The 24th annual Tour de Court (TDC) basketball tournament in Pikesville, Maryland, is coming up on June 17, with 64 players — 48 men and 16 women — aiming to raise $40,000 for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society (LLS). LLS is the world’s largest voluntary health organization dedicated to fighting blood cancer.
TDC is a basketball tournament that utilizes multiple neighborhood courts, with an added requirement of biking from court to court. A group of friends came up with the idea on a lazy summer day in 1995, with an “if you build it, they will come” mentality. It became their annual summer rite, and no obstacle to participation — college, grad school, jobs, relocation, marriage, children — was too insurmountable. Every summer, they convened in the heart of Pikesville in search of that elusive trophy, the Gold Helmet (a spray-painted bike helmet with the names of the winners inscribed). The quality of the basketball being played declined over the years as the group aged, but the shtick only increased.
“The big thing about it is that it’s a lot of fun,” explained Sam Minkove, the event’s organizer. “It’s just getting everybody back together again.”
Originally just a fun idea for a competition with no real purpose, TDC has evolved into a meaningful charity event.
Ironically, it was Sam’s sister Rachel Minkove, who grew up mocking this annual spectacle, who would ultimately become the one to give it purpose and meaning. In 2008, Rachel was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. As she heroically battled her illness, TDC morphed into a blood cancer fundraiser in her honor. Sadly, she passed away in 2012 at the age of 28, but her fighting spirit lives on each summer at this event.
TDC has raised over $185,000 cumulatively, with the funds allocated to a research portfolio in Rachel’s name.
“Rachel was able to see some of this and where some of the money we have raised has gone,” said Sam Minkove. “I don’t know if she would have expected it to become as incredible as it has, but she loved every part of this. This is a celebration of her life, not a mourning.”
In addition to the major LLS fundraising, a large portion of the registration proceeds are donated to The Jewish Caring Network, a Baltimore-based nonprofit that provides support to families facing life-threatening, lifelong, or serious illnesses.
Rachel was a connector with a passion for bringing people together. Even at her sickest, her focus remained on others. This trait was manifested in her enrollment in the University of Maryland School of Social Work for the ultimate purpose of working with young adults fighting their own illnesses.
Tour de Court has therefore become the perfect medium to honor her and keep her admirable values alive. Leading up to the event, participants blast their fundraising pages on social media, hold what have come to be known as “Pour de Court” happy hours, and record trash-talking podcast previews. One TDC veteran, David Steinberg, has even taken it upon himself to write a TDC-themed limerick for every letter of the alphabet for every business day of the fundraising campaign this year.
With opening ceremonies featuring DJ Balagan, local politicians, and sports personalities, TDC has become an annual block party as well as sports event. Kenny Friedman, who didn’t play in his first TDC until age 39, reflected, “I was late to the party, but I immediately knew it was the tournament for me due to the poorly aging millennials with rapidly fading skills, trash talking, and an inner core of doing chesed (acts of kindness).”
Over two decades ago, the band of friends behind TDC founders responded to the mystical message telling them, “If you build it, they will come.” Ultimately, though, “they” only came because of Rachel, to rally behind someone who exemplified courage, passion, and selflessness in the face of unimaginable adversity.
For more information about Tour de Court, visit http://events.lls.org/pages/md/TourdeCourt18/.
By Jon Minkove
Jon Minkove is a Baltimore native and TDC III Gold Helmet winner. An attorney at the law firm of Jacoby & Meyers, LLP, he currently resides in Manhattan with his wife and daughter.