The world renowned Venice Beach Basketball Court has played host to a lot of pick up games over the years, but on Sunday afternoon, they played for peace.
After a week of violence and bloodshed that rattled the foundation of our country to its very core, the dichotomy between good and evil was exemplified after two shooting deaths at the hands of police led to the murder of five Dallas police offers during a peaceful protest.
The tragedies brought tears to our collective eyes and tested the faith of all races, who have been victimized by violence.
Sports has long been a part of the healing process after periods of grieving. The world often looks to its athletes and entertainers as role models during times of chaos and crisis. On Wednesday, during the ESPY Awards in Los Angeles, four athletes stood on stage looking to serve as an olive branch.
Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul, Dwyane Wade and LeBron James stood as one to deliver a powerful message about the tragic events, issuing a call to action for athletes to do everything they can to bring about social change. They listened.
California native and Orlando Magic forward Aaron Gordon decided to host the inaugural Venice Basketball League Dunk Fest just days before the awards show at the historic Venice Beach Basketball Courts.
Before the festivities began which featured a children's camp, a celebrity game and the dunk contest itself, Los Angeles Lakers small forward Metta World peace and Gordon addressed the 5,000 spectators in attendance by speaking about the importance of love and peace during these times as they asked everyone for a moment of silence to honor the victims of the shootings.
"Peace is always the foundation. The fundamentals. No matter what we've been through. No matter how many people we're down from in our hood," World Peace, formerly Ron Artest said to the crowd. "My brother did 10 years in jail for drug trafficking. My people in jail for life for murder. But at the same time, that's not gonna change me. It's all about that peace. We are from the hood, I'm never gonna change, but at the same time, I don't want to see anybody get harmed."
"We all came from a place of love and we all want to be loved and I really think that's what the key is to it," added Gordon. "You can love whoever, the person next to you, whatever their skin color is, wherever they're from, whatever they've been through, you can love them no matter what…"
Gordon and World Peace joined former Los Angeles Clippers forward Glenn "Big Baby" Davis and UCLA-basketball stars Drew Gordon and Ed O'Bannon for a celebrity game followed by the Dunk Fest.
Dunker Chris Staples won the event by leaping over a little red corvette driven by Gordon for his "Air Jordan" like dunk. This came after Staples rose up over four children as he did a 360-slam while putting the ball through his legs in the process.
“This is amazing,” Gordon said. “So much went into this. I am super humbled and grateful that they went to such great lengths for me to come out here and put on a show like this.”
The Venice Basketball League celebrated its 10-year anniversary on Sunday but after the horrific events that took place in Baton Rouge, Minnesota and Dallas, the event became "a declaration of peace."
Players, children, and members of the Los Angeles Police Department stood together at the center of the court and joined in the moment of silence for lost brothers, husbands and fathers and prayed for peace before the games began.
Gordon was a freshman phenom at the University of Arizona. He and Nick Johnson led the Wildcats to the Elite Eight round of the NCAA Tournament.
One spectacular dunk made the 20-year-old Gordon a star and now he uses his stardom to promote a positive message to everyone in his vicinity.
“I like to be myself wherever I go around as many people as I can possibly be, and spread my message,” Gordon said. “My message is coming from a place of genuine love and peace. The more that I can spread that, the better for me.”
Sunday’s Dunk Fest in Venice isn’t the only children’s clinic on Gordon’s summer schedule. The third-year NBA veteran has made it a mission to work with the youth and inspire them to achieve greatness.
“Every single person, every single kid is capable and has potential to do whatever they want to in this world. I chose basketball. Basketball chose me. It’s what I’m passionate about. I just want to try and light a fire under the kids and make them passionate about something,” Gordon said. “It doesn’t have to be about basketball, but I want them to be passionate about something. And if they follow that passion diligently, disciplined and persistently, then everything else will fall in line for them.”