It would have been just another charity basketball game if not for the place and time.

The place was the Physical Education Complex at Coppin State University, which happens to sit in the shadow of Mondawmin Mall, the flashpoint for the rioting that spread through West Baltimore a week after the death of Freddie Gray almost exactly a year ago.


That was no coincidence. The event was called Shooting 4 Peace and the intent was to promote unity in the inner city. The game pitted a traveling Christian group of former NBA players called SportsPower International against a team of Baltimore All-Stars made up of former local high school and college stars.

For the record, SportsPower defeated the Baltimore City Legends, 107-96, but this wasn't really about the final score. The game was simply a device to get a couple thousand local residents together for a religious message from SportsPower and a chance to see some local sports heroes celebrate a city with a big image problem.

"It's bringing a different light to Baltimore," former Dunbar and Massachusetts star Donta Bright said. "You've got some famous guys who came. They came to Baltimore City. Not many want to do that. So I take my hat off to them. This is my hometown. I live and die Baltimore. And let's bring a change."

The chief organizer was Rev. Ray Sydnor, a former Philadelphia Eagle who is an inspirational speaker and the founder of Mentoring Academic Athletics in Partnership (MAAP). The game was the culmination of a week in which the basketball players teamed up with local police to visit schools throughout Baltimore.

"It's critically important to share a message of hope here in Baltimore City," Sydnor said. "Me growing up in Baltimore, I didn't grow up in a 'hood. I grew up in a neighborhood, recreating neighborhoods in Baltimore City."

The Baltimore team was co-coached by former Maryland coach Bob Wade, who was being tailed by an ESPN crew that is putting together a "30 for 30" documentary about his great Dunbar teams.

"I think it was needed in the community," Wade said. "I think Reverend Sydnor did a nice job of putting it together and hopefully it will get the community to reunite more. I just think it was a wonderful event."

Mayoral candidate Sheila Dixon was in attendance and was introduced during the halftime program. State senator Catherine E. Pugh, who is leading Dixon in the race for mayor according to a recent Sun/University of Baltimore poll, also attended the game but was not introduced.

There also was a very important no-show. Former Ravens star Ray Lewis was advertised as a halftime speaker just two weeks after posting a controversial Facebook video that called on fellow African Americans to pay more attention to the epidemic of violence in urban areas than to isolated instances of police brutality. He did not appear.

Ed Reed was there, but not that Ed Reed. This one is the president-elect of the Maryland School Counselor Association, and he joined in the event to promote efforts to close the achievement gap that is hindering the advancement of inner-city youth. Reed and local entrepreneur Larry White Sr. combined to sponsor 200 students at the game.

"When we talk about student achievement and working with our young people, that's something near and dear to my heart," Reed said. "The focus is to disrupt and shut down the school-to-prison pipeline by empowering our young people to really achieve and reach their God-given potential."

Former Detroit Pistons and Toronto Raptors forward Jerome Williams wasn't born in Baltimore. He hails from D.C., but he welcomed the chance to take part in the event as a member of the SportsPower team.

"This is a very important day for the city of Baltimore," Williams said. "Really, you just want to give back. There are problems and solutions. You can either be part of the problem or part of the solution. I just chose the solution side of things and Shooting 4 Peace is a perfect way to do that.

"One of my talents is playing the game of basketball and I wanted to bring that to the city of Baltimore to bring peace and happiness to a city that is close to the city where I grew up. Seeing what happened, I just wanted to lend any support I could give. Shooting 4 Peace, centered around the Lord Jesus Christ, is in my lane so that's why I wanted to come out and be a part of this."



Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here," at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog.

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