Streetball takes over Kikar Safra

Jerusalem's Kikar Safra looked more like the legendary basketball mecca Rucker Park than the hub of the city's municipal government during the 11th annual Streetball basketball tournament which ended Thursday evening. Organized by the municipality of Jerusalem, the three-day event brought together over 600 basketball players from around Israel to compete in a three-versus-three tournament divided up among five age groups on 16 courts. Day one of guaranteed each team four games to play within their age group, while the second day pitted teams against each other in a single elimination knock-out round. "The knock-out tournament was easily my favorite part because it heated up very quickly," said 18-year-old Guy Shoretz of Jerusalem. "Once there were only a few teams left, it was cool because crowds started gathering around each court cheering on the teams." The third and final day proved to be the most rewarding and spectacular, with three exhibition matches and a slam dunk competition run by Israeli basketball player turned model, Michael Lewis. The first game pitted journalists from around Israel against each other, the second brought together special needs children from Jerusalem's Shalva Center, while the third brought some of Israel's basketball legends from Maccabi Tel Aviv and Hapoel Jerusalem back out of retirement for one evening of magnificent basketball. The Streetball tournament was first brought to Israel 11 years ago by Adidas as part of an international effort to spread a new style of basketball around the world. The city of Jerusalem was one of 30 cities around the world to participate in the event. However, after three years Adidas decided to end the international competition. Streetball director Amnon Shenk said: "In 1999, when Adidas ended Streetball, we felt obligated to continue the event on our own because it was something that everyone looked forward to every year." As the years passed, Streetball grew tremendously more popular and picked up a myriad of new sponsors. An extra special addition was the feature game between former Maccabi Tel Aviv and Hapoel Jerusalem players on Thursday evening. After helping Maccabi Tel Aviv old-timer Aulcie Perry run a basketball camp for American teens in Israel, Shenk had the idea of hosting a legends game at this year's Streetball. "Perry promised us that Maccabi Tel Aviv would be there and also that he would get Hapoel Jerusalem players involved," explained Shenk. "It's a great feeling when you can do something for the community, especially when you can bring two rival sides together just to have some fun," stated Perry. After watching a showcase of skill by Israel's AND1 Street team, legendary Israeli players Doron Jamchi, Nechaim Hatlas, Willy Sims, and Papi Torgman graced the main court at Safra Square with a magnificent portrayal of talent and a glimpse into the history of professional Israeli basketball. "It feels great to play again with the older guys again, but I'll be honest with you, its hard to jump back into the game like this," joked Sims along the sideline. During halftime, another very special group came to show their own set of basketball talents, special needs children from The Shalva Children's Center. They played at the center court alongside Maccabi Tel Aviv great, Doron Shefer. "It's a privilege and honor to take part in this mitzvah and I think that it is a very special and positive event for all of us," said Shefer as he helped some of the children with their shooting form. After the players embraced and the legends left the court, Israeli basketball's new faces came to play with an encore performance by Israel's AND1 Street Team and a dunking showcase that included Maccabi Petach Tikvah player turned model Michael Lewis. The most spectacular dunk of the evening went to Ofir "Silencer" Levy, who lit the ball on fire and received an alley-oop pass to slam it home. As the lights slowly dimmed and the blaring music turned down, Shenk was gleaming, "This has been three days of pure fun. Everyone can play basketball, not just professionals, and I know we proved that this year."