Today, we’re catching up with Danny Ourian, former International Fellow and Program Director for PPI-ME. Danny now works for the 92nd Street Y and the New York Knicks. He is a founding parter of Global Game Changers, a sport-for-good consulting firm launched by PPI fellows and friends. Danny also works as a personal basketball skills coach. Read more about Danny’s lifelong passion for basketball and his experience with PeacePlayers below!
Can you tell us more about what you’ve been up to since PPI? Have any skills or insights you gained through PPI helped you along the way?
Since PeacePlayers, I’ve been in New York City. About six months ago, I was hired as the Director of Sports Programs for the 92nd Street Y, a community center on the Upper East Side. I’m a part-time member of the Knicks’ Community Relations department, and I also work as a personal basketball skills instructor. I started a company called Global Game Changers with some other PPI alumni. We all worked together in the Middle East, and had a desire to continue to use sport for good. So far, most of our programming involves sport for development clinics and trainings for different organizations. We have conversations about how coaches can impact their players and communities, and talk about our own experiences doing that.
A lot of the things I learned as a Peace Player stay with me to this day. I really learned the importance of being prepared. PPI also taught me to be “tight,” meaning that everything I’m bringing to the table needs to have value. There’s always something beyond sport that matters. Whenever I do a basketball lesson, I’m always trying to incorporate confidence-building and life skills.
What are some of your best memories of your work in the Middle East?
My fondest memories are of the relationships I formed with other fellows, coaches, and the players we worked with. Seeing the kids changing their ability levels and their perceptions of each other over time was amazing.
What do you feel are some of the fellowship program’s biggest strengths?
I think the American fellows bring incredible enthusiasm to the program. I think they also bring neutrality into a conflict situation. Even the English language made a difference. We used English first, and then translated it into Hebrew and Arabic- it made for a good model. The basketball background that the fellows bring is really fresh for the local participants, too. They have basketball in the Middle East, but I think there’s a sense of wanting to experience the game the way Americans experience it. When I was in the Middle East, the American fellows worked to help identify the right locations for the program, and worked to find coaches. That was very difficult. We helped the local staff take ownership of the program so that they could run it themselves.
What do you love about basketball?
This is a tough question for me. I’ll get choked up! I love the five senses as they relate to basketball- the feel, the look, the dance of the game. I love the teamwork. I think basketball is in many ways the most democratic sport. In baseball, you have a pitcher. In football, you have a quarterback. In soccer, you have a goalie. These positions are important, but they’re functions that no one else on the team can perform. In basketball, every player can and needs to perform all of the functions. All players need to dribble, pass, and shoot. I love that about basketball.
What drew you to PPI?
I went into PPI with a desire to make an impact, to do something that mattered to me. I’d always had an inclination to do some good in the world, but I struggled with finding a way to do something positive while sticking with my first love, basketball.
I have Israeli heritage. When my father was growing up in Israel, his best friend was Arab. Peace in the Middle East is a cause that’s in my heart. I studied abroad in Jerusalem during college, and while I was there, I worked as a coach at a Palestinian private school. I also got involved with an Israeli youth movement that was very liberal, in favor of peace and cooperation with our Arab neighbors. I went into PPI thinking, what a great opportunity to use basketball to address the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. When I went over there, I was very idealistic. After a while, you start to see just how much of a process peace-building is. Every step forward is just a small drop in the ocean of solving that level of conflict. PPI’s work is very important.