It took years of planning and dreaming, but Slam Dunk to the Beach finally returned to Sussex County this weekend after an 11-year hiatus.
The prestigious high school basketball tournament ended Monday night, leaving Dr. Matthew Robinson, one of the event’s primary organizers, with a smile.
“I feel great,” Robinson said. “A little tired, but great.”
Robinson chairs the Delaware Sports Commission, which spearheaded the effort to revive Slam Dunk to the Beach. A decade ago, the tournament was among America’s premier prep basketball competitions. That ended abruptly in 2004 when founder and organizer Bobby Jacobs canceled Slam Dunk amid charges that he siphoned tournament funds.
But where many saw ignominy, the Delaware Sports Commission saw opportunity. The group worked for two years to resuscitate the tournament that once hosted LeBron James, Kevin Durant, and Carmelo Anthony.
They decided to hold the event at the same venue (Cape Henlopen High School) using the same name. Robinson, a sports marketing professor at the University of Delaware, believes that decision helped the tournament attract fans in its first year back.
“We exceeded our ticket sales from what we projected,” Robinson said.
He admits, however, that the decision to associate with such a controversial brand spooked some potential sponsors.
“We know this year there were some sponsors that were hesitant about the tournament coming back,” Robinson said.
He’s optimistic this year’s showing will convince businesses that “we did it first class and we’ll continue to do it first class.” As part of that effort, organizers eliminated many of the entertainment features that gave the old Slam Dunk a hyper, carnival-like atmosphere.
For example, organizers decided not to feature an on-site DJ after considerable debate.
“First year, we just wanted it to be a great basketball tournament,” Robinson said. “And I think we did that.”
Some of those sparkly extras could come back in future years, but the focus this time around was on creating a simple, well-run event that would restore trust in the Slam Dunk brand.
Organizers don’t yet know how that vision played with fans, many of whom were given feedback surveys. They also don’t know if the tournament boosted local business activity as pledged.
The results of an economic impact study will be available, Robinson said, in mid-to-late January.