Hoop Dreams

Tommy Nuñez knows that if you put 600 players in an amateur basketball tournament, there's going to be some major machismo in the air -- especially if all of the players are Hispanic.

"There's a lot of pride," says Nuñez, who runs the Phoenix-based National Hispanic Basketball Classic. "They're intense in their own right. They're playing to win, they're playing hard, and they're traveling far to play."

The NHBC celebrates its 25th anniversary this year with a four-day tournament, taking place at two Phoenix high schools. More than 60 teams from eight U.S. states and Mexico will compete in two divisions: the "Open Division," and the "Legends Division," the latter for players over 40. And even with 60 teams, Nuñez says "there's an angry waiting list" of players trying to get in. "There are Latino tournaments all over the country now, but this is the one all the players want to come to," he says.

After all, how many amateur players can say they had an NBA referee officiating one of their games? Nuñez hasn't had any problem procuring volunteer NBA refs, because Nuñez himself was a referee in the NBA for 30 years. Prior to that, he worked as public relations director for the Phoenix Suns. But he never forgot his roots, as they say, and the NHBC tournament is part of the Tommy Nuñez Foundation's efforts to raise scholarship funds for underprivileged and at-risk youth.

"I've always worked with the less fortunate. I'm from the less fortunate," Nuñez says. "I grew up in a housing project on Ninth Street and Washington."

Nuñez emphasizes that 100 percent of the tournament donations go toward youth scholarships. "We're not this big conglomerate of fund-raising," he says. "We don't have staff that makes phone calls and keeps 20 percent. It's just us -- me, my wife, my family, and my friends. And we have a great time."

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Niki D'Andrea has covered subjects including drug culture, women's basketball, pirate radio stations, Scottsdale staycations, and fine wine. She has worked at both New Times and Phoenix Magazine, and is now a freelancer.
Contact: Niki D'Andrea