Healing Hoops in Houston

Today's the day of the big charity game Kenny Smith is organizing at the Toyota Center in Houston. (It's on TNT this evening.)

It's hardly the only way that basketball is helping those affected by Hurricane Katrina. In The New York Times, Lee Jenkins has a nice story about the pickup basketball scene that's developing among hurricane refugees outside the Astrodome where many of them are still living:

The courts opened Friday night, and within a couple of hours, they were filled with about 100 players and spectators, finally able to run, finally able to cheer. Stephon Marbury, the Knicks' captain and a New York City playground legend, was among several N.B.A. players to help christen the court. He shot baskets with children, signed autographs and led a prayer circle during a four-hour visit to the Astrodome.

"Just being able to make them happy meant everything to me," said Marbury, who wept openly when he announced Tuesday that he would donate up to $1 million to the hurricane relief effort. "I'm glad they have basketball now. It's an avenue to take their mind to another place."

Tobbie Stevenson, 15, threw down a tomahawk dunk over two friends Saturday afternoon and flexed his biceps. Mark Rayfield, 17, blocked a shot out of bounds and lobbied for possession. Joshua Butler, 15, made a reverse layup around three defenders and shook his head.

"I was just sitting there all day in that dome, waiting for something to do," Butler said. "I had to get out and do something with the ball."

Some players wore slippers on the court and some wore Air Jordans. Some had LeBron James jerseys and some needed wheelchairs. Everybody received Texas Tech T-shirts, bottled water and their own ball.

Anthony Williams, 14, shooting shirtless in a steady rain, said: "All I know is that I have got to play basketball. Basketball keeps me out of trouble."

There are leagues being organized, and sponsors have come forth with all the necessary materials.

One of the greatest things about basketball: you can play it anywhere with a minimum of equipment and a flexible number of people. That's why poor people have always played it, as have those who are displaced by war, flood etc. (You ever notice how many of the NBA's top European players lived through war in then-Yugoslavia?)