If there’s one thing Jordan (Nike Inc.) is at the top of its game for, it’s empowering communities and driving change in the world of sports.
On July 16th, in Berlin’s iconic and famed Tempelhofer Feld, Jordan Brand hosted an inclusive and action-packed event that garnered hundreds of the city’s residents, from small to tall — say hello to the Take Flight Festival for Basketball and the opening of the Satou Sabally Court.
The aim of the game was clear: connect grassroots female basketball players and create safer access to sports, especially for girls and women from the BIPOC and FLINTA communities. Jordan’s partner on this mission is WNBA star and Berlin-bred Jumpman athlete, Satou Sabally. As the highest WNBA draft pick to ever come out of Germany, and a forward for the Dallas Wings and Fenerbahçe in Turkey, Sabally is a powerful role model for young girls on and off the court.
To celebrate their partnership and build the safe space they dream of for young girls, Jordan and Sabally teamed up with local Turkish artist Bahar Bambi to refurb, redesign, and reveal a local basketball court.
In honor of the eponymous player, Jordan unveiled its eye-catching Satou Sabally Court in the heart of the German capital. Made with Nike Grind, a material consisting of recycled sneakers and materials, the Satou Sabally Court brings together the identities of all three involved - Jordan, Sabally and Bambi.
The court, which will enhance the future of basketball culture in Berlin, is hard to miss. By expressing Bambi’s experience of growing up in a multicultural environment and using signature Turkish patterns from her heritage, it brings together her own story and that of Sabally’s heritage."We both were born and raised in Berlin but have different origins, so it’s about merging Turkish Middle-Eastern culture with Sabally’s Gambian roots," explains Bambi. From the bold patterns and the vibrant pink-purple colorway that adorns its surface, the court is expressive, diverse, and sustainable at its core — something the initiative is here to fuel. "This is the first time I’ve designed a court and it’s really about creating a space where everyone belongs and where you can express yourself freely, especially as a woman."
Apart from the grand court reveal, the day was filled with a variety of engaging activities catered to each and every sub-community and demographic. Coach Ireti Amojo, a former pro basketballer, coached young girls on the court and will offer training sessions throughout the summer. "I’ve had great coaches and I want to share this. The basketball scene in Germany is so small so in order to represent my community, I just need to show up and stick around. It’s as simple as that," she comments.
In the same vein, Berlin Braves, the female-centric sports club of the city, participated in the event, connecting with the younger players and sharing skills and confidence. One of the members, Arina, explained how "the court is a safe space and we are so hyped about it. We want to get all the girls and women playing and opportunities like this can do that and help the community grow in a non-male sense."
Music plays an important role and influence on basketball culture so the festival wouldn’t be complete without a lineup of some of Berlin’s hottest female DJs. The program hosted by community radio station, Refuge Worldwide, saw Hanaby, ABIBA, Helina & Nissa rip up the decks alongside a stellar performance from artist LAYLA.
Oscar Atanga from Refuge added, "we provide access to training so participants, particularly women can have slots on the radio station. As well as a series of vinyl workshops with the FLINTA community, we really look for organizations that promote outlier communities." In partnership with Jordan Brand, Refuge is offering a ten-week in-depth hip-hop, rapping, and singing workshop through which the participants will get a chance to perform on the Satou Sabally Court for the closing ceremony.
Although Sabally couldn’t be present at the big reveal, that didn’t stop us from having a quick chat with her. From being born in New York and growing up in Berlin and Gambia, to now living overseas and playing as an elite athlete on three continents, it's fair to say for a 24-year-old, Sabally has a huge amount of experience under her belt. Here’s what we learned about creating positive change from the young baller (also known as the Unicorn thanks to her unbridled skill and tact on the court).
Was there a moment that really inspired you to get into basketball?
So it started right away. We don't really do it in school and it's all very separate so I just started going to basketball practices. The boys wouldn’t even pass me the ball, but when they did they realized I was scoring — that’s when it got really fun. A big turning point was when I was 15 I decided to go to America and knew I wanted to make a change.
Who inspires you the most?
For sure my mom, she’s such an anchor for me. She always taught me to be humble and work for what I want. She's the most hard-working person I know and has shown me so much strength, but also that it’s good to be vulnerable, to be able to connect with people and to speak up.
How does it feel to be the first-ever Berliner drafted into the WNBA?
Honestly, it’s very surreal. I sometimes just think 'wow is this really happening?'. People reached out to me on social media after the court reveal expressing how proud they are — that means so much to me. When you see people happy and cheering you on and rooting for you, it’s something you just can’t buy.
What do you love about the WNBA?
Being surrounded by such strong women. Everything just clicks. There's just a common mindset for success, equality, and justice. It feels like a safe haven where you can speak your thoughts on everything going on in the world, but also just play ball and forget at the same time. The WNBA also educates you about important socio-political matters. They’ve been a front runner in social justice advocacy which is a big part of my life, so I love to play for our organization that genuinely cares about human life.
You're always focused on being in the present and are motivated to achieve greatness. What is it that keeps you going and how do you stay focused?
I'm eager and ambitious and never really satisfied, so I always want to keep working on myself. Sometimes, I'm too hard on myself and have to pause to acknowledge where I am. But I have this inner drive that just pushes me to work harder and get outside of my comfort zone. Every time you step out of your comfort zone, it teaches you something new.
So you're called the Unicorn, tell me more about this?
At first, I always laughed at this, but my coach would always call me that. I'm super versatile, but also an individual who likes to do her own thing — I don't like to follow what everyone else is doing if I don't think it's right. Everyone can be a unicorn in their own way and that's when I started to love this term. If young, black girls or girls from marginalized communities see this person out there really doing their thing, then they think it's possible for them too and I love that.
Representation as a woman of color and for young women is particularly important to you. How do you show this on and off the court? Did you ever think that you’d have a basketball court named after you in the city you're from?
One of my earliest memories was Serena Williams on a big poster. For me to be aware of that at such a young age and actually to identify with that while not knowing what was going on about race and representation, speaks a lot for itself. Afro-Germans are finally on the verge of being proud and I just hope that it happens to more people in Berlin. Creating this spark is like planting a seed of aspiration for young girls of color.
I could never have imagined a court in my honor. Growing up our basketball courts were mostly occupied by boys. For young girls, the dropout rate in this sport is around 13 or 14 so I want them to be able to find a safe space where they feel they can go and play on their own terms.
Outside of safe access to sports for youth, especially girls, what else are you looking for that court to be?
A community hub. I want people to feel like they can just play and leave their worries behind them. The location is unique, and I think it's also very symbolic because it used to be the old airport and it just signifies transportation and moving from one place to another — being ever-evolving.
So, what is your go-to sneaker of choice when it comes to getting on the court?
The Air Jordan 36 Year of the Tiger, for sure. I feel a different type of balance with that shoe, I play with it and it holds meaning to me because I opened it during Pride month — the vibrant colors reflect this too.
What piece of advice would you give to an aspiring young player?
Write down your goals and where you want to be in a year, maybe in five years. Even if it’s a crazy thought, seeing is believing.
Find out more about the court here.