Most children in Brazil of every social class love to play the countries' past time of Football. Favelas are no different as football rules here with almost every kid wanting to be the next Neymar Jr. But not everybody.
But there has been a change. In the last 7-8 years I have seen children involved in other sports like Surfing, Volleyball, Futevolley or MMA (Mixed Martial Arts?UFC). If you look at Brazilian Olympic Teams, other sports dominate too like Swimming (Cesar Cielo), Gymnastics (Arthur Zanetti, Diaine Dos Santos) and Judo (Flavio Canto, Rafaela Silva).
But recently I have noticed an interest in Basketball. My friend organizes pick up basketball games in Cachopa and the quadra every Saturday morning. Many volunteers who stay in Rocinha have played with the group. I also met a guy who owns a Ice Cream shop near the bottom of Rocinha who has a social project called New Basquet Rocinha. His NGO combines the values of having a good education with playing basketball.
I remember hearing a few weeks ago about the NBA having some sort of development program here for youth and I thought, wow, the NBA coming to Rocinha and offering a program, Awesome! This is when I heard about one of our local players competing in the USA. Not exactly the NBA but let me explain.
Leandro Lima de Souza was born in Rocinha. Right off he grew up in tough times, losing his father when he was only 3 years old. His mother after seeing her son turn 10 years old decided it would be best if they move. She decided on this wanting to prevent her son from getting involved in drug trafficking. So she sold her house in Rocinha and moved to Niteroi to a smaller community. At 14 his mother enrolled him in the Botafogo Basketball club. She worked two jobs to provide his monthly fees but after 3 weeks he quit and returned to Sao Goncalo and joined a project in Salgueiro favela called CSU Acobbasa run by professor Jhen. A young Leandro developed his skills and saw he enjoyed playing basketball.
After age 16 he returned to Rocinha and joined up with Umuarama a club on the Gavea side of Rocinha, that sits just outside the favela. The coordinator is Paulo Amendoim a famous community leader, tour guide and friend who has been involved with youth projects for years. Leandro developed his skills more until he joined with the Flamengo club from ages 19 until age 21. He also had time to play with other teams such as Vasco and Fluminense.
He started getting more involved in street ball. He would play his regular team games then go off and play street ball or 1 on 1 games. As time went on he preferred more the street ball, but still continued playing team basketball and had the chance to travel and play in the Bronx, New York, France and Spain. Also developing along the way as a member of a team playing against the Harlem Globe Trotters. He is 2 time Brazilian Champion in Street ball competition called King of the Rock. Here is one of his King of the Rock videos vs Tikin. It was soon after that he got invited to New York to represent Brazil in Fightball. A very aggressive version of 1 on 1 Basketball.
Check out a quick video here about Leandro.
Leandro is now 32 years old and married. He resides in Spain with his wife but Rocinha he holds close. He has a daughter from his previous marriage and likes to visit her and his mother who still resides in Niteroi. He works as a life guard part time and the rest of the time he is playing in these sponsored 1 on 1 type tournaments where he can earn some money.
A day in the life and Basketball training of Leandro
He just returned to Rocinha after playing in a fightball tournament in New York City last month. The tournament starts with 8 players playing in a single elimination tourney. Games are 8 minutes long. The game is played on a half sized court to promote a fast, physical and exciting game. In the finals, it came down to Leandro competing against Andrew "Spongebob" Washington. In the end Spongebob won the grand prize of 100,000 dollars by only 1 point! But Leandro is invited to the Fightball tournament taking place in Los Angeles in July.
Leandro enters a new world in FIGHTBALL.
Leandro plans to play as long as he can so he can provide for his family. His dream is to in the future create a social project to help kids. "Social projects saved me and gave me this, I want to give back", say Leandro.