The scope of the Jr. NBA World Championship, even for an organization as huge as the National Basketball Association, is absolutely staggering: eight United States regional tournaments in eight different American cities, eight international regions on six continents, and nearly one thousand teams competing to be one of the 32 13- and 14-year-old boys and girls basketball teams that advance to the first-ever Jr. NBA World Championship in August. The global reach of this event is possible because of the Jr. NBA, the league’s youth basketball participation program that teaches the fundamental skills and core values of the game to boys and girls around the world, which reached more than 26 million youth in more than 70 countries throughout the 2017-18 season.
The defining ethos of the tournament — and of the league itself — will not just be defined by what happens on the court.
“What makes the Jr. NBA World Championship unique is not just the exciting on-court competition,” said David Krichavsky, NBA Vice President, Head of Youth Basketball Development. “All of the competitions have life skills sessions the kids participate in, often alongside current and former NBA and WNBA players. The focus on the off-court programming, including health and wellness education and community service projects, is what makes the Jr. NBA World Championship unique.”
Throughout the various like skills sessions with current and former players in the NBA and WNBA, the participants learn skills for developing relationships, working hard in practice, seizing opportunities, and even skills as practical as handling their lives on social media. This isn’t just a sport — it’s the intersection of the game of basketball and the reality of life; it’s finding the common space between those two realms.
The Jr. NBA World Championship represents another step in the NBA’s effort to promote youth basketball around the world, as NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said in a statement about the event. The Jr. NBA World Championship, which tipped off with regional competitions earlier this year to determine the field of teams for the inaugural event, stretches from Sydney to Sao Paulo to Johannesburg, with the action culminating in August at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at Walt Disney World Resort near Orlando, Florida.
The event on hand isn’t a new venture for the league, but instead the product of years of hard work beforehand.
“The league wanted to create a unifying event that would bring together these talented kids from our Jr. NBA programs around the world,” Krichavsky said. “Now the players, coaches, and parents have a way to unite, compete and win their way to Orlando.
In other words, the Jr. NBA World Championship is the point of reference for the massive network already in existence.
Size and off-court programming, though, aren’t the only unique elements to the tournament.
“The experience isn’t just for the players,” said Adam Harper, NBA Director, Youth Basketball Development. “The Jr. NBA aims to improve the youth basketball experience for coaches and parents as well, who are key figures in the youth basketball space.”
The Jr. NBA World Championship aligns with the NBA and USA Basketball Youth Guidelines, which includes recommendations to promote player health and wellness and age-appropriate rules and standards and is underpinned by four core values – teamwork, respect, determination, and community.
With just under two months until the culminating event in August, six of the 16 U.S.-based teams (eight boys teams and eight girls teams) have punched their ticket to Orlando by winning their respective regional tournament.
Harper distinctly remembers a coach from an earlier U.S. regional tournament describing the excitement of his team who never traveled more than 50 miles for a game. Now his girls were competing in an NBA-branded basketball tournament for a chance to receive an all-expenses-paid trip to represent their region at the global event in August.
With five more U.S. Regional tournaments to-go, the competition continues this weekend with the Midwest Regional in Westfield, Indiana, and the South Regional in Frisco, Texas. 2012 WNBA Champion and 2011 WNBA MVP Tamika Catchings will lead a life skills session at the Midwest Regional, while NBA Legends Sidney Moncrief and Sam Perkins will participate in the South Regional’s life skills session and awards ceremony, respectively. Fans can follow along by watching the Jr. NBA World Championship U.S. Regional competitions on FloHoops.com.