Chicago Peace Tournament
Chicago Peace Tournament (NBC Chicago)

A basketball game in Chicago’s South Side Saturday united rival gangs in a competitive, peaceful setting.

Gang members, community members, church-goers and NBA stars found themselves in the area to witness the Chicago Peace League Basketball Tournament.

The Peace Tournament started with the leadership of Father Michael Pfleger of St. Sabina church three years ago. Saturday’s event was a culmination of St. Sabina’s Peace Basketball League, a league designed to gather members of local rival gangs. Gang members are part of one basketball team and play for the purpose of peace.

Even before the organization of this tournament, Pfleger and members of his church were already active in anti-violence  campaigns in Chicago. They used to hold vigils for victims of gun violence and weekly peace walks in the community. One 2012 night, Pfleger decided to organize a basketball league in their neighborhood that would try to include gang members.

This movement has since garnered the attention of stars – including Hall of Famer Isaiah Thomas, Chicago Bulls forward Joakim Noah, Bulls guard Derrick Rose and Bulls center Taj Gibson, as well as Pistons point guard Will Bynum and Bucks forward Jabari Parker, who are Chicago natives.

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NBA-level referees volunteered to work the games, adding to the professional atmosphere.

Despite holding events in facilities full of rival gang members, Pfleger reports that there has never been a violent incident throughout the three years that they have hosted the games. In fact, their local community has even seen a drop of violence ever since the league started.

Part of the games, which take place over a 12-week period, are inspiring talks by speakers who talk about self improvement topics ranging from conflict resolution, self esteem and financial management. The participants also share meals with each other after the games.

Hundreds of players in the league have gone on to receive their GEDs, with some continuing on to attend city colleges.