Basketball is more than a hobby for Bronx-native Dexter Gardiner. It’s what helped him stay connected with his community after a series of unthinkable tragedies.
“Basketball is what me and my brother grew up playing,” Gardiner said. “It became like a tradition to the Gardiner family.”
When Gardiner’s mother and sister died within months of each other in 2006, Gardiner and his brother, Derrick, held a basketball tournament to memorialize them. On the way home from the tournament, Gardiner’s nephew’s car crashed on the Bronx River Parkway, killing six of its seven occupants, including Gardiner’s brother, niece and two nephews.
To cope with his loss, Gardiner created the Gardiner Foundation — a nonprofit that supports families who experience unexpected loss. The Gardiner Memorial Basketball Classic Tournament will return for its 13th year on Aug. 18 and 19 from noon to 8 p.m. at the Bronx’ St. James Park.
“Basketball is a gateway to get the community together,” he said.
For the first two years of the tournament, Gardiner and his wife used their own money to purchase T-shirts for the players. It didn’t take long for Jeff Korek, a partner at Gersowitz Libo & Korek, to step in. Korek had played basketball with Gardiner for years before he learned of his personal loss and the memorial basketball tournament. Korek enlisted his law firm to sponsor the event, and the partnership between Korek and Gardiner is now in its 10th year.
Gardiner, 52, credits Korek with much of the program’s success.
“We went from T-shirts to full uniforms, from giving out one $500 scholarship to now this year we’re giving out 10 $1,000 scholarships. We went from giving out 24 book bags to giving out several hundred book bags. We went from raffling off one tablet to now we’re raffling off 24, and two iPads,” he said.
Gardiner’s outreach doesn’t stop at basketball.
The Gardiner Foundation holds events year-round to help low-income New Yorkers, including a Thanksgiving turkey giveaway and a Christmas toy drive. The foundation also provides financial and emotional support for those who have experienced sudden loss. Gardiner hosts monthly “Tru Talk” sessions in which he mentors young men by giving them a safe space to discuss their problems. The foundation is both a full-time job and a way for Gardiner to cope.
“Whenever I sit back and just think about all the tragedies I’ve gone through, I break down,” he said. “You always have to keep working, you know?”
Gardiner has no plans to slow down any time soon.
“I love it. I can’t stop doing it. As long as I have breath to breathe, I’m gonna continue doing this,” he said.