xml:space="preserve">
xml:space="preserve">
Advertisement
Advertisement

Basketball tournament for 'a bunch of foolish kids' becomes something much more

It started on a lazy summer afternoon in 1995, when a couple of teenagers were looking for something to do and unwittingly created a basketball tradition that would unite a Northwest Baltimore neighborhood and turn into something much, much bigger than anything they ever imagined.

It would also take them and all who joined in along the way to the heart-wrenching intersection of joy and sorrow.

Advertisement

Jon Minkove is 35 now, and he can only marvel at the growth of Tour de Court, which started out as a single two-on-two game 21 years ago and began Sunday morning with 24 three-player teams and both a men's and women's tournament draw.

The informality of it all is what grabs you first. The unusual tournament requires players — regardless of age — to ride to each game site on a bicycle, and each site is either a neighborhood or backyard basketball court. What warms your heart is the fact that Jon, his brother, Sam, and everyone involved is committed to making the day a life-changing event for people they do not know.

Advertisement

Tour de Court XXI has evolved from a bunch of goofy friends imagining they were the Jewish Jordan to a very significant benefit on the event calendar of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.

There's a story behind that and it is, as you might expect, bittersweet. Jon and Sam's sister, Rachel, lost a three-year battle to Hodgkin's lymphoma soon after the 2012 tournament and gave them a reason to take their little tournament to new level. Since then, they've raised nearly $100,000 for LLS' Hodgkin's lymphoma research portfolio.

Dr. Judah Minkove and his wife, Judy, spread photos of their daughter, Rachel, on the dining room table as friends and family members move through the house that has long served as Tour de Court headquarters.

"It started out as a bunch of foolish kids and it morphed into foolish kids doing something for society and for their sister," Judah says.

The hurt never goes away, of course, but Judy surveys the big crowd mingling outside the house and sees just about everyone her kids grew up with milling around, many in from out of town for what has also become something of an annual reunion. There is a DJ playing rock and country. Local rabbi Daniel Lerner of the Pikesville Jewish Congregation stops by every year to deliver a pregame blessing.

"Rachel embraced life so much,'' Judy says. "She loved bringing people together. She knew what this was. She was very much a part of it, even those three years she was sick. She would sit on the porch and you could tell she was just enjoying the moment and being together with her friends. It lifted her up.

"We feel a void. It's hard. People go on with their lives. We miss her a lot. But this is so uplifting. I feel her presence. It's palpable. It's just a lovefest. People build their year around it."

Don't misunderstand. Though images and references to Rachel are everywhere, it is not a solemn occasion. It was born in the foolish exuberance of youth and even a bunch the 30-something "kids" with law degrees and MDs behind their names still seem as goofy as ever.

The only concessions to age and formality are an explanatory website (tourdecourt.org) that facilitates donations to LLS and the persistent promotional efforts of family friend and local chiropractor Kenny Friedman. But that doesn't mean the event hasn't evolved dramatically over the past couple of decades.

"The first couple years here, I think there was maybe one fan here, if you can call it a fan … it was actually a neighbor complaining,'' Jon Minkove said. "Now, the whole neighborhood comes out. It's something to look forward to. It's the ultimate community event, rallying together. It's been that way for quite some time now and now everyone knew my sister and now it has extra meaning. It's incredible to see. It's a circus, but it's a circus with meaning."

There is a pot of gold at the end of the tournament for leukemia research, but the players compete for the perennial "Golden Helmet,'' actually a set of gold-painted bicycle helmets that bear the names of every winner since 1995.

The players range in age from 19 to 43 and there is a healthy number of high-level professionals putting their middle-aging bodies at risk.

Advertisement

"If you get hurt on the court,'' joked lawyer Joe Rombro, "there's almost certain to be a doctor there to help you or a lawyer there to sue the homeowner. And Kenny's a chiropractor, so he's probably the most valuable guy of all."

Recommended on Baltimore Sun

Advertisement
Advertisement