The creator of the Roy Boone Summer Pro Am basketball league rarely stopped moving over the course of three-plus hours inside the sauna-like basketball gymnasium at Madison East High School on a recent Thursday night.
When Boone wasn’t making sure everything was running smoothly at the concessions stand, the former East standout and member of a University of Wisconsin men’s basketball team that made a run to the Final Four in 2000 was shaking hands with fans and participants. When a player went down with a knee injury, Boone hustled to get a bag of ice.
At 8 p.m., the third and final game of the night tipped off and Boone was in the starting lineup for Team Torch, a 39-year-old matching up with players 15 or more years younger than him.
For Boone, this was basketball heaven.
“It’s all for the love of it,” Boone said. “It’s just wanting to be part of something special and positive and entertaining.”
Boone’s league continues on Thursday night at East. The eight-week event concludes with a championship round — two semifinals and a title game — on Aug. 5 at Madison Area Technical College.
It has come a long way since the summer of 2015, when Boone opened the doors to the Goodman Community Center for an open gym that included about 30 players. Boone was so encouraged he decided to start a league and promoted it on social media; the following week, participation doubled.
To make the teams as fair as possible, Boone and two of his buddies sat down and rated each player from two to five stars.
Boone’s biggest coup was convincing his friend, Wesley Matthews, to be part of the league. Matthews, a former Madison Memorial and Marquette standout who has completed eight seasons in the NBA, is an occasional participant and was there for opening night this summer.
This year’s invite-only event includes former UW players such as Zak Showalter, Keaton Nankivil, Mike Wilkinson, Zach Morley and Wquinton Smith. Former Tennessee standout Jeronne Maymon, who now plays in Japan, is on a team that includes several Memorial athletes.
Showalter said the league offers an opportunity to play in game-like situations as he prepares to play professionally overseas.
For Wilkinson, who retired three years ago after a long career overseas, it’s a chance to play competitively once a week against some familiar faces.
“From where it started a few years ago, this is night and day different,” Wilkinson said. “He’s made big steps. This is the best collection of basketball you’re going to find here in Madison.”
Boone’s league got a boost this summer when, for the first time, he got current Badgers to join. Boone had to get the league certified through the NCAA in order for UW players to avoid eligibility issues.
After playing in the event for two weeks, the UW players pulled out in order to focus on preparations for the team’s trip to Australia and New Zealand next month.
Still, for Boone and others, adding the Badgers even for a limited time was another positive step in growing the league.
“There’s a lot of talent in the Madison area,” Showalter said. “If we can continue to keep this growing and get guys coming back to play in it in the summer, I hope it will take off from there.”
Boone continues to dream big when it comes to future of the league. Ideally, he’d like to convince other NBA players with ties to Madison to participate and envisions a day when the games include Frank Kaminsky, Sam Dekker, Jon Leuer and Devin Harris.
“I’m just thinking crazy now,” Boone said.
Perhaps, but a league that began as an open gym has come a long way.
For Boone, this is about his love of the game and his community and not about filling his bank account. He charges $60 per player — current college players pay half that amount — to help cover uniforms and referee fees, but he doesn’t charge fans to watch and is still working on lining up sponsors to help cut costs.
“It’s a lot of work,” Boone said, “but it’s all worth it.”