Philly woman drags basketball hoop around town to ‘break that tension’ between police, protesters

Stephania Ergemlidze playing basketball with a police officer
Photo credit Courtesy of Stephania Ergemlidze
PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — A Philadelphia woman has been hitting the city streets this week trying to ease tensions between police and protesters with her portable hoop.

“I decided I would be taking my hoop to pretty much ball in the streets and try to bring people together the one way I know how,” explained Stephania Ergemlidze, “which is basketball.”

She and the others have brought the hoop all over town.

Ergemlidze was watching in shock last weekend as people were looting and destroying businesses across the region and said she was inspired to do something.

“I was sitting there and I was trying to figure out what I can do,” she said. “Because I was looking at my city and my city was being destroyed.”

So she brought the hoop “out of retirement” after being put to the side these last few months due to the coronavirus. 

And while setting up shop in different parts of the city, she wants everyone to play, especially police officers and protesters — and at the same time, if possible. 

“I just want to try to bring everybody together and break that tension or the barrier that’s been there the last week really,” she said.

It seemed to work. 

At times, officers and protesters played basketball together. Sometimes, Ergemlidze would get in a quick game of 1-on-1 with a police officer.

She’s done this multiple times since the protests started and has documented her journey on YouTube.

She said while a protest is happening, officers in that area don’t usually grab a ball so they can keep their eyes on the situation, but officers stationed at a location where it’s a little quieter enjoy the chance to take a quick break. 

She admits she wasn’t sure how police were going to react to this at first. 

“But it ended up being really, really positive on their end,” she said, “and the protesters’ end. Most people just joined in and started walking with us or started playing with us.”

One officer told her, “we need more people like you out here doing these types of things.” 

Ergemlidze said police and others recognize her now as she walks around with her hoop — part of the reason being she received national attention this week for her work. 

A group organized by @stephaniae__ dragged a basketball hoop around Center City in Philadelphia to help bring people together --(via @ncannellf)

— ESPN (@espn) June 3, 2020

She’s just happy to be able to share her passion in a way that can make a difference because basketball, for her, is more than just a hobby —When she was born, doctors told her she wouldn’t be able to walk.

After years of physical therapy at a young age, she was able to walk, but doctors then said she wouldn’t be able to run or play sports. 

Her parents didn’t accept that and had her play in every sport imaginable, and basketball stuck. 

Ergemlidze isn’t done “balling” in Philly, but also wants to bring her hoop to other cities, including Minneapolis, so she can unite police and protesters there.