Crew Love tournament continues strong tradition in Franklin Field

Crew Love tournament founders (l-r) Ceasar Veal, Greg Jean, Andrew Angus, Richard Nichols, Phil Bell, Jay Branch, and Philip Jean.

Several of the founders are Dot natives. Seth Daniel photos

If Jay Branch and his friends had hung up their sneakers after one bragging rights basketball game a decade ago, they would never have introduced the magic that the Crew Love Basketball Tournament has come to symbolize for the city’s late summer hoops scene set in Dorchester, nor would they have found the lightning in a bottle that has marked the legendary neighborhood vs. neighborhood games between Dorchester and Roxbury since 2017.

Now in its eleventh year, the Crew Love tournament took place last weekend at Harambee Park in Franklin Field, the tournament’s home since 2019 when they moved from Garvey Park in Neponset. It was yet another reminder of just how far the tournament has come since a few friends challenged each other to a game, and more and more friends kept coming.

“Our group is very, very competitive, especially when it comes to sports,” said Branch, 36. “It’s great to see it come from literally a single game to something that is really known. Crew Love is something people look forward to. We want to go back to having fun and not playing for the money. People know they’re going to come and just have fun and it’s going to be competitive at the same time.”

Crew Love was born in 2013 when Branch, Andrew Angus, Philip Jean, Phil Bell, Gregory Jean, Richard Nichols, and Ceasar Veal made a late-summer, August tournament out of their own rivalry after noticing that many tournaments are front-loaded into June. With several of them having a background playing at Charlestown High School under its legendary coach Jack O’Brien, they had a network of friends from the heyday of the early 2000s Boston Public Schools City League when Charlestown won three state championships in a row, East Boston was a tough out under Coach Mike Rubin, and English High always came stocked with talent.

“Our tournament is more of ‘joes’ and not ‘pros’ tournament,” said Branch. “Everyone that comes out to play are just real, everyday people. We want the pros to sit back and enjoy watching other people play. There are no cash prizes, just everyone playing for bragging rights.”
That experience was on display last weekend with about 1,200 people in attendance, and NBA stars like Marcus Smart and Obi Toppin watching courtside – and long-time host Robert Blue narrating the action on the microphone.

The main single-elimination tournament was on Sunday, but action started the day before with warm-up games known as “Call-Out Saturday” for the 10 teams in the field. The big draw that evening included a series of neighborhood rivalry games, particularly Dorchester versus Roxbury men and women.

A sea of folks showed up on Saturday night for the games at Harambee, with the inclusion of a new Mattapan vs. Hyde Park men’s game “exceeding every expectation” in its first year. Mattapan came away as the victor, but the stage was well set by the women in the Dorchester vs. Roxbury rivalry game – where Dorchester came back to win but Roxbury played tough behind the buckets of former Boston Latin star and YouTube giant Jamad Fiin.

The centerpiece was the men’s game, which had a history of its own. First added in 2017 at the Mildred Avenue Community Center, when more than 2,000 people unexpectedly showed up, that first game, with two minutes left and Roxbury up by four points, was called due to poor court conditions.

“Dorchester says Roxbury didn’t win and it was a ‘no contest,’” said Branch. “Roxbury tries to take that win, but really it’s 2-1 and not 3-1.”
This year’s version was also unfinished, but this time to Dorchester’s detriment. With Dorchester up five points with four minutes left, the game was called due to a shooting incident several blocks away on Wales Street. The incident sparked a sudden police response that scared the crowds and sent people running off in a “mini stampede.” At the same time, for reasons yet known, all the lights went off in the park, causing further panic.

There were no injuries and Branch said they pride themselves on holding events every year that are about “spreading love” and having a safe environment for families, community, and players.

“It was something that happened several blocks away and had nothing to do with the basketball tournament, which was a safe and fun environment as it is every year,” said Branch. “Our sincerest apologies to everyone that got caught up in that, but it was something we couldn’t control.”

With the rivalry game unfinished, Roxbury still leads the series, 2-1. with two “no contest” games.

For the overall Crew Love tournament, which resumed on Sunday, Broz4Lyf – led by Dorchester’s Veal and Angus – won its third Crew Love championship.

“It was an awesome turnout, and we were very proud of how we handled the crowds,” Branch said.

“We completed the tournament and the Crew Love objectives.”

Justin Brooks of Team Surf Club puts one home after an alley-oop pass off the backboard.

Johnnie Ortiz goes up for a layup on a fast break during Saturday’s action for Team Surf Club.

Jeff Cannon of the Scope Apparel crew lays one in during play on Saturday afternoon.

Long-time host Robert Blue narrated the day’s events and is always a highlight of the weekend.


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