On the cement students and fifty-year-old people partake on the playground: and integration here has already happened.
1. The epicness of the playground
Players become our legends, as well as their deeds and the theatres of their challenges: a football field, basketball, volleyball, an Olympic swimming pool, a red earth track or a green rectangle in the exact centre of Wimbledon.
And then there are the playgrounds. Brands of urbanity cut out for basketball, legitimate or illegitimate occupations of urban spaces transformed into arenas, theatres of legendary challenges that transcend basketball and enter by right into our contemporary Olympus.
The storytelling of basketball in America is studded with these epics, wrapped in the charm of the overseas. In Italy, we also have our own, especially in Milan. Among the thousands of stories of cement and sweat, elbows and trash talking, there is one that, rightly, has become a legend, the legend of Piazz, aka Gabriele Piazzolla, who some argue is the strongest of all.
Milan has 120 city courts, the so-called playgrounds, Manhattan can boast one less.
The same number is in Paris and London.
As in all respectable stories, Gabriele had never experienced true basketball, that of the professionals, that of the A series. Unfortunately, he left us, very soon, at the age of twenty-five, in 2006.
The Piazz was a nickname given to him because without one, you were a nobody on the pitch. He was also a street artist: he was eating his opponents, confusing them with very fast balls, tunnels and against tunnels, impossible stunts and stepping back from ten meters from the basket to shoot.
From April to October, three vs three challenges go on for hours, even until late night, on the courts, everywhere in each neighbourhood.
On the cement students and fifty-year-olds peole partake the playground: integration here has already happened.
Piazzolla was obsessed with his game and his physique, he trained continuously, always pushing himself to the limit.
Did they tell him he was too slow? As a result, the following week he became even faster.
Did they tell him that he wasn't breathing enough? The following week he was still running through the camp while the others were destroyed on the dugout. In addition, in the hundreds of one against one, three against three and five against five at the pitch, as in his short career from Series D to B1, the Piazz always gave his best in the match finals, when the pressure, at any level, takes away energy and security from the "normal" players. “Damn, I don't play to play, I want to win" he always said, and in this anti-decoubertinian paradox nested his greatness. Piazzolla was a distillate of competitiveness like Jordan, he did everything to win and was unpredictable, as if he were driven by basketball, sure that he would never betray it. And he was never tired.
The Filipinos on the one hand and the Chinese on the other one bombard the hoop from every position with their phosphorescent t-shirts, in Parco Sempione Africans are masters with their slam: in short, every language is good to call the ball, quarrel or exult.
Like all the champions who disappeared prematurely, he had demons inside that made him swing, they made him move quickly to anger and frustration, as when he threw out the ball with a kick from the fence of the PalaLidocourt because a companion never passed him. And basketball helped him keep them in, those demons, at least until he could.
Because: “tutt el mond a l'è paes, a semm d'accòrd, ma Milan, l'è ön gran Milan.” (which means: “The whole world is a country, we agree. But Milan is the great Milan”).
Because integration in the courts is not even a problem anymore, if anyone has ever done so. There are the South Americans in via Tabacchi and Affori, the Filipinos and the Chinese behind the Central Station and in Piazzale Accursio, the African crushers in Parco Sempione, and there is only language that everyone speaks and does not need many words.
There is the court of via Dezza, the only one in the city with the regular measurement markings of the NBA and the plaque for the Piazz, then the playground covered with park La Spezia, former Coca-Cola pavilion for Expo, that of Trenno park, behind San Siro, dominated by the "Trenno boys", who also have a group on Facebook. There is an abandoned one at Parco Galli and one popular one in Piazza Aspromonte; near the campetto of Via Rubattino, where it is impossible to park, while in Martesana there are also the doors from football to five.
In Milan there is competitiveness and competition, in Bologna fair play.
It could go on endlessly, as never-endingly these alleged differences could be refuted. The fact, however, is that every court has its own rules and history, every arena its legends. At Parco Sempione, we said, we reach the top on the Saturday of mid-June, when the championships are over and groups of players are formed ready to take to the pitch, because basketball never stops.
But the selection is far from easy: the "old ones" command and start playing first, the other teams wait for their turn on the field, sometimes even for four or five hours, unless the star of the day arrives; in that case, he can enter the arena first and start to build his legend.
A basket hoop can house the evolutions of Central America and South America.
"During the year, it's not too well seen going to the field, it's easier to get hurt, fall to the ground and burn on the asphalt, take an elbow from an opponent too roughly, and the C series anyway is a job, they pay us the price. But we go there the same way, maybe only to make two shots. I've always seen it also as a time when I can work on my game, improve the fundamentals. It's since I was five years old that I've been walking around on courts."
The playground is, by definition and accessibility, open to all. Anyone can find his or her space to play, his or her shooting at the end of the season, the decisive stubble. Go wrong, you can always say that you've tried it. At the court we celebrate the victories and fight for the fouls under the basket, we meet to decide what to do tonight and then stay, in the end, to make two shirts and jeans shirt. There are the friends on the court, those who only frequent on asphalt, and the only things you know about them are the basketball skills and the ability, or inability, to mark with simple a single shot. At the camp there is fatigue, real fatigue, but no one has ever complained. At the camp you eat, drink and sometimes fall asleep for a moment on the ground.
The children play the game, struggling to get to the basket with two-handed shots from above the head or from the bottom upwards, like Rick Barry, and the fathers play there, rehearsing the movements of twenty years before and making the accounts again with age. Someone also plays football, bounding the doors with backpacks, if you can find the goalkeeper.
The portraits of "We Play" were taken in the Milanese basketball pitches scattered all over the city, embedded between the palaces, along the ring roads or in the parks; the playgrounds host a variegated humanity, which in this continuous giving and receiving the ball accomplishes an experience of reciprocity and trust towards a possible multicultural cohabitation.