Aaaaaahhhhhh! The crowd went nuts.
The Stack Bundles Stop-the-Violence Basketball Tournament championship was at stake, and Team Riot Squad, down by 14 points at halftime to Team Stack, was on the verge of a spectacular comeback. A shifty guard nicknamed “Africa” had just drained a three-pointer while taking a foul–the four-point play would cut the deficit to five with three minutes left.
Yet there was something more incredible going on. On the court were ten young men from various Far Rockaway sets, playing a game together.
Guys from the front of Redfern were teammates with guys from the back. Guys from other housing projects, like Hamels or Ocean Bay, played alongside as well. The players had selected their own teams, with a singular goal in mind: winning the tournament. Skill mattered way more than set.
“That little orange ball and white net is magic,” says Denean Ferguson, vice president of the NYPD’s 101st Precinct Community Council.
Manny Fiallo, an outreach coordinator for the Police Athletic League, launched the tournament last summer. He’d worked out of a rec center at Redfern and knew Stack Bundles, the complex’s most famous resident. Except he knew the 24-year-old rapper as Raquan Elliott.
“He was our champion,” says Fiallo. “He was the one who would have put Far Rockaway on the map. Like how Nas did for Queensbrige.”
In June 2007, Elliott was shot dead as he entered his building. The murder hit Redfern hard.
“People were shocked,” says Fiallo. “It was surreal. In the beginning, everybody was lost. Their champ was gone. They were just depressed. For somebody who repped his hood as much as he did, for him to get killed in his hood was mind-boggling; no one could understand it.”
Many would show up to the memorial. And year after year, as locals paid respects on the anniversary of Elliott’s death, many would continue showing up. That included young guys from rival sets, Fiallo noticed. Boys from the front and the back would stand side by side, united by their respect and love for the rapper who was supposed to put their neighborhood on the map.
Fiallo hoped to channel that unity into a sustained peace. So, in 2011, he founded the tournament in Elliott’s honor–the rapper’s name and face a reminder of the community pride that brought those young men together at those memorials.
This week’s feature story detailed the year the Snug anti-violence program spent diffusing tensions at Redfern. But peace often requires a complicated balance. Street-level mediations are important. But so are community events like the Stack Bundles Tournament, which pulls in young men with that magical orange ball and white net.
Team Stack held the line and resisted Riot Squad’s final push. Stack’s top player, a mountainous forward nicknamed “The Bully,” called for the rock in the crunch time possessions, putting the game away with an array of low-post moves. He would be named the tournament’s MVP.
After the game, a courtside DJ spun some records. It had been a clear, hot day at the Beach 9th Street Playground. But now the clouds were creeping over and the rain began to sprinkle. The festivities continued. Fiallo roamed the courts, meeting and greeting in his white T-shirt bearing the day’s motto: “Every 1 Deserves 2 Live.” All around him people munched on burgers and danced to the music.
Send story tips to the author, Albert Samaha