Words: Drew Hammell (@nikestories)

For over 15 years, Quai 54 has been the epicenter of the streetball universe. What began as a word-of-mouth pickup game in Paris back in 2003 has flourished into a worldwide basketball phenomenon.

Started by Hammadoun Sidibé and Thibaut de Longeville, Quai 54 is a streetball tournament sponsored by Jordan Brand, with annual design collaborations supporting each edition. Inspired by games played on iconic NYC courts in the ‘90s, Hammadoun and Thibaut exported the intersectional experience of basketball and hip-hop culture to France with a unique Parisian twist. In the years since, they’ve created even stronger cultural ties between the Big Apple and the City of Lights.

Historically held in Paris during the last weekend of June, this year’s Quai 54 event will be held at the Trocadero from July 17-18 with limited attendance, due to local restrictions. Nonetheless, the tournament will go on with the ambition of serving its primary purpose — to celebrate the basketball community in Paris and provide local athletes with the opportunity to get together and showcase their skills on a now global platform. In addition, both Thibaut and Hammadoun have gotten creative with incorporating youth Paris fashion school (and Jordan WINGS partner), Casa93 and adding new features. Below, they share their vision for evolving Quai 54 and speak about the designs of this year’s Jordan Brand collaboration.

Let’s start at the beginning. For those who don’t know, what does “Quai 54” mean?

Hammadoun: It’s the nickname of the court where we had the first event in the summer of 2003. It’s an unofficial nickname, not the official name of a public court in Paris. It was a new court with stands and an outdoor subway coming across it, by the river. It had that NYC music video/streetball/DVD feel, and everyone was excited.

Thibaut: Just from word of mouth within the community, there were 1000 people at the first event, and it was an incredible vibe. We didn’t have the exact address of the location, and people exchanged the info on text messages: “Meet us at this court, it’s on the river, by 54 Quai something.” People started calling it “Quai 54” for short, and the name stuck. I actually originally advised Hammadoun to change the name to something in English, so it could be more immediately understood on a global scale. Hammadoun was the one to say, “No, we’re going to keep it French. We’re going to keep it Paris. People will have to find out what it is.”

Switching gears to the past year… Obviously, it was quite a challenging year for everybody. What lessons have you guys learned, and have any of them been implemented into the format for the 2021 edition?

Hammadoun: Last year, for obvious reasons, we weren’t able to hold the tournament. It was a tough call, but it was the same for every other crowd gathering in the world. Our number one priority, at least for this year’s edition, is safety through a private event. We are getting eight teams of very dedicated players together, to play against each other, including a women’s division this year. We’re just focused on what we’ve always done: getting the community who loves basketball together however we can.

Thibaut: Quai 54 is first and foremost about amazing basketball talent, community and togetherness. On top of that, there’s an entertainment component, where artists that from France, the U.S. and Africa perform at the event and are part of the energy. That’s partly how it grew from having 1,000 people in the stands to 10,000, making it “the world’s biggest streetball tournament.” It’s fantastic.

In the current moment, hosting a sporting event with a big crowd is not really an option. We’re focused on giving the players the opportunity to play in an amazing setting and getting the core Quai 54 community together. The music, the shows and the celebrity drop-ins are all cool components of the event, but the essence of it is great basketball, community vibes and amazing locations. Being able to host basketball games, a world-class dunk contest and introduce a women’s division all together in front of the Eiffel Tower is already quite an accomplishment within the current context.

Quai 54 co-founder Hammadoun Sidibé in the 2021 Jordan Brand x Quai 54 collection

This year, the tournament will be held at the Trocadero. What was the thought process behind that location?

Hammadoun: Where we are hosting this year is probably the best location in the world to host a street basketball tournament. It’s smack dab across from the Eiffel Tower. We’ve had the opportunity to host the event there a couple of times, which is a testimony of the City of Paris’ acknowledgment of what Quai 54 means to Paris.

Thibaut: The City of Paris understands we are a community that represents incredible values: sportsmanship, showmanship, togetherness, representation and excellence that go beyond sports. You can’t get a more iconic location to host anything, let alone a street basketball event. There’s something incredibly exciting about being able to put together something as “hood” and as “grassroots“ as Quai 54 in one of the world’s most prestigious locations.

We’ve seen some very creative Quai 54 collaborations with Jordan Brand over the years. What makes this year’s collection, which includes the AJ1 Low, AJ5 Mid, AJ35 Low, AJ11 CMFT and men’s and women’s apparel, so special?

Thibaut: One of the main inspirations is that, whether it’s myself, Hammadoun, the athletes at the event or the community in Paris that’s involved in basketball, we are largely of African descent. The African-American community in the U.S. has had a big influence on what we do, how we dress and more. But we have our own flavor, which is informed both by our African heritage and by a sense of style and approach to design that’s quite unique to Paris. Jordan Brand has given us a platform to elevate that story and to connect our diaspora between Paris, other European cities, Africa and the U.S.

The Jordan x Quai 54 collection celebrates African inspiration and cultural roots but in a very inclusive way. It fits the Eastern European guys in the tournament just as well. The pieces represent the flavor, from the music that’s played at the event, to how these players carry themselves, to how they talk on the court. In terms of color palette, we wanted to work with the classic Jordan color palette as a tribute to classic Jordan designs. In these kinds of collaborations, collaborative entities tend to stay away from using the classic Jordan color palette. We, on the contrary, wanted to use it and try to give it a different spin.

The apparel references qualities that Paris and West Africa have in common: the craftsmanship of hand-sewn savoir-faire and the pride and joy of fashion, couture and stitching together various elements. When it comes to textiles, graphics and colors, there’s a wealth of design inspiration in traditional African fabrics for us — a traditional print from Mali or Senegal, for example — that we can remix with Parisian style, sleek graphics and a modern “streetwear” approach.

Maye modeling the Jordan Brand x Quai 54 WMNS apparel collection and Air Jordan XXXV Low x Quai 54

Why was it important to have a women’s division and a women’s-specific collection this year

Hammadoun: We’ve wanted to do women’s games for quite some time. Our sisters in Parisian basketball are active members of the community and our team; they have the talent and the swag. So this year, we’re also hosting a women’s division for the first time.

Thibaut: Basketball is a beautiful, inclusive sport. Women throughout the world excel in it. We recognize that Jordans are not just for men, and we were happy to see MJ’s recent support of signing so many incredible WNBA players. It’s exciting what we’re doing this year, and it’s a better representation of what this event is about.

How do you come up with ideas for the Friends & Family silhouettes?

Thibaut: There are big sweat drops on our foreheads any time we get the opportunity to work on new Friends & Family designs! [Laughs] Besides commemorating a new edition of Quai 54, we see it as something to share with the community that is behind this powerful grassroots organization. It takes a whole village to produce the event and bring everyone together. We design the items based on the idea that they are special products, catered to them, and thanking them for being a part of it. Sometimes, it’s the most overt expression of whatever design story we created for that year, and other times, it’s the most understated. Either way, it’s the crown jewel of that execution. It’s a piece of the pride we have for what we do. The friends and family of Quai 54 are a very fashion-forward community. When we create our designs, we think first and foremost about what will resonate with them.

Quai 54 co-founder Thibaut de Longeville in the 2021 Jordan Brand x Quai 54 collection

You’ve had some notable NBA athletes play in Quai 54 over the years. How would you describe the impact of that on the community of local players?

Hammadoun: It’s become somewhat of a tradition, in that same spirit of bringing people together. When you play in the NBA, you’re not always able to get in contact with the community on a grassroots level like you can at Quai 54. Quai 54 is really a contact sport. You can’t be afraid to be touched.

We’ve had NBA athletes play in the tournament since 2006, and consistently at every edition over the last four years. They might be playing with guys whose day job is working at a pastry shop, or they work at a community center, and that’s the beauty of our Pro-Am formula. It’s a great experience for all parties involved.

Thibaut: That’s the real spirit of Quai 54, in a nutshell. There’s nowhere else that you’ll see an NBA player, or one of the best-paid athletes in the world, playing on a team with guys who just play basketball as a hobby but are super passionate about it. They’re playing for the joy of being together on a basketball court. There’s something really pure about it, which is really precious, even more so in consideration of how the world of professional sports has evolved over the past decades.

For those who haven’t been, how do you incorporate music and artists into the tournament

Thibaut: All of the games are usually played with music, thanks to the DJs. You can’t always hear what the referee is saying since music is blasting through the speakers. It’s a specific way of experiencing the game of basketball — watching this level of athleticism in an outdoor environment with your community, just jamming to your favorite track.

Hammadoun: We like to have top performers, whether they’re from France, the U.S., Africa or elsewhere. We have a strong history of premiering talent at Quai 54. Young artists have performed and later become household names and big stars. We take a lot of pride in that.

The Air Jordan V Mid x Quai 54, including a black Friends & Family version

Over the years, you’ve become part of the Jordan Brand family. What do you love most about the continued Quai 54 partnership?

Thibaut: It’s been an incredible blessing to collaborate with Jordan Brand. They have an understanding of what’s special about the event and how it represents basketball culture. The audience dresses up for the event like they’re going to an award show or a gala. There’s something really endearing about it. The Brand gets it. When we first started working with Jordan Brand, they asked, “How can we help?” One of the first things I said was, “Well… How about making shoes?” At the time, collaborations weren’t as common as they are today. Quai 54 became the first-ever entity to collaborate with Jordan Brand on product — a huge honor for us.

Every time we collaborate with the Brand, we see it as an opportunity to tell a story. Whether it’s an overt story or a subtle story, and whether people understand it or not. We’re very involved in designing the product, defining the color stories and creating graphics that translate to not only the product but to the court design, the environment and the visuals around the entire event. Quite honestly, and with humility, I can’t think of another event or entity that approaches events and collaboration like we do, where design plays such an important part.

Knowing this year will be different, out of necessity, what are you ultimately hoping to achieve with Quai 54 in 2021? And what can you tell us about the future of Quai 54?

Hammadoun: As always, we want to make a statement. And we know our community has been through a lot in the past two years. It goes back to togetherness. We’re representing the game and the culture of the game at the most iconic location Paris has to offer. We can’t have a big audience this year, but just the opportunity to host good basketball games, put on a dunk contest and have fun being who we are — that’s a statement. It’s the intersection of basketball, culture, fashion, entertainment and community at one of the world’s most iconic locations. It’s a statement in itself, and that’s what we’re always going to be about.

Thibaut: In terms of what’s next, and the future chapters of all of this, we have a lot of ambition. We’ve been able to do this event and transform it into what it’s now become, which is more than an event. We’re looking at having editions outside of Paris to share this unique experience that’s actually already a very global one — with players and teams from around the world. Starting in Africa. Stay tuned.

Yacouba modeling the Jordan Brand x Quai 54 apparel collection and Air Jordan V Mid x Quai 54

The Quai 54 collection is available starting July 10 from SNKRS, Jordan.com and select retailers.