Blurring the line between playground basketball and personal responsibility

Jaime C. Harris | 4/12/2011, 4:40 p.m.

Anyone who has been raised in the inner city or has lived in its confines for a significant amount of time is well aware of the cultural importance of playground basketball, which through exhaustive commercialization over the past decade is today commonly referred to as streetball.

In New York City, numerous leagues and tournaments are held during the summer for both youth and adults. Traditionally, many of them, such as Citywide, Holcombe Rucker and the Kingdome Classic have been tightly interwoven into the fabric of the communities in which they are conducted.

This past Sunday, the Daily News ran a compelling story on the history of Kingdome and its current struggles. Held inside the Martin Luther King Jr. Tower housing projects and played on a court located on 115th Street between Lennox (co-named Malcolm X Boulevard in 1987) and Fifth Avenues, the tournament is hoping to celebrate its 25th anniversary this summer.

Although the Kingdome Classic is approaching 25, the King Towers tournament, as those of us who have deep roots in playground hoops knows, has been going on for much longer. Over three decades ago, as the starting point guard, yours truly, along with my backcourt mate, Elombe Brath, son of the great scholar of the same name, led the Riverside Church Hawks to the finals in the biddy division.

But the Classic is in peril like so many other long-standing institutions whether they are summer basketball leagues, small businesses or powerful financial firms as a result of a crippling recession that has had devastating effects on a global scale.

The Classic's founder and director, Terry "Honcho" Cooper is desperately seeking sponsorship of roughly $50,000 to ensure that Kingdome will not cease providing an entertaining gathering place for both local residents and foreign tourists alike who come to watch and mingle with NBA stars, college standouts and rising high school talent.

I sincerely hope that Cooper meets his goal. The school safety officer at Samuel Gompers High School has made great personal sacrifices, including going into debt to fund his endeavor, so that a huge void is not left in Harlem.

As someone who has covered sports professionally as a journalist since 1988 and has the fortune of regularly sitting courtside at Madison Square Garden, I understand that summer ball is when basketball fanatics who will never experience the thrill of securing a front row seat at the Garden have the occasion to interact with a steady stream of hoop stars who consistently pass through the concrete coliseum that is Kingdome, in addtion to courts like Rucker Park, Gun Hill and UDC in the Bronx. Truth be told, the crowd is as much a part of the show as the players.

But to read quotes from the Daily News story attributed to athletes such as Ron Artest and residents of King Towers who warn of an imminent crime spree and a rash of violence that will be a byproduct of the tournament not taking place is at once alarming and disturbing.