves and cares about basketball and wants to be around it. A week to watch great competition, see old friends and connect with those who feel the same way.

A tradition, like homecoming, or a family reunion, but with dunks and better music.

That’s the vision for GLOBL JAM, which is wrapping up the first year of what Canada Basketball hopes will be many more this weekend. The hope is that over time it becomes the basketball equivalent of the World Junior Championships in hockey, which were a modest, no-frills competition far off the mainstream radar when they began in 1977 but grew into a tentpole event that serves as a cash cow for Hockey Canada and a holiday tradition for hockey fans.

What is it GLOBL JAM now?

It’s a lot of things. From a pure basketball point of view, it’s a tournament for U23 men and women being held this week at the Mattamy Athletic Center on the campus of Toronto Metropolitan University, with four teams in each category. The women – fielding a roster mixed with up-and-coming prospects and younger members of last summer’s Olympic team — are undefeated in round-robin play having pushed past Belgium, USA and France. The men are 2-1 after outlasting Brazil and USA before falling to Italy on Thursday night. Each finished first in their pools.

The semi-finals are Saturday, with the women and men each facing Team USA. The Finals are set for Sunday, and all games are being broadcast on Sportsnet, Canada Basketball’s partner in the event.

As Canada Basketball works to harness the passion for the sport and the deep Canadian pool of talent and have it translate into medals internationally, the hope is that the U23 teams can provide a bridge for players who play for Canada through the U19 stage – the last age group stop in FIBA ​​competition — to the senior men’s and women’s programs.

“After the U19 age group, if they’re not ready to play on our senior team, then what happens?” says Rowan Barrett, general manager for the men’s national team and Canada Basketball vice-president. “So these are guys we might be looking at for 2028 and hopefully this gives some of them a chance to play for several years within our system, evaluate them, get more experience playing FIBA, so that by the time they get to the senior level , they have the miles on them they need.”

But the basketball is only part of it, and maybe not even the most important part. After decades trying to figure out how to take advantage of basketball’s exploding popularity, Canada Basketball has decided that the way forward is to bring the sport to the people and use its position as the governing body to create events that offer the basketball community avenues to connect , come together and grow. In that sense, GLOBL JAM is less a tournament and more a shared space or a destination, a rallying point for the tribe of hoops.

“It’s like a triple bottom line, right? From a business perspective, it hits the bottom line because you need events to generate assets, assets allow you to sell, selling allows you to invest back on the program,” says Canada Basketball chief executive officer Michael Bartlett, the former MLSE executive who has credited with broadening the vision for Canada Basketball and bringing a more entrepreneurial approach to the formerly dusty sports body. “The second thing is when you’re hosting events you control the narrative more, you can be a storyteller … we can tell deeper stories about our athletes. … and then the third thing and this is probably most [of our players] just haven’t played at home while playing for Canada, and their families haven’t been able to see them play. I had a family member whose parents told me this was the happiest day of their life.”

It’s a treat for the players too, even if the ultimate vision of a packed arena pulsing with energy didn’t quite materialize during pool play, at least, though the expectation is the weekend should bring bigger numbers.

“I wish there were a bit more fans but I know there was a lot of love on TV and a lot of people tuned in,” said Aaliyah Edwards, the University of Connecticut star who has been a dominant force in the women’s event. “But I definitely felt the love from my family and the other players’ families. It was great to hear the national anthem. I’ve been playing in the States for the past nine months, so it was great.

But more than just providing their athletes the rare chance to compete at home, Canada Basketball is also making a statement about its commitment to embracing a more athlete-centered approach on all fronts. By creating an experience that hopefully becomes an essential steppingstone for players at a crucial stage in their development path, the idea is that when they call on players to take time from their off-seasons to play for Canada the ‘yesses’ will come, and on-court success will follow.

So in addition to elite competition, the athletes this week are getting the five-star treatment. Players were provided with gift bags upon arrival. Over their stay, they’ve had access to a hotel lounge for the competitors that features gaming consoles, ping pong tables, snacks and a barber. It’s open to all the athletes and has become a huge hit, giving the event a summer social vibe. Members of the Brazilian team have faced off against Canada’s coaching staff in ping pong.

It’s fun too because outside the Olympics themselves, most FIBA ​​competitions are for men or for women, never both, meaning athletes can play for Canada for years and never be in the same place as their male or female counterparts. It builds camaraderie, and – over time – a warm feeling towards the program putting it on. Internationally it should translate into more federations wanting to put GLOBL JAM on their schedules, allowing the event to expand, and building the buzz that much more. Domestically it should mean that when the national teams come calling, players will answer.

National team veterans can only look on in wonder. There are VIP lounges and a suite-style experience presented by The Keg, where players, Canada Basketball alumni, families and sponsors can hang out, nosh on sliders and watch the games. Those old enough to remember that training camps meant two-to-a-room in dorm rooms at community colleges for weeks at a time in preparation for competitions in the far corners of the globe are amazed at the transformation.

“It’s incredible,” said recently retired Canada Basketball alumnus Miranda Ayim, a veteran of three Olympic tournaments who is coaching one of the teams in Saturday’s celebrity 3×3 event at Yonge-Dundas Square. “I can count on one hand how many times I played domestically in Canada and they were mainly in Edmonton [where the women’s senior team centralized for several years] which was a wonderful host, but it’s nice to be closer to home and the heart of Ontario.

“It’s an annual reunion of the basketball community … I was actually chatting with someone earlier that it’s great timing for me to retire because I can enjoy all the extra activities going on and I’m really enjoying being able to connect with all my friends and acquaintances … I love the direction the team is going and the program is going.”

The ambitions for the event are considerable. In addition to the tournament itself, Yonge-Dundas Square has been transformed into a basketball festival of sorts, with live music stages as the host venue for the national 3×3 championships. Looking into the future, organizers see the potential for a large-scale 3×3 tournament on courts set up along Yonge Street and perhaps a 3×3 – an Olympic sport that is to basketball what beach volleyball is to the indoor game – World Cup event. There’s a possibility that a Hall-of-Fame weekend gets incorporated, adding some oomph to the proceedings and more connections between present, past, and future.

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The buzz Canada Basketball wants to create was evident in glimpses during the inaugural week. Attendance was slow early but picked as it went along. On Wednesday night Raptors vice chairman and president Masai Ujiri and general manager Bobby Webster were in the building, catching a glimpse of NBA prospects Leonard Miller for Canada going up against Keyonte George, a projected 2023 lottery pick playing for Baylor, who represented the USA at the event. Raptors star Scottie Barnes was courtside as was Oklahoma City Thunder star Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. Canadian hip-hop legend Kardinal Offishall was on hand as was Olympian Penny Oleksiak. Chances are that next year Canada Basketball will tweak the date so that GLOBL JAM doesn’t conflict with NBA Summer League with the hope that more of Canada’s NBA contingent will be able to take in the event, providing that much more of a cool factor.

Building a brand and creating a place for a community to gather is easier said than done, but that’s what Canada Basketball wants GLOBL JAM to be, and with their inaugural event up and running, they’ve taken what they believe to be a giant first step to it becoming ‘a thing’ and maybe more.

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