WWE, Jindrak lay the SmackDown! in
Entertainer’s Basketball Classic
by Michael Dworkis
This summer, World Wrestling Entertainment sponsored a streetball team in the Entertainer’s Basketball Classic tournament. WWE joined other companies such as Reebok, Mountain Dew, DreamWorks, Tommy Hilfiger, Def Jam Records, Bad Boy Entertainment and Cash Money Records in sponsoring a number of teams to play in the tournament. The purpose of the tournament is for companies to show support and encouragement for the youth in the area, by bringing celebrities in entertainment as well as professional and college basketball players to Rucker Park.
Greg Marius, Commissioner and CEO, founded the Entertainers Basketball Classic (EBC) in 1980. Greg played on the Rucker court throughout his childhood. As an adult, Greg still played on the court but envisioned the natural integration of sports, music and fashion. He began coordinating friendly games with local hip-hop artists, athletes, and neighborhood ballers. What started as a casual, competitive basketball game between two well-known rap groups (Disco Four and The Crash Crew) has evolved into the highly competitive and most recognizable street basketball tournament in the world.
NBA players such as Allan Iverson, Kenyon Martin, Stephon Marbury LeBron James, Carmello Anthony, Richard Jefferson, Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, Chris Webber, and Shawn Marion have played in the EBC. Even famous trend-setters like P. Diddy, L.L. Cool J. and DMX have also been active in the games as well.
Seen in the EBC bleachers are very notable fans of the game, such as former President Bill Clinton, Denzel Washington, Jay-Z, NBA Commissioner David Stern, Shaquille O’Neal, Queen Latifa, Alicia Keys, Don Cheadle, Michael Rappaport and many others.
During the game, WWE.com caught up with the entertainer known as “Hannibal,” and he discussed his involvement with the EBC, and how his focus is on motivating streetballers to have no fear in their pursuit of stardom.
“I heard your man already floored one of my boys!”
This was quite true, as minutes before, SmackDown! Superstar Mark Jindrak left his “Mark of Excellence” on the court by flooring a player from the opposing team when he drove to the hoop.
“I’ve been working for five years with the EBC,” said Hannibal. “I take my persona of being loud and entertaining, and use it on the mic to rile the crowd and psych them up. I like to have an influential role, where I give these street players a sense that they are better than they think.
They take their talent to a certain degree, but I always look for more, I try to make them more comfortable in the game, and that’s how I help them bring the best in them. I would go around the neighborhood and find out what people call him, and I give them incentive. They may start as a grade B player, but I want to make them a grade A player. I want these guys to show off their talents, I want to motivate them to succeed. I give them a vision to be a winner.”
When he heard the WWE was coming to Harlem to play ball, Hannibal was ecstatic.
“I followed these guys for real, for my entire life. I had a lot of butterflies when I met Jindrak at Planet Hollywood, and that’s when I heard he was coming down to play ball with us. I’ll never forget one time when I met Ric Flair backstage. I think it was a rough night out there because I knew I might have bothered him, and boy, Flair let me have it. But that was like getting a hug and a handshake to me. I finished reading his book, and it’s great. Ric Flair is my all-time favorite. WWE’s been a great influence to me. Jim Ross is the greatest announcer of all time, just like Gordon Solie. I know more about wrestling than I do the bible. Just like these guys have a persona in the ring, that’s what I do out in the park, I take who I am and entertain the crowd.”
Just like any loyal WWE fan, Hannibal has his aspirations as well.
“I want to be a commentator one day. I think what WWE brings is incredible, how could you not be hooked? It’s a great company. My dream is to shake Vince McMahon’s hand.”
Fred Brown, Coach of Team WWE was proud to be the man in charge. “I got the players, and WWE sponsored us. I heard of Mark Jindrak, I heard he played in college and played in celebrity games, so it was great to have him out here. It’s always a plus to have a person of his caliber to come add excitement to the park and flavor to the team. He played well, he played hard, and did some things that the regular ballers didn’t do. It’s always good to get a company like the WWE to come and sponsor something like this. I’m looking forward to a long-lasting relationship with WWE. It’s great to have them here.
Jindrak who played basketball at Port Byron high school and Keuka College enjoyed coming to Rucker Park and being involved in the EBC tournament, playing alongside players from Providence, Manhattanville, St. Johns and St. Francis colleges.
“Playing out there was great,” Jindrak said.
“It has been a while since I have played regularly. These guys on the court are great players. These guys play every day, and I felt like I held my own out there.”
When Mark walked onto the court, everyone took notice. When the 6 foot 6, 250 pound man took his place on the court, all the players knew to be ready for anything. Even the announcers proclaimed: “Stay outta his way!”
John Quintana, who plans on playing for Manhattan or St. Peters, won’t forget the day when Jindrak stepped onto the streetball court.
“I heard all about him, but when I saw him step onto the court... Wow. He’s a big man with big skills.”
“I took to the court like I did in college. I play physical, but I’ll be a good sportsman. I’m careful not to injure myself, and I’d hate to injure someone else. I keep my game inside and rebound, mostly dunks and playing inside the paint. It was great to participate in the game, I had a great time, and the best thing is that it is a benefit for a good cause.”
Jindrak immediately asserted his authority on the court, taking the positions of power forward and center, keeping the opposing team out of the paint, grabbing every rebound. As stated before, when the ballgame became intense, a player on the opposing team got smacked down. The commentators agreed that “Jindrak got game,” even dubbing him as “Brolick” making it official that Jindrak can play with the best of the streeballers at Rucker Park. Jindrak drove the ball in often as well, and had a huge assist on an alley-oop dunk. When that happened the crowd exploded.
“He shocked us all with a huge dunk,” said Ramel Allen, who played as small forward on Team WWE, and was also instrumental in bringing WWE to sponsor a team in the tournament. Allen is famous on the streetball court for driving past NBA player, Miami Heat’s own Rafer “Skip-to-my-Lou” Alston, who is also a legend on the streetball court. “It’s a great experience to have Jindrak play ball with us. I requested for WWE to come out, and it was great that Mark came. Kids love to see that, especially a wrestler who can take it to the court too. My goal is to show the youth you could do something with yourself.”
WWE hopes to continue its participation in the Entertainer’s Basketball Classic, bringing more of the RAW and SmackDown! Superstars to play at Rucker Park.
“Jindrak set the tone for the game,” said Lance Johnson, a Marketing Manager at WWE who was instrumental in initiating this new partnership.
“He hustled, and showed the boys in Harlem that this is no gimmick, WWE is here to ball. This is a great opportunity for WWE to partner with the EBC. We get to go out there and interact with the fans who want to see what WWE can bring to them. The shock value experienced when fans heard WWE had a team in the league was priceless because it built expectation. Jindrak’s participation provided a climax to the season, I’ve received emails and voicemails from guys saying: “I heard your boy put the SmackDown! in Harlem.”
Mark Jindrak, who shined on the court is looking forward to playing in future streetball games.
“I play ball as much as I can,” Jindrak says. “It’s great to be out there with these fantastic players. I’ll be sure to leave my “mark of excellence” every time I’m on the court.”