Relocating tourney tough, but right call

Yes, the Maui Invitational men’s college basketball tournament was moved to Asheville, N.C., for all the right reasons.

The health of players, coaches, fans and Maui residents had to come first. It would have made absolutely no sense to fly teams here to play in an empty, or near-empty, Lahaina Civic Center. Open the doors and pack it with boosters as the pandemic surges across the country? That could have been catastrophic for our island.

We understand, but that doesn’t make missing Texas’ thrilling, buzzer-beating championship win over North Carolina any easier to swallow for Maui hoop fans, vendors, volunteers and media. For those of us who charge our batteries on the jolts of athletic and coaching excellence the Maui Invitational provides, Thanksgiving week was just not the same. Of course, what has been in the year 2020?

For the record, the 17th-ranked Longhorns edged the 14th-ranked Tar Heels on a last-second jumper, 69-67, to win the Camping World Maui Invitational at Harrah’s Cherokee Center in Asheville Wednesday. In claiming its first Maui title, Texas denied North Carolina its fifth, which would have tied it with archrival Duke for most all-time tournament crowns.

This marked the first time in the event’s 37-year history that it was not played on the Valley Isle. Let’s hope it’s the last. Event organizer KemperLesnik is saying all the right things, including that longtime title sponsor Maui Jim, which stepped away for one year, has agreed to a long-term deal.

That is great news for tournament fans. As we have seen many times before on Maui, locking in a title sponsor is key to an event’s stability and longevity. A prime example is the commitment Sentry Insurance has made by signing a 10-year sponsorship deal to host the PGA Tour’s Sentry Tournament of Champions at the Kapalua Plantation Course through 2030.

On the flip side, there are many events that enjoyed success here before fading away, like the Champions Skins, LPGA Women’s Kemper Open and Hawaii Winter Baseball League. All were popular and fun, but couldn’t continue when their financial backing dried up.

The Maui Pro presented by Roxy is a women’s World Surf League Championship Tour event that has had several different title sponsors over the years. The annual gathering of the best pro female surfers in the world is back again, having kicked off its waiting period Friday at Honolua Bay. Not counting a few youth rodeos, some basketball and baseball games, this is the first sporting event to be held on Maui since the pandemic shut things down.

Events like the Maui Invitational, Sentry TOC and Maui Pro bring so much to this island, from national media exposure and economic boost, to providing our youngsters with the chances to experience up close how some of the world’s best practice and compete. We wish the surfers and support staff a safe and healthy contest. To the PGA golfers and college hoopsters, we look forward to seeing you on Maui next year.


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