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Remembering the HSBC Basketball Tournament

As team's head into regional playoffs where they will battle for provincial positioning, I think back on my senior year of high school basketball at Gleneagle Secondary School, just over five years ago. And while the Provincial Championships were an amazing close to the year, I also fondly remember the hype surrounding the biggest preseason tournament in Greater Vancouver. I remember battling it out in a March Madness style playoff to earn the right to play on the best hardwood in the province: War Memorial Gym.

For the many athletes who have played in, or even watched the HSBC (more recently branded by TELUS) basketball tournament, it was THE tournament of the year. Kicking off the season in the same fashion that the BC Provincial Championships ended it, this tournament brought out the best of each participating team in the GVRD. From as far east as Thomas Haney and Chilliwack, teams would travel to the Point Grey campus in a celebration of basketball. Howard Kelsey, one of the founders of this prestigious tournament, raved about the excitement it brought to the kids.

Howard Kelsey: Photo by Steve Bosch - Vancouver Sun

“We thought we should manage our own backyard of where we were from and then pick venues that will be attractive places that kids will like to play, and that they know they’re marching down for the right to play at a big time college venue like UBC,” Kelsey explains. “We wanted to give it a big time college feel, great attendance, and great media coverage.”

This tournament was modelled after the U.S. preseason NIT tournament, which kicked off the NCAA season, as teams battled it out to eventually play in one of the most famed and iconic venues in the world: Madison Square Garden in New York City.

The HSBC Classic not only featured some of the top senior boy's and girl's teams, they included elementary and junior high divisions, first nations athletes, athletes with physical and cognitive disabilities, as well as cheer and dance divisions. The participants were recognized, not only through games and competitions but also, more significantly, through the awarding of over a million dollars in scholarship money.

“Scholarships [would] be given to each participating school, and all players, including managers, were eligible,” adds Kelsey.

One of the main distinguishing factors of this tournament is it’s uniqueness throughout the high school basketball landscape across the country. This encouraged other cities, such as Calgary, to follow suit and host a similar style preseason tournament.

Giving high school kids an opportunity to play and compete in the gym that developed some of the greatest college players from B.C. was a no brainer for Kelsey.

“For the finals to be held at a major venue that would give it the importance that it had, we put it at UBC, because if we put it in a high school gym, it would be just another high school tournament.”

With the HSBC tournament gone but not forgotten, there is a great legacy and framework for the future that Howard Kelsey, along with co-founders brother Doug Kelsey, former NBA player Lars Hansen, former UBC Women’s coach Misty Thomas, and Vancouver business icon Randy Sung, all have left behind.

“When you deliver an event, you need to give the kids, their families, and the community some big time delivery…you have to do a good job getting the media attention and getting the corporate support, then you have to go and get partnerships which continue to enhance that tradition,” Kelsey elaborates. “There’s only upside if it’s delivered properly because the people that benefit from this the most is the kids and their families.”

For those of you that competed in the HSBC or Telus tournament, what was your favourite thing about it? Comment below!

Written by: Chris Evans

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