Everything You Should Know About the National Gay Basketball Association (NGBA) | Exclusive
Updated: Jan 19, 2022
Article Co-written with Daley Jennings
Everyone knows about the National Basketball Association (NBA), but few are aware that there is a National Gay Basketball Association (NGBA) currently existing and thriving. Yes, that's correct! There is a gay version of the NBA and its been here since 2006!
Gaye Magazine™ sat down exclusively with the NGBA's founder Mark Chambers and the league's new commissioner Darius Binion to introduce the LGBTQ sports organization's mission to our viewers: to Strive, Thrive, and Change Lives. The conversation comes as league players prepare for the West Coast Classic in Las Vegas from January 14-16th.
The National Gay Basketball Association is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that is inclusive and dedicated to promoting gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender athletic participation in basketball.
When the league was founded there were about 30 teams representing seven states. Today, there are more than 120 registered teams and 1,200 registered members, encompassing 26 states within the United State and representation in Toronto represented.
"We are committed to uniting athletes, communities, and cultures on and off the court while promoting national and international competition," said NGBA founder Mark Chambers, NGBA Founder.
For Information to Join the NGBA visit their website and complete an application here!
Meet Mark Chambers, NGBA Founder/President
Raised as a military kid, Mark was born right outside of Philadelphia, PA and later moved to Northern California with his family. After graduating high school, Mark decided not to pursue college immediately, but rather took a deeper interest in coming to terms with his sexuality and finding himself. He once believed he was the only gay basketball player in the world
In 1986, while living in San Francisco, Mark would play basketball locally in the Castro. He had no idea that other gay players or organizations existed. After moving to Long Beach, CA with his partner, Mark attended a meeting where he learned about gay basketball competitions being held in Vancouver, Canada at the Gay Games. He eventually joined a team of players and traveled to Vancouver where the team earned a silver medal.
By 1990, Mark collaborated with two other teams and created what became LAMBDA Basketball. The organization became more than just a sports gathering, it evolved as a groundbreaking diverse community of queer athletes.
As the AIDS epidemic began to negatively impact the LGBT community, the league struggled with tremendous loss. Between 1991 and 1995 at least 60 players died from complications associated with the disease. During that time, Mark and others worked to create a strong support system among existing players and forged deep bonds that remain in place today.
Meet Darius Binion, NGBA Commisioner
Darius is a public servant and graduate of Southern New Hampshire University’s Criminal Justice program. He brings his passion for sports and more than six years of nonprofit management experience to his new role. As a juvenile justice advocate, he positively impacts the lives of young men and women in his community. His sweet spot is creating safe and inclusive spaces for all athletes. Much like his work in the NGBA, in his daily life he dedicates himself to helping people overcome "barriers that interfere with their ability to live their best lives.”
Growing up in rural Georgia, Darius, similar to Mark, as was not accustomed to seeing openly gay athletes or openly gay role models he could relate to. He stumbled upon through happenstance. In 2015, Darius viewed a social media post someone wrote during their attendance at an NGBA tournament. He later contacted Mark to offer support and guidance as a game day referee. Impressed by the players’ pride and team spirit, he attended a larger tournament in Las Vegas and learned more about the league’s operations.
Darius eventually joined the NGBA board of directors, where he contributes his strong organizational skills and business acumen to support the league’s reorganization and rebranding initiatives. Since then, he’s grown a close business partnership with Mark, standing with him in times of strife for the NGBA and proving that he is more than capable to take on the bulk of responsibilities once he steps down.
Why is the NGBA special to you?
Mark: “Before I created the NGBA, the word “gay” was not associated with basketball… it came to a point where I wanted to be the person that I couldn’t see. So, I put ‘gay’ in our league's title and started saying, “I run the National Gay Basketball Association”. NGBA has empowered me. It’s my baby."
What is the current structure of the organization?
Darius: "We have a working board of directors. Mark is the president, we have a commissioner and 5 regional directors responsible for our operations. Our volunteer staff also includes a finance coordinator, social media director, member relations director and sponsorship/fund development director."
As the new commissioner, what is your vision for NGBA?
Darius: "We want to build upon the work Mark has completed since 2006.Our vision at its core is to strive, inspire and change lives through the sport of basketball. We want to make sure that we stay inclusive as we build our infrastructure and increase our footprint."
If I'm a gay player interested in joining the league, what does the process look like?
Darius: "A majority of our membership is involved in a local league. If you're a new player or have never been in the league, go to our registration page and register. Once we receive your email we will reach out to you. If you’re in a city that has a local league, we connect you to the appropriate league director who will provide further guidance and support."
Do I have to be part of the LGBTQ community to join the NGBA?
Darius: "If you love basketball, there is a place for you to play the sport you love within NGBA. In the words of the esteemed writer and scholar bell hooks, “Beloved community is formed not by the eradication of difference but by its affirmation, by each of us claiming the identities and cultural legacies that shape who we are and how we live in the world.”
How do you intend to include trans people in the NGBA?
Darius: "Trans players are already included. They play in the all gender division. Players that identify as female, be it cis or trans, have the option to play in the Women's Division or the All Gender Division."
How have you all incorporated your support of trans people into the NGBA when many states have made laws against trans athletes?
Darius: "We have created our own play book and support all our players who are members of the LGBTQ+ community by offering them opportunities to be involved in every aspect of our organization. Our board also has made it clear that we will not host national competitions in states and places that have policies and laws that are detrimental to our players and the community we serve."
It seems like the organization is open to anyone, could you talk to us about the importance of your mission?
Mark: "Our mission amplifies the voices of underserved and underrepresented LGBTQ+ basketball players. We work to eradicating homophobia, transphobia, and heterosexim. We cultivate this climate through awareness, education and healthy competition."
Darius: "When I was growing up I did not feel I could be out. I did not have access to a community of people with the same shared experiences. Sure, we can go to a gym and play basketball, but for LGBTQ+ players the local gym is not a place where they can freely be themselves. By joining the NGBA there is an opportunity for these players to play the game they love in a supportive environment."
Your site mentions there are no skill requirements to join the organization. Was that an intentional decision? If so, why?
Darius: "We break our league down into 4 divisions based on athletic skill level. For players with little to no experience there is a recreation or C Division. The next level above that is the B- Division for players that have basic basketball experience. Our Division B includes athletes that have played organized basketball. And, our A Division is for skilled players that have collegiate or professional experience. All genders can play within each of those divisions. Our newly formed Women’s Division launches in early 2022. And that league is for players who identify as women led by our NGBA Board Director Dianna Prince."
For a talented athlete interested, what incentive exists for them to join the NGBA over other organizations?
Darius: "It goes back to what I was saying earlier about being able to play in an environment that welcomes all parts of who you are as a member of the LGBTQ+ community. Many of our players come because they love to play the game in an open, safe, welcoming environment."
Have you guys ever considered creating any programs to help gay youth who are interested in sports?
Darius: “Yes…we are intentional about connecting to local LGBTQ+ community based organizations in the host cities we bring our regional and national tournaments to. As we build capacity and move into a new economy post COVID-19, our board of directors is currently exploring how we can add value to LGBTQ youth."
Any unexpected obstacles NGBA has faced along its journey?
Darius: "Access to funding is always a challenge within the life cycle of any new endeavor. We are grateful to the change agents and early pioneers who help to create anti-discrimination laws and policies that have made it easier for companies to support LGBTQ+ causes and issues. These advances in Human Rights knocked down many barriers in accessing corporate sponsorship and opened the hearts and minds of people who were once resistant to giving our community access to resources.
Social media was a game changer in helping players to connect with the organization. For many years people did not know there was a platform for LGBTQ basketball."
Do you guys have any other plans for expanding the organization?
Darius: "We want to add more value for our membership. From scaling the organization in ways that produce financial incentives our members can leverage to increasing the entertainment and production elements of our regional and national tournaments to helping peak-performing players connect to professional sport opportunities—we are excited about what the future holds."
Is there anything specific you’re looking for in sponsors?
Mark: "Collaborations and sponsorships have to make sense. We have to make sure our brand and core values line up with a potential sponsor’s brand and values. We want to create partnerships with people who don’t just tolerate the LGBTQ+ community but companies who are invested in seeing our community grow and prosper."
Have you guys been interested in connecting with players from the WNBA or NBA?
Mark: "One of our team members in Chicago has a sister who plays for the Chicago WNBA team. That Chicago WNBA player sponsored the local NGBA team for our tournament game that was held in the Windy City that year. We are hard at work cultivating these relationships and look forward to the possibilities of what partnerships will emerge in the coming years."
What''s the most important thing The Gayes should know about the NGBA?
Mark: "We want your viewers to know we are here. There is a place for those interested to play at any skill level within the league, even if they don’t know how to play ball. It’s about being a part of the community. It’s important that people be in a place where they can be seen."
Visit the NGBA.org for updates on games in your city. If you are interested in joining a team, check out their team registration page.