There was a time when the world of basketball revolved around New York City. Countless legends, from Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to Bernard King, all grew up and played high school ball in New York. Even Michael Jordan, who many say is the greatest basketball player of all time, was born in Brooklyn.
In recent decades, the Big Apple lost its hoops luster.
Enter Griffin Taylor and Jared Effron. The two co-founded the Program NYC, a grassroots basketball academy looking to help the city return to its glory as the mecca of basketball.
Why Make New York a Basketball Leader Again?
“We’re just really passionate New Yorkers," said Effron in an interview with the BK Reader. "We love the Knicks, we love our sports teams, there’s a certain swag and aura with being here. We just feel like it’s getting lost and it has been lost these past twenty years. We’re gonna do our best to remind everyone that New York isn’t going anywhere."
As basketball lovers and former high school athletes born and raised in Manhattan, their mission hits close to home. The dwindling native New York talent at the collegiate and professional levels over the past two decades spurred them to action.
Taylor and Effron, the latter who spent years raising funds for new businesses in technology and real estate, knew each other as kids on the court. After they rekindled their friendship at a mutual friend’s wedding and discussed their hometown's waning basketball reputation, the Program NYC was born.
Taylor’s idea took root during his time working under Greg Marius at the Rucker Park streetball tournaments. He witnessed electric tournament games with college and professional players coached by hip-hop artists. As the years went on, less high-profile players participated and the electricity faded away, he said.
“Being from New York, we want to see it back on top,” said Taylor, who has executed brand partnerships between professional players and corporations.
With Effron’s access to investors and Taylor’s connection to high-level athletes, they decided to leverage their resources to centralize youth basketball and cultivate home-grown talent.
How Will They Make New York a Basketball Powerhouse Again?
First, a state-of-the-art facility "ideally" in northern Brooklyn will act as the hub, according to Effron and Taylor.
“We would’ve lived in this place every single day if it was around while we were playing," said Taylor. "Young athletes now, they’re going to three or four different places on the Henry Hudson Parkway just to get a full workout in."
With regulation-sized courts and world-class trainers and coaches, the planned facility will offer kids a space that's accessible by subway.
And if that doesn’t convince the younger players to stay local, Effron hopes that access to stars like Carmelo Anthony, JJ Redick, Kenny “The Jet” Smith and Chris Mullin, who grew up or currently live in the city, will.
The pitch to get the legends on board as advisors wasn’t difficult.
“They realize it too," said Effron. "They know there’s something here...because they’re like, ‘Yes, I grew up in New York. No, I never had a place to train or get any of these resources that we’re offering. I’d love to be a part of that and what can I do to help you guys get there?’”
Decades ago, the city bred talent through powerhouse high schools, such as Manhattan's Rice High School and Power Memorial Academy. As both have closed, there's been a clear void, Effron and Taylor said.
Not only do they want to have the best boys and girls academy team in the state, the duo want to foster players that will be the best in the country. The goal is to have top-tier recruits that are native New Yorkers, like Boogie Fland, who played high school ball in White Plains, New York and V.J. Edgecombe, who currently plays for Long Island Lutheran High School and Middle School, representing their academy team.
Players like Fland and Edgecombe have been crucial in building the brand. The players, among other local talent, coached in the Program Classic, a tournament held in October involving middle schoolers from the tri-state area.
Fland himself was featured in a video on the company's YouTube page detailing his commitment to the University of Kentucky.
The two founders said they are fine if future members don’t go to Division I schools or flourish into NBA all-stars.
“We want to make good people," said Effron. "We want to make well-rounded kids, regardless of whether you’re going to be an NBA superstar or a journalist.”