What if you could go inside Nick Nurse’s huddle before the last timeout of a close game and hear him explain what play he was going to run?
Or have Jeff Van Gundy carry a handheld camera and microphone, interviewing referees about their controversial calls seconds after they make them?
How about watching Doris Burke sprint onto the court to fire off a few questions at players between free throws?
Overtime Elite (OTE), the basketball league for 16-to-20-year-old players with professional hoops aspirations, doesn’t have Nurse, Van Gundy or Burke. But it does feature future NBA players and offer that level of access during its broadcasts.
After attending a handful of OTE games this season and watching a few more on the league’s YouTube channel, I still don’t quite know what to make of the second-year venture out of Atlanta. But I do know this — there truly is nothing else like OTE.
Think of AND1’s glory days with an emphasis on showmanship. Add in some edginess akin to Vince McMahon’s XFL with its zany new rules and focus on big personalities. OTE is the Gen Z offspring of those two experiments.
The showmanship of the league doesn’t always go perfectly. The first game I attended featured LeBron James’ son, Bronny, and two future top-10 picks in the Thompson twins. They played most of the first quarter with a thin cloud of smoke lingering on the floor from pyrotechnics set off during starting lineup introductions.
But give OTE credit for not being afraid of trying new things. The league’s Big Bonus rule is another example of innovation that is weird enough to be intriguing.
Rather than shooting boring free throws in the bonus, each non-shooting foul after the fifth team foul forces one defender into a penalty box. The offensive team then gets to play 5-on-4 for 14 seconds, similar to a power play in hockey.
These changes may not appeal to basketball purists, but OTE has become a social media phenomenon with the younger generation.
- Videos of OTE prospects doing mundane practice drills can rack up 100,000 views on YouTube.
- OTE has more than 100,000 subscribers on YouTube, nearly 500,000 followers on Instagram and 1.4 million followers on TikTok.
- OTE promotional materials list players’ accomplishments, ranging from twins Amen and Ausur Thompson’s projected NBA lottery pick status to guard Eli Ellis’ 194,000 followers on TikTok.
The spectacle seems to be working.
With Bronny in the house, Paolo Banchero and other members of the Magic swung by on their off night before playing the Hawks. Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens made an appearance, as did celebrities like Quavo, Druski, K Camp, Mike WiLL Made-It and Swae Lee. The Professor, a former AND1 star, used one of the facility’s two NBA-sized practice courts to teach some moves and shoot some promotional videos.
That state-of-the-art facility located in downtown Atlanta has caught the attention of NBA players. It’s been one of OTE’s main selling points in attracting real NBA prospects.
“It’s a great facility. Everything is pretty much brand new,” OTE’s Naasir Cunningham told The Sporting News. Cunningham, ranked No. 3 in the 2024 class by 247 Sports, added, “Whenever we need a trainer, they’re there for us, no matter what.”
Cam Boozer, the No. 1 prospect in the class of 2025 and son of former NBA player Carlos, played against OTE’s YNG Dreamerz squad alongside Cayden, his twin brother and fellow top prospect, prior to Bronny taking the floor.
“It’s a beautiful arena,” Cam said. “They got the practice courts, the lights. It’s an amazing place to play in because the atmosphere is good, too, the announcers, it’s amazing.”
OVERTIME ELITE: Best players, salaries, schedule & more
Part of the allure of OTE is also financial. Players have two options. They can choose a salary that starts at $100,000 or a scholarship that allows them to retain their college eligibility.
That has attracted some serious prospects, such as the Thompson twins. Following in their footsteps are Cunningham, Jayden Williams and Robert Dillingham, all ranked in the top 10 of their recruiting classes by ESPN.
More important than the level of talent, the fancy arena, the showmanship and the celebrities in the stands is that OTE has built something unique for its longtime fans. They were the ones who were following Overtime in the beginning, when it was an Instagram account known for posting Zion Williamson’s high school highlights.
As one YouTube commenter put it, “Watching these games is a whole different level of enjoyment when the creators of the league, players and commentators are filled with people you have been watching/listening to for years.
“This s— is dead a— like watching something all of my homies put together.”
OTE is authentic. It’s weird, it’s loud and the level of play can be up and down.
But it’s definitely not boring, and it could turn into something pretty cool down the line.