Playing for a cause


In 2014, The Basketball Tournament unveiled a first of its kind format: a $500,000 winner-take-all, open tournament. This summer, the grand prize has been doubled to $1,000,000 with a championship game to be aired on ESPN on Aug. 2.

Hopes of a big payday draw in the likes of ex-NBA players, former All-Americans and the average, everyday gym rat. It also caught the attention of Billy Clapper, the head coach of Penn State-Altoona, who saw this as a way to raise money for the Griffith Family Foundation.

The Griffith Family Foundation is named after Greg Griffith, an avid basketball player, who died of pancreatic cancer in 2011. The mission of the foundation is to find a cure for pancreatic cancer and bring hope to those in need.

The foundation’s slogan is “sideline cancer” which became the name for Clapper’s team. Clapper and Sideline Cancer had hoped to donate that $500,000 check to cancer research. Still, Sideline Cancer was able to raise awareness for the foundation.

“Yeah, you can do this for the money, but this is an opportunity to do something for something bigger than ourselves,” Clapper said after a first round win.

“Here’s a chance we can help a foundation. You didn’t know about Sideline Cancer and the Griffith Foundation, and now you do. How many people have found out about this through us playing in this?”

Clapper’s first call was to John Boyer, who played his college ball at Buffalo. Boyer helped recruit several of his former teammates while Clapper rounded out the roster with other former Division I players.

“Billy reached out to me and basically told me what the tournament was about, and what we were playing for,” Sideline Cancer guard Nurideen Lindsey said. “I’m really deep into cancer foundations based on my friend’s death. He died from leukemia. So, when he reached out to me, it was a no-brainer about playing.”

During The Basketball Tournament voting process, Clapper, who served as the team’s GM and coach, was in need of additional votes with only two days remaining. He and a friend set up laptops in the Penn State-Altoona cafeteria in order to secure fan votes.

“We actually got 80 people in a three-hour span to sign up and we actually moved into the top-25,” Clapper added. “That night we fell back down. I actually went back to the cafeteria the next day with two laptops.”

In the second round, Sideline Cancer fell to the eventual champion, the Notre Dame Fighting Alumni. Following their 72-68 championship win over Team Barstool, the Fighting Alumni donated $40,000 to Coaches vs. Cancer on behalf of Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey.

Sideline Cancer was not the lone team in the 32-team field playing for a cause.

DMV’s Finest, a team that included former Georgetown stars Austin Freeman and Chris Wright, played in the memory of Zach Lederer, a former Maryland basketball manager, who lost his battle to brain cancer in 2014, but inspired many with his “Zaching” pose, flexing both arms.

"This team is in memory of him," DMV's Finest forward Erik Etherly said.

Another team was made up of alumni from St. Anthony High School in Jersey City, New Jersey, known as one of the best prep teams in the country. Hall of Fame coach Bob Hurley, Sr. has helped send over 150 players to Division I schools since he took over the program in 1972. St. Anthony entered The Basketball Tournamen with hopes of donating their winnings to their alma mater.

The money attracts the players and teams to enter, but greedy is not how you would describe TBT participants.