How Griffin Taylor's passion for basketball brought Team Fancy and a New York City identity to TBT

 

By: David Schneidman | @ddschneidman


Both on and off the court, Griffin Taylor has Fancy on the rise

In the summer of 2013, Griffin Taylor was a 23-year old, low-level employee at Fancy, a social photo sharing webstore and e-commerce site based in New York City. Each day, he packed boxes in the company’s mailroom and prepared them to be shipped out. He made just 50 dollars per day. Like any other employee fresh out of college, Taylor did what he was told and tried to make a good impression.

But it wasn’t his work ethic at the office that caught the eye of his superiors. That summer, Taylor helped run a tournament in Rucker Park, an iconic basketball court in Harlem that has hosted NBA legends like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Julius Erving, and Kobe Bryant. His involvement in the tournament and passion for basketball was noticed by Fancy CEO Joseph Einhorn.

“Our CEO found out what I was doing and told me, “I want to sponsor a team in Rucker,” said Taylor. 

Six years later, Taylor is the Director of Business Development at Fancy and the General Manager of Team Fancy, which is participating in TBT for the fourth consecutive summer. His obsession with basketball helped him grow his relationship with Einhorn and advance professionally — Taylor was promoted to his current position with Fancy in 2016 — while remaining a part of competitive, high-level hoops through TBT. Now, after early exits in each of the last three tournaments, Taylor believes he has built a team that can end Overseas Elite’s four-year dynasty.

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The birth of Team Fancy in the Rucker Park tournament launched Taylor’s career as a recruiter and team assembler. Unlike other newly-created teams, Fancy had a route to attracting big names to play for and support the team. In addition to being an online marketplace that sells everything from 20 dollar t-shirts to 250 thousand dollar Rolex watches, Fancy boasts relationships with world-famous athletes and rappers. 

“We had a lot of different rappers and basketball players that had invested in [Fancy] or supported it,” said Taylor. “We had a Rolodex of names we could go to.”

Team Fancy partnered with rapper Nas for the EBC Rucker Park Tournament, where the team sported jerseys with both parties names on it and colored in New York Knicks blue and orange. Current Houston Rockets star and 2018 NBA MVP James Harden, nine-year NBA veteran Anthony Morrow, and overseas pro Sundiata Gaines all took the court for Team Fancy in the tournament. The next year, Team Fancy partnered with rapper French Montana and brought the likes of Khloe Kardashian, current Lakers forward Lance Stephenson, and New York Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman to Rucker Park to support the team.

Alongside the stars that acted as the faces of Team Fancy, Taylor used his knowledge and familiarity with the New York City basketball scene to find lesser-known talent to play. New York City natives and overseas pros Darryl “Truck” Bryant, Vincent Council, Delroy James and Chaz Williams were all recruited by Taylor to play for Team Fancy while they were home for the summer.

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After three years of playing in Rucker and later Dyckman Park Tournaments, Taylor and Team Fancy decided it was time to tackle something bigger. In the summer of 2016, Fancy entered a team in TBT for the first time with Taylor as the GM and head coach. To draw supporters and create buzz, Fancy had JaVale McGee make a video for the team, while rapper The Game served as a booster. But, the product on the court wasn’t there, said Taylor.

“We really didn’t know what we were doing that first summer,” said Taylor. “I put the team together and we hardly had any guys. I think we only had six guys.”

As a 9-seed in the Northeast region, Team Fancy fell to Talladega Knights, 108-105, in the opening round. Taylor’s sole positive memory from the high-scoring affair was when Fancy’s Shane Gibson broke the ankles of former Raptors and Nuggets forward Gary Forbes before sinking a three-pointer, a sequence that ended up on the front page of ESPN.com. 

After getting a taste of TBT, Taylor was hooked. It wasn’t long after summer 2016 that he started assembling the team for next year. Led by Villanova’s Allan Ray and Arizona’s Mark Lyons, the squad was given the 7-seed in the Northeast region. They defeated the No. 10 Rebel Riders, 78-70, before upsetting No. 2 Supernova, 82-74, to advance to the Super 16.

But, Team Fancy’s run came to a halt in the following round in Brooklyn, suffering a 65-61 loss to No. 3 Boeheim’s Army. In Fancy's second year in TBT, Taylor, who described himself as an “internet guy, not a coach,” had put together and coached a team past two quality opponents. Despite vast improvement, there was still disappointment.

That only grew the following summer when Team Fancy, an 8-seed, ran into top-seeded Boeheim’s Army again, this time coming in the second round. Taylor’s men fell, 60-55.

“The (Boeheim’s Army) 2-3 zone was really tough, and we didn't have the coaching, the practice or the infrastructure to have plays against it,” said Taylor. “It was tough because they were a one-seed and we saw them earlier than we should have. I felt like we were under-seeded.”

Now, with five-plus years of recruiting and scouting under his belt, Taylor believes he knows how to build a team that can win TBT. More importantly, Taylor said, he is no longer the team’s head coach. After speaking with ESPN’s Seth Greenberg, Taylor recruited Brad Greenberg, Seth’s brother, who began his coaching career in 1977 and won the 2013 Israeli Super League with Maccabi Haifa.

“I always felt that the reason we didn't go as far as we wanted to, part of it was talent-related, but a lot of it was because we didn't have any coaching,” said Taylor.

 

Greenberg will be coaching several Team Fancy newcomers in this summer’s TBT, including former Florida guards Erving Walker, Kenny Boynton, and Kasey Hill 

Taylor’s strategy in constructing this year’s team differed from past years. He went after lesser-known guys that have had both personal and team success in overseas leagues, rather than marketable names who played at high-level Division I schools and American fans would recognize. 

“I focused less on the marketing component, and more on guys who I know are killers and can win money,” said Taylor.

Most importantly, the roster is comprised entirely of New York City natives. 

“We were just a small internet company in NYC that leveraged hip-hop and basketball,” Taylor said. “The reputation we built up in those street tournaments allowed us to take it to the next level. To me, we're New York's team. We’re doing this for New York.”