Nova Scotia

Pro baller brings anti-racism tournament home to North Preston

Hundreds of people hit the courts in Halifax this weekend for a three-day basketball tournament to take a stand against racism.

'So I wanted to do something to bring everyone together,' says Chris Johnson

The semifinals and championship games took place on the courts of the North Preston Community Centre on Sunday. (Brooklyn Currie/CBC)

Hundreds of people hit the courts in Halifax this weekend for a three-on-three basketball tournament to take a stand against racism.

The event, called Anti-Racism Tournament or A.R.T., was organized in a matter of weeks by North Preston's Chris Johnson and a team of volunteers.

Johnson, 32, said he wanted to add his voice in his own way in support of the Black Lives Matter movement,

"My contribution to the world has been basketball, helping out the youth," he said. "So I wanted to do something to bring everyone together. Not just for basketball, but for the main reason we're here."

Chris Johnson said the tournament was a way for him to give back to his community. (Brooklyn Currie/CBC)

Johnson played in an NCAA tournament for St. Bonaventure before turning professional. He played in Scotland, Germany and Portugal before coming back to play in Prince Edward Island, Cape Breton and Halifax.

"Part of the biggest reason I came back to play in Canada in general was to do things like this," he said.

Johnson didn't have a head count, but with 60 registered teams of three or four players each he figured there were close to 200 players taking part.

Jasha'jaun Downey, 18, said the competition has been fierce but it's been a fun weekend. (Brooklyn Currie/CBC)

"The last two days have been competitive," said 18-year old Jasha'jaun Downey, who is Johnson's nephew. "No easy games."

Downey was supposed to be heading to Florida to play college basketball, but with the COVID-19 pandemic he's staying home in North Preston for now.

"It's been a good vibe, we had good weather … competition has been real good too," said Romearce Smith, a 16-year old from North Preston.

Romearce Smith, 16, said it felt good to 'get out hooping again' after months of isolation. (Brooklyn Currie/CBC)

Smith's team played in the semifinals on Sunday.

"It's good to get out hooping again after all the quarantine COVID stuff," he said.

The tournament happened at four basketball courts throughout the municipality to allow for physical distancing and gathering limits. Games were played Friday and Saturday in Dartmouth, Halifax and Lower Sackville.

The tournament divisions went from under-10 to collegiate and prep divisions. (Brooklyn Currie/CBC)

But the semifinals and championship game happened in Johnson's home community.

He said a lot of people who showed up had never been to North Preston before.

"We have a beautiful court," he said. "I just want to bring people up. The vibe here is different … they'll get a chance to see the atmosphere that comes from it." he said.

Despite the stress of organizing the event in less than a month, Johnson said it's 'a joy' to see it come together. (Brooklyn Currie/CBC)

Most of the proceeds will go back to the community, Johnson said.

They'll be shared between his non-profit organization, Tunnel Vision Association, and his local church. Tunnel Vision works with youth in Atlantic Canada both on and off the basketball courts.

Johnson said he and his team want to make the tournament an annual event.

"Aside from [being] stressful, it's a joy to be able to see an idea and bring so many people out," he said.