In the city: On the Ball

It has been suggested that the people of Lebanon are resilient like no other, having faced decades of conflict, political instability and societal rift. Many residents joke that in Beirut, as bombs fall on one side of the city, clubbers continue partying on the other.

By Mohamad Kadry

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Published: Wed 15 Jul 2009, 6:31 AM

Last updated: Sun 5 Apr 2015, 11:31 PM

But it is for exactly these reasons that a group of young athletes could put together a performance act so dangerous and enthralling, mixing a love of basketball and death-defying gymnastics that has had them dubbed the “crazy dunkers”.

“Make sure you write that we are the Lebanese Dunkers!” Ghassan Majed chimes in, having coached the group for nearly five years.

But his enthusiasm is not lost on the crowd, as he sets up three trampolines for the next stunt. Try imagining an NBA jam session, a hype nightclub and an Olympic pole vaulting session and you might just get an idea of what the show is really all about.

The Lebanese Dunkers is their ‘official’ title and they have found a way to vent out their frustrations about their homeland on the basketball court.

With music blaring and crowds in place at the Sahara Center in Sharjah, MC Jean Paul tries to hype up the masses as the guys start two stepping as if they had just entered a dancefloor rather than a basketball court. But the theatrics are all a ploy, it seems, as the first athlete makes his way across the floor and onto the trampoline, attempting a 360 spin and flawlessly spinning the ball between his legs and into the hoop.

But if one dunk wasn’t enough, five of the players - all airborne in sync - begin their descent as the first bounces the basketball against the backboard to the second who throws it behind his back to the third, who bounce passes it to the fourth who blindly throws it between his legs to the last athlete who defies gravity with a double aerial somersault to finish off the feat.

“Half of us are gymnasts and the other half are basketball players playing street ball in Beirut,” Ayman Tamim tells me, who at only 24, is celebrating his birthday during this latest tour.

“We simply decided to combine our two passions.”

But in a world dominated by soccer, many are surprised by the sheer popularity that basketball enjoys in Lebanon, making it the only country in the Middle East to regularly enter international tournaments. Where green playing fields once lay, basketball courts now take their place. And while the Lebanese Dunkers have tweaked the sport to hone their daredevil skills, at the heart of it all are real players with real ambitions.

“So many residents of Lebanon are not content with all the political turmoil and conflict in the country, so sports like basketball have helped ease some of that societal restriction and given us a lot of personal power,” Ayman explained.

“You need to have the talent and a brave heart,” he said, “because what we do is very dangerous.”

As he talks the team pick an enthusiastic boy from the audience, catapulting him on the shoulders of two players below him, as a third leaps six or seven meters over the totem pole and into the hoop. But Ayman is not exaggerating the risk involved.

Over the years, athletes in the group have been seriously injured doing stunts from mangled legs to broken fingers. Just this year, one of the members smashed his face into the rim.

The Lebanese Dunkers are comprised of players Ghassan Majed, Walid Rahmeh, Ayman Tamim, Jihad Shehade, Jimmy Abedm Ahmad Ghaddar, Mohammad Shami and Omar Soubna.

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