“This has never been done in America.”
Those were the words of Father Michael Pfleger who organized last Saturday’s Peace Basketball Tournament at his St. Sabina Church. A tournament comprised of young men from four different gangs, shooting basketballs and not guns, at a Catholic Church on the South Side with the FOI (Fruit of Islam) providing security alongside the Chicago Police.
Young men – considering their backgrounds and circumstances – who were given the very rare and unique opportunity to play a basketball game officiated by NBA referees from Chicago (Danny Crawford and James Capers), while being coached by three of the best players on the hometown Bulls.
Coincidentally, one of these Bulls players happens to have grown up just a few blocks west of the church, and is also one of the biggest stars in the NBA. Aside from Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson, Derrick Rose – to the surprise of everyone – also showed up at St. Sabina on Saturday.
D. Rose didn’t speak publicly on why he was there, but he didn’t have to. His presence alone cemented the importance of the event and was yet another clear illustration of how in-tune he is with this city, and how much he cares about what’s been happening in it.
It didn’t stop with Derrick, though.
Antoine Walker showed up. So did former Bull Jannero Pargo and one of Thornton’s finest, Mustapha Farrakhan – grandson of Nation of Islam leader, Louis Farrakhan. Whitney Young big man Jahlil Okafor, current head coach Tyrone Slaughter and former Dolphins greats Quentin Richardson and Cordell Henry were there.
Like D. Rose, former Simeon standout Bobby Simmons was in attendance, along with the No. 1 high school player in the country, Jabari Parker, and his coach, Robert Smith. And let us also not forget the best point guard this city ever produced and the man who spearheaded the entire event, the legendary Isiah Thomas.
Multiple generations of Chicago’s basketball royalty, assembled together with known members of rival street factions, surrounded by the Chicago Police and with no arrests being made. All of these dynamics took place at the same time in a tiny gym on 78th and Racine – without incident. It sounds like something out of a movie.
Basketball is a game played in urban areas all across the country. It brings people together. It has power. That power was harnessed last Saturday and produced a historical event that some were skeptical could even be pulled off.
With all the news coming out of Chicago being mostly negative, the overwhelmingly positive Peace Basketball Tournament came at a time when this city needed it most.