Chicago Gangs Give Peace Hoops a Chance

CHICAGO – Isiah Thomas has worked the intersection of guns and senseless violence before. In fact, it’s something of a family tradition: His mother Mary once greeted gang members who crowded her doorstep, eager to recruit her sons, with a shotgun.

Today, there literally is an intersection named “Mary Thomas Way” on this city’s West Side close to where Thomas grew up, avoided the worst that the streets had to offer and became an NBA champion and a basketball Hall of Famer.

Thomas was working those streets again Saturday. The basketball lifer with star turns (and less successful stints alike) as a point guard, coach and executive was in a church gym on the South Side, one of the meanest and most dangerous areas in America these days. He and several other NBA figures took part in the Peace Basketball Tournament, yet another attempt to combat a problem that literally is snuffing out hope for young people in the inner city.

Last month, Thomas marched with Father Michael Pfleger of St. Sabina to raise awareness about gang violence and Chicago’s soaring murder rate. This time, Thomas – along with Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson, Quentin Richardson, Zach Randolph, the Chicago Bears’ J’Marcus Webb and others – was trying to bridge the gap between rivals with basketball, using the celebrity of the sports stars to deliver messages about, well, communicating.

“It’s a historical event where the gangs are coming together and they’re going to play a game involving peace, to stop the killing,” Thomas said. “Murder has run rampant in Chicago the last couple years, but gangs are calling a truce for this. By getting them to come together and play a sport, they might come to know each other. We believe it’s hard to kill someone if you get to know him.”

Teams from four parts of the rough Englewood and Gresham neighborhoods were pulled together for two games. The players in some cases never had played with their teammates and, given the divisions between gangs, might never have spent time under the same roof.

“The importance of it is building relationships,” Pfleger said. “We come together to play ball, have fun together. Then we can begin to build relationships and say, ‘Let’s settle problems with each other. And not on the street. Let’s do it in conversation.’ “

The St. Sabina gym was packed and security was tight. Chicago police patrolled outside and members of the Nation of Islam handled security inside, but NBA referees Danny Crawford and Jim Capers were the authorities on the court.

The NBA celebrities spoke to the players and coaches at length in a panel-style discussion in the rectory before they took the floor, with Noah and Gibson squared off as honorary coaches for the first game. Bulls star Derrick Rose made an appearance, as did Simeon High’s highly touted player Jabari Parker. The event got heavy media coverage from Chicago TV affiliates, newspapers and Web sites, part of the plan to spread the impact beyond one afternoon in one gym.

“These cats comin’ down tells these brothers, ‘We care about you. We love you,’ ” Pfleger said. “You see the reaction. People are so thrilled, so excited. This isn’t happening at the United Center. This is happening on 79th St. That’s the key.”

27 Comments

  1. Ben says:

    dumb kids do dumb things

  2. Ben says:

    Amazing im crazy crazy dumb for O.J. Mayo

  3. X says:

    metta world peace should have joined this

  4. yolanda says:

    first of all giving hounor to GOD in jesus name you all want to take God out of everything you think you got the solution for everything. But dont you know that God eyes is in all places and he can do a better job than we can.about a month a go God told me that we are living in perlouse time. im not saying that things cant be change but i know that God word cant change .. so america have allowed this stuff to happen by allowing the kids to disrespect there parents throught tv, radio, music and so on know we want a better place but we are living in a dog eat dog world im a born again and im praying daily . give your life to Jesus and you will see a change he change me i was the worst femail on earth

  5. Chillbert says:

    Is there any footage to be had on the internet? I’d be interested in watching some at least of it…

    If anybody wants to help me out, you can send me email to hilbertp(at)gmail(dot)com

    Thanks.

    Chillbert

  6. Codie says:

    I was there and got the chance to meet and chat. It was a pleasure having this even in my community. ^__^

  7. Anonymous says:

    thought there was gonna be pictures and everything. Now I’ma have to check out the chicago tribune or something, lol

  8. DENVER NUGGETS WILL WIN says:

    DENVER NUGGETS 2013 NBA CHAMPIONS for sure!

  9. Fefe (Nets) says:

    This is great news. Anything that can bring peace and understanding between human beings is a positive thing.

  10. thejerr says:

    best news ive read all this offseason

  11. billcollector1999 says:

    no d.wade? great for chicago…
    to bad this didnt make national media their more worried about what outfit westbrook is wearing today

  12. Nick@nite says:

    With all the negative stuff going on in chicago, happy to see some nba players come together for a great cause

  13. charlie says:

    Good to see young brothers standing up for a valuable cause!!! If only they could do that everywhere in the country…

  14. wow says:

    Can’t stand Joey Crawford…but wow, nothing but respect for him donating his time to this important cause. Great that the players get waht it takes to tamp down on these conflicts. Even if it only buys a few months of peace, who could say it’s not worth it?

  15. Keyon says:

    This is what pure basketball is. This is basketball at its best.

  16. Denzo says:

    Thats sick. Great news, hope those guys learn something. Life is given to you, enjoy it! Cause it aint easy!

  17. Positivity Lives says:

    Love & Basketball: Real recognize Real, The Way Game recognize Game… Let’s get more of this!

  18. James says:

    Incredible story. Any effort that can help end these senseless crimes. Talk about basketball without borders!

  19. Derrick says:

    This is the best news I’ve read all week! I have a new level of respect for “Zeke”.