After NBA event is cancelled, Parkdale bounces back

Here is an article written by Kate Allen, from the Globe and Mail, about Tibetan youth and basketball in the Parkdale area of Toronto.  I was interviewed by her for it and afterward I helped her with getting in touch with some other Tibetans in the community so that they could also give their input to the article. It was published last month but I forgot to post it on here for more people to read. So here it is for those who haven’t yet read it:

Rigpe Dorje (left), Dorjee Galtsen, Tenzin Kalden and Tenzing Chaeyang relax after playing basketball at an outdoor court in Parkdale. Della Rollins for The Globe and Mail

In Parkdale, like other inner-city communities in Toronto,basketball is social glue. When mentors try to impart life lessons to kids here, they often do it with basketball.

Remington Dixon, 19, is a coach with Power Youth and Sports, a local organization. “We have the kids come in, and every time I do a drill, I relate it to life,” he says. “If I can relate it to life, I can get kids to do well in school and on the court.”

So when the annual summer NBA 3on3 basketball tournament was cancelled, community organizers worried about what lesson that presented. For kids in Parkdale, the event was the equivalent of a trip to summer camp or the cottage, says Power director and parent Bruce Whitaker. The cancellation – “it was just bad vibes,” he says.

Toronto Raptors owner Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, which ran the 3on3 Tournament (formerly called Hoop-It-Up) on behalf of the NBA, says the event was cancelled in all eight cities across Canada because of declining participation.

Power decided to host their own tournament instead. This Saturday, between 10 and 20 teams of four (three players plus an alternate) will compete in a makeshift court set up in a parking lot at Queen and Cowan Streets.

Almost half of participants in Saturday’s tournament are Tibetan, as are two-thirds of the kids involved in Power.

For Toronto’s Tibetan diaspora, “that’s their game of choice. Tibetans love basketball,” says Mr. Whitaker.

It’s a sentiment echoed by the kids themselves. “All of our friends play basketball, all the time,” says Tenzin Kalden, 12. (He and his buddies will watch from the sidelines, since they’re too young to register a team.)

Toronto is home to between 4,000 and 5,000 refugees from Tibet, the majority of whom live in Parkdale – the neighbourhood that extends from Queen Street to the lake and from Roncesvalles Avenue to Dufferin – according to the Canadian Tibetan Organization of Ontario. The city hosted an all-Tibetan basketball tournament a week ago, and when the Dalai Lama comes to visit in October, there will be another tournament with Tibetan teams from across the continent.

Proceeds from Saturday’s event will go towards sending Parkdale youth on road trips throughout southern Ontario. Mr. Whitaker realized that was a worthy cause after bringing one of the Tibetan children from the gym to Stratford for the first time, and hearing him ask what the dotted marks on the road were – he had never seen a divided highway before. “Kids don’t get out of here,” Mr. Whitaker says. Their first destination is Niagara Falls.

Wrong Bar, a Parkdale club, helped schedule performances by rappers and DJs. A Toronto team, Air York, is putting on a dunk show.

Velrina Alexander, a long-time resident, is also helping to organize a pre-Caribana party with West Indian food and more music afterwards to raise money for community programs.

“People talk bad about Parkdale,” says Ms. Alexander, “but it’s not the people who live here.”

Tibetans-in-exile and Basketball

Hundreds of thousands of refugees have fled Tibet since a failed 1959 uprising against Chinese invaders. The Tibetan diaspora has taken up basketball with a vengeance. Evidence from Toronto and around the world:

– In McLeod Ganj, the hilltop town in northern India where Tibet’s government in exile and the Dalai Lama reside, visitors can watch one of the near-constant games of pickup basketball on the village court – not infrequently between Buddhist monks in their traditional scarlet and saffron gowns. “They are really good, they are actually better than the kids,” says Karan Madhok, a spokesperson for the Basketball Federation of India who visited in 2008. Rumour has it that the monastery contains a half-court. Two shops in town sell outdated NBA posters and knockoff gear.

– “Basketball is also very popular here among Tibetans in villages all around Tibetan regions of China,” Frances Garrett, a Tibetan scholar from the University of Toronto, wrote in an e-mail from China where she is visiting. “There are simple basketball courts in dusty plateau towns everywhere you go.”

– “I would say it’s the most popular sport here by far,” says Jigme Duntak, a Tibetan basketball player who has played in tournaments all across southern Ontario. “Since we are an exile community and many of us don’t get a chance to meet with many Tibetans, it’s an important method of connecting,” says Rignam Wangkhang, Mr. Duntak’s friend.

– “Economics: It is relatively cheap to pursue basketball, both as a hobby and a competitive thing. Compared to, say, lacrosse or hockey, you don’t need to pay much for equipment, training, courts, etc. The most you have to pay for are sneakers,” according to Gelek Badmaashtsang, another friend of Mr. Duntak. Parkdale is “a dense, urban place…Young Tibetans who live in Parkdale naturally gravitate towards hoops because of the area they live in.”

See the article here


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