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“The Opportunity to Play”: PLL showcases street lacrosse in New York

In early September, the Premier Lacrosse League hosted a Street Lacrosse “Open Run” at the Lower East Side Playground on a basketball court in the heart of bustling New York City. 

It was a celebration of the sport’s essence and an open invitation to everyone to play, anywhere, with any goal and any ball. The event was open to all and featured pick-up games between kids, pros against pros, and a mix of both. 

Paul Rabil, the co-founder of the PLL, had thought about this concept for years, and was able to bring it to life with the right partners and resources. 

“About 10 years ago I wanted to take this idea to lacrosse and call it Street Lacrosse but couldn’t find the people and resources to pull it off the way that I thought it deserved to be produced,” said Rabil. “Throughout my pro career, I’ve played on basketball courts, handball courts and tennis courts – so this was familiar territory for me.” 

The idea was also inspired by a pick-up ethos Rabil had seen up close, from skateboarding at the Berrics or basketball at the Drew League in Los Angeles, but also specifically by New York basketball runs at Gaucho Park or Rucker Park.  

The event was held at a court built by the Build it and They Will Ball initiative from basketball superstar Kevin Durant. 

“KD and Rich Kleiman are investors in the PLL and wanted to support us on our community initiatives – this was the first idea we brought to them,” said Rabil. “Pickup hoops are familiar to all of us. It made basketball so accessible. There are also courts everywhere – so it was the right environment to try lacrosse on. Moreover, groups like Harlem, Bronx Lacrosse, high schools in Brooklyn like Loughlin – many of their practices are already concrete. So, the basketball courts are familiar territory. 

“And for the same reasons why I wasn’t able to launch this project a decade ago – now with their [Durant and Kleiman’s] support, and the likes of Josiah Johnson and Jeffrey Wright to name a couple more – it became a matter of when.” 

Johnson is a former collegiate basketball player at the University of California, Los Angeles, and is popular on social media, and Wright is an acclaimed American actor.  

Wright has been playing lacrosse since the 1970s and last played pickup in 1991 just outside of LA with some of his friends. 

“The mix of people that are out here…I’ve never seen this before. It’s pretty cool,” said Wright to Rabil. “From men to women, boys, girls, and players of all races – this is what makes sport so powerful – the opportunity to play.” 

The core of the concept was the accessibility of lacrosse, and the opportunity of sport, which is beginning to manifest itself across urban areas not just in the United States, but globally. Part of the success of the first PLL Street event was the buy-in from icons like Durant, Johnson and Wright, and from PLL and Athletes Unlimited stars. 

“Lacrosse fields, goals and equipment create barrier to ‘just playing’ – so putting our PLL and AU pros together to demonstrate what it would look like with just sticks, a tennis ball and different types of nets was the idea we wanted to bring to life,” said Rabil. 

The hope for all involved is to have more urban lacrosse, and to increase participation of the sport in new areas by reducing barriers as much as possible, a goal shared by World Lacrosse, USA Lacrosse and numerous National Governing Bodies in areas where field space is at a premium.  

Street Lacrosse was a first-time hit and Rabil believes the effort in delivering the event is a key to the success of these initiatives. 

“My hope for all of this is that people around the world will feel more included and invited to play lacrosse – with whatever means they have,” concluded Rabil. “I’ve learned in our business that the best way to unlock that confidence is to do it yourself. For us, that was the importance of having the pros play alongside the next generation. And for those who weren’t there, to be able to see that happen – in my experience – will more likely lead to them trying it at home. That’s why we invest in sharing the experience. It’s really just storytelling, and it’s through powerful storytelling that we learn.” 

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