Dolphin coming back to the neighbourhood

31st edition of outdoor basketball tournament will take place at South Arm Community Centre July 15-17

What has evolved into one of the city’s biggest sporting events is re-locating within a few blocks of its original home.
The 31st annual Dolphin Classic is headed to the South Arm Community Centre. The 4-on-4 outdoor basketball tournament is set for July 15-17 and will feature top men’s and women’s teams from throughout the Pacific Northwest.
It was back in 2007 when the Classic’s surging popularity forced organizers to start searching for a new home. The quaint Dolphin Park was no longer big enough for the large crowds or the number of cars that converged on the quiet South Richmond neighbourhood each July weekend.
“We had a year or two to find another location. We were not going to get our (beer garden) liquor licensed renewed until we went to a bigger park that was safe,” recalled Bira Bindra, one of the Classic’s original players. “That’s when we sat in a board room with executives at city hall to try and find a good location.”
Bindra and the rest of the Dolphin founders knew exactly where they wanted to go but at that time there were no courts at South Arm.
“Even though we are all originally West Richmond and Steveston guys, this is where we would come and meet,” explained Bruce Watson. It was just a more central location and the best competition (from the three senior secondary schools at the time) would all come here. If it was raining, we would go into the gym and on sunny days we would be at (nearby) Dolphin.”
With South Arm not being an option, the Classic moved to the Thompson Community Centre in Central Richmond where the tournament was welcomed with open arms by an enthusiastic community association in 2009. Two playing courts allowed the event to expand to include a women’s divison.
A year later, the South Arm Community Association teamed up with the City of Richmond to build two pristine outdoor courts. Not only where they the same dimensions as Dolphin, they included fibreglass backboards and state-of-the-art polypropylene Sport Court surfaces.
“We knew there was a possibility they were (going to build this) but we thought let’s go to Thompson for three years while this happens,” said Bindra. “Their staff was awesome to work with.”
What was intended to be a short stay at Thompson was extended to six years, even though it was impossible to replicate the Classic’s original home due to just how barren the Thompson basketball court area was. After last year’s tournament, a decision was made to approach South Arm Community Centre area coordinator Steve Mahon.
“We had been fighting it for the last little while,” admitted Taj Johal. “It was just not the same intimacy up there because it was so wide open. We see a lot of the old by coming back to the new here. I think it will be a fresh re-root.”
“With the trees and everything, it’s a lot more like Dolphin,” added Tony Wong-Hen. “We tried to give Thompson more of a festive atmosphere by putting up tents and that kind. This was originally our home and we have always wanted to come here and we thought this location (of the South Arm) was ideal. It was just waiting for something.”
With the tournament a month away, Watson is busy finalizing the entries in the men’s and women’s divisions. Although new teams are always welcome, the standard of play is such that acceptance is hardly automatic. The tournament’s reputation and rich tradition is at stake.
“It has to fit our mould to put on the most competitive tournament as possible. We sort of seek the teams out if we can,” added Bindra. “We treat the players as our No. 1 priority and cater to them. We are taking away one of their summer weekends so we make sure everything is right. When it comes to the schedule we accommodate out of town teams as much as we can.”
The move to South Arm is also providing the Classic with the opportunity to showcase future participants.
A partnership has been formed with the Richmond Youth Basketball League (RYBL) and a mini tournament, featuring players ages 10-12, will also take place that week.
“Just being exposed to the tournament and the high level of talent they are going to see is going to inspire them to reach the next level,” said RYBL coordinator Jessy Dhillon, who also is head coach of McNair’s senior boys team. “To be on the same court as them with a crowd watching will have the kids on Cloud 9.
“It’s almost like starting a new generation that might want to play at Dolphin one day. How cool would that be?”
For more information on the Dolphin Classic and a link to an outstanding documentary on the tournament’s beginnings visit

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