Quai 54 Preview

You don’t need to know what a panier is or the key to a good baguette (squeeze for the crunch) to get excited about Paris’ Quai 54 World Streetball Championship. Now in its 11th year after a one-year hiatus, Jordan Brand and Nike are inviting 200-plus streetballers to compete for the playground’s ultimate crown.

The superlative title isn’t just swagger: This tournament has become the place for the world’s best players to prove themselves on the concrete (technically the court is made of hardwood, not asphalt, and unlike playground hoops there will be shiny white nets). In addition to hosting NYC’s preeminent streetballers (some of whom were featured in the fantastic documentary Doin’ It in the Park, no doubt), the single elimination tournament features Serbia’s three-on-three world champion Dusan Bulut, pros from the USA, Europe and Africa, and dunk contest contestants who jump higher than Gerald Green, including Justin “Jusfly” Darlington, one of the best dunkers in the world.

Also new to this year’s competition is the potential for unknown players to make a Mighty Ducks-like stand against Quai 54 veterans. With Nike and Jordan Brand-sponsored cameras set up on courts throughout the city, tournament representatives have been watching film and taking names in hopes of discovering Paris’ hidden talent. This author experienced the hype first hand in Le Marais (the swamp), playing under the watchful eye of Nike and Jordan logoed cameras. As players from Greece, New York, South Africa and beyond signed waivers in hopes of being picked to play, a jolly Quai 54 British photographer climbed atop a rickety backboard to capture Dream Shakes, power dunks and moves more Jordanesque.

Indeed, the G.O.A.T.’s presence will certainly be felt this weekend, and it’s not just because of his sponsorship. The last time the world’s best descended on Trocadero for the Streetball World Championship (Quai 54 has changed its name from the international championship to the world championship, presumably alluding to basketball’s global nature à la Tony Parker and the San Antonio Spurs), NBA stars Nicholas Batum and Ray Allen showed up. But after last year’s interlude Quai 54 has raised the bar, and who better to lead fans to streetball’s promised land than No. 23’s unsung shepherd, Scottie Pippen? Alongside 6,000+ fans witnessing the benefits of ankle braces and mouth guards, the soft-spoken sidekick will join an as-of-now secret NBA guest (rumors are the second guest is Carmelo Anthony, which would make sense given his allegiance to the Jordan Brand) to help crown the 2014 World Champion. Finally, for those still reminiscing about the 2000 NBA Dunk Contest, a Matryoshka-doll-collection of dunk contest sponsors (it’s called The Quai 54 Dunk Contest by House of Hoops by Foot Locker) will be more about athleticism than sports cars and birthday cakes.

There is simply too much good basketball happening not to go to Trocadero, and it is head-shakingly awesome that Quai 54 remains a free, public event. Words to the wise: show up early enough to buy a fresh baguette; bring water and sunscreen (thanks mom!); and be ready to criticize how the French herd lines up at the entrance. Doors open at 8:30 a.m. and the event kicks off at 10:30 a.m., but this is Paris after all—even queuing can be chic.

Of course, if all of this basketball isn’t enough reason to lace up those old Jordans, Quai 54 is more than a basketball tournament. Founded by Paris’ own Hammadoun Sidibé, Quai 54 (pronounced “K” and not “kway”) used to be little more than an address outside Paris. Now, however, it has become a must-see for the latest in hip-hop culture and fashion. In addition to a slew of French celebrities, there will be rap battles and dance competitions and other live performances, culminating in a surprise hip-hop artist guaranteed to bring thousands to their feet (previous performers have included Ludacris, Usher and Wiz Khalifa). Former European All-Star Duke Tshomba will host the event, and five DJs (DJ Lord Issa, DJ Nas, DJ Jackson, DJ Ou-Mar and DJ Just Dizzle) will guarantee an eclectic array of hip-hop’s best artists.

Humiliating crossovers, unshakeable beats and the latest Jumpman and Nike fashion will abound this weekend. While scores of squinting photographers will immortalize beautiful women and celebrities, though, the tournament remains an event for the public. “Bring your game, not your name”—this weekend is about team and community. In the sun-drenched shadow of the Eiffel Tower, originally built as the centerpiece for the 1889 World’s Fair, The Quai 54 Streetball World Championship will combine the entrepreneurial spirit of Nike and Jordan Brand with a global sense of community that values team as much as swagger. And next to Le Champ de Mars, a park named after the Roman god of war, the last team standing will be crowned World Champs.