Something important happens on the unremarkable square of concrete ringed by a metal fence at 144 Quai de Jemmapes in Paris.
If you walked past it, you might not even notice it’s there, distracted by the Saint-Martin Canal on the other side of the street.
But the address is a meeting place, a place to show your passion, somewhere you can belong, somewhere you can escape from the day-to-day, and a place to have fun all in one.
The address is home to The Sons of Jemmapes, a community basketball group.
This is their story.
A STREET BALLER COMMUNITY
“Sons of Jemmapes is the story of our community,” said Florian “Flo” Pesci, one of the Co-Founders of the group.
“The name comes from the name of the street of course, and from American TV series like Sons of Anarchy, and The Wire, which takes place in Baltimore.”
Initially, the Sons gathered informally on the court and named it Baltimore, before changing to its current name: BaltiZone.
Like many community groups, there was no specific intention to form the Sons at the beginning, and the group organically grew from its members' passion for basketball and photography over 15 years ago, which helped drive interest on social media.
“When we first created Sons of Jemmapes, there was no other basketball community like us that was highlighted on social networks. We put our street baller community in the spotlight. There are many of us now, whoever wants to be a part of it,” Flo said.
A SON OF THE COURT
As time has passed, the lives of the original Sons have changed. But the court remains a common thread and meeting point, and a way of staying connected to a sport they care about.
“There were times when I used to come every day. Now, I have a family life and a job as a basketball coach which means that...well, I try to come at least once a week. We always come back to our first passion, which is this court and the sport,” Flo said.
It’s this passion which forms a connection for the Sons, one that has persisted in some cases for more than a decade.
“When we say Sons of Jemmapes, it means we are sons of this court. At one point, the court gave me so much love. We’ve become more or less a family through basketball. There are even people who live abroad but come back to the court whenever they return to France.”
In this way, BaltiZone has become something far more important than just a place to play basketball. It’s become a home for Sons old and new, a home that keeps their sport alive, and a home for the community they’ve created.
“There are several generations on the court. People in their twenties, thirties, forties. Even older. There are people who are sixty years old who come to communicate with the younger ones. For myself, I’ve aged, and there are others like me who have aged very well on the court, passing their passion to the younger ones so they in turn will pass the baton to the next generation,” Flo explained.
UNITED BY A PASSION
The Sons remain true to their roots as an informal collective of people that welcome anyone, remaining free of the licenses, organizational practices, and structure that would be needed if they became an official club.
Instead, there’s no real requirements to join, and anyone is welcome, assuming they are respectful towards existing members.
“There’s some street codes you could say that we put in place to have a laugh. We talk about prospects, for example, where someone is young and has visited the court for a few weeks in a row. If we see that someone like that is starting to interact with the elders and youngers, that’s it, they’re a prospect, and at that moment, they’re already a member. As long as you feel like a Son of Jemmapes...well, that’s it.”
The longevity of the Sons, given this lack of structure and official rules, is particularly inspiring, proving that to form a community, all you really need is a space and like-minded people.
“I see my definition of community in the Sons. Social diversity, diversity of religion, ethnicity, gender, age. There really is everything. All these people come together because of a common passion, and that’s the advice I would give to the Sons, and everyone really. Live your dreams and passion to the fullest. It's as simple as that. If you undertake something with love and really do it thoroughly, something good will happen at some point,” Flo finished.
The Sons are evidence of what we all know but perhaps sometimes forget.
We’re not brought together in the grandest buildings of the world or on the biggest stages. We’re brought together at small basketball courts on a normal street in Paris, or the unassuming building you’ve walked past a hundred times.
It’s the everyday communities that bring us together.