Peace Players International – Middle East (PPI-ME) had a very special guest guest coach this week named David Blu. Blu, a basketball player for the perennial Euroleague powerhouse Maccabi Tel Aviv, coached two of PPI-ME’s most important teams. On Tuesday, he coached the Leadership Development Program (LDP) boys’ team, which is made up of both Palestinians and Israelis. The LDP is critical to the PPI-ME mission of developing its future leaders by grooming the older participants (16+) through integrated basketball practices, volunteer coaching, and lessons in teaching the peace curriculum. Also, on Saturday, Blu coached one of PPI-ME’s All-Star teams, which are a mixed group of girls who compete in the Israel Basketball Association’s elite youth league. Blu, a dual Israeli-American citizen, grew up in Los Angeles and played basketball at USC before turning pro and joining the Euroleague. He has played in Italy, France, and Russia, but has spent most of his career in Israel. Now 33, Blu is in his seventh year with Maccabi and is known for being an excellent shooter from the field. Blu, looking ahead to life after basketball, is positioning himself to succeed in broadcasting, running a sports agency, and coaching. “For me, PeacePlayers is an opportunity to practice coaching the game while giving back to a great organization. Being born of a white, Jewish mother and an African American father, I grew up in conflict situations that help me to relate to the complex situation that these young women and men are facing.”
Blu brought his years of basketball to the practices, as he coached by modeling his playing experience. Hamoudi, a Palestinian boy from East Jerusalem, was impressed by the way Blu coached their practice. “He went with us step by step through the drills. Often coaches will jump from one drill to another but not David. He made sure that we had the details of the drills perfect before we moved on.” Blu’s patience allowed the kids to understand how important the basics are, even at the professional level.
To have David Blu lead their practice was a fantasy for several members of the LDP, for whom he was a huge star during their formative years. Blu was with Maccabi when the team won the Euroleague in 2004. So it’s no surprise that Toot, a 15-year-old Jewish girl from West Jerusalem, described Blu as a legend in her eyes. “All the girls were so excited for David Blu. For me, he is a legend, but now he is more real. Now I know he’s also an amazing person to reach out to our community in this way.”
Blu believes in the power of sports to make a difference in conflict areas. “Sports, like music, is an international language – especially when it comes to basketball, which is played on a global scale. Growing up, in school there was always a separation in the lunchroom, but on the court the conflict went away.” Toot shared this belief that basketball is the language of unity. “Just on the street, Arabs and Jews may struggle to communicate considering language, cultural, and conflict barriers. On the court everything changes. There are no barriers. We are united, working together for the same cause.”
PPI is working with the youth to change the perceptions of the conflict. For Hamoudi, it was important that his mixed Palestinian-Israeli team could show Blu that they could play together. “He must understand that we are one team no matter what race. We will do anything to fight together for victory.” Hamoudi felt that Blu walked away with a strong impression of their team. Blu believes in the PPI formula. “Older people are often set in their ways, but for the youth it is different. Educating the youth is the key to developing peace.”