Two teams met on a basketball court on Saturday. They converged to play at a suburban private school which looked more like a convention centre with an upscale coffee shop.
One team had moms and dads and little brothers or sisters lining the court in soft cushy chairs. Their entourage fueled them up with good food, handed them their freshly washed uniforms, and drove them to the game on time. They cheered wildly for them when their team scored, and shouted out, "good try" when the other team did. One team was comprised of mostly blond ponytails, and wearing brand-name basketball shoes. Their coaches cheer them on. One even sits with them during breaks in the tournament and chats about all of the things that matter. When they're hungry, they grab the ziplock bags stuffed with cash that their moms gave them at the start, and wander over to the canteen to go and pick whatever they want. They are kind, polite, and respectful. They play hard, and want to win.
The other team walks in alone. There are no parents cheering from the sidelines for them. Many of their parents don't even know where they are. They piled into a few vans to make the trek to the part of the city most of them have never been to before. There is so much empty space here, so unlike their neighborhood. No one has blond hair on their team. Some of them wear tight braids, one of them, a hijab. They've got one coach who threw their team together. When they walk through the school that the tournament is in they shake their heads. "This is a school?", they wonder. Their tummies grumble in between but they just keep playing. They're used to fending for themselves. No one is gushing over their play or making sure they are ready for the next game. They are tough, independent, jaded, and have seen it all. More than kids should. They play hard and want to win.
Both teams arrive at the game ready to play. It starts well with basketball as the focus. Soon things unravel. The other team starts scratching and pushing. There are gasps from the one team's parents and looks to the refs. Not much is done. Then it escalates. There is shoving, arms around necks, and tugs to the ground. It's disconcerting to the one team. They aren't used to this. They fight for the ball the way they were taught because it's the way they were taught. That's how you do it - the way you were taught, or so it seems. The one team beats the other team, and the lines are made to file by and shake hands. Some on the other team refuse. One of them punches a member of one team in the stomach as she walks by. There is anger from losing, and maybe anger for more.
At lunch, I talk to the girls from the one team as they stop to try to make sense of the aggressive and vicious play they experienced. I try to put things into context. "These girls are from a different world. They live in the inner-city. They are from worn-torn countries and have seen more than you can imagine. They are used to fighting and battling, and clawing away to get everything they have. It's what they have to do. It's the way they were taught. It's their survival instinct."
I wonder, later, how the other team felt walking through the wide spacious hallways and lobby of the big suburban private school. How they makes sense of the blond pony-tails and the sidelines full of parents cheering and supporting while they play for no one but themselves. How much of that makes them want to push and shove and hit and scratch the ones around them who appear to have everything?
Sometimes basketball is more than just playing a game.