Race and religion don’t matter in the annual Friendship Games.Basketball players from all over the world will be playing matches in Arab and Jewish schools throughout Israel late this spring as part of the Third Annual Friendship Games.

The event, which takes place from May 30 to June 6, brings together college basketball players of different ethnicities and religions, from over 20 countries, including Angola, Canada, China, Croatia, Cyprus, Estonia, Germany, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Lithuania, the Palestinian Authority, Poland, Russia, Serbia, Ukraine, and others.

Some 600 male and female players in 35 teams will compete in a round-robin style basketball tournament at Tel Aviv University (TAU) and other venues.

Unlike in previous years, where all games were played in Tel Aviv, the tournament will hit the road to play on 18 different courts at high schools in both Arab and Jewish towns, from Ma’alot-Tarshiha in the north to Kiryat Malachi in the south. The matches will be followed by discussions with high schoolers.

The games, however, are designed to be about more than just basketball – students also tour the Holy Land, visiting Jerusalem, the Dead Sea, Nazareth, Sea of Galilee, Tiberias, and Tel Aviv-Jaffa – and participate in activities that promote co-existence between Arabs and Jews.

The Friendship Games originated in 2006 after a meeting between Atlanta Hawks co-owner Ed Peskowitz and TAU athletic director Arie Rosenzweig and coach Ilan Kowalsky, athletic director at the Interdisciplinary Center, Herzliya.

The concept: use basketball to unify countries on a grassroots, person-to-person level.

Last year, the Polish women’s team won over China 61-39 in the Friendship Games final, while the Canadian men’s team beat Serbia 45-40.

Peskowitz, who funds the project, is also instrumental in bringing basketball heroes to inspire and instruct.

Last year, students were treated to meetings with NBA legend Spencer Haywood, Maccabi Tel Aviv legend LaVon Mercer, Atlanta Hawks assistant coach Herb Brown of the NBA, and St. Edward’s University Coach Ryan Marks. This year’s program, though not yet finalized, promises to be equally stellar.