Nov 16th, 2023, 09:00 AM

The Streets to the Olympics

By Justin Kauppi
Streetball players practice in Champs de Mars Parc. (Image Credit: Emma Huggins)
From the courts of New York to the parks of Paris, streetball is sweeping the globe

On the streets and courts of New York City in the 1980s, came the birth of a brand-new sport - streetball. Unlike conventional basketball, streetball players drop the hardnose physicality for a style of play that allows teams of three to put their skills with the ball on full display. With the 2024 Paris Summer Olympics quickly approaching, many in the streetball community are eagerly anticipating the arrival of the Olympic Games’ equivalent, known as three-on-three (3x3) basketball.

With more rules and regulations, 3x3 basketball still bears the same speed and handiwork you’d find in a streetball match on a public court, but with much higher stakes. After debuting at the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, 3x3 basketball has inspired more amateurs to pick up a ball and head to their public court, and its influence can be seen right here in Paris.

A local streetball player. (Image Credit: Emma Huggins)

For Harold Ndong Mezui, the founder of ‘Champ de Mars Basketball’, streetball is more than just a casual game of pickup ball. Mezui is a passionate advocate for greater accessibility in his much-loved sport. “You don't have to be a pro to play against players better than you. You can feel free to be creative on the court, and it develops friendships among people from different walks of life."  “It’s an excellent way to alleviate stress after long days and weeks,” adds Mezui, who was active in working with the Mayor’s Office to recently renovate the basketball and soccer courts in Champ de Mars Parc.

Among the many competitors that flock to Champ de Mars Parc to compete every week is Théodore Weiss. Weiss, who’s been playing streetball for a year, enjoys the easygoing nature of the game. “There is nothing to win,” says Weiss, “people play to improve, meet, and win against opponents who may be your teammates in the next game.” 

Image Credit: Emma Huggins

Although streetball’s popularity is on the rise, and certainly at a grassroots level, Mezui believes more can be done to grow the sport even further. “It already has a regular fan base, but it will at some point close the gap a little bit with conventional basketball,” says Mezui, who believes larger sponsorships and Olympic exposure will showcase the sport to an even larger global audience.

Until July, when the world will be watching their country compete for gold on the Olympic half-court, amateurs like Mezui and Weiss will be competing at Champ de Mars Parc not for a medal, but for the love of the game.