Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

How Alley-Oops and Layups Keep Kids Safe in Zimbabwe ; in a Nation Racked with AIDS and Economic Turmoil, Young People Are Flocking to Basketball Courts for a Little Relief

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

How Alley-Oops and Layups Keep Kids Safe in Zimbabwe ; in a Nation Racked with AIDS and Economic Turmoil, Young People Are Flocking to Basketball Courts for a Little Relief

Article excerpt

Terrance Chawanda got his first taste of basketball at 11 when his older brother fashioned a wire hoop and practiced jumping over him to slam-dunk a tennis ball.

Years later, it was the images of Michael Jordan taking off like a bird from the free-throw line and Magic Johnson dishing no-look passes that hooked him.

But, at 5 feet, 8 inches, Mr. Chawanda wasn't sure he could really be a contender. "Then I saw a tape of [5-foot, 6-inch] NBA star Spud Webb when he won the dunking competition in 1992. After that I started seriously playing basketball, because I thought someone my size could play."

And today Chawanda is not only jamming alley- oops, but is also the founder and manager of an amateur team here, the City Knights.

Amid Zimbabwe's worst-ever economic crisis and President Robert Mugabe's call for mass invasions of white farms, amateur basketball leagues are thriving on makeshift courts across the country. Young men and women come three nights a week for what they say is a joyous contrast with the bleak monotony of their daily lives.

"I love the sport," beams Chawanda. "It gets you out of doing the nonsensical things, like spending the whole day drinking."

The vitality of basketball has found a ready audience in Zimbabwe, where some 60 percent of the population is unemployed, and inflation has risen 70 percent in the past year. Propelled by years of corruption, the country has fallen into economic shambles following Mr. Mugabe's decision 18 months ago to send cash and thousands of troops to help the Democratic Republic of Congo with its war.

Basketball has been around for years in this cricket and tennis crazed country, but its growing popularity with people like Chawanda reflects the power of globalization. Four years ago, South Africa launched a digital-satellite television service that is rapidly spreading through the continent. Subscriptions are too expensive for most people here, but many Zimbabweans head to taverns and hotels to watch NBA broadcasts. …

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