LeBron James Jr. and Sierra Canyon take the stage at The Battle Basketball Showcase. (Erick W. Rasco /Sports Illustrated/Getty Images)
STUDENT ATHLETES

Miami HBCU Plays Host to Mikey Williams and Bronny James’ Battle

The Battle Basketball Showcase goes down this weekend at Florida Memorial University featuring two of the high school game’s biggest names.

High school basketball stars will be taking their talents to south beach this weekend when they compete in The Battle Basketball Showcase, a prep tournament in Miami hosted by Gold Level Sports & Entertainment (GLSE).

But this is no ordinary high school throwdown. The Athletes headlining the event include LeBron James Jr., a.k.a. Bronny, social media superstar Mikey Williams, and UCLA commit Amari Bailey. 

But they won’t be playing at the Miami Heat’s FTX Arena. Rather, the competition will take place at the unlikely venue of Florida Memorial University (FMU), an HBCU located in nearby Miami Gardens. Florida Memorial fit perfectly into GLSE’s plans. The organization identified Miami as the tournament location but could not host it at a division one school due to NCAA regulations. This ruled out the University of Miami and Florida International University, two neighboring schools that are much larger than FMU.

Still, tournament director Darren Duncan told Boardroom, The Battle did not land at FMU by accident — it was by design.

“We want to be different and we’re showcasing that you can do stuff at HBCUs,” said Duncan, co-founder & CEO of Gold Level Sports & Entertainment. “With the stars that are playing at this event, we could’ve done it at a major NBA arena and done really well by doing that. But it was important to provide an experience that [the athletes] normally don’t get.”

Philadelphia 76ers wing Danny Green is the other co-founder of GLSE. Green and Duncan are childhood friends who played basketball together growing up. Green went on to play in the NBA, while Duncan played his ball overseas.

When Duncan’s playing days were over, he approached Green about forming the organization that became GLSE. The three-time NBA champ was sold. 

Duncan said there was a financial sacrifice but it wasn’t as hefty as people may think. The loss comes from the obvious difference in seating capacity for venues that can hold more people. For example, FTX Arena can host up to 21,000 people; FMU’s Wellness Center’s capacity is 3,000. Still, with the price tag for use of FTX significantly higher than Florida Memorial’s, GLSE was willing to accept the deficit.

“Nobody really does stuff at HBCUs or embraces the culture that is very synonymous with the basketball culture,” Duncan said, adding that the deal between the two GLSE and the school came together in less than two weeks.

For most of the players, playing at an HBCU will be a brand new experience. However, there are a few that have flirted with the idea of attending one. Mikey Williams, the 11th-ranked prospect in the class of 2023 according to ESPN and the No. 2 shooting guard, is one of the biggest names to do so. 

As the player himself promised in an Instagram post that has since been deleted:

“WE ARE THE REASON THAT THESE SCHOOLS HAVE SUCH BIG NAMES AND SUCH GOOD HISTORY… But in the end what do we get out of it?? What a lot of Top-level athletes don’t understand is… If you’re a pro… then you’re a pro no matter what college you go to… even if you don’t go to college… if you’re a killer… YOU ARE GOING TO KILL ANYWHERE. just wanted to let everybody know that I AM RIDING FOR MY PEOPLE! I’M 10 TOES BEHIND THE BLACK COMMUNITY!! Any way I can help or make a change in the black community best believe I am going to do that. Only God knows what the future holds… But when that time does come that I have to narrow my schools down to whatever number it is… there WILL be multiple HBCUs on that list! And they won’t just be there for show.”

Last year, Williams kept his promise. When he released the top 10 schools he was considering attending, five of them were HBCUs: North Carolina Central, Texas Southern, Tennessee State, Hampton, and Alabama State.

For what it’s worth, Williams’ mother attended Hampton.

On the other side of the matchup is none other than Bronny, the heir to the king’s throne received an offer from the North Carolina Central University Eagles in January last year; oddsmakers once considered the program a longshot to land Bronny, but after Makur Maker announced his commitment to Howard University in Summer 2020, some were convinced that Bronny could shift his focus in the HBCU direction.

Only adding to the momentum was the news of Nike, LeBron Sr., and Florida A&M University (FAMU) striking a six-year partnership earlier this year for the Tallahassee-based school to become the brand’s flagship HBCU. The deal includes a $200,000 marketing budget and $3.3 million in retail product. LeBron has already been seen sporting FAMU gear over the past year.

Both Mikey and Bronny have amassed over three million followers on Instagram and could bring a massive, unprecedented attention not just to Florida Memorial, but the history and culture of the HBCU game. No matter which schools these athletes choose to attend, the publicity is a game-changer for the long haul.

Blue blood schools like Kentucky, Duke, North Carolina, Kansas, and UCLA are already used to such fanfare. They’ve all won championships, have national reputations, and never go more than a few days without playing a game on national television. The same cannot be said for HBCUs — though multiple schools have made it into March Madness over the years, they are frequently bounced in the opening round. And in terms of sending players to the NBA Draft? The Trail Blazers’ Robert Covington is the only player from an HBCU in the NBA.

With that in mind, the GLSE bringing The Battle to Florida Memorial’s campus is something the school’s athletic director Jason Horn doesn’t take lightly.

“This is going to bring media exposure and television cameras and it is awesome that we can put on signature events and really give our university some exposure that we frankly would not have had otherwise,” he said. “When an opportunity presents itself for us to do some big things and big events as an HBCU we want to take a look at those.” 

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Though Williams, James, and Bailey are among the biggest names at the tournament, there are many more players participating who either remain undecided on their college choices or still have more work to do in order to get onto the right program’s radar. Duncan sees a clear opportunity, to say nothing of what it means for amateur athletes to be able to profit off of their name, image, and likeness.

That’s the first step in evening the playing field between college sports’ haves and have-nots.

“Now, HBCUs have to get support from major companies and influencers to help bring one or two of these top-notch guys to an HBCU,” he said. 

The GLSE co-founder is naturally looking forward to the tournament this weekend, but hopes this isn’t the last time he is able to bring an event like this to a historically Black institution. “We want to make this an annual thing, but it’s all about support. We need the support of the people and the culture to keep pushing us forward.”

It all comes down to visibility. And fortunately, fans that won’t be able to make it to south Florida can watch these preseason basketball games on NBCSN and Peacock beginning at 3 p.m. Saturday.