It’s hard for adults to find activities with all of the following:
- Intense physical competition
- 150+ awesome people looking to connect with old friends and make new ones
- Communal meals and nightly parties
- A rugged camping vibe with unlimited natural beauty
There’s a yearly basketball tournament I’ve been playing in that checks all the boxes.
It’s called BPS. It’s a name derived from the initials of Brian P Schwartz, a close friend of the trip founders who died tragically before the first ever tournament, just over 15 years ago.
From what I’ve learned, Brian was an amazing, loving person who was as kind off the court as he was tenacious on it. He was a hoops junkie who would have loved the tournament that bears his initials.
The basketball tournament
BPS is what happens when pickup basketball fanatics take things to the next level.
I’ve played in a lot of consistent pickup games. But I’ve never been in one where the leaders one day said, “You know what? Let’s take a weekend every year, invite all the best players we know, travel 6 hours by car to the middle of the woods, sleep in bunks, hold a draft, bring nice uniforms, and battle each other across 8-10 super intense games on outdoor courts to determine a champion.”
That’s basically what happened with BPS. A bunch of guys, mostly from the Chicago suburbs, get together at the site of a summer camp many of them attended growing up and put on a freaking epic basketball tournament.
The scale of the operation is so impressive. There are 3 games going at once, with scoreboards, stat keepers, and videographers. You call your own fouls but there are court supervisors to settle thorny disputes. There are doctors on hand if needed, as well as trainers and massage therapists. This year two different people brought a pair of hilarious looking full-leg compression recovery pants that saw a ton of action between sessions.
There’s even a sportsbook. Futures odds come out after the draft, and there are betting lines on each game.
I get a kick out of the people who come up to me before a game, looking me up and down like a racehorse, trying to sound casual as they ask me how I’m feeling about my next matchup.
I have yet to place any bets myself, but it makes me unreasonably happy when my friends come up to me after a game and tell me I won them money.
As for the actual format, every team plays each other once, and then the top 4 teams play a single elimination final four.
So if you make the finals, you play 10 games in two days.
My first year, both my big toe nails fell off in the month after BPS. After every tournament I’m always so sore I can barely move for a week after. It’s an insane way for a bunch of office workers to treat their bodies, but that’s part of the allure. Anyone can go play in a local half court 3×3 tournament. Only the incurable, degenerate hoops junkies will spend a weekend playing 10 physically punishing, outdoor, full-court games in the Midwestern summer heat. It self selects for people who enjoy playing hard just because it’s fun. My kind of people.
Picking teams and gameplay
The trip starts off with each of the 9 team captains pulling names out of a hat to determine the draft order. Then they make their first round selection. This year, I was the 4th overall pick, which helped me a lot because it’s a snake draft and the first pick gets the last pick of the second round.
The first round draft is in front of the entire camp, then all the first rounders and their captains head over to a different room to complete the rest of the draft. The war room atmosphere is so fun. Everyone has printed out lists, rankings, and an intense focus. The founders have recreated in miniature what I imagine a real professional sports draft feels like. There’s a moderator, a clock, a big board that displays the picks, and a sense that the fate of your team hangs on each selection.
The tournament has really talented players considering it all takes place way off the beaten path, in the north woods of Wisconsin. I am not the only guy who played pro, multiple people played in college, and there are a ton of former high school stars and adult gym rats who will absolutely light you up.
As for the basketball itself, games are to 21 by twos and threes. There are morning and afternoon sessions on Friday and Saturday, with two games each session. The top 4 teams play in a single elimination final four.
An important gameplay factor is that there is no time limits on the games. If you find yourself in a 45 minute grinder because it’s deadlocked at 19 and you’ve been trading missed jumpers while absolutely mauling anyone who comes in the lane, well, good luck to you, because you might have to play again 5 minutes after that one ends.
You also call your own fouls. You might think this would lead to chaos, but when it’s a bunch of mature people it actually works really well. Because while everyone wants to win, no one wants to win so bad they’re willing to cheat.
Of course there are questionable calls. But have you ever played in an adult men’s league with refs? Have you seen what it does to once mild mannered people? How it can turn them into a rage filled lunatic, ready to throw down with a 23 year old official who’s just trying to earn a few dollars of side money?
The BPS way is better. Shame, in the form of loud boos from the crowd for weak calls, keeps people in line.
The fact that you can’t foul out does lead to some interesting dynamics where layups are extremely hard to come by. If you’re in the paint, you can usually expect to get a forearm shiver, especially if it’s game point.
My 2022 trip
With scouting help from my boy Danny, my friend who introduced me to the trip, I had a solid target list and got almost everyone I wanted. Besides Danny :(
Everything clicked, and my team went on to win the championship. I think the highlight of our run was an epic final four comeback after being 14-6 and then 20-17.
Then we rolled in the finals. It’s my first time winning in 3 trips and it felt amazing. I could not have been happier with my squad. Every person played their role to perfection and we had incredible chemistry.
I was also extremely pumped to have one of my best friends, Erik, join me on the trip. We used to do ice baths together after battles in college. Now it’s more of the same, we just ice in Catfish Lake instead.
More than a vacation
You can look at BPS and say sure, that sounds fun, but can’t you take a trip to a random hotel and have an equally good time playing in a pool volleyball tournament?
For me, that’s not the case. BPS provides brotherhood, a sense of accomplishment, the release of tension through insanely intense competition, and the chance to bond over meals with people of all age groups. You can’t find that shit on a Carnival Cruise.
People at BPS care about each other. People check in on my job and my life. People want to make sure I’m okay. People from the trip help each other out when they hear someone is in need. I am still new to the group, but I can already see the ties run deep. If I faced a crisis, people from BPS would be there for me.
Finally, at least in my opinion, a run of the mill vacation will feel good in the moment but it won’t have many lasting effects. Not so with BPS!
Scientist and consciousness researcher Andres Gomez Emilsson writes about how taking part in unique and challenging group experiences can feel transformative because they elevate our collective consciousness and plant seeds of hope within attendees. His description of how he felt going to one such event could have been written about BPS:
Experiences where one gets a sense that humanity, if properly focused, could indeed get its shit together, might have a much deeper emotional effect on people than they intuitively realize. All you may need is a proof of concept to create a glimmer of hope.
Okay, that’s some lofty, idealistic language. And to be clear, BPS is not a big hippie fest where we all hold hands and perform chants of thanks to Gaia . You’re more likely to see a keg stand than to overhear a conversation about how to get humanity properly focused on values that matter.
But that doesn’t mean something isn’t happening beneath the surface.
Many of us spend more time than we’d like as part of an isolated family unit, ho humming through our days, interacting mostly with our employers and our screens. Going to an event like BPS is like being given a 72 hour glimpse into an alternate reality where there is more time for physical activity, friendship, and community building.
It leaves me feeling like more of us should be doing what the founders of this trip did. We should actually create awesome experiences, not just hope they materialize. Darren and the other BPS founders prove that it’s possible. In doing so they inspire others and create waves of positive energy that reverberate far past a single weekend.
Maybe all that sounds a little cringey and cult-like. But hey, a wholesome cult centered around basketball? Sign me up.