East Harlem Basketball



Javier Sarmiento

Bounce. Bounce. Swish. Bounce. Swish.


“Hey, I got rebound! Who got next though?”


“And-one!” “You can’t guard me bro.”


The sound of people playing basketball on the outdoor courts in East Harlem, New York.  On the sidelines of the courts, there were people waiting to play next. When asked, “What’s good?” They give me head nods while sitting at benches to talk and watch the games.

Basketball offers young people a chance to improve their lives. Playing basketball, running up and down the court, is a fun feeling. You aren’t focused on what you don’t have or paying bills. You are just living life to the fullest.

Through basketball, it is learned that hard work, discipline, dedication can lead to success in life. People see their favorite players on TV like LeBron James, Steph Curry, Kyrie Irving and try to emulate their style of play. But, with the fame comes hard work behind the scenes when no one is watching.  Continue to work hard on your craft because you could bring your family out of poverty and start generational wealth.




Jacob Grant, a high school sophomore on his basketball team, discussed how living in Harlem has shaped his goals after high school. “Seeing the lack of opportunities around here and wanting to put my family in a better place pushes me to work harder every day,” said Grant.

To Grant, basketball is a vehicle to accomplish his goals. “I’m working for a scholarship to play college basketball, then work until I’m NBA ready,” said Grant.




In East Harlem, The NBA feels like the pinnacle of success and attainable for a simple reason. Going back to the earlier point, people see their favorite players on TV like LeBron James, Steph Curry, Kyrie Irving and try to emulate their style of play. There is a general sense of belief that players can play at the highest level. Harlem has produced players that have played in the NBA as well. ;NBA players and Hall of Famer and eight-time NBA champion Tom “Stach” Sanders, three-time NBA champion Charlie Scott, three-time NBA champion Mario Elie, 2003 NBA All-Star Jamal Mashburn, Mohamed Bamba, Walter Berry and Julius Hodge. There is proof that players are produced from East Harlem and Harlem in general who are good enough to play at the highest level.


The community is composed of Hispanic, African Americans, and Asians. Moreover, policing    seems to be at its highest. There are police on the buses, police on the subways, police near a park or building — they are everywhere. It doesn’t make it much better that 25% of East Harlem have less than a high school diploma, and that only 19% of East Harlem residents have some sort of college experience or an associate degree.  Given this, I try to put my best foot forward because nobody said life was going to be easy.


Samuel Thomas is a high school senior who has committed to a Division 1 school in the fall.  He talked about how basketball in New York prepared him for college and beyond.  “Basketball over here is no joke. Either you show up and show out or get kicked off the court.  You have to have a killer mentality that whoever is guarding you, cannot stop you at all from scoring and dominating,” Thomas said. To Thomas, it is all about keeping it all in perspective. “I’m the first person in my family to go to college, on a full-ride scholarship to play basketball and possibly change my family’s and community’s lives,” said Thomas.



East Harlem is a small community. If you walked by, you would experience a plethora of things going on. You would smell the pizza of Mama Tina’s Pizzeria. You would hear the honking of the car horns in traffic. You would see people selling items on the street, trying to make a profit to feed their families. Basketball in East Harlem is a different sense of scenery. People are grinding for a once in a life chance to be NBA players, and it seems that with everything against them, they will make it happen. This is the place I call home, and it’s a wonderful place to be when you’re in the right place at the right time.