Days after a gang-related mass shooting left 13 people injured, Chicago community leaders and some of the NBA's biggest stars teamed up to help the city's rival gangs make peace on the basketball court.
The gym at St. Sabina Church in Auburn Gresham was packed with roughly 2,000 people Saturday for the second annual Chicago Peace Basketball Tournament, according to DNAinfo Chicago.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel threw the jump ball to start the second game in a tournament that lasted nearly five hours. The games were interspersed with the gang members and NBA stars talking about the issues contributing to the spiraling street violence.
"I want to listen to what you guys have to say," Bulls Star Joakim Noah said to the young men on the four teams made up of rival gang members. "This is not about preaching or nothing, just to show love...Everybody here is here to show love."
St. Sabina's Father Michael Pfleger created the tournament last year with NBA Hall-of-Famer Isiah Thomas and other basketball stars and community members. Though Pfleger was discouraged from hosting the event last year over safety concerns, participants said the neighborhood saw a decrease in shootings and murders afterwards.
Participant Jabril Muhammad, 18, told attendees many of the gang members in attendance didn't even know why they were fighting with rival cliques.
Muhammad, who lives in G-ville territory, told DNAinfo he was surprised to learn a teen from the rival Killerwood area simply wanted to avoid violence and graduate high school.
"I never thought that my brother from Killerwood would have said that, about he don't want no trouble, he just trying to make it to college," Muhammad said. "But if you never communicate, you could be thinking hate, but he could be thinking love, you know, so it's all about communication."
Communication was a key word echoed by many of the stars in attendance, which included Noah, Derrick Rose, Taj Gibson, NBA players from Chicago including Quentin Richardson, Antoine Walker and Bobby Simmons plus Chicago-based NBA referees Danny Crawford and James Capers.
Both Isiah Thomas and Derrick Rose grew up in Chicago neighborhoods plagued by gangs and crime -- Thomas in North Lawndale and Rose in Englewood. According to NBA.com, Thomas' mother Mary (who has an honorary street named for her) once greeted gang members who came to recruit her son with a shotgun.
"Once you get involved, once you put on a uniform, once you put on a jersey, once you start getting to know each other as people, as human beings, as brothers and sisters caring and loving one another, that's really what our message is all about," Thomas told ABC Chicago.
According to ESPN writer Scoop Jackson, "there is no way to describe the feeling of watching a kid who is a member of a gang chase a ball going out of bounds run into a police officer and the officer pats him on the back while helping him back onto the court."
"The importance of it is building relationships," Pfleger said. “We come together to play ball, have fun together. Then we can begin to build relationships and say, ‘Let’s settle problems with each other. And not on the street. Let’s do it in conversation.'"