The New York Dominican Officers Organization, the New York City Police Foundation, and NYPD Blue Chips hosted the second annual Basketball Classic at Basketball City in lower Manhattan on July 28, honoring the legacy of slain NYPD Detectives Jason Rivera and Wilbert Mora. The two were ambushed and killed while responding to a domestic violence call on Jan. 21, 2022.
This year’s championship was a step up from last year’s tournament and included police-run sports teams from Boston, Philadelphia, Newark, Atlantic City, and Buffalo, to name a few.
Twenty-four varsity teams, eight junior teams, and four all-girls teams duked it out on the courts, and the sports venue was buzzing with excitement, with hundreds of young athletes showing off their skills.
While team Lady Rams AAU from Brooklyn took home the coveted “Girls Champions” trophy, the championship title between finalists Boston and New Castle Delaware has yet to be decided.
After a long day of highly competitive games, some players were cramping up, and organizers didn’t want to take any chances with their health. The finals will be held at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center, though the date has yet to be determined.
For the kids, it was not only about the game. They were also excited to meet players from other cities and form new friendships.
NYPD Blue Chips players Javid and Zyaire said the tournament experience was much better than last year.
“It’s a good experience for everybody. Everybody gets to come together and be one,” Javid said.
Philadelphia player Zaid Johnson said it was a “blessing” playing in New York City. The 17-year-old has played basketball at the Police Athletic League for seven years.
“I just like coming out here and compete,” Johnson said.
Philadelphia P.O. Joe Bellerby and PAL coach also called the tournament a “blessing.”
“A lot of our kids don’t get to leave Philadelphia,” Bellerby said. “So to come to New York, to the big city, [where we are] embraced with open arms, the kids are real excited. You can tell on the basketball court how they excel.”
NYPD’s first deputy police commissioner, Tania Kinsella, said while it won’t bring back Rivera and Mora, the tournament in their memory was a “perfect gift.”
“[The tournament] will be annual for another 50 or 60 years. We’ll never forget,” Kinsella said.
NYPD Blue Chips is managed by the NYPD Community Affairs Bureau, and NYPD Community Affairs P.O. Darnell Gatling spearheads the program with his partner, NYPD Community Affairs P.O. Bryant.
Gatling explained the idea to branch out and involve police departments from other cities was born after brainstorming with NYPD P.O. Andre Jean-Pierre, the NYDO’s Second Sergeant at Arms, because, “as a police department, that thin blue line, we all go through those things. We lose our loved ones. We lose our brothers and sisters at arms,” Gatling said.
Gatling shared that Jean-Pierre took trips on his days off, presenting their plans to other police departments, which loved the idea.
“It’s been a while in the works, and it’s nice to see it unfold,” Gatling said.
NYPD Community Affairs P.O. Bryant said it took about five months to organize the event at this scale, and the hard work was “all worth it,” and the kids told him they wanted to come back and play more.
“Some of the kids came up short today,” Bryant said. “It’s not all about coming up short. It’s also about just trying to put your all into it like me and my partner did for the event.”
New York City Schools Chancellor David Banks and Ron Naclerio, legendary coach of the Benjamin Cardozo High School basketball team, stopped by to watch the young people duke it out in highly competitive games.
Both agreed that programs like NYPD Blue Chips kept young people busy and active, particularly during summer.
Banks said the tournament checked all the “boxes of the good stuff.”
Pointing to the crowd, Banks said, “Look at this, you got kids all over the place, a wide range of ages, boys, girls. It’s also creating a healthy respect for the police department. It helps to build community relationships between young people and the police, which is a huge deal for us to have in our city.”
Naclerio said structured youth programs kept kids out of trouble during the summer and forged a bond between cops and teenagers.
“[Kids] see a human side to [police officers]. Police officers are coaching them. They’re teaching them; they’re asking questions, they’re relating,” Naclerio said. “The street negativity toward the police officers, hopefully, gets crushed.”