As you already know at the VBL, “the game never stops”.
The following day after our season came to an end, Sunday August 13, we switched into high gear, preparing the team visas, and scooping up all the special edition VBL merchandise for our Chinese friends, and not to be forgotten the exclusive release team VBL vs The World T-Hoodies. A motto through the tournament that we quickly came to live by.
The night of our departure did not fail to deliver a few fast Everyone had planned to meet at the airport at midnight for our 1:30 departure for Shanghai.
Big man Larry Sanders found out his Visa had expired one week prior and Davie had the dates mixed up, , when we called him he was at home an hour away, he grabbed his gym bag and rushed on his way, on an impossible mission to make a flight in 90 minutes, come to find out he made it just as they were closing down the checkout counter.
The team was united at last and we were taking flight to Shanghai on a 14 hour flight, as the bonding began sharing stories of the 2017 season, and basketball triumphs and losses.
Let’s take a minute to talk about this team. The team I assembled for this mission consisted of the best of the 2017 VBL season. Let me introduce you to the starting five.
The captain of the team Van Girard II, aka all fades, soon to be a father of two, from Los Angeles who most recently played his first professional season in Mexico.
Second starting guard, Ryan Nitz, aka the mercenary, who was the Rookie of the year and played his first professional season in Italy’s third division.
At the three, Tristan Wilson, aka King Hustle, our four time reigning MVP, a native from Chicago, who spends most of his time coaching the youth in Long Beach.
At the four, Davie Champagnie, aka pop Champagne, is a six year VBL veteran who last year played his first pro season in Spain
Our big man in the middle Marcus Fuggins, aka The Devourer, defensive player of the year, who works full time at 24 hour fitness and is a part time comedian, trust me that he will make you laugh.
Coming off the bench we have a lot of star power. NBA veteran Keith Closs, who now lives in Shanghai coaching the youth.
We have superstar actor/ model Chris Staples, not only known as the best dunker in the world but also a lights out shooter an all around great ball player.
We also have Ramez Micheal, aka Meezzy, who just graduated college and brings great energy and defensive stops off the bench.
Last but not least let me introduce myself young CEO Nick Ansom aka Organicko, player, coach, nutritionist and GM of this all star basketball team (the most compatible and well rounded basketball family I have ever put together), and founder of VBL.
We came on a mission and we took the steps necessary to get there, praying, eating healthy, going to bed early, staying focused at the grand prize $100,000
Even though we we were rivals teams during the season, we genuinely cared for each other, we understood each other and bonded, it quickly became a brotherhood.
Family and winning were the two most important words, put your ego aside and start playing for each other, playing on both sides, doing the intangibles on defense. The key ingredients to the win.
We were quick to drop our suitcases, have a quick meal and then out the door to discover the neighborhood.
A mile away from the hotel we found this cool gated park by the subway. Admission was 2 yen (equivalent to 5 cents), so you already know we had to get our money’s worth.
We invited long time VBL friend, Bang Lee and his Space Ball team from Japan to join us for a friendly scrimmage. We played a series of three games to fifteen points, by twos and threes and an eighteen second shot clock, following the jump 10 rule format. The Japanese Team was outsized by our bigs, and did not have enough muscle for our guards. Quick games 15-4, 15-2, 15-3, we ran them off the court.
Up next Brazil wanted a piece of the action, same scenario easy win 15-4 knocked them off the court. We were loose and feeling at home and the highlights start flowing, alley Oop from Van to Nitz to start it off, Nitz to staples for the game breaker!
As the sunset we stretched and took a few photos with local fans before heading back to our hotel, the Wyndham, for the opening dinner.
All of the teams were staying in one hotel, so our post travel pick up game had our competitors buzzing about our wins at the park . Now it was one to enjoy some good traditional Chinese cuisine and get acquainted with our competition. The 10 course meal did not disappoint with a lot of discoveries for me and the guys.
The Chinese 10 course meal was a little too foreign for T Will’s taste, also having a variety of food allergies the main option he was left with was chicken. He had a good sense of humor about it, and was out the door with “Meezy” to KFC before dessert was ever served.
Everyone was exhausted now it was time was some serious rest!
Day 2 – Opening Day vs. Russia
After a restful night, we enjoyed a Chinese breakfast buffet where once again a lot of attention and talk seemed to be towards us. I took a moment to chat with the Nigerian team and our good friends from the Philippines Mike Swift. This is when it hit this love of the game we all share had brought the world together for an historical tournament.
After a quick chill it was time or our 1st official practice at Rucker park 30 minutes east of our hotel inside a supermarket played 5 full size court basketball courts.
Looked nothing like The real Rucker in NY but go figure this billionaire Chinese guy is well on his way to build a dozen facilities across the country. Here players are allowed to smoke and drink inside the gym, courtside, it is wild!!
20 minutes of shooting around and light warm up we then walked through our sets: Horns and flat with 4 different shot options. “T Will” then took us through the 2 out of bound plays stack1 and stack2. We stretched it out and took it back to the hotel for a quick nap.
We were facing Russia that night with some serious shooters and a lot of Bigs.
The official ceremony began at 7pm where they introduced the 20 national teams represented and the “VBL”, the only team not represented by a country. Some fans were confused on where this VBL team was on the world map. After the intro, a projection of some fire and ice 3D sublimation at center court, some samurai dancers started synchronize dancing! Some chinese rapper came out extra hyped and got the Chinese fans on their feet.
From there Giannis “The Greek Freak” Antetokounmpo did the honorary Tip Off as the #1 chinese team took on Spain. Led by billionaire player “king” a lot of the calls went in their favor and got the fairly easy first round win.
That night, we were the main event at 9.30pm and we did not disappoint with a 6-0 start led by Van and Nitz. Won the first round 15-6 and Russia didn’t let out for round 2 and surprised us with a couple of long range 3s to bring them back to 9-7with 3min left. The referees were on the edge and gave us 4 technical fouls that led to free throws. One for chris running away quiet from the call, one for me raising my arms at the ref after the call it was complete madness. After a time out we got level headed with the squad and got 2 stops to finish with the 13-10 WIN (2-0)
Day3 Discovery Day
On our third day in Shanghai was a time for discovery, so our good friend and team assistant, Kai Gao, took us on a tour of his home town.
We traveled by subway where we ended at the black market train station “Xiangyang” As we made our way through the “fake market” underground world we handed out VBL balls to some deserving kids, and we all managed to come out with some fresh traditional silk suits, made 4XL.
From the market, we walked down to the Bund, a promenade that runs along the Huangpu River. Inspiring a beautiful juxtaposition of the old and new world. Overlooking mind blowing futuristic skyscrapers on one side of the bank with traditional colonial buildings on the other side, some dating back to the early 1800s. The Bund is a notorious place for taking photos, and we did exactly that, with hundreds of Chinese fans, as we made our way down the riverbank soaking in the sights. (dévourer and king hustle were crowd favorites) The team then cruised across the river on what seemed like a several centuries old, ferry boat, where we discovered a small but amazing playground on the water. We had a little shoot around and dunk session before heading back. In an eventful manor we had to mob the local way, this time by city yellow bikes through the city. After an eventful eight hour excursion we finally arrived back to the hotel, ready for a big meal at the buffet and for a full night’s rest in our plush accommodations.
Day 4 Game 2 VS. Italy
We woke up a bit soar from our adventures, and after some Yoga we headed down to buffet before getting
off to practice down at the park. We were the first ones to arrive besides a lady whom quickly squeegeed the rain water off the court. I admire this great dedication to see someone maintaining a park court so well, even though I was shocked when she said she could not put up any nets up. As a result we decided to make our contribution part of the “Build courts, Not walls campaign, to facilitate some nets from this new found home court.
We shot around until 2 pm, and then had some down town back at our hotel, before the inagural tip off at 4pm.
We played the first game against Italy, who we had the ironic pleasure of squeezing onto a bus with for a thirty minute ride to the Rucker Park stadium, where the JUMP10 was held.
We had plenty of time to get acquainted with our opposition, and was cool to see how much some of these guys knew about VBL. We didn’t want take the friendship too far and stayed focus on the game at task but one thing for sure is they were fans and ready to loose.
We started the game by taking a souvenir picture for them to remember us by. As you could have guessed it was a quick game 15-5 / 15-9. The Italian’s were outsized by our bigs and couldn’t keep up with our the pace. Our team all got a piece of the action, including myself with a shake and bake to the line and 2 easy free throws. The mercenary, Ryan Nitz,hit some long range threes and dominated with some monster dunks.
Day 5 WIN OR GO HOME
We were ranked #2 out of the 24 teams after the Jump10 ranking system behind Canada. I had spent a bit of time scouting them, and they had lot size and talent with all Pro Players, but they didn’t seem to have much chemistry as a team.
Every meal at the buffet the “Devourer” led the charge as we demolished the buffet. Our motto was take it all and “ leave nothing on the table”. We had a lot to choose from with waffles, bacon, amazing hash brown, soups, fruits, yogurt, … the buffet was loaded. Myself “Organicko” I could not get my hands on anything organic opted for mostly sticking to the salad bar, with eggs, rice, and the occasional waffle. While rest of the team enjoyed performing on high animal protein centered meals.
Up next as always walk through practice and shoot around at the park. The Mythical Creature Keith Closs and his pack of Marlboro joined us and he even brought the loving boom box to go along. The vibes were good, everyone was positive spirit, singing feeling blessed, this is when I felt most confident we were going win the whole thing.
First up, we jumped up on Australia throats with 8-0 start led by Nitz who wa on fire!! 15-6 15-7 .australia was good and had upset last years champ Mexico. We were now ranked #1 going into the final 4 draft which led us to playing Brazil instead of China.
They seemed intimidated, having them play at the park earlier this week really helped the mental approach. We were in their heads from the tip locking up and making them hard to find the rim.
Chris staples came in with 5 min left in the game and Van through a lob off the steal for a shutdown dunk that got everyone off their feet!
It was great momentum because next up was the dunk contest where chris was facing 3 other of the best in the world Justin Darlington from Canada, Lipek from Poland and Smoove from Ukraine. To their advantage they got to rest up all week at the hotel and didn’t have to compete in the tournament but chris had a whole squad on his side! And he did not disappoint landing all his dunks but the highlight of it all was when he pulled up a motorcycle and all of us jumped into our Chinese silk suits and he 360 between the legs over the bike with authority and instead of the whole squad getting hyped we just bowed at him! Our brother Lipek also had an amazing performance but we couldn’t let him win that one was coming home with us to Venice
On to the championship Canada last years finalists who beat the drew league round 1 last year. Team had a lot of talent with some D league and top division pros but they couldn’t match our heart and desire. We were a family and no one was going to break this one!
It was a scrappy game with a lot of 50/50 balls coming in our advantage. “Devourer” quickly got in foul trouble so Boss Closs and Meezy had to step in with some big defensive stops. 13-9 we beat the clock on that one.
One last period to go and this was it. Our captain van took control of this one after I called a time out with the game tied and 10 sec left in the game and 8sec on the shot clock. Plan was to run flat and run à pick and roll with “devourer” and let him make the best decision and that he did!! Shake, hésitation, pump fake to get the defense off their feet and 3 PT Shit goes up… moment of silence .. all net!!
The crowd went wild! They threw a desperation shot with 1 sec left but the whole team was already on the floor rushing him with sweaty hugs and cheers followed by 100cameras. Come to find out there was 500million live viewers on the stream!
It was surreal, confettis falling from the sky, champions gear, gold champs rings, Amazing moment of joy all of our hoop dreams wishes come true. The glory of hard work and dedication had all paid off!
After some interviews From the press, autograph signing and selfie sessions with the fans, we hoped back on the bus with some of our new found friends oh and it was party DJ All Fades on the 1s and 2s singing and screaming the whole way back to the hotel!
And now was time to party, Andy had reserved a whole section of the #1 nightclub in Shanghai and as we walked in fashionably late at 2am was High five all Around’s from all the teams, s/o from the DJ. You know Davie had to Pop Champagne one time, we shared a few shots and cheered the night away with our rivals and new found friends.
The morning was hard to wake up for the guys with injuries from Chris, Van and Davie but come to find out in the lobby was awaiting a briefcase of $100,000 in cash plus an extra 5k for Chris and 5k for Ryan for winning the MVP. Glorious moments , money smelled stronger than french cheese and The guys were in heaven now. Devourer had lot debts, Davie was on his last dime, Ryan needed help moms with medical bills… everyone really needed the cash , it was the cherry on the cake..
We came on a mission and we made it greater than we could have ever dreamed sharing real moments of friendships and care for one another. It was the perfect team the VBL dream team!
On Sunday August 20th,2017, history was made in Shanghai, China. The VBL team came on a mission across the world to represent the United States and Venice Beach and took home undefeated the grand cash prize
20 international teams were selected to participate in the competition was fierce but Veniceball organization represented in style and already looking forward to defend their title next year!
Photos and Videos Jeremy Renault