“I don't mean to brag... but I'm the greatest!” explains Sidney “Syd” Deane to a couple of girls standing on the sidelines watching a street basketball match. He has just made a dunk after leaving his opponent on the ground with a cross-over. This is undoubtedly one of the most iconic lines from the renowned movie White Men Can't Jump.
We are in Venice Beach, Los Angeles, and the film’s co-star – played by African-American actor Wesley Snipes – is the classic character you’d find in any Californian playground: buff, arrogant, talented, and broke. As is often the case, success on the concrete court hides a life full of obstacles (the famous “thug life”). But the playground is another world: it has its own rules and hierarchies, and the most important value is respect, which can only be earned through practice, education and dedication.
The playground (we are talking about basketball but also about many other team sports) is not only a rectangular floor where physical activity takes place, but a micro-universe where communities are formed. This is why the recent trend of renovating playgrounds with street art (or graphic works of various kinds) is not only intended to decorate these places, but to represent the energy that these environments can release.
It is no coincidence that aerosol art, rap music, street basketball and other urban subcultures share the same values: they are often intertwined, and can be considered alternative expressions of the same marginal contexts.