The “Sly 5” Hit City Hall

Paul Bass PhotosNBA alum Sly Williams returned to the court Sunday—playing alongside his son, not the Earl the Pearl Monroe; on Church Street, not at Madison Square Garden

Williams decided to “Hoop it Up” this weekend to help New Haven give young people a positive way to spend their time rather than see them get in trouble on the summer streets.

He found himself on Church Street Sunday for the finale of a weekend-long “Hoop it Up” tournament. The city closed down the street to car traffic for the block in front of City Hall, then rolled out a portable court for the tournament’s final rounds.

The city’s youth services bureau organized the three-day event as part of a broader effort to keep young people engaged this summer. Friday night Williams— a Lee High grad who played for the New York Knicks from 1979-1984—joined other noted hoop stars from New Haven’s past for a “celebrity” basketball game at Wilbur Cross. Saturday the tourney featured three-on-three games at three city parks (Goffe Street, East Shore, and Roberto Clemente) for younger teen teams and separately for 18-and-above teams.

One of the organizers, Byron Breland (at right in photo Sunday with state Sen. Gary Holder-Winfield), asked Williams, who is now 58 and works as a health aide, to put together a team. Williams. Saying he wanted to “help Mayor Toni Harp bring the community together,” he agreed to coach a team. He didn’t expect to play.

Williams son, Sly Jr. (pictured), rounded up four friends for the team, to be called “The Sly 5.” Like his dad, Sly Jr. was a high school and college standout on the court; today Sly Jr., who’s 26, lives in Newhallville and works as a carpenter, while also keeping his game up on in the summer Sunday Bassett Street league.

When it came time for the “Hoop It Up” tourney, three of the Sly 5 went missing. Sly Jr. and Darien Tompkins were the only players left. They needed at least three players to field the team.

So Sly Sr. decided to suit up as a player-coach. “That put a lot of pressure on the old legs to play,” he said. His nephew, Samone Williams, joined the squad as the sixth—er, fourth—man.

On Saturday the Sly 5 won all three of its contests, advancing to the finals outside City Hall Sunday. Sly Sr. and Sly Jr. agreed that senior was relying on the younger players to do “the heavy lifting.” “

Each day of the tournament, around 500 young people showed up to participate, according to Jason Bartlett, the city’s youth services chief.

“We’re bringing the community to City Hall!” Bartlett exulted Sunday as rain let up, volunteers unrolled tarp from the temporary court, and the final rounds began.

In addition the hoop games, the activities included foosball on Church Street (pictured playing: city youth worker Stephen Driffin) and a “family festival” on the Green.

A second heated unofficial contest took place along with the hoops: the battle of the radio stations. Hot 93.7 from Hartford had a tent set up right by the City Hall steps, where deejay Kid Fresh raffled off a pair of headphones along with size-12 Adidas Kicks.

Meanwhile, New Haven-based 94.3 WYBC FM set up on the Green, a bit away from the action. WYBC chief Juan Castillo was miffed at losing the prime spot to a Hartford station. So he cranked up the music a whole lot louder.

“This is called ‘guerrilla marketing,’” said Castillo (pictured with Bartlett). “We’re drowning them out!”

On the court, the Sly 5 followed the Williams’ prediction: Sly Sr. directed the other two players, and passed a whole lot, while his son and Tompkins fired off most of the shots. They played a hard-fought game against a team from New Jersey and New York called Code Bucket. They ended up losing by one point, 16-15.

Sly Sr. did get off some shots. He sank a couple of outside shots. He took a few free throws, ending with a familiar ...

... swish.

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