How do I even begin to tell you this story? On what started it all and where the idea sprouted from. What gave me the push to tell my best friend what I was thinking. Calling it Play For Keeps and never looking back, well I’ll attempt to tell you now in a 2 part story. First, I have many people I look up to, ranging from my own brother, to rap artist Dom Kennedy, and even sneaker designer Ronnie Fieg. These people are individuals I try to model myself after and over the years I could easily say that I have. But the difference between the way I look up to these people and the people I idolize is that I want what they have. To do better than they did and create something better. This is true when it comes to former sports marketing executive Sonny Vaccaro.

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I don’t want to leave out any of Sonny’s accomplishments while I explain them to you, but due to time constraints I’ll have to. Sonny Vaccaro is best known for his work with Nike, signing Michael Jordan to his legendary and forever beloved sneaker deal with the shoe company. But that’s not all he did and that’s not all of who he worked for. Sonny continued on to work with Adidas and Reebok, signing many athletes to sneaker deals such as Kobe Bryant and Tracy McGrady while working with Adidas. He almost even got LeBron James to sign as well! So as you can imagine this man was a master in persuasion. Continuing to have a staple on the game of basketball with his reputation and connections with athletes, he started a national basketball camp for top-ranked high school basketball recruits to participate in. The ABCD All-America Camp ran from 1984 to 2007 and featured a long list of alumni that inlcuded recent NBA stars Dwight Howard and LeBron James.

But there’s a deeper reason that Sonny Vaccaro is one of my few idols and people I aspire to be. In every creation their are loop holes and spots for corruption to occur. Well with Sonny Vaccaro’s basketball camp and signing some kids to monster sneaker deals, this created a monster of unclear dreams. Through the creation of his successful basketball camp that spawned major talent year after year sprouted other people to start their own camps and all star games. Think about it, nowadays pretty much any major professional basketball player has their own basketball camp. They’re incredibly successful in giving recruits the exposure they need to get to the next level which creates a demand for them. But not everybody has athletes’ best interests in mind. Some use this atmosphere of all this talent in one gym as an opportunity to persuade kids to sign contracts under the table, recruit, and money exchanging hands. Many people believe Sonny ruined the game of basketball by glamorizing it. Using his camp as a way of luring top talent to him and making connections instead of focusing on making the players better.

All of that is debatable but it’s narrowed my focus here at Play For Keeps. As we gain credibility and gain a larger following we will then look to expand into becoming a sports academy for kids. Enhancing their talent in whichever sport they choose but also taking the time to teach them life values, how to make good decisions, and how to manage money. Sonny inspired me because as I’ve reviewed and watched all of his work, I see what I want this academy to become and what I also want to steer clear from. Producing talent while sustaining relationships with our kids is our main goal. So in the end, we believe that with the knowledge we’ll give and the talent we will produce, we can become a national academy. Expanding all over the country with the sky being the limit! But until then, it was written!

Credits: Complex Mag (For the photos). ESPN’s Youtube channel (For the video). ESPN’s 30 for 30 film “Sole Man” (For general information).

-Terrence Whaley