CAMDEN, NJ — When reflecting on her childhood, Giovonni Thompson comes back to a couple themes: lots of basketball and the City of Camden.
Thompson’s father, Ronnie, played for the Camden High School team. He went on to play overseas in countries including France, Argentina, and the Philippines.
An uncle of hers was another Camden High alumnus and saw action in Scotland. Her brother, Christian, had a serious injury cut short his time playing under Camden coaching legend Clarence Turner.
With a background steeped in the sport, it only made sense that Thompson had a team of her own in the city that shaped family members.
So, she recently charted a new course: bringing Camden its first basketball franchise.
Set for an inaugural American Basketball Association season in the fall, the Camden Monarchs are a love letter from Thompson to the city and its residents.
“I’m really putting everything that I have into this to really be able to give the city something of substance and something to be proud of,” Thompson said. “It was really driven by my family legacy and the legacy of Camden basketball.”
“I’m honored to be able to even execute the opportunity because sometimes you can get an opportunity but you don’t have the resources to do it,” she said.
Thompson acknowledged the support behind her and the partners and sponsors that have helped move the team forward.
One of the individuals she’s relied on is business partner D. Akers, who had been working with the ABA already.
Though it shares the name of the professional league that merged with the NBA in 1976, the current ABA bears no relation, save for co-founder Richard Tinkham having served as a team executive. The new semi-pro league was established in 1999 and received a license for the name.
Familiar with the ABA landscape, Akers approached Thompson about purchasing a franchise.
And, as Thompson said, she “just went for it.”
“I just felt like that opportunity doesn’t come up all the time,” she said. “I took a risk, and here we are.”
Thompson, known as Giovonni Global and CEO of GioGlobal Management, started the team around the end of March.
Her partner’s relationship with the league gave executives the confidence that Thompson and her group could run a successful organization.
The ABA is constantly accepting new teams, she said, but it falls on the owner having the ability to make the investment. What the investment was for the Monarchs, Thompson chose not to divulge. In a few words, it was expensive.
“It’s a risk, but I feel like it’s worth it to be able to bring something that is vital and give these families in Camden a real experience,” she said. “Just to be part of the legacy and have them be able to look up to the players.”
Once a team has been established, the owner has free rein on picking its location. Enter Camden: a city pushing toward revitalization that Thompson wanted to support.
She looks forward to impacting families and children and seeing the community have the chance to cheer on a local team. Her motto is creating a party atmosphere that just so happens to be a basketball game.
Thompson expects to “lean in on” the production aspect, channeling the entertainment level of an NBA game.
League CEO Joe Newman in a statement said “we are very pleased to have Thompson and her team as part of the ABA.”
“Gio has a tremendous background in marketing and a great basketball heritage. We have no doubt this will be a strong team on and off the court,” he said.
Camden residents will be able to catch home games at the Kroc Center, where they’ll likely spot a face or two from the area.
The Monarchs organization is in the process now of fielding its roster of 12 to 14 players.
The team held its first tryout at the end of June, with the next round scheduled for Aug. 4. An ABA player must be at least 18 years old, but there is no age cap.
Thompson said she’s relying on her coaching staff, which includes Christian Thompson, to find the area’s best talent.
Like any ambitious new owner, she hopes playoffs are in the immediate future. Longterm, the goal is for the team to have its own arena.
But the day-to-day excitement around the team stands on its own level, she said.
“Just having a packed house, and having people just enjoying what we’re doing,” Thompson said. “I hope that the Camden Monarchs can make the city proud.”
The Monarchs are set for the season and franchise debut on Nov. 2 in San Diego.
Tickets to home games will be $10 for general admission and $25 for VIP and floor seats, Thompson said.