BY Todd Dybas 07:00AM 07/22/2011

Dybas: Staging NBA charity game here one tough pull

Saturday’s H206 Charity Basketball Classic at KeyArena will assemble local talent and bring money to kids. It wasn’t easy.

    Brandon Roy is the band leader of the group participating in the H206 Charity Classic on Saturday in KeyArena. / Jonathan Ferrey, Getty Images

Brandon Roy is the band leader of the players participating in the H206 Charity Classic Saturday in KeyArena. / Jonathan Ferrey, Getty Images

Harry Houdini once opted to be shackled, padlocked, thrown under water and wished luck. That’s because he was presented with two options. The first, confinement in the drink. The second, putting together an NBA charity game in Seattle.

Can’t blame him for choosing the less daunting.

Saturday’s NBA charity game at KeyArena, dubbed Seattle vs. The League in the H206 Charity Basketball Classic, is the byproduct of oodles of up-front cash and paperwork. It also helps to have some big-name boosters in tow.

That’s why Tavio Hobson’s A Plus Youth Program, which teams with the Rainier Vista Boys and Girls Club to combine basketball and academics, was able to head a group that received approval from the NBA to have a league-sanctioned game.

The NBA makes sanctioned games difficult, for the right reasons. Egos and organization make it difficult for other reasons.

First hurdle is the cash. Organizers are required to come up with a minimum net guarantee of $100,000 to donate to charity. Of that, a $50,000 irrevocable letter of credit to a non-profit charity needs to be available up front.

The minimums are in place to prevent con men from using the NBA’s name and players to put cash in their own pockets. It’s one of the few sensible financial things done by the NBA.

Hobson raised the minimums, though he won’t say from where. He has the public support of Microsoft CEO and basketball enthusiast Steve Ballmer, who was a special guest speaker at the foundation’s fund-raising breakfast event. He’s among other wealthy backers.

“We were fortunate enough to have the donors who can help us do something like this, and they were willing to guarantee the money for us,” Hobson said. “Through our donors and our network, we were able to get that done.”

Additional issues: insurance for the players. Payment for the arena. Sponsors to fill in spots in the cost-plus model. A certified trainer that works with an NBA team. A limit on the amount of marketing money that can be spent.

Oh yeah, players, too.

Saturday’s game touts Brandon Roy as the headliner. Jamal Crawford, Martell Webster, Isaiah Thomas and Spencer Hawes are other locals that dot promotional material. But getting player commitments may be more difficult than finding cash or finishing paperwork.

Agents, such as Seattle-based Goodwin Sports Management, which handles Crawford, Nate Robinson, Terrence Williams and Kevin Durant, among others, told their players not to play in the game because of the lockout, contract issues and injury concerns.

In the usual environment, players have to go through team management, as well. With the lockout, NBA players are free to do as they choose.

That makes things murkier. Players can decide on a whim to play — or not. A high school junior is more likely to honor a verbal commitment. Corralling NBA players is a chore in a summer of league chaos.

Nothing more exemplified the difficulties of obtaining a straight answer than a recent episode. July 8, agent James Tanner of William & Connolly LLP told Sportspress Northwest in an email at 7:46 a.m. none of his clients would be participating in the game. Tanner represents Ray Allen, Luke Ridnour and Marvin Williams, among others.

About two hours later, Williams was on KJR 950 radio talking about how he can’t wait to be at the game.

Thanks to the lockout, it’s on players to decide if they want to participate. The purpose of the game is to raise money for kids and reflect well on the Seattle basketball community. That’s why it’s unfortunate to hear potential participants such as Allen, Jason Terry, Rashard Lewis, Nick Collison, Durant or Jon Brockman are not taking part.

The idea of a charity game in Seattle has been kicked around since the last NBA lockout in 1998. Then, Gary Payton tried to get things organized.

Since, numerous groups have tried. After the Sonics left in 2008, things became more difficult.

In addition to cost and paperwork, there was hesitation by the NBA. The league wondered if the event would become a vitriol dump toward David Stern and the NBA.

Hobson said that wasn’t an issue for his group, which began working on the project in May 2010. Initially, the plan was to do the game last August. But he and others realized that date was untenable considering the amount of process.

The certification paperwork was due April 1. Hobson’s group was one of two local groups trying to put the game together, despite knowing the lockout was likely. They pulled it off.

“We were extremely concerned about (the lockout),” Hobson said. “Most of it was from a naivety stand point because we didn’t know how it would affect what we were doing. After we sat down and got with some people who are quote, unquote ‘in the know,’ and understood the process and understood the pending implications, understood what might happen, we were put at ease.”

With the legwork behind them, the cause celebre here is Seattle basketball. But the back end, the more important end, is money going to kids.

Whether a new arena is built is irrelevant to Saturday’s game. During a time of dire economic need, the game puts money in the pocket of the Boys and Girls Club and A PLUS Youth Foundation. That needs to be acknowledged and embraced.

That’s why it’s disappointing more big names didn’t show. Disappointing to hear agents advise their clients — who spend their summers in pro-ams or playing pickup — not to play. Disappointing to have players who talked as recently as last year, as Allen did, about what a great thing this would be, not participate.

Saturday’s game (pregame starts at 2 p.m.) will stand without them. Roy, one of Seattle’s favorite basketball sons, leads the group of players. Businesses will be watching. Politicians will be stirring. The league will be wondering.

Makes an underwater escape look easy.


  • jafabian

    This would be a lot more successful if more former Sonics were involved.  Can’t believe Collison won’t be in this when he lives here. A Sonics vs. Huskies game would pack the house.

  • jafabian

    This would be a lot more successful if more former Sonics were involved.  Can’t believe Collison won’t be in this when he lives here. A Sonics vs. Huskies game would pack the house.