I sat down with Tino Brazao, founder of Associação Cabo Verdiana de Basquetbol or ACVB, a brand-new Cape Verdean Basketball league as he cut out emblems with some volunteer members of the community, who helped press shirts and Jerseys for an upcoming event.
“It’s more than just basketball.” Tino said, “I wanted to teach about the culture and give back to the community…. and actually, I was inspired more by the idea of what Karate does, using sports to teach different life skills to the youth.”
“It would have been good for us to put their names on the Jerseys” said one of the volunteers.
“No,” Tino shook his head, and quoting someone who had taught him, mentioned that, “we don’t want to put our names on the jerseys because we want to teach humility rather self-gratification.”
But we are getting ahead of ourselves. Why basketball? And why a “Cape Verdean League” instead of just joining the leagues that are already around?
“I started playing basketball when I was 17. I was a soccer player, but then senior year I had a growth spurt and so I was not as low to the ground or fast with my feet for soccer and couldn’t really compete. So, I started to learn how to basketball on my own. This helped me stay away from negative influence, it helped me to stay of trouble.
“I played college basketball in a school in Michigan called Andrews University. We competed mostly in Indiana,” Hoosier country, “which is like the mecca of basketball, and I received the Most Valuable Player Award during one season.”
“I continued to play as an adult. In 2009, I travelled to Cape Verde to play in a tournament with a team from US. There, I noticed a completely different atmosphere than the US. In the audience, there were so many families, parents bringing their children and they bring out the Batuque. What do you call it? A drum…and they played it in the crowd as they watched the game. This gave more intensity to the atmosphere and I thought ‘wow’ this is different from how we Cape Verdeans play in the United States. It was an amicable environment where everyone got along despite of each team loyalty to their teams.”
“You never see a large fan base watching and supporting Cape Verdeans playing basketball in the United States even though Cape Verdeans tend to play only among themselves. They also don’t want to go to another neighborhood to play because many want to avoid getting into violence and that kind of thing. But I noticed when we played in Boston that after our team got off, this other team, a league of Asians got on. I became affiliated with some of the players and found that they have a whole Chinese American Basketball League that travels to places like Canada, New York, California to play against other Chinese communities… and I was inspired by that idea to do the same for the Cape Verdean League… I also wanted to work with their league.”
“But I am really inspired by the Chinese league and particularly how they stick together and support each other. ACVB is looking to do something like that in our community.”
“ACVB strongly believes in inclusion and diversity. It’s not really that we want the league to be ONLY for Cape Verdeans… but we do want to maintain the culture and use basketball as an avenue to show Cape Verdean pride and teach youth about their homeland.”
“One unique approach for our league is our basketball clinic. We use a therapeutic approach to target these kids. I notice that we are very effective in reaching the youth, because they are all engaged and they to learn and pay close attention because they are eager to learn. At the same time, you can observe them and see how they play. Are they struggling? Are they aggressive? It’s a good way to reach them because a lot of youth gravitate towards basketball. We find that they get something out of it, which is just to be allowed to play, and the teachers get something out of it because they get to see how the students learn. So, outreach like that is for everyone.”
“But at the same time to maintain the Cape Verdean culture in the league, that is something we are working towards. If a lot of non-Cape Verdeans are allowed to play on a team but have no interest in culture or the ‘Batuque’ or the language or the music… that’s not what I want. That’s not what we are trying to do. The best player in the last year’s league he is African American player.”
“The goal is that our league will play here in the United States, but establish a channel for communication, partnership, and sponsorship and help raise funds to provide basketball equipment as well as academic supplies to young Cape Verdeans like basketball shoes and basketball courts. We want to bring the money from America back to the poorer communities in Cape Verde. A lot of the youth enjoy playing basketball but they don’t have the equipment to play. In 2013 Edy Tavares was drafted into the NBA. He has great potential with his physical capabilities but he is struggling mainly because he learned late, just like I learned late. He doesn’t have those fundamentals of basketball down yet. But what if he had started learning earlier? So, that’s why I want to provide the opportunity for the next generation to have a better chance.”
“But not just in basketball. You see the crowds in Cape Verde were huge, but when I reached out to sponsors in the US to donate money their first question was “Why should we give you money to create something overseas? Why don’t you create something HERE.”? And I thought, “That’s true.” So, I am creating both. Here, you know how I want to fill the seats? With half-time shows and known entertainers, hype man, etc. Mostly we want to give the spotlight to the children to showcase their talents like in dancing and singing groups, karate, basketball or other talents in the area. This will be great for parents to see their children showcase. We also want to be role models not just playing basketball but things like reporting, commentating, filming, etc.”
“So far we have exceeded our expectation in less than 10 months and I think we can go far. Later I want to work with the Asian league and the African American leagues and the Haitians and everyone. You must have all kinds of friends. In college, I met all kinds of people, Koreans, Chinese Filipinos, White, Caribbean’s, everything… It’s not only about just staying among ourselves. But at the same time, we need to have something for ourselves and our community and the islands.”
(This interview took place right before Tino Brazao was to embark on a trip to Cape Verde where the teams in the league will play in São Vicente and São Antao.)