For Taleha Ojeda, it was opportunity to watch the game she described as her “life-saver.”
For Jim Salter, it was a chance to cheer for nephews as they played the game he deemed “the best sport ever.”
For Devin Lewis, it just added to tradition. The 18-year-old has played in the Gus Macker Tournament since he was eight.
Nearly 3,000 people registered for the weekend three-on-three basketball tournament. Orv Cott, athletic director for the Police Athletic League and event organizer, touted it as one of the nation’s largest.
The city rerouted traffic around Delaware Avenue between West Huron and West Eagle streets to make room for the players and crowds.
Saturday’s weather made for a warm and dry game day.
The half-court battles featured teams of all ages and experience levels, expected to draw about 40,000 spectators by the end of the weekend.
Rob Redd, 30, said he is drawn by the tournament’s competition level.
“My life is amazing when it comes to basketball,” he said. “I do it rain, sleet, hail, snow.”
Redd, who grew up watching Chicago Bulls duo Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen play, said he would shovel out snow in order to make way for a game. On Saturday, Redd said one of his most convincing plays included freeing himself up for a basket after crossing over an opposing player, who fell backward. Redd apologized after and shook the player’s hand, he said.
For the caliber of play and competitiveness, sportsmanship was on full display, said Bernie Cavanaugh, 70, of North Tonawanda.
“You can’t even tell who wins or loses,” he said. “Everybody shakes hands.”
The first-time spectator showed up Saturday to support his 19-year-old granddaughter, Dana, who made the trip from Rochester.
“She’s one of my five favorite people in the whole world,” he beamed. “She’s a great ball-handler.”
Cavanaugh was not the only proud family member cheering on a player. The streets were lined with supporters camped out in collapsible chairs and seated along the sidewalk.
Stephanie Anderson, 43, was there for her 19-year-old daughter, who has played in at least the last four tournaments. “This is what she loves to do. This is what brings her joy and happiness. I’m just here to support her,” she said.
“If my children are happy, I’m happy,” the Cheektowaga resident added.
For Carmen Freeman, it was her son’s play that brought her back for the 14th consecutive year. A sizable number of Freeman’s family members, including nephews, also played.
“You get to see a variety of age groups in addition to your family,” Freeman said as she sat from her seat on the sidewalk, shaded by a tree.
Leaning against a building with his legs sprawled following a win, Terell Henry, 24, said the tournament also helped reunite old friends.
“We should have more of these,” said Henry, who counted a fade away three-pointer among one of his best plays. “It brings a lot of people out, and it’s a good look for Buffalo.”