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Flint, MI—After a nearly 20-year-long absence, the Gus Macker 3-on-3 basketball tournament returned to Flint, where it was met with fanfare by hundreds of players, volunteers, and onlookers.
The tournament, which started in the mid-1970s in its founder’s driveway quickly grew into a national spectacle. By the ’80s Macker Mania had reached Flint, where it stayed for years and became a community staple as well as a rite of passage for thousands of the city’s aspiring basketball players.
Linnell Jones-McKenney, one of Flint’s many accomplished basketball players and long-time organizer of Gus Macker in the city, remembered playing in the tournament along with other Flint greats like Laurie Byrd, a Gus Macker Hall of Famer.
“When I came back to Flint to help the youth in the city, I thought it was only fitting that we bring (Gus Macker) back,” said Jones-McKenney who had a successful basketball career in Europe and is also in the Greater Flint Area Sports Hall of Fame. “Our young people need to be exposed to more tournaments like these that now happen all over the country. The goal is to create something so fantastic that young people here will say ‘wow I love being in Flint.'” Jones-McKinney currently serves as program director at Sylvester Broome Empowerment Village on Flint’s north side.
Despite its decades-long hiatus, Gus Macker was met with excitement by the city. Rayven McQueen, Skylar Lewis and Maya Davis, a trio of high school friends, made up one of the 150 teams present at the tournament.
Though two of the girls, McQueen and Davis had participated in other city’s Gus Mackers, the three agreed seeing something like this happening in Flint lifted their spirits after a year’s worth of quarantine.
“After COVID, it’s good to see something that’s bringing the community together. We are out here in the sun actually getting to spend time with people we know doing something we all love,” McQueen said.
For Davis, the opportunity to watch so many games at once and being surrounded by other basketball lovers was one of the biggest reasons for her being there.
“I think this is pretty cool, it’s just a lot of people coming together to play basketball just because they love it,” Davis said. “We get to play, watch other people play, and just enjoy being out here.”
For Flint residents who grew up participating in the tournament or attending it, its sudden return after 20 years meant being able to watch their children partake in one of their own childhood traditions.
This was the case for Marcia McQueen, Rayven’s mother, who after growing up watching Gus Macker in Flint, had to make do with taking her daughters to Gus Mackers in surrounding cities. After 10 year’s worth of tournaments outside of Flint, she said it was “awesome” to see her daughter finally play in her hometown.
Omar Dasuqi, director of volunteers for the event and athletic director at The New Standard Academy said an event like Gus Macker returning to Flint is a significant step toward the goal of getting kids active and interested in sports.
“There is a need for this in our community … organized sports help bring kids from the community together. We are all here for the same reason and that is basketball. The reason we are where we are is because of a lack of community involvement over the years. The more community events that we can do, the better off we’ll be,” Dasuqi said.
Dasuqi commented on the fact that in the years Gus Macker was absent in Flint, circumstances in the city led to funding for sports and after-school programs being cut. For him, Gus Macker returning to the city is a sign that efforts made in the last few years to bring these programs back are starting to pay off.
“Now we’re coming together, more resources and funding are starting to come into the city and we can start doing more. The more physically and mentally healthy our youth is, the less they’ll be inclined to turn to violence. It’s just a blessing for (Gus Macker) to come back to the city. It’s much needed and well overdue,” Dasuqi said.
Jones-McKinney said ultimately, one of the reasons she was most happy to see Gus Macker return to Flint was because she felt the event itself is an ode to the city’s rich athletic history.
“By doing this we’re also bringing some positive light so that the world can see that Flint is more than what they see in the news. We are a great city, we are resilient and we have also produced more professional basketball players in the city of Flint than almost all other cities in the history of the United States,” Jones-McKinney said.
The Gus Macker tournament will continue through Sunday, Sept. 19 in the downtown Flint Flat Lot. For more information visit the tournament website here.