Charles Shelton is a Slam Dunk to the Beach original.
The Frankford, Delaware resident remembers when the renowned high school basketball tournament first tipped off in 1990. And he remembers what Slam Dunk felt like during its dizzying heyday: the stuffed bleachers, the transcendent talents, the halftime entertainment shipped in from as far afield as Las Vegas.
“It was amazing, man,” says Shelton, a youth sports referee. “The other tournament was so big, once you left your seat you didn’t get back in. Move your feet, lose your seat.”
Back to the future: Slam Dunk II
A rebooted version of Slam Dunk to the Beach debuted this weekend at Cape Henlopen High School in Lewes, Delaware. It wasn’t, Shelton says, as grand as the original. But the fact that it exists is something of a minor miracle.
“We’re glad to have it back,” Shelton says. “It’s gonna get bigger and better.”
Few would’ve thought 10 years ago that Lewes would get a second chance to hold the annual tournament that put it on the high school basketball map. The event—which once featured stars like LeBron James, Kevin Durant, and Carmelo Anthony—ended abruptly in 2004 amid allegations of financial impropriety against founder and organizer Bobby Jacobs. Jacobs eventually served prison time, and the tournament went dark.
Two years ago, the Delaware Sports Commission began work to revive Slam Dunk to the Beach. Working with Position Sports, an event-planning firm with deep ties in prep basketball, the Commission recruited some of the nation’s best teams. They included Roselle Catholic from Northern New Jersey, the nation’s fifth-ranked team, as well as perennial prep powerhouse Christ the King High School from New York.
“We’ve heard that often: How did you get these high-quality teams,” says Matthew Robinson, chairman of the Delaware Sports Commission. “I give that all to Position Sports.”
If they build it, bounces will go their way
He admits there’s still some businesses reticent to associate with the once-tarnished tournament, but believes a strong first year will attract more sponsors.
Though there were spare seats Sunday during the tournament’s second day, Robinson says attendance has been strong. “We’re probably going to exceed the targets we had projected for ticket revenue,” Robinson says. The Commission plans to release total attendance figures after the tournament ends Monday.
Perhaps the most important yardstick for the revived tournament will come with the completion of an ongoing economic impact study. Organizers hope Slam Dunk to the Beach will bring needed revenue to Sussex County during a time of year when beach communities like Lewes typically lag.
“We’ve heard multiple times that this would have been a down time, these couple days leading up to the new year,” says Robinson. “Businesses are feeling the impact of the event.”
Shelton says he’ll know Slam Dunk to the Beach is truly back when the event buzzes like it did a decade back. He’s hopeful it’ll reach those heights soon.
“The place might be sold out next year,” Shelton says.