A few years ago, the Daila Lama said, “There is a saying in Tibetan: ‘Tragedy should be utilized as a source of strength.’ No matter what sort of difficulties, how painful experience is, if we lose our hope, that’s our real disaster.” In July 2006, Dexter Gardiner did just that, turning tragedy into strength and hope after his twin brother, Derrick, his brother-in-law, his niece, and two nephews were killed in a car accident on the Bronx River Parkway on their way to a charity basketball tournament that Dexter and Derrick had organized to give back to their local community while honoring their mother and sister, both of whom had died earlier that year. The Gardiner Memorial Basketball Classic will be holding its tenth annual tournament August 15-16 in St. James Park in the Bronx, where the forty-nine-year-old Kingston, Jamaica-born Dexter lives with his wife, Sherri. There will be four games on Saturday, followed by single-elimination playoffs on Sunday. The first game pits Team Long Island against Team Gun Hill on August 15 at noon, followed by Team Shane vs. Team Buffalo at 2:00, Team the Body Snatchers vs. lawyertime.com at 4:00, and Team Kurt Flirt All Stars vs. Philly All Stars at 6:00. (The tournament has been sponsored for several years by Gersowitz Libo & Korek, P.C., aka lawyertime.com.)
There will also be a special girls game at 3:00, pitting an AAU team from Long Island Lightning, based out of Island Garden in West Hempstead, against an all-star team from Castle Athletics from 124th St. “I am very excited about having the opportunity to play in the first-ever girls basketball game at the Gardiner Memorial Basketball Classic, as playing the game I love for a worthy cause is very rewarding,” explains Oyster Bay High School sophomore Gianna Gotti of the Lightning. “What Dexter Gardiner and the Gardiner Foundation do for their community is incredible, and my teammates and I are honored to be a part of such a beautiful event. Helping people through the game of basketball is something that is somewhat new to me, but I see myself continuing to participate in these events for the rest of my career, as it’s such a great feeling.” A longtime friend of mine, Sandy Rossen, a coach at Island Garden, turned me on to this event. “Dexter is a caring man who believes that you should look not only to your own interest but also to the interest of others,” Rossen says. “He believes strongly that if you take care of your community and the people and children in it, you will actually have a hand in impacting the world in a positive way.” Dexter, whose motto is “I Am My Brother’s Keeper,” recently discussed with twi-ny how the tournament has grown over the years.
twi-ny: This year is the tenth annual Gardiner Foundation Basketball Classic. When you started this back in 2006, did you ever expect it to reach this milestone?
Dexter Gardiner: No, we just started it out of tragedy, and we wanted to help other families that were suffering loss. We never dreamed that it would get this far, but here we are in our tenth year and we’re excited about it. Each year it continues to grow.
twi-ny: How has the foundation’s relationship with the community developed over the years?
DG: The community sees what we are doing and they love it; they respect what we do and they have over the years become invested in our vision of helping others. Each year the community expects and anticipates the event and often volunteers to help on those days. It’s a great time of bonding with our community and forming a greater relationship.
twi-ny: You and your twin brother were streetball stars. What’s the key differences between outdoor street basketball and the indoor game?
DG: When you play outside, it makes it harder to play, so you really have to hustle on the court and it’s more physical. When you’re outside playing, you also see a lot more talent on the court.
twi-ny: Who are some of the pros who have stopped by the tournament over the years?
DG: Ben Gordon, John Starks, Ryan Gomes, Trevor Ruffin, Kenny Satterfield.
twi-ny: Since 2007, the foundation has given out nineteen scholarships; do you keep in touch with any of the recipients?
DG: Yes, we keep in contact with them and many have come back to volunteer to help at the event; many have graduated and are working, and some are still in college.
twi-ny: Which teams should we watch out for at this year’s tournament?
DG: Team Philly, they are coming out with a lot of talent.
twi-ny: What items will be given away and raffled off during the tournament?
DG: Sneakers from Kyrie Irving, hats and T-shirts from the Brooklyn Nets, socks and T-shirts and bookbags designed by the Gardiner Foundation, tablets and iPad Minis for education purposes. Plaques will be given to nine families to recognize them for the loss of their loved ones through tragedy and cancer. Also we provide free food and beverages on both days for the park.
twi-ny: What will be some of the non-basketball activities?
DG: A memorial program will recognize the families who lost loved ones. There will also be live entertainment, creative arts dancing, a scholarship presentation, and motivational words of encouragement to youth.
twi-ny: In addition to the basketball tournament, the foundation also sponsors the Tru Talk mentoring group. How does that work?
DG: Tru Talk is a peer-mentoring program. We provide a safe space for youth and young adults between the ages of fourteen and twenty-nine to discuss problems, conflict resolution, life issues, and peer pressure and provide vocational coaching. We also do recreational trips to expose our urban youth / young adults to healthier recreation by playing paintball and going to museums, New York Yankees baseball games, and NBA games.
twi-ny: You suffered tremendous personal losses in 2006. Does it ever get any easier?
DG: No, not really, but healing does come when you are helping others who have also gone through similar things.
twi-ny: How’s your game today compared with 2006?
DG: I’m two steps slower, not able to jump as high as I used to, but I’m smarter on the court and can still score on a good day thirty to forty points a game.