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The return of the Macker

Photo courtesy of the Buffalo Police Athletic League

There’s something decidedly righteous about an event that makes toilet bowls sexy. (You’ll see what I mean shortly.)

The event in question is the Gus Macker 3-on-3 basketball tournament, which returns June 25–26 for another run in the Queen City, and the area’s basketball community is counting the days until Gus rides back into Buffalo. No surprise there—the spirit of the sport is stronger than many in Western New York suspect. Local hoops enthusiasts often claim their passion doesn’t get representative coverage in the media and bopping around Niagara Square during those two days backs them up.

It backs them up big time.

I figured my writing skills could craft something that would adequately describe Macker enthusiasm until I started to speak with its participants. It would be folly to say my words could carry more weight than their emotions. Take Jonah Bronstein, a newspaper reporter from Tonawanda who has played in the tournament for years. “I accepted my high school diploma with sweat dripping from my forehead and gym socks stuffed into dress shoes because I played in the Gus hours before,” he says. “I unexpectedly received a principal’s award that day, to my family’s delight. To this day, I still regret missing a Macker game to be there.”

Misplaced priorities aside—and really, who are we to say?—Bronstein welcomes the chance to glorify his game with his many peers on the downtown blacktop. He waxes poetic on his feelings for the game: “Head-over-heels in love with basketball while growing up in a hockey haven, I carry around a heavy, frozen heart. Once a year, it thaws for the Gus Macker. Save for the NCAA tournaments every four years or so, the tournament is my one annual reminder that, yes, there are people in WNY who appreciate the pure, American-made game that has been adopted all over the world.”

With sentiments proffered like “Big time feel on a small time scale” and “The most fun I’ve ever had not winning a tournament,” Mackerites—or Gussers—come in all shapes and sizes. You’ve got your high school teammates reclaiming the glory of yesteryear, your out-of-shape neighbors playing Bird vs. Magic for a couple days, and, of course, the best of the best culled from years of elite-level basketball in local high schools and colleges. And then, of course, there’s the Toilet Bowl. Any team that loses its two Saturday games finds itself in a new bracket, battling all-day Sunday to be labeled the best of the worst on a trophy that looks exactly how you’re picturing it.
The Buffalo tourney is a step ahead of the many Mackers country-wide. For starters, it’s the only one that features “official” officials—that is, sanctioned referees. Not only that, but the competition is intense at every level. “I’ve played in the Macker for years in various locations,” says Sarah Bishop, executive director of Buffalo First. “There isn’t a single one that comes close in comparison. The caliber of play, the atmosphere, and the intensity all work together. It’s an experience unlike any other.”

I’ll leave it to WIVB’s Melissa Holmes to sum up the weekend. “I think the Gus Macker is a microcosm of Buffalo,” she says. “People young and old and from all walks of life coming together to support a cause and a city they love. Cheesy? Yes, but I actually get the chills when I’m down there every year watching my husband get his butt kicked on the court—it’s my favorite weekend of the summer, by far. It makes me proud of our city.”

Sign me up.

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