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Volume 21 No. 12
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NBA creates major international youth event

The event builds on the league’s Jr. NBA initiative that was relaunched in 2015.
Photo by: NBAE / GETTY IMAGES
The NBA is creating its own take on the Little League World Series format by creating a global tournament that deepens its involvement in youth basketball.

Called the Jr. NBA World Championship, the new NBA property will target top boys and girls teams ages 14 and under from around the world. The tournament will consist of eight U.S. and eight international regional champions that will compete for the Jr. NBA title.

The inaugural Jr. NBA Championship is set for Aug. 7-12, 2018, at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando. The NBA will run the event with a media partner and sponsors expected to be added soon.

“There is no question that this is a basketball version of the Little League World Series and we say that with great respect for that property,” said Kathy Behrens, president of social responsibility and player programs for the NBA. “That is the model that we are looking at.”

All sports leagues are greatly concerned about youth participation and see the data that avid sports participants of a specific sport lead to greater chances of fandom of that sport. This is one of the NBA’s most concerted efforts to address youth participation.

The Jr. NBA World Championship format will begin in the spring with U.S. and international competitions across regional sites all created and operated by the NBA. The winning boys and girls teams from eight newly created U.S. regional tournaments (Central, Mid-Atlantic, Midwest, Northeast, Northwest, South, Southeast and West), plus teams representing eight international regions (Africa and the Middle East, Asia Pacific, Canada, China, Europe, India, Mexico and South America), will compete in the tournament.

Teams participating in the Jr. NBA World Championship will be separated into U.S. and international brackets that include round-robin competition followed by single-elimination boys and girls tournaments. Winners of the U.S. and international brackets will play in the championship games on Aug. 12.

Teams at the Jr. NBA World Championship also will participate in life skills programs and NBA Cares community service projects. Entry costs will be $300 per team. Anyone can register a team of 10 players, but most likely it will be coaches or club team directors. The NBA anticipates that most participating teams domestically will be AAU teams or “travel teams.”

Cleveland Cavaliers guard Dwyane Wade will serve as a lead global ambassador for the Jr. NBA World Championship to promote the tournament.

The creation of the tournament comes as part of NBA Commissioner Adam Silver’s effort to get the league more involved at the elite youth basketball level to grow the game and improve the experience for both players and coaches.

In 2015, the NBA relaunched its Jr. NBA program that in partnership with USA Basketball created health and wellness guidelines, and skill and training programs.

While the AAU system already provides a steady stream of youth tournaments nationwide, it is the global nature under the NBA’s umbrella that league officials said sets their event apart from other organizations.

“This is a big first step,” Behrens said of the new tournament. “It will be different because it has the NBA brand associated with it and we are going to follow standards and guidelines that we announced with USA Basketball. It is to demonstrate that these tournaments can be done in a new way that is mindful of the guidelines about health and wellness.”

The Jr. NBA Championship will be run under Behrens’ social responsibility department, with David Krichavsky, NBA vice president of youth basketball, to play a key role in developing the tournament. As of now, the league will not outsource the operation. The NBA would not disclose startup costs.

“When we relaunched the Jr. NBA program a few years ago, one of the things we wanted to focus on much more aggressively was the youth basketball space,” Behrens said. “We need some connective tissue and we think this tournament represents the best of what youth sports can be.”