It’s a hot Friday afternoon at Shooters Club in Kigali, Rwanda. Two basketball teams are playing an intense pick up game. Five other players are seated court side waiting for their turn to play. The first team to score 15 points wins and earns an opportunity to play against the next group. Game 15, as they call it is a win or sit affair. The competition is informal and rules are less enforced but winning is everything.
"I usually play here late in the evening but today I came early and played in the scorching sun. Friday afternoon players are younger and more dynamic. I am not used to the afternoon heat and the young fellas’ pace but I guess I was not a liability to my team." Said Patrick, an employee of the Ministry of Justice.
Patrick, like many other streetballers, turns to basketball for an emotional uplift and blowing off steam after a long day in the office.
Regular ballers have an addictive relationship with playground hoops. They see their local basketball courts the same way regular beer consumers see their local bars.
American street ball blogger, Thomas Beller, runs to the park to play ball often. The running part helps him to warm up but there is more to it than simply warming up."It always feels like I am running away from something or running to catch something. There is desperation in that run." He says.
Didier, a RwandAir cabin crew member goes to Club La Palisse to play whenever he finds free time between flights. Sometimes he shows up at odd hours and finds himself alone on the court. When that happens, he plays alone. It’s amazing how deep you can get into the game while playing alone, unleashing elaborate moves, losing imaginary defenders with vicious crossovers and hitting last second shots over and over again.
Back to Shooters Club, there are no coaches to yell instructions but a lot of trash talking takes place. Players humiliate opponents with ankle-breaking crossovers and verbal shots. Nothing is personal, it’s all part of the streetball culture.
At the heart and soul of our cities, streetball is made popular by the leisure interests of our culturally diverse communities. Its growing popularity has attracted attention from event organizers who inturn, are turning this casual basketball phenomenon into a marketing platform. Promotion of products and services through streetball events is now a growing trend involving PA equipment, DJs and MCs.
Traditional ballers will always find solace on their local playgrounds with or without the hype the marketing aspect has brought to the game. True ballers are driven by passion.
"Once in a while, we do BBQ and blast music while playing with invited ballers from other neighborhoods." Says Biggie from Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. "Every new year’s eve, we put hoops in the middle of Sokoine Drive (after securing official permission from the authorities) and play ball all night long. We also stage 3-point shootouts and slam dunk contests. We celebrate every new year playing ball." He added.
Most people spend their leisure time on the sofa flipping through TV channels. Streetball players have chosen a more satisfying pursuit which refreshes more than kicking back and relaxing. Physical hobbies can bring you joy, increase your attention to detail, keep your mind sharp, expand your creativity and help you meet people and make new friends.
Sports hobbies bring additional money can’t buy benefits. Exercising boosts your testosterone level, keeps you healthy, starves off depression and soothes your stress. Sounds like a good doze of what each of us needs.
From Kigali to New York, Luanda to Sydney, streetball breaks cultural barriers and unites people from diverse backgrounds.
While visiting China, an American engineer namely Scott, entered the Beijing University of International Business and Economics through the western gate, walked for about 150 meters and turned left. He saw ten basketball courts, six towering flood lights’ concrete poles and two hundred people playing the game they love. He joined them and made new friends. He doesn’t speak Chinese but streetball is a Lingua Franca connecting ballers from all over the world.