A Local Court Bounces Back in Croatia
A new generation of Croatian hoopers restored their local court, then brought their neighbourhood together.
On an overcast evening in the working-class suburb of Gajnice, Croatia, a small crowd loiters along the baseline of a basketball court. Soft, yellow light illuminates the silhouettes, their shadows looming against the imposing housing blocks that flank the court. White taxis come and go, and through the chain-link fence commuter trains roll by, the clash of wheel hitting track a rhythmic soundtrack that punctuates the atmosphere.
This is Gajnice's renowned Taxi Court. The pride of the neighbourhood, the centre of its urban heat map. Where people stop to talk, hang and, more than anything, play ball. Under the night sky, a light rain begins to fall, darkening the speckled tarmac, but no one is in a rush. Old jokes are exchanged. Trash is talked. There's catching up to do. Many of the players have arrived on foot from their nearby homes, or have stopped on the drive home in work clothes, changing in their cars.
"Alright, let's get to it", a deep voice booms in Croatian.
"We put this court, this neighbourhood, on the map".
In an instant, layers are shed, laces are tightened. A fast-paced, five-on-five game commences. At the Taxi Court, the style of play is one that would only be described as physical. Foul calls are uncommon, and when you drive to the cup, more often than not, you pay a price—to say that the games get "chippy" would simply be an understatement. "We have always practised a more rough way of playing", says Ivan Krizmanic, an effortlessly smooth guard with a crossover known to crack ankles. "There is no yielding, there are no easy points".
Here, respect on the court is paramount, especially when it comes to representing the neighbourhood. Every summer, when the Taxi Court hosts its annual three-on-three tournament, players from nearby towns, and more recently, neighbouring countries, come to challenge the local crew. "You want to beat them and say, 'They came to Gajnice. This is our court, better luck next time'", says Ivan.
It hasn't always been like this at the Taxi Court, though. For many years the playground fell into disrepair, until a new generation took it upon themselves to refurbish the court. "We changed the backboards … we drew the lines, we got our own spotlights", says Miroslav Josic, a seasoned vet of the court. Since then, it has become a place of pride. "We put this court, this neighbourhood, on the map", Ivan adds. "No one even knew about it before we started playing and publicising it".
Importantly, the court has also become a gathering place for both younger and older generations, whether they play or not. "Everyone comes to this court. From little five-year-old kids, all age groups, to the generations who are 50, 60", Ivan says. "Everyone is welcome".
While the court continues to draw international acclaim, its local everyday crew has remained a small but tightknit family. Members of the community come from all walks of life—among them are pharmacists, bartenders, lawyers and warehouse workers—bonded by the game they hold dear. They talk daily through a group text thread, scheduling games and usually post-game beers. "The people playing with me are brothers", Miroslav reflects. "Not just friends".