What was originally billed as a concert on a small outdoor stage with pick up basketball as a sideline, quickly transformed over ten years into a popular outdoor Montreal basketball tournament with a DJ spinning records in the background.
Basketball for Peace is an annual end-of-summer event held at Lachine’s Grovehill park that brings together men’s and youth teams from Montreal, Toronto, Boston and New York. It’s also one of a kind; Montreal’s only 5 versus 5, outdoor basketball tournament.
“We knew we had a good idea with the concert and some games,” says Cezar Brumeanu, president of the tournament since 1995. What Brumeanu and organizers actually saw in 1995 was an outdoor concert turn into a basketball tournament before his very eyes.
The original idea to stage a concert came from Edwin George, a local entrepreneur and then President of the Lachine Black Association (LBA). Under the name “snapsoul,” the concert was intended to raise awareness and some funds for the LBA.
But as the saying goes in Lachine, I went to a concert and a basketball tournament broke out. The stage show never took off, but the tournament did.
Teams were slapped together at the last minute using players who didn’t know each other that well. “Hey buddy, you wanna be the sixth man?”
Referees were old court veterans with good reputations and basketball savvy. The rim on one side of the old court was bent down to 45 degrees, hitting a three was as easy as tossing up the ball with your eyes closed.
Volunteers kept time with wristwatches. The points and fouls were written on yellow legal pads. The game ball was borrowed from a young boy who was reluctant to give it up.
Halfway through the third game he called for the ball because he had to go home for supper. Luckily, a worn out Spalding was tossed on to the court. The ball remained with the tournament over the next few years until it was finally retired.
No medals. No trophies. No M.V.P.
The following years the tournament increased in popularity and the stage show lost popularity. Its fame also prompted the city of Lachine to consider the creation of a youth basketball league. The same people who organized the tournament helped found the Basketball Association of Lachine (BAL) in 1996.
“It [tournament] grew mainly because of the foundation of the BAL in 1996,” says Brumeanu. “Once the BAL was formed, the tournament went under that umbrella with LBA selling food only.”
The struggles of a new tournament often deal with money, but not for this event. The borough of Lachine provided up to $5,000 of in-kind services including barriers, stages and garbage pick up. What the tournament struggled with is quite humourous.
Sometimes when the referees hand out fouls they have to ask the player for his name because some teams have no numbers. Other teams have shown up at game time wearing the same colors, and a coin was flipped to see who would be skins. It is all part of the draw of this tournament. Playoff games have gone into triple overtime.
One year the final playoff game was delayed because of rain. After a two-hour wait for the court to dry, the game resumed, but the sun had already set. It took the fire department to rig a big light on their ladder so the game could resume, again. The game went into overtime, and the next year the city of Lachine installed permanent lights.
The breakout year
“We came together today to arise awareness against racism and to play for peace,” said Reverand Gray in his post 1998 tournament speech to over 400 people.
“Next week, next month, next year…maybe some players from different teams will meet again and know that for one weekend they came together for one reason and one reason only; our game.”
With the support of the Federal Government’s Put an End To Racism campaign in 1998, and with support from Le Net Boys and Girls Club of Lachine, the tournament took on a whole new meaning.
“Reverand Gray’s speech and the first teams from the U.S. and Ontario really paved the way for our tournament,” says Brumeanu. “It was also the first year we had a second court and a complete youth category.”
The close proximity of residences to Grovehill Park made it the ideal location to add a second court and hold a tournament. But over the years the youth category suffered -attendance dwindled, most likely because of the absence of the U.S. and Ontario teams.
But the step back was temporary and by the next year, the category was back; the old court underwent extensions repairs and tournaments became part the Annual Lachine Days Festival in August.
It’s been ten years since those first pick up games and this year the tournament will be celebrating its tenth anniversary.
“We need to bring back more outside teams and have some NBA stars make appearances and get some more media and T.V coverage,” says Brumeanu. “We also need to preserve Grovehill park because the city of Montreal has been considering condominium development in the park over the next several years.”
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