Tryout camps were held on the streets, and city parks such as Rucker, West 4th, Chelsea, and even Hoffman Park in Queens, were scoured to find the best talent. The result is the NYC Internationalz, the first New York City team to become part of the American Basketball Association.
The Internationalz are named that because they have players from places like Afghanistan, Greece, the West Indies and the USA, and it is a mix of first, second and third generation immigrants.
Sharhan is quick to point out that his company is more than simply a basketball team, which is why the motto is, “It’z not a game.”
“The company is also involved in technology and media, youth development in addition to sports and grassroots program management and marketing, so all of these things are things that we work on to try and make sure that we have a progression of all of the New York City communities involved,” said Sharhan.
They go into communities and provide food and youth clinics for the kids, as well as foster in them a love of sports. Sharhan believes that the company has a responsibility to make improvements to the community. One of its main goals is to provide opportunities to athletes that might not have been available before.
The company and the basketball team are all owner-financed, as well as coach-financed. It costs about $200,000 to $300,000 to run the business for a year.
Asked what prompted him to start a basketball team at such great personal cost, Sharhan didn’t quite know how to respond.
“I've been asked that question maybe a good hundred times, and each time I answer it differently because it's just something that felt right to do, so I just did it,” he said.
Sharhan said that they give to the communities, but it’s not a one-way transaction. The community, in turn, gives something back to the Internationalz. They attend all the games and they bring their children, who become fans as well. The support goes both ways.
The Internationalz are currently playing their first season. When the season ends, Sharhan is looking forward to doing a documentary on the hardships that the team encountered en route to becoming part of a professional league.
One of the biggest struggles Sharhan has encountered with the basketball team is scheduling. The Internationalz will be playing in West Virginia this week, but the rest of the away games are yet to be scheduled. All home games are played at Baruch College because Sharhan and Li, who are both Baruch alumni, wanted to give something back to the school.
From a business perspective, another challenge for Sharhan has been learning all the dynamics of the basketball operation as well as the dynamics of the marketing line. A union of the two is essential to capturing their intended audience and creating buzz for the team.
Sharhan hopes to expand their already-big web presence through the team’s Web site (www.nyciz.com). He also plans to send out blasts through their contact lists and through the Village Voice.
It’s clear what Sharhan’s vision for the future of his company and team is.
“The next step is for us to be able to get the best athletes on the floor to potentially represent New York City, and give opportunities to athletes that haven't had these types of looks before, that really have that heart for the game,” said Sharhan.