With focus on giving back, The Basketball Tournament 'about changing the narrative of Baltimore'

For the teams that advance to The Basketball Tournament final four, there’s $2 million and a potential jump to the NBA on the line.

For the city of Baltimore, there’s a chance at a better future.

The annual tournament, broadcast on ESPN, moved its final rounds of games to Baltimore last year with the mission of shining a better light on the city. Through the play on the court, as well as community volunteering and health and wellness events, TBT seemed like the ideal moment to paint a better picture of Baltimore than its reputation.

“We are going to be engaged in this effort to make this one of the best tournaments ever, because the light does shine on Baltimore as the result of the TBT,” said Baltimore mayor Catherine Pugh at a Morgan State news conference previewing the event Wednesday. “We want our young people to come out and experience this national attention.”

By playing games at Coppin State last year and Morgan State this year — two historically black universities — the tournament’s directors were making “intentional” moves to connect TBT to the black community.

“It’s about changing the narrative of Baltimore,” said LaRian Finney, founder of the Finn Group. “We were intentional about where we started, and those zip codes that were impacted by the uprising [over the death of Freddie Gray in 2015]. We wanted to showcase parts of Baltimore, and TBT really embodies that spirit.

“You’re going to see great games on the court, but it’s awesome activities out there in the city as well.”

Within the sphere of the tournament itself, the presence of NBA players such as Will Barton of the Denver Nuggets, a Baltimore native, is intended to inspire both the aspiring players on the hardwood as well as budding NBA dreamers in the bleachers.

“I just want to give hope,” Barton said. “Make them feel like anything is possible. I grew up in some of the neighborhoods they have, went to some of the same schools, grew up in the same areas. I just want to show them I’m no superhero, I’m just the same as them … if you have a dream, you can make it happen with hard work.”

The tournament's organizers stressed the importance of not only the basketball, but the external events that they believe will recast Baltimore as a town in real recovery — resources for opioid addiction and mental health, as well as a job fair that organizers project will hire thousands of prospective employees on the spot. A “Day of Giving,” like the one in 2017, will deploy dozens of volunteers around the city working on bettering projects, such as repainting bedraggled school lockers.

“We’re extremely excited that they decided to bring [TBT] back to Baltimore for a second year in a row,” said Van Brooks, director of the Governor’s office on service and volunteerism. “We truly understand the importance of giving back to our communities and the impact that it has. Last year’s job fair, over 300 people were hired.”

Games will tip off Aug. 2 at 7 p.m. and Aug. 3 at 9 p.m. at Hill Fieldhouse at Morgan State.

kfominykh@baltsun.com

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