From the streets of Brazil to the 3x3 World Tour Final: Leandro's inspiring journey
RIO DE JANEIRO (Brazil) - From the streets to the Olympics - Leandro Souza de Lima represents better than almost anyone 3x3's motto.
Almost. The Brazilian star is not quite an Olympian just yet – and will have to wait till 2021 to see if Brazil qualifies for Tokyo due to the coronavirus pandemic – but his journey from the rough streets of Rio de Janeiro to 3x3 star is inspirational.
Hoops was escapism for Leandro since he was a child and became an opportunity to get out of the dangerous favelas – the unregulated neglected neighbourhoods dotting Brazil.
Despite his basketball talent and strong work ethic, he wasn't able to turn professional and started to believe his career might be done.
But at 33 – destiny, perhaps? – Leandro received a lifeline from 3x3 and it has changed his life. "I fought for 25 years and trained a lot waiting for this moment. 3x3 fulfilled my dream," he says.
Leandro has fallen in love with 3x3 and enjoyed much team success – being the only player in 3x3 history to participate in three World Tour Finals with three different teams. He has helped Sao Paulo DC, Delhi 3BL and Lausanne TNV reach the World Tour's biggest stage.
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"What I like most about 3x3 is the democracy, the possibility that all players can participate without discrimination," he says. "That everyone has the same opportunity to enter the court and show their skills.
"Talents that were swallowed up by the lack of opportunity are reborn thanks to 3x3."
The 36-year-old has become a 3x3 pioneer in Brazil and is hoping to help his country qualify for the Tokyo Games.
The Olympics dream burns bright for Leandro, who is currently living in Spain with his wife and training hard during strict lockdown. "I'm training like never before," he says.
"When this is over, I will compete for a place in the Olympics and this will be the biggest story of my life. I will be prepared for this great challenge."
Leandro knows qualifying for the biggest show in sports will inspire a generation of Brazilians. "It will be very inspiring to be able to show many other young people that it is worthwhile to continue believing," he says.
"To show that even training alone and without support, even treading the dark and lonely path of basketball on the streets, that we can reach the most desired place in the sport."
Whatever happens, Leandro wants to continue being a 3x3 ambassador in Brazil, where it has gained popularity. More importantly, he wants to serve as a role model for those enduring hardships in favelas.
"All of us who left the favela, we have the responsibility to bring back everything we have learned," he says. "My desire is to prove to them that it is possible, so that others can overcome barriers like those I have overcome."