Originally published in Urbanology Magazine, Vol. 1, Issue 4
What does it take to be King of Toronto?
When it comes to basketball, the only man to ask is Vidal Massiah. The 6-foot-6, 230-pound Toronto native and Eastern Commerce H.S. grad became T-Dot basketball royalty again this summer after winning Nike’s Battle Grounds competition for the second straight year.
Battle Grounds is a one-on-one tournament featuring 32 players in each major city in the United States and the rest of the world. The games are played in a caged court, with one referee and no rules. The winner of each city’s tourney is crowned king and competes against other winners for a chance to be crowned King of the World.
Massiah, who played college ball at St. Bonaventure in Olean, New York, says he was a marked man going into this year’s tournament, having won in 2004, but he was still confident.
“I was the only one in the tournament who knew what it took to win, because I had actually been through,” he says. “But it was definitely harder that the first time around. I couldn’t sneak up on guys anymore. Everybody saw me play last year, knew what I did last year, and knew my game.
Though Battle Grounds definitely classifies as streetball, don’t expect to see any And 1- or Rucker Park-style tricks in this competition.
It’s a different brand of basketball. It’s not sugar-coated at all,” Massiah says. “This is real streetball. It’s the most physical basketball, the most grueling basketball I’ve played. Some of the scores in the previous years are like, two-nothing, four-nothing. Every point is life and death.
As King of Toronto, Massiah wins $10,000 cash, a platinum chain and Battle Grounds medallion and a one-year Nike shoe contract. Nike will also donate $25,000 worth of sports equipment and apparel to the community centre of Massiah’s choice.
More importantly though, he gains added exposure that could help take his young professional career to the next level. Having spent last season playing for pay on three different teams in Portugal and weathering stints in Germany and Israel in the past, a steady gig is definitely something Massiah is searching for. The extra notoriety of of being King of Toronto and maybe even King of the World could open more doors and maybe bring him closer to his ultimate dream.
“I want to play in the league,” he says. “I mean, that’s anybody’s dream, but I have to be realistic. I’m 26 now, so I just gotta make the most money I can, do the most I can while I’m still young. It’s a hustle for me really.”
Massiah says he’s hoping to spend the upcoming season playing in Japan, though he’s not sure how things will turn out. “I have to wait and see what my agent tells me. Whatever happens, happens.”
He spent some of his time off on his new summer basketball camp, the Hoop Factory. The camp is geared towards kids from Grade 8 through high school and runs for four weeks in July.
Massiah says there is lots of young talent in Canada, especially Toronto.
“This year alone we have a lot of guys going [to schools] that are not just Division 1, but high Division 1,” he says. “Whereas when I played and before I played, getting a scholarship to go to a Division 1 school anywhere was a real big deal.”
The Hoop Factory camp is his contribution to the sport’s growth in his hometown. He believes learning to work is one of the most important things to teach youngsters who want basketball to take them to college and beyond.
“It sounds stupid, but a lot of kids don’t know how to work and think they’re working and think they’re doing the right things,” Massiah says. But I think you need someone to show you what you should be working on, how hard you should be working, how long you should be working.” It’s fitting that Massiah be the one to teach them, because his hard work is slowing paying off, as he conquers one battleground after another.