Game On, streetball in London
Rediscovering the social side of basketball in the year of Covid
It’s Monday 31st August, the tail end of the English summer. It’s still a warm day, although slightly overcast. I find myself heading to a basketball court in South East London where I have been told a street tournament will be taking place.
In the first year of Covid, all sporting events and public gatherings were cancelled, and many young athletes had to completely give up their sport for months. But it is not just practice that has been missed, the ever essential social side of the game has been missing too.
With competitive games still on hold, basketball player Nhyira Asihene, known as Heish, decided to organise an impromptu tournament to gather some of the young local players.
With the official London basketball league postponed, planning to start up again in November, but still with plenty of uncertainty, he felt a street tournament would be the perfect way to get players together enjoying their sport; “a lot of people were itching to get back on the court and were happy to get active again”, says Nhyira.
“I wanted to create an atmosphere of peace, love and positivity amongst the young people in our community. We are aware of what’s been happening with all the protesting and this comes to show how we can all get along and be united as one.”
At the call time of 11.30, the young players had arrived at the street court in Curlew Close. The court had a palpable buzz, full of players warming up and practicing their shots.
The turnout was unexpectedly high, so players were divided into teams of four with fixtures played in half courts. Just a few days before, news of the tournament had been shared on social media, Whatsapp and TikTok. The news spread like wildfire amongst young players keen to compete and share the court with others. Many of them were part of teams playing in the official London league, others street court players eager to compete.
The matches were short and highly contested, battling to win the first to 15 points. While the games were highly competitive, the atmosphere was one of joy and happiness. The fixtures came to an abrupt stop when one of the players dislocated his knee. An ambulance was called and the player left the court to the cheers and clapping of his mates and competitors.
Once the games resumed, team after team were eliminated. With the field narrowing, the quality and intensity of the games was rising. The final was played late in the afternoon, with all the earlier competitors still around the court to watch and cheer.
An event like this is not only about competing, it’s essential for a community of athletes that find purpose and inspiration in their sport. “Due to this pandemic a lot of people haven’t been as willing to go outside and take part in team sports such as basketball”, says Nhyira. “But basketball and other sports have provided and continue to provide our young ones with role models to look up to”
The brief respite of late summer faded onto a second lockdown in England in November, putting a stop once again to the return of the official league. A third national lockdown now threatens to curb sport events even further. Most certainly, the players will be looking forward to summer days when we can all head to the court once more.
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