PORTSMOUTH INVITATIONAL TOURNAMENT
TO RETURN IN 2022
The Portsmouth Invitational Tournament is set to return in 2022 after after a two year break due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The 68th PIT is scheduled for April 13-16, 2022. We look forward to seeing everyone in April.
VIRTUAL 2020 PIT
Join host Dave Shore along with PIT Chairman Mike Morris and legendary NBA Scouts Ryan Blake and Chris Ekstrand as they discuss the PIT class of 2020 and their chances of making an NBA team. Shore also talks with Brett Brungardt, founder of BAM (Basic Athletic Measurement). BAM administers the NBA Combine at the PIT and at the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago. Shore will also talk with Mike Brungardt, the strength coach for the San Antonio Spurs for 17 years, about the physical challenges of making the jump from college to the NBA.
Mahlon Parker, PIT Chairman for the past 27 years, passed away on March 28th. We are thankful for the many years of leadership Mahlon provided to the PIT. He will be sorely missed and was truly a man of dignity and honor.
To My Friend, Mahlon Parker
By Kurt Brungardt
I have a secret question about Mahlon Parker. I have a suspicion I know the answer. The question is this: Did Mahlon Parker make everyone he worked with feel as special as he made me feel?
My connection with the PIT started 2012, when I created a documentary series for the tournament. My tip about the magic of the event came in 2011 from my brother Brett. PIT contracted his sports science company, BAM, to run the Combine portion of the tournament. The NBA wanted the same company that helped administer their Chicago Combine to test at PIT. After his first year, Brett told me how amazing the tournament was and how it would make a great web series.
The first person I talked to about doing the SLAM series that came be called Undrafted, was Mahlon Parker. From the start, Mahlon’s qualities were on display. He was a great listener. He was open-minded, creative, and forward-thinking. He was funny, charming, and warm. For eight years we talked on the phone regularly, more around PIT time, but all year round and on Holidays. I live in New York City and he had a keen interest in the museums, Broadway, and my NYC stories. He wanted a picture of my apartment building, so he could visualize where I was when we talked. He took an authentic interest in any project I was working on (it didn’t matter if it was journalism, film, or a play). And likewise, I wanted to hear stories about his life, his family, and always his thoughts around basketball.
It was probably about four years, midway in our relationship, that I realized an unexpected thing had happened. In the middle of my life, I had made a new friend. Sure, I loved covering the PIT, but this new, later in life friendship, was truly an unanticipated joy.
I love to rewrite literary quotes by adding a personal twist. What comes to mind now is the famous opening of Dante’s Divine Comedy. “When half-way through the journey of our life I found that I was in a gloomy wood, because the path which led aright was lost …” I revise this quote: Halfway through the journey of my life I found Mahlon Parker and I was not lost.
Back to the question that I began pondering about a year ago. It might have been over a beer with my brothers, talking about PIT. Does Mahlon Parker make everyone he works with feel special? Deep down, I always knew the answer: Yes, Mahlon Parker was one of those people who had that special quality to make everyone—regardless of age, money, ethnicity—feel important.
Kurt Brungardt is a writer and director. He lives in New York City.
A Remembrance of Mahlon Parker
By Chris Ekstrand
If we are lucky during the course of our lives, we occasionally come across a person who simply has a little more humanity than the rest of us, a cheerful presence who sets a high bar in both his personal and professional conduct, someone who provides us an example of how to make a difference in the lives of others and in the process lift up our community.
Mahlon Parker, the chairman of the Portsmouth Invitational Tournament, was such a man. His life was a portrait of civic engagement in the Portsmouth community he loved and nurtured over a lifetime of service. After Mahlon took off his country’s uniform as a young man, he continued to serve every day and never left his beloved hometown. For decades, he ensured that the PIT, founded in 1953 by Mahlon and other former servicemen who loved the game of basketball, and which was played every year for 67 straight seasons, would continue to provide scholarships to outstanding local students and contribute to local charities and service organizations. The PIT is a non-profit entity run by an army of committed volunteers with a spirit that hearkens back to another era in our nation’s history.
A dear friend to the people of Portsmouth and lovers of basketball everywhere, Mahlon passed away overnight Saturday at the age of 86. He is survived by his wife Fay, another extraordinarily cheerful fixture in Portsmouth, and a loving family.
I grew up in New Jersey, and despite the benefit of a college education and supportive family, I often embodied the loud talk and arrogance sometimes associated with “The Garden State.” My job at the NBA during the 1990s included serving as editor of the NBA Draft Guide, and one couldn’t become an expert on the NBA Draft without making the trek to Portsmouth for the PIT, which I did for the first time in 1995 (and every year since). When I met Mahlon Parker, I was struck by his unique combination of affability, boundless energy and passion. While I had traveled to Virginia many times in my life, this was the first time I came to understand what a Southern gentleman really looked like. Over time, I tried very hard (with limited success) to be more like Mahlon – friendly, modest, focused, purposeful. His example was a gift to me that I will carry for the rest of my life.
Together with the charming James “Booty” Baker and the late, always colorful Yale Dolsey, Mahlon was obsessed with making the Portsmouth Invitational Tournament the best combination of a locally celebrated event and a nationally important tournament for senior college basketball players striving for a look from the NBA. Following the formative years when basketball legends like Rick Barry, Earl “The Pearl” Monroe, Dave Cowens, John Lucas and many more graced the PIT court with their presence, the PIT had perhaps its Golden Era, when previously underrated talents like Scottie Pippen, John Stockton, Tim Hardaway and Dennis Rodman burst forth and first demonstrated the abilities that would help them reach the pinnacle of NBA superstardom.
As years went by, the venue for the PIT changed from an old Armory to Wilson High School to Churchland High School, but the constant was Mahlon, coordinating gym and hotel reservations, communicating with NBA officials like NBA Operations VP Matt Winick and the late NBA Scouting Director Marty Blake, lining up local sponsors and overseeing the distribution of tickets and credentials for a rapidly expanding media presence (to keep the Virginian-Pilot’s Ed Miller company). While the evolution of the NBA Draft into a first round dominated by underclassmen might have robbed the PIT of some collegiate star power, Mahlon’s energetic stewardship of the Tournament meant that unheralded college players like Jimmy Butler, Jeremy Lin, Wesley Matthews, Jose Barea and Robert Covington would have their opportunity to break through into the consciousness of NBA general managers and scouts. In recent years, the PIT helped NBA teams not to overlook burgeoning talents like Derrick White, Richaun Holmes, Royce O’Neale and promising rookies like Kendrick Nunn and Terence Davis.
Throughout the PIT’s history, Red Auerbach, Jerry West, Wes Unseld, Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and many others among basketball’s biggest names traveled to Portsmouth to evaluate players hoping to make the NBA a permanent home. But Mahlon, always forward-thinking and pragmatic, also made the PIT a hospitable place when top European basketball teams started flying in to check out the talent during the Churchland High School era. The relationships Mahlon cultivated over time with connected European talent evaluators like former Spanish league legend Walter Szczerbiak has resulted in hundreds of former PIT players being able to land lucrative contracts to play all over the world. This season, there was hardly a professional basketball league anywhere in the world that didn’t boast at least a few PIT alumni, including the top leagues in Spain, Italy, France, Germany, Turkey, Russia and Greece.
In hundreds of conversations over the years as we dissected player performances to try to fashion the best lineup of top college prospects for the next Portsmouth Invitational Tournament, Mahlon would invariably encourage me to keep him up to date on the latest player news, whether that was a great game by a player, an injury, or a crucial piece of information relayed by the PIT’s network of college coaches.
Instead of saying a standard goodbye, Mahlon, in his inimitably folksy way, would instead say “Keep me up.”
On behalf of the PIT and the entire basketball community, I would like to say to Mahlon, many thanks for keeping us up for the last 67 years.
(Chris Ekstrand is a Consultant to NBA Basketball Operations. He has been associated with the NBA for 30 years and has been courtside at the Portsmouth Invitational Tournament for the past 25 years.)