A $1 million prize for the best basketball team and towering former NBA player Dr Shaquille O'Neal were presented by Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar yesterday as she unveiled a plan to tackle crime with sport among the nation's young people.
Persad-Bissessar launched "Hoop of Life—The Sweat 2012" at Beetham Gardens yesterday, with O'Neal as a surprise guest and the face of the competition.
Word spread quickly in the community, and before long, residents, many of them young men, had surged onto the basketball court on 23rd Street to catch a glimpse of the basketball legend.
Several of them brought along basketballs that they held up during the ceremony where O'Neal spoke briefly about his hope for communities like Hell Yard, Beetham, which the prime minister has unofficially renamed "Hope Yard".
He also referred to the prime minister as "a good woman".
"Hoop of Life", which was also launched in Marabella yesterday, will pit community basketball groups in a tackle to the finish for a first prize of $1 million.
The programme is a project of the Ministry of National Security, now presided over by Jack Warner and formerly headed by Brigadier John Sandy. Several other State agencies, including the National Infrastructure Development Company (Nidco), were also part of the planning.
Lamenting the consistent violence in areas like Beetham, Persad-Bissessar said:"The blood-letting must stop."
Adopting a term that became popular during the height of O'Neal's career on the court, Persad-Bissessar said the government was launching a "Shaq attack" on crime and juvenile delinquency.
The term "the sweat" came out of the local parlance for sport in the evening, Persad-Bissessar said, where people would often say they were "going for a sweat".
"I have two hoops in my yard at home, not one but two," Persad-Bissessar said, "It is a great way to keep fit."
Yesterday's ceremony was not without its moments, with one resident becoming emotional when the name "Hell Yard" was used and interrupted the proceedings to say so.
The female resident had to be restrained when she objected to the name during greetings by young resident Kareem Marcelle.
The woman said she did not see her community as being a "hellyard" but as being a "Heaven's Yard".
The interruption did not mar the event, with the MC apologising and saying the woman was very passionate in her love for her community.
But her words were not lost on O'Neal, who later said he liked the name "Heaven's yard".
O'Neal said his childhood neighbourhood was far worse than what he saw around him yesterday, calling the Beetham Gardens settlement "luxury", by comparison.
The former basketballer appealed to the young people of the community to be steadfast in their self-belief, the trait he said which led him to success.
"I was told I wasn't smart," said O'Neal, who graduated earlier this year from Barry University in the US with a PhD in organisational learning and leadership.
"I was told I can't play. But I believed in myself."
He also asked parents to go easy on their children when they are spending time playing sports. "Let them play," he said.
O'Neal said he had always wanted to visit Trinidad and Tobago and would return for Carnival.
The Hoop of Life competition, details for which will be announced by Sport Minister Anil Roberts at a later date, boasts a first prize of $1 million, a second prize of $500,000 and a third prize of $250,000. • See Page 4