Updated: Dec 16, 2021
This semester has been quite a long one. Both mentally and physically but Mr. Sternbach has definitely pushed me into trying new things, breaking boundaries and becoming a way better photographer now than I was 6 months ago. I went into our photojournalism project wanting to create something that was an extension of the project I was already working on for Kodak but ended up working on something entirely different. "Love Hoops" is an examination of how sports (and basketball in particular) saves black youth from the streets and opens doors for a brighter future. There also was an unintentional photo metaphor across the images comparing how fights on the court are almost directly comparable to battles fought on the street. I met so many creative & caring people working through these few weeks and I'm hoping to continue this project through the beginning half of 2022.
I walked into the gym in Bed-stuy, Brooklyn not knowing what to expect. Surrounded by strangers, too out of shape to play myself. I didn't really look like I belonged but the CEO of the company accepted me in and 1 by 1 introduced me to everyone that would be playing that day. Some people immediately took a liking to my presence more than others, they wanted their photo taken of them playing ball after all but there were 2 people that stood out in the crowd to me. David, a 40+ year old father, tattoos head to toe that carried himself with a certain swagger that seemed familiar to me. And Malik, mid 20s, jumping out of the gym and an energy that nobody else there could replicate. A few minutes into me walking in my friend Billy (who introduced me to this basketball association) was giving me the rundown of who was there and he let it slip that David at one point in time was a gang member in the Pirus Bloods from Los Angeles, California. Though it's not something that he takes pride in, now that he has a son and wants better for him while I was setting up on my first day in the gym he walked past me, sized me up and flashed me a gang sign. I guess to see how I would react in return.
Shooting the games was so chaotic, inching around the sideline until my presence was ignored, trying to be a fly on the wall as much as I could (being the wide bear that I am) then progressing my way to mid-court to be fully immersed in the action. With every game the intensity rose, arguments ensued over foul calls as I overheard "Do you know who I am. I'm that nigga." Chests were puffed up, people were getting in each other's faces. As the players began to square up a voice of reason from the sideline screamed "Just shut up and shoot for it." Elvin walked to the 3 point line, set himself, made the shot and screamed "Ball don't lie!" Then the game continued like it never stopped.
Malik reached out to me after one of my days at the gym and expressed interest in working with me further. I thought this would be a great opportunity to turn this into an interview on what basketball has done for him in his life. We met up at pier 32 downtown and found one of the open courts to shoot around and have a chat. He told me that everyone in his family is either in a gang or in jail and basketball saved his life. After playing basketball at St. john’s university for 4 years he wasn't able to play professionally in the NBA but that didn't stop him from pursuing his dreams and he signed a contract to play in Europe, where he would still be today if it wasn't for the pandemic forcing him back to the states. Malik acknowledged the harsh reality that only the 1% of the 1% get to play professional sports and he wasn't fortunate enough to make it but he also knows how important it is to minority communities and most of his time now goes towards coaching and helping the youth reach higher heights than they ever could have imagined. "It hurts when you see someone with so much promise, lose it all to the streets. That's something nobody should have to deal with and it has become my life goal to open doors and create opportunities for those less fortunate than myself, as others did for me on my way growing up."
This is nowhere near the end of this project for me. In a meeting with Roudy, the CEO of Love Hoops NYC, last Sunday we had talks of what we could work on moving forward. He wants to make a photobook, create events for kids and find some sponsors for us to work together on everything in the future.