File photo by Chung Chow
When a group of basketball-playing friends at Steveston High School started the Dolphin Classic in 1986, all they were looking to do was organize teammates and rivals for a day-long tournament. They never imagined it would evolve into one of North America’s premier streetball events, mentioned in the same breath as Rucker Tournament in New York and Houston’s Blacktop Battle.
But here we are, a few weeks shy of the 33rd annual Dolphin Classic July 13 to 15 at South Arm Park. What was once exclusively a Richmond event, simply for bragging rights, has evolved into a competition featuring elite talent from both sides of the border. Previous participants have included the likes of NBA player Jamal Crawford and Canadian national Andrew Mavis.
The tournament further evolved in 2010 with the introduction of a women’s division, and a few years later spawned the Junior Dolphin Classic for youth players.
One feature that separates Dolphin from many other streetball events: games are four-on-four.
““We started four-on-four way back when we were playing pick-up at Dolphin (Park), before the first tournament ever happened,” says Bruce Watson, one of the tournament’s founding members. “It seemed like the ideal format for the dimensions of the court, so when we started the tournament it was only natural (to maintain the format).”
The City of Richmond has since built same-sized courts at Thompson and South Arm community centres, leaving Watson and his colleagues thankful to be able to “continue our unique brand of hoops.”
Watson says the four-on-four game demands every player be responsible both offensively and defensively. He says there’s no hiding a weak link with zone defence, while on offence there’s lots of room for individual skill to shine.
“The Dolphin-sized courts are perfect for summertime hoops, and a big part of making our event unique and fun,” he says.
Seeing Dolphin into its fourth decade, fellow organizer Tony Wonghen is pleased to see it’s still an event that brings families and friends together. It’s also rewarding to the second generation taking root, with children of former players entering the spotlight such as Jessica and Abby Zawada (daughters of former Richmond Colt Andrew Zawada), Jordin Kojima (son of Trevor Kojima) and Jessica Jones (daughter of former Steveston Packer Theresa DeBou).
“I’m proud how our event has left a positive impression in our basketball community,” Wonghen says, pointing to the emergence of the Junior Dolphin as an example of the tournament’s influence. “The kids playing are the future of Dolphin and provide so much excitement and energy to our event. (Richmond Youth Basketball League co-ordinator) Jessy Dhillon has done such a great job with this and it is all attributed to Jessy's commitment.”
While the bigger names have helped draw crowds, Dolphin has succeeded largely because of its grassroots. Many players return year after year, some a step slower perhaps but wiser because of the experience. This list includes Aman Heran of Athelite, former MVP Doug Plumb and Division 1 player Mark Starkey of Academy, and Steve Lee and his Runnin’ Rebels. The women’s teams, too, have continuously featured college standouts including the likes of Chaos captain Elle Kerfott, and Katy Germain of the defending champion Toko.
Besides countless other tournament “friends,” individuals who have been longtime supporters of the Dolphin Classic, tournament organizers are indebted to the pioneers of basketball who laid the foundation for the love of the game. The late Bob Carkner heads this list.
In 2010, Dolphin introduced an annual award in memory of the former Richmond principal whose contributions both in and outside of sport are significant.
“When we attended Steveston, Mr. Carkner was simply the best,” Watson says. “He had an incredibly profound impact on so many young people in his lifetime. Significantly, he started Richmond biddy ball program way back in the 1970s, which undoubtably helped sow the seeds of the incredible popularity and success of Richmond basketball.
Mr. Carkner loved basketball, and his three sons (Mike, Randy and Tim) were all tremendous players themselves and have given back as coaches as well. When we were deciding to start a scholarship, there really was only one person we considered as memorial namesake.”
Wonghen adds the hard work and values that defined Carkner, continue to be advanced by his sons. Tim is currently the head coach for McMath’s Grade 9 girls’ team.
“I often sit with Bob’s widow, Nan, at basketball games,” Wonghen says. “She is so knowledgeable from all the years of support, and would make a great coach herself.”
•The 2018 Dolphin Basketball Classic schedule (a complete list of all games, three-point and slam dunk contests, is still in the works and will be posted by organizers closer to tournament weekend.