For the first time in its history, the Big Ten Conference hosted its basketball tournament in New York, and the network that covers the conference wanted to leave a mark in the Big Apple.
So BTN, headquartered in Chicago, donated more than $40,000 to renovate a full court at Triborough Bridge Playground B in Astoria, leaving it more colorful and inviting than ever.
“We wanted to invest in an opportunity to give back to the community, knowing that these kids will be the future,” said Jordan Maleh, director of digital marketing and communications with BTN. “We’re coming in for the week, but leaving a long-lasting legacy in New York City.”
The court was outfitted with weather-resistant asphalt, new rims and two polycarbonate backboards. It was also painted over with a mural representing the colors of all 14 Big Ten teams.
Williamsburg-based artist Mark Paul Deren, also known as MADSTEEZ, designed and painted the mural. The Big Ten Network contacted him over Instagram and asked him to create artwork using the two main colors of each team.
It took nearly four months of prep time, including lots of discussions with the Parks Department. Painting the mural took four days. MADSTEEZ said they had to deal with some rainy weather, which presented problems because the paint would not stick when the ground was wet.
But when all was said and done, the Brooklyn-based artist said he was beyond satisfied with the end product.
“It came out even more beautiful than I could have imagined,” he said . “Just the sheer color brightens life.”
Last Wednesday afternoon, dozens of local students from Zone 126 joined the 14 Big Ten team mascots to cut the ribbon for the refurbished court. Afterward, the students participated in a basketball clinic with former New York Knick Jared Jeffries and trainer Chris Brickley.
Jeffries spent 11 years in the NBA. Before that, he took the Indiana Hoosiers, a Big Ten team, to the NCAA Championship game in 2002.
Brickley is no stranger to the game either. A former Knicks assistant, Brickley now trains dozens of NBA players. He’s most known for posting videos of training Carmelo Anthony in a hoodie, leading to the viral “Hoodie Melo” nickname.
They worked with students on dribbling, shooting and even played a few rounds of Knockout. Andre Stith, organizing director with Zone 126, said having this refurbished court presents another good option for kids to learn to love the game.
“We want kids to get out of their comfort zones, go play around different talent and different people,” Stith said. “You meet new friends and lifelong friendships are made in sports on the court.”
The Astoria basketball court was chosen for several reasons, Maleh said. One was that it had not been refurbished in more than 20 years. Another was that it’s located under a bridge, a criteria Maleh asked for specifically so it’s somewhat protected from the weather.
“Hopefully, looking forward, it will give it some protection,” he said. “Maybe the art will last a little longer.”
Though most Big Ten schools and teams are located in the midwest, Rutgers University, located in New Jersey, is a member. Maleh said the Big Ten wanted to host the tournament at MSG to get to know the east coast and Rutgers fans a little more.
Last year’s tournament was hosted in Washington D.C., and other previous hosts include Chicago and Indiana. But this year, all eyes are on MSG, and even Triborough Bridge Playground.
“New York is the mecca is basketball,” Maleh said, “and it’s home to the world’s most famous arena.”