Shooting Hoops in Kosovo

By Julia Hoppock

Feb 18, 2008 6:21pm

On this day when the World looks at Kosovo’s declaration of Independence from Serbia, here’s an observation from a reporter’s notebook of ten years ago, jotted down in Pristina after US and NATO Forces pushed the Serbs out of Kosovo in June of 1999.  For more past Nightline coverage of the crisis in Kosovo, click here.

Gerry Holmes reports:

We had been in Pristina for about 5 weeks following NATO’s entry and Serb Forces’ exit.  The coverage had gone from round the clock to an occasional piece every other day and we welcomed a little break from our house in Pristina where we filed our pieces. 

Two of our local fixers (one Serb and one Kosovar-Albanian) asked a producer and I to play some two on two pick up basketball.  Sounded like a great way to unwind and get some exercise after the previous weeks’ work.

We found a high school black top with baskets still up (the nets were mostly torn, but still clinging to their rings).  We could still see smoldering smoke floating through the air behind the basket up a hill in a neighborhood where Serb houses had been burnt down the night before.  A quiet, but eerie and surreal atmosphere for a pick up game. Things were calming down in town, but only in that most fragile and uncertain way.   

We started to play.  And that’s when I realized we were part of a one on one game (Serb versus Kosovar Albanian) and we were their two foils.  These guys could play ball.  They had an intensity on every step, shot, and even occasional foul, as they engaged with each other as if they had been NBA all-star rivals for years. 

They had talent and had honed their skills on the playgrounds of the Balkans with an eye to the Pantheon of American ballplayers seen on screens all over the world – and you could see that American influence in their game.  Their moves were dazzling.  The Serb had an aggressive, muscle based game with strong drives to the basket.  Drive after drive the points kept adding up.  I would get an occasional assist.  His opponent was piling up the points with flawless outside shots that just kept sinking.  Beautiful arcs and moves so fast, you couldn’t get a hand on his shots. 

What emerged was a fun, energetic – at times tense- pick up game that spoke volumes to me in that one moment about the possibility of some sort of reconciliation someday.  It was my first glimpse of the incredible talent that has come out of the Balkans and onto the NBA courts in recent years, and I was in struck then by their talent and healthy sense of competition on that court, that day. 

I’ve lost touch with them both, but I wish them well on this day and who knows, if Kosovo is recognized by the International community someday, maybe those remarkable talents I witnessed will play out in a championship round of basketball at the Olympics….Kosovo-Serbia for the Gold.  Maybe…someday.                   

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