On Aug. 6 at 8 p.m. ET, former Maryland and Georgetown men’s
basketball players will look to rekindle a local rivalry when they
face off in an alumni game at the Xfinity Center in College
This will be the first event under the Alumni Basketball League,
which was co-founded by former Missouri and Los Angeles Lakers
guard Kareem Rush. In his three years at Missouri, Rush was named
Big 12 Freshman of the Year, a two-time selection on the All-Big 12
First Team and even Missouri’s men’s basketball player of the
decade for the 2000s.
I sat down with Rush to discuss how this league came about, how
the Alumni Basketball League differs from other established leagues
(such as The Basketball Tournament and the BIG3), their plans
moving forward as far as other historic rivalry games and what fans
can expect on Aug. 6 when Georgetown faces off against
Etan Thomas: So tell me about the Alumni
Basketball League and how it all came about.
Kareem Rush: "Sure, The Alumni Basketball
League is the first professional league exclusively for college
alumni teams. So back in 2017, I was watching the TBT tournament
and looking at the roster, I saw that 27 of these teams were alumni
teams, and I was like, 'Man, why not just create a league specific
for alumni teams?' Also, I was a part of the first year of the
BIG3, so I understood when I went through that try-out, it was
literally hundreds of guys with tons of NBA experience vying for 20
spots. So I was like, 'Man, I know guys are always looking for an
opportunity to play.' The NCAA is really the only entity that's
capitalizing on the collegiate marketplace, so I was like, 'Man,
why not just create a league specifically for those guys?' So 2018,
being a Mizzou guy, and my younger brother being a KU guy, which is
a huge rivalry in Kansas City...
Etan Thomas: Right.
Kareem Rush: "So, the first game, centered
around a charity, we were doing it for The Boys and Girls Club, but
the response was amazing. We had over 2,500 people there. I was
like, 'This could be something.' So, the following year, we wanted
to expand the concept. We had Kansas State and Arkansas scheduled
to come in, but ended up running into some scheduling conflicts
because of the TBT and the BIG3. So we put the second year on the
shelf. And then COVID hit, so it sat there for two years. Fast
forward to March of this past year, I'm down in Missouri for our
20-year reunion and one of my buddies and former teammates, Jack
Jackson, who's now a big DMV guy, asked me what I've been up to. I
told him a little bit about the concept, he's like, 'Man, I love
it.' So he decided he was going to back it, then the last three
months, we've been pushing forward.
"We ended up bringing another former teammate, Jason Conley,
aboard and he's based in the DMV area. We asking him like, 'What
can we pull off for a couple exhibition games in this first year?'
And so, he knew the guys over at Georgetown and Maryland and really
led that charge to get the game going. We've been just going as we
go for the last month, brought in a couple of the guys, Ricky
Goings and Marc Stern, added to our organization and now, here we
are a month later; we got this game scheduled for August 6. Our
plan is to do another one here in Kansas City in late August or
early September to get two proof-of-concept games under our belt.
And then, really zero in on identifying teams for the 2023 season
where we play between eight-to-16 games. Ideally, having between 16
and 32 of these teams put together."
Etan Thomas: Word traveled fast about this.
People are really excited about it in the DMV.
Kareem Rush: "I know, and that’s mostly just
from the initial marketing through social media and me reaching out
to some of these GMs on some of these TBT teams who already got
these teams established. The response has been great from players.
Being a former player, I understand that guys just want an
opportunity to stay in shape, make a little money. Our target guys
are those guys either fresh out of college, guys who play overseas.
You come back in town, you want to stay in shape, make a little
money. This is the league for them. Then another unique aspect of
what we're doing, all these leagues are built off the back of these
players but very few have actual ownership. So another piece that
we're doing is once we get the model established and we can really
see what we're doing, we want to allow these guys to be able to buy
in and own their own franchises.
"So you see these former NBA guys or current NBA guys who still
have huge events for their colleges may want to come in and buy a
franchise and operate and run it like the businessmen they are
today. So, we believe we have a good starting point. Like I said,
the response has been great. We’re just looking forward to getting
these first two exhibitions off the ground, really focusing in on
that 2023 season where we launch media partners, streaming,
eventually gambling. So we got a lot of things that we're working
Etan Thomas: I really like the
player-empowerment part. You don't see that in most of these
leagues. The people who are usually benefiting the most are people
outside of the player boundaries. How did you decide to add that
component to everything that you're doing?
Kareem Rush: "Being a former player and really
seeing that first year in the BIG3, where a lot of those guys — you
got Baron Davis, the Junkyard Dog, Al Harrington, all those guys —
where that little per-game check was not really moving the needle
for them; they really want to own some things. And now today, as
you see what LeBron and KD and all these guys are doing
business-wise, I was like, 'Man, a lot of these guys are really
business savvy, so why not give them an opportunity to be on the
ground level of a league where they lend their celebrity and
influence to the league and they grow with the league?' And so,
that's where the concept came from. Like I said, as a former
player, I would love to have some ownership in what I'm doing and
as we see how much these franchises are worth, why not give the
opportunity back to the players who build the league?"
Etan Thomas: So you're planning on taking this
show on the road in 2023. Do you already have teams in mind? People
are buzzing about the different possibilities or potential rivalry
games that we could see. Have you keyed in on the other possible
Kareem Rush: "I’m glad you asked that and yes,
we actually have. Once the TBT started putting out their schedule,
I was able to literally just reach out to some of those GMs from
those teams and have initial conversations. This is a few months
back before we started having some development and shape into our
league. So we got a pretty good list of teams that we want to
target. A lot of these teams are already established, so it's
really just about getting the scheduling on our end. But I would
say we probably talked to 12-or-16 teams at this point who all have
shown interest. And I think for the first part of the league, our
first couple of years, we really want to zero in on those historic
college rivalries where we can build the concept around those fan
bases and that madness and hoopla that build around those
"Think of a Duke/North Carolina or a KU/MU or UCLA/USC. From my
playing days, I still got connections to a lot of those teams and I
think once the concept is out there and marketed properly, we're
going to have guys reaching out to us, beating down our door to be
a part of it."
Etan Thomas: And correct me if I’m wrong, but
your model differs from TBT because you offer an actual per-game
salary for the players, correct?
Kareem Rush: "I see you did your homework,
that’s exactly correct. So, unlike TBT, where one team gets all the
money and the other teams who come out and prep for months and
months on end don't really see anything on the back end. So we're
allowing guys to make a decent amount of money in the summertime,
stay in shape, and then, once the overseas season goes, 'Go ahead
and go back over there,' we want to be that league where you come
home and play in front of your fans. You can really tap into that
Etan Thomas: Could the players also benefit
from NIL deals or sponsorships as well?
Kareem Rush: Definitely. Now with the NIL, we
can actually present some of the current players that come back
[with deals] because I don't see any university that doesn't want
to keep that connection with their former alumni. So bridging the
gap there, allowing these guys to come back and play on campus is
beneficial for everyone involved."
Etan Thomas: So for this game in Maryland, you
got the Xfinity Center. That shows right there that it’s beneficial
for the college. It's not like y’all are playing at the YMCA or
Kareem Rush: "Exactly, I was actually surprised
I was able to get the Xfinity Center for this first game in
Maryland. We originally had Georgetown Prep scheduled. So that
shows you that the schools will eventually want to jump on board
and be a part of this because we have between eight-to-16 former
legends coming back to be a part of the game. So we're excited
about it, man. Like I said, we think we've got some legs. We're
looking forward to pushing it full scope in 2023."
Etan Thomas: Sounds great. Don't forget to
throw Syracuse in that mix when you’re moving forward!
Kareem Rush: "Oh definitely, I already talked
to the Boeheim Army guys so we got you! (laughing)"
Etan Thomas: Great, great. Yeah, because
especially from that Big East, there are some great rivalries — I
mean the original Big East. Now, of course, the conference is all
messed up. Don't even get me started on that. But yeah, the
original Big East rivalries, there's Syracuse/Georgetown,
Syracuse/St. John's, Villanova/UConn. Those are classic Big East
rivalries. But let's talk about this one that's coming up with
Maryland and Georgetown and what everybody can expect. Both
Maryland and Georgetown have a huge fan base here. I live here in
Maryland, so I see it. Everybody was excited when you put out the
roster of players, and they get more excited every time they
announce another alumni who's going to be in attendance. I saw
Georgetown legends like JYD, Michael Graham, Mark Tillmon, Gene
Smith and Maryland legends like Joe Smith, Walt Williams, Duane
Simpkins, Tony Massenburg. Every name creates more buzz, but talk
about what everybody can expect for this game coming up on the
Kareem Rush: "We just want to put a good
product on the court. Like I said, we have a nice mix of young and
older players, because we always want to tap into those older fans
who saw Juan Dixon, Steve Blake, Lonny Baxter and that group when
they won the championship. So trying to get those guys to come up
for those people who love the University of Maryland and Georgetown
from top to the bottom. Come out, expect a good time! And as this
concept grows, we plan on having a family night when we can come in
and do some networking events with the guys, interacting with the
former alumni and all that type of stuff. So we plan on building
much more than just a game. It's going to be more of an
entertainment-and-networking event component for them to do moving
forward. So just come out, see some old players, have a good time,
get a chance to honor and meet-and-greet some of the legends and
then, just get ready for 2023!"