450 Million: World Changers, Basketball Players
450 million. That’s how many people play basketball worldwide according to FIBA (International Basketball Federation). Growing up in the US, more specifically Chicago, basketball is immensely popular. I started playing basketball when I was 5 years old and I have loved the game
ever since. In Chicago, basketball is its own language. The basketball court is a place what respect is not given, but earned. It’s similar to what football is to Texas. In a city that is known to be one of the most segregated in the world, basketball unites. It brings together people of all ages, races, gender, sexual orientation, and backgrounds. It’s an equalizer. It doesn’t matter what you look like, how old you are, skin color, all that matters is if you can ball. I grew up playing all over Chicago. It took me into neighborhoods I never knew existed and away from my North Side bubble. Some of my best friends came from playing the sport and I have seen first hand how powerful the game is.
The most amazing thing to me is that basketball’s power translates on an international level as well. I’ve been lucky enough to play basketball all
over the world from New York to Berlin to Chiang Mai and I’ve realized that no matter where I am in the world, my newest friends are waiting for me at a local court.The basketball court becomes a place to not only stay in shape while I travel, but to have the same sort of experiences I had growing up in Chicago and see how everyone comes together over a court, two nets, and a ball. Through playing basketball around the world, I’ve been offered jobs, places to stay, recommendations, connections and the best part, how to swear in different languages. It’s where I first learned to count in German, swear in Polish, and ask for directions in Thai. Basketball courts are a melting pot of culture and sometimes even pit rival political or religious groups against each other. I’ve been on teams where Israelis played Palestinians, Muslims guarding Christians, and Croats against Serbians. It’s a beautiful thing to watch because afterwards everyone shakes hands and congratulates each other on a hard fought game even though these groups have been told to hate each other their entire lives.
I’ve also witnessed how basketball reveals the best part of humanity, selflessness. I’ll never forget the story I heard in June of 2015 when I was playing with a group of school children in Chiang Mai, Thailand. The court, a cracked concrete slab mixed with gray, green, and turquoise paint set against the backdrop of a
crumbling school and beautiful mountains looming behind it. I noticed an older white man with a gray beard sporting a white T-shirt and blue gym shorts sitting in the corner and occasionally talking and giving instructions to some of the kids. He looked out of place sitting next to a crowd of Thai people. I was intrigued who he was. I went up to him, introduced myself, and we got to talking. He was an Australian man who had moved to Chiang Mai 10 years before to retire. He told me that he got bored, but loved basketball and took up coaching these kids. He said his Thai was passable, but they mostly communicated through non-verbals. Smiles and high fives. It’s a language that is translatable anywhere in the world. He added on that most of these kids would never get a chance to travel outside of Chiang Mai because they couldn’t afford it so he was raising money from his friends back in Australia and arranging basketball tournaments against kids of a similar age in other towns around Thailand. He looked off into the distance towards the mountains and smiled as if his vision had already come true. He then got back to doing what he loved, doling out high fives and running basketball drills.
I laughed and thought to myself how in any other scenario this man would never be able to have an impact on these kid’s lives. A simple game changed all of that. 450 million of us are onto something here. Watch us change the world.