Joe’s Basketball Diaries: Season 2 launches with episode on community

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In a new season of the award-winning series, host Joseph Wong and guests take the conversation beyond the court as they discuss topics ranging from sustainability to inclusion

Mariam Matti

For Joseph Wong, basketball is more than a hobby or a passion – it’s a platform to foster meaningful conversations about community, sustainability, diversity and equity, and reconciliation.

As host of the award-winning series Joe's Basketball Diaries, Wong explores these and other themes with guests from inside and outside the University of Toronto in a new season that begins today.

“The show puts front and centre a lot of key issues we’re grappling with as a society,” says Wong, U of T’s vice-president, international, and a professor in the department of political science and the Munk School of Global Affairs & Public Policy in the Faculty of Arts & Science.

“These are all big issues that are not exclusive to the world of sport or basketball, but it provides an opportunity for a discussion.”

Season Two begins by following up on a topic explored in the first season – community – and opens with a discussion about the Scarborough Shooting Stars, a local basketball team that won its first championship in the Canadian Elite Basketball League this past summer.

Sam Ibrahim, a business leader, philanthropist and co-founder of the Stars, says during the episode that it was important to name the team after Scarborough to keep its roots authentic.

“Scarborough is not a city anymore, it’s more of a historical region,” says Ibrahim, who is a major supporter of U of T Scarborough. “For us to preserve Scarborough and what it means to us – it was important regardless of what it meant to the Greater Toronto Area.”

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Will Lou, writer and co-host of the Raptors Show podcast, adds that locals understand the social and cultural of importance of Scarborough.

“People always make jokes, but at the end of the day a lot of Toronto’s culture comes from Scarborough,” he says.

Aleer Leek, a player on the Varsity Blues men’s basketball team who grew up in Scarborough, says he saw first-hand how excited the community was about local sporting events, while Fabienne Blizzard, co-founder of the Capital Courts Academy and the Cadette National Team coach, speaks about how sports brought her community together growing up.

Airing biweekly on U of T’s YouTube channel, future episodes of Joe’s Basketball Diaries will delve into the intersection of sports and reconciliation, the significance of sustainability in sports and the complexities that surround transgender athletes. For instance, while much of the mainstream debate on issues of transgender inclusion and sport focuses on elite athletes, Wong says the show is deliberately steering the conversation towards the underlying issues – from the science of sports performance to the sociology of gender and the need for inclusion.

On the topic of sustainability, Wong notes that few sports fans stop to consider the volume of greenhouse gases that are emitted when tens of thousands of people travel to a stadium to watch a big game.

“Sports attract a lot of people – and all the work that goes into putting on a sporting event comes with a carbon price,” he says.

Wong says puts a lot of thought into his hosting the series, often reading hundreds of pages in preparation for an episode, in an effort to go “beyond the headlines.”

Even so, the series’ success – the first season received more than 1.3 million views on YouTube and won several awards – has surprised Wong. “It’s talked about in the extended Toronto community,” he says.

Guests of the show have included three-time Olympian Miranda Ayim and former Toronto Raptors basketball coach Nick Nurse. In addition, the MLSE Foundation, NBA Canada, Sinai Health Foundation, Raptors for Research, and Canada Basketball have all shared interests in connecting with U of T and potentially engaging in future partnerships, Wong says.

He adds that he’s confident viewers will find the second season of Joe’s Basketball Diaries as compelling as the first – and encourages new viewers to explore older episodes.

“They’re timely, but they’re also timeless.”