Peace Tournament draws basketball stars, gang members

September 22, 2012 (CHICAGO)

It brought together members of rival gangs to battle it out on the court in hopes of stopping the violence on the streets.

Organizers sent buses to pick up the players so they wouldn't have to cross enemy gang territory on the way to the game.

Father Pfleger said critics told him it was a bad idea, that bringing rival gang members to his church was a recipe for disaster. But instead it may be the start of a solution to violence in the neighborhood.

Last month some of these rival gang members were trying to kill each other over pieces of imagined turf in Chicago neighborhoods. Saturday, they shared a basketball court. And they got along.

"People here have shot each other, that have tried to kill each other," Fr. Pfleger said. "But today, it's just love for each other."

That's the idea behind the peace basketball tournament, to bring otherwise violent street gang members together on common ground, show them people care and that there is another way of life than what they have learned on the streets. Basketball Hall of Famer Isaiah Thomas is among the celebrities volunteering to help.

"Let em know that we love them and life matters," Thomas said. There's no reason to kill each other and love does conquer hate," Thomas said.

Bulls stars Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson are also involved, as are the Luv-a-Bulls. They are here not for attention, but to try to make a difference.

"It's not about sending a message, it's about listening to what they have to say," Noah said.

The celebrities nevertheless are sending a message just by being here.

"They willing to help us and they're sincere and dedicated about it, that's the biggest thing that surprised me," said Rashad Richardson.

Organizers hope to change perspectives by finding common ground on the basketball court. And it's clear they have made progress. The warm greetings after the game were from people who would just as soon shoot each other in a different setting.

Saturday was just the start according to Father Pfleger. A number of sponsors offered jobs to some of the players.

The church is helping others get their high school GEDs. They also hope to make this game an annual event, but they may have to move to a larger gym.

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