NBA star Joakim Noah of the Chicago Bulls was first introduced to Cobe Williams when he watched The Interrupters. The son of a tennis player and a supermodel, Noah grew up with opportunity and wealth, but his heart made him reach out to Cobe. “After seeing The Interrupters, he got my number and asked how he could help,” Williams explained. “He’s from New York City, but he loves Chicago and was disturbed by the news of all the youth violence that’s been going on.”
What started as casual movie watching turned into a standing-room-only event that brought together gang-members, NBA basketball players, community leaders and excited fans for a Peace Basketball Tournament at St. Sabina’s Gymnasium in Chicago.
The four competing teams for the tournament were made up of gang-members and at-risk youth, while Noah and the other NBA players would take to the sidelines as coaches for the day. Joining Noah as coaches were Chicago Bulls teammate Taj Gibson, Orlando Magic forward and Chicago native Quentin Richardson, and former Detroit Pistons guard and Chicago native Isiah Thomas. The games were already off to an exciting and peaceful start when the crowd erupted with cheers as Chicago Bulls superstar and Chicago native, Derrick Rose, joined Thomas’s Black Team on the sidelines.
However, as enjoyable as the basketball games were, Cobe Williams, the other interrupters in attendance, and the NBA players tried to reinforce to the players the message that the violent gang-lifestyle needs to end. “Joakim keeps telling me how inspired he and these NBA players are after working with these young men. They don’t want to judge these guys, these guys have options and Noah and these NBA players want them to know that they care.”
With every major news affiliate in Chicago, as well as ESPN and NBA-TV covering the day’s festivities, it was clear that the event was a success. For one day, local and national news would not highlight the bloodshed, but would focus on the work to bring young people together for a positive purpose. At the end of the day, Quentin Richardson’s Red Team was victorious and as a crowd of reporters surrounded Noah and the other NBA stars for comment, Noah summed up the meaning of the day, “Don’t talk to me, talk to the players. It’s their day.”