OTISFIELD — The chant of “Mam-ba, Mam-ba” started as Brian Scalabrine sliced through the crowd and exchanged high fives.
It built until its crescendo could be heard across Pleasant Lake as Scalabrine stood triumphantly before 200 campers, counselors and on-lookers at Seeds of Peace. Making what he estimated was his 12th appearance at the camp on a sun-splashed Friday, the former Boston Celtics forward known as “The White Mamba” had the crowd of teenagers from some of the world’s most dangerous places in the palm of his hand.
Although he is typically accompanied by high draft picks and future NBA superstars at the camp’s annual “Play for Peace” basketball clinic, Scalabrine, who spent five years of his 11-year career as a backup forward in Boston, is always the star in the campers’ eyes.
It doesn’t matter that most of them were still in diapers when he was an NBA rookie and also started making the annual trek to the western Maine foothills, organized by sports agent Arn Tellem. Scalabrine gets the camp’s mission and understands his role in seeing it is carried out.
“Obviously, there are a lot of things going on in the world,” said Scalabrine, “and the idea of Seeds of Peace is to get these kids in here young and realizing there are a lot of things we can talk about and we can build,” Scalabrine said.
“It’s a grind for them,” he said. “Talk about the courage for them to get out of their countries right now, where there’s war going on, coming here. And then for us, supporting them. Back home, they’re going through tough times. But today is about giving them a break and having fun. That’s why we’re here.”
For the past 22 years, Seeds of Peace has brought teenagers from conflict zones together so they can see each other in a new light. Much of their time in Otisfield is spent participating in daily dialogue encounters, which are designed to help the future leaders of the world’s most troubled areas build relationships, understanding and skills needed to foster a lasting peace.
The sessions are intense, and can fray the nerves of campers, now one week into their three-week session.
“They’re in heavy dialogue, and today, they get to have fun,” said Scalabrine, who retired in 2012 and is now a broadcaster on Celtics telecasts for Comcast Sports.
Scalabrine delivers the fun through basketball drills, games and hijinks on the camp’s outdoor basketball court, goofing around with campers and fellow guests. This year, Boston Celtics’ guard Marcus Smart and fellow 2014 first-round picks Joel Embiid and Jerami Grant of the Philadelphia 76ers, and Steven Adams, a 2013 first-rounder for the Oklahoma City Thunder, joined in.
Adams, a 7-foot center from New Zealand, served as the target of most of Scalabrine’s good-natured trash talking. The two played a little one-on-one, rolled in the grass next to the court for an impromptu rugby match and planned to complete their personal triathlon later while cooling off in Pleasant Lake.
“Steven Adams is going down,” Scalabrine said. “We’re going to race across the lake and back. No way he beats me — America versus New Zealand.”
Embiid, recovering from June foot surgery, ditched his crutches to break out some dance moves and take part in some of the least strenuous drills.
Across a dirt road from the blacktop, Smart held court indoors, leading campers through games of knockout and 3-on-3 before posing for pictures and signing autographs.
“I had a blast. I haven’t had that much fun in a long time,” said Smart, making his first visit to Maine. “You’ve got kids here that just want to have fun and want to be around people that inspire them. That’s why we’re here.”
The campers represent eight delegations — Afghan, American, Egyptian, Indian Israeli, Palestinian and Pakistani. More than half of the campers in the current session are Israeli or Palestinian.
Finding common ground is crucial to Seeds of Peace fulfilling its mission. For one day, a former journeyman basketball player from Enumclaw, Washington, serves as a clown prince of common ground and basketball.
“We all come from different backgrounds,” Scalabrine said, “but basketball is a universal language.”