6.6 million people expected to watch Maui Invitational
LAHAINA – Decked out in colorful college garb, 2,000 basketball fans from across the nation will converge on Lahaina Civic Center again the Monday before Thanksgiving to enjoy the 30th annual EA Sports Maui Invitational Basketball Tournament before a television audience estimated at 6.6 million.
Fans from eight colleges will fill the 2,500-seat arena along with 100 reporters, photographers and ESPN personnel who will file daily stories and beam TV images of hard-fought games, pristine beaches and our sparkling ocean to a worldwide audience.
Even though they pick the teams a year in advance, tournament planners have the reputation of always including a number of squads that end up in the top ten nationally.
The eight-team lineup this year features ninth-ranked Syracuse, 23rd-ranked Baylor, Arkansas, California, Dayton, Gonzaga, Minnesota and Chaminade.
Chaminade University plays every year as the sponsor of the tournament, but most of the teams are different each year.
The tournament began when Chaminade invited a top athletic conference team to Hawaii 30 years ago.
Lahaina Galleries owner Jim Killett, a former high school coach who has attended many tournaments, said the event is great for Lahaina.
“It gets big TV exposure. It’s great for local people to see talented basketball players,” he commented.
Future NBA pros play in the tournament, and some come to watch the action. Magic Johnson came several years when he owned a place in Napili, and Michael Jordan attended one year.
“You don’t have to sit in a ‘nose bleed’ section in a big arena. You are up close in essentially a high school gym, and fans go home and talk about it,” Killett added.
Boosting the local economy, Killett said “the fans go out and spend money, too.”
EA Sports said the tournament has produced $164 million in local spending during its 30-year run.
Chef Christian Jorgensen of CJ’s Comfort Zone Deli and Diner – who catered the tourney for ten years but will take a vacation from it this year – noted that it is a great personal experience for the fans.
“The gym is louder than most gyms; you get phenomenal players. It boosts exposure to Maui,” he said.
Hundreds of volunteers, including Lahaina residents and visitors from the Mainland, will sell and collect tickets, monitor activities in the hall, help direct cars to parking and, in the case of Lahainaluna High School students, sweep and maintain the floor.
The coaches will participate in an annual new conference and free throw shooting contest with students from grade and high schools on the lawn of the Sheraton Maui Resort and Spa on Sunday morning.
John Groce, retained to coach Illinois last year, said the first thing he did after being hired was look at the schedule. He happily noted the Fighting Illini would be traveling to Maui.
He said he watched the tournament growing up for years.
Coaches have frequently called the invitational the nation’s best preseason basketball tournament during the annual news conferences.
Local fans can purchase tickets beginning Friday, Nov. 22, at Lahaina Civic Center from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and on game days from 8 a.m. until the end of the last game. Tickets may also be purchased by phone at (808) 667-DUNK (3865).