The following has been edited and updated, 6:10 p.m. Jan. 17, 2013.
Call it Martin Luther King Invitational Lite.
Undoubtedly, budget cuts are the main reason, if not one of the reasons, as well as the ongoing operations tempo why the Okinawa MLK basketball tournament for military and high school teams, which began in 1992 and has been held for 18 of the succeeding years, has been transformed into a shadow of what it was.
No round-robin play. No three-point contest. No All-Tournament team. No All-Tournament coach. A strictly double-elimination tournament, 14 men’s teams, six women’s teams, all from on-island. Awards to players on the first-, second- and third-place teams.
Pretty much the way it began, when the Okinawa Athletic Officials Association got the event off the ground in January 1992. Marine Corps Community Services Semper Fit athletics picked up the tournament some years later.
Back in its peak years, the tournament welcomed as many as 30 teams, including folks from Army and Air Force installations in South Korea and Japan and Navy ship and shore units from Yokosuka and Sasebo Naval bases. The old Far East Network used to broadcast the finals, sending broadcasts via the old Autovon phone system to far-flung locales around the Pacific. Later, the local access I-13 channel would telecast the tournament’s games to eager on-island viewers.
No more. Emblematic, this is, of the decline of interservice athletics throughout the Pacific. The Warrior Classic basketball tournament in October at Yokota was staged and financed completely by the Yokota Warriors base team in conjunction with American Forces Network Tokyo. The Osan Pacific-wide Holiday Tournament last month in Korea? Sponsored entirely by the base teams.
Even the venue for the Okinawa MLK has changed this year. Foster Field House, its longtime home, was forced to close its doors due to typhoon damage last summer; it’s scheduled to reopen this summer. For now, the MLK will be staged at Semper Fit Gymnasium on Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, which will also house some games in next month’s Far East High School Boys Division I tournament.
MLK play begins at 6 p.m. Friday and concludes with the women’s championship at 4 p.m. and men’s at 6 p.m. Sunday.
As always, Kubasaki and Kadena High Schools have teams entered in the tournament; MCCS usually waives the tournament's entry fee to permit them to play. Both Kadena's boys and girls teams are entered, while Kubasaki only has its girls team playing. The Dragons boys, two-time reigning Far East Division I champions, are playing two Japanese teams this weekend and are not available for the MLK, coach Jon Fick said.
Same holds true at Camp Humphreys, South Korea, where only Seoul American's girls are participating along with six women's post-level, seven men's post-level and one men's company-level team in a concurrent MLK, at the Super Gym and MP Hill Gym. Seoul American's boys are playing games against company-level teams this weekend.
Play begins in the Korea MLK at 10:30 a.m. Saturday, with pool play lasting until mid-day Sunday, followed by a double-elimination tournament concluding with the women's final at 1 p.m. and the men's at 2 p.m.