In 20 years, Rucker will still be here. My kids can take over. But I'm not sure what it will be. Some serious players -- not as many as in the past -- still show to ball at Venice Beach. Among the most notable are "Beast" and the twins "Mario" and "Luigi. They don't know his real name, his address or his cellphone number. On the playground, game trumps names. Years ago, Venice Beach and the other fabled outdoor courts of Los Angeles produced similar legends recognized by monikers alone. If you could ball, you could play next to the rich and famous, even if you had only street credentials.
But as the years passed, the best basketball players on the West Coast began to take their talents to the polished floors of air-conditioned gyms and reject the concrete that nurtured a former generation's best ballers. Their young admirers followed as L. Six-footish, pound Tarron "Beast" Williams can be found on Google. He did, after all, win the Red Bull King of the Rock streetball tournament.
But finding him, and those like him, on the playground these days isn't so easy. The men who've witnessed the shift try to preserve its fabric and history while penning its obit. Today, these outdoor surfaces no longer breed the Jumpin' Joey Johnsons, the Hooks, the Bad Santas, the Worms and the Beasts -- street legends -- who were so popular in the '70s, '80s and '90s. Throughout the first weekend of June, the search for high-level outdoor basketball became an elusive pursuit in the City of Angels.
Palms Park off Overland Avenue? One boy takes a few shots and disappears. Marine Park? The beautiful gem tucked into a neat Santa Monica neighborhood is empty. Mar Vista Park has multiple courts available midday, but not one 5-on-5 run. Darby Park is packed, but only thanks to an organized exhibition between a group of streetballers and a team of female former Division I players the women won.
And they never will. But it might not be that complex. Although matchmaking was spotty this morning, I played a few rounds of the mode, taking the opportunity to practice building my go-to fort over and over without anyone raining bullet hell down on me. And it just grew and grew and grew. Really—you have to do that.
At Rogers Park, a handful of young men dribble on the gravel positioned down the hill from yellowed grass patches that thirst for water and attention. There are more boys pulling off kickflips and ollies on skateboards than basketball players getting buckets. Tarron "Beast" Williams, a former college basketball player and local playground legend, describes the outdoor basketball scene at L.
This is a difficult and new reality for Dwayne Polee Sr. He was just a teenager when then-NBA standouts Michael Cooper, Marques Johnson and Magic Johnson would join youngsters for offseason matchups that allowed the top kids in Inglewood to play against future Hall of Famers and college standouts. These guys would come in the city and be comfortable. The Drew League, which grew in popularity during the NBA lockout in , is the smartphone to playground basketball's rotary dial.
LeBron James and Kobe Bryant have played here. Kevin Durant is scheduled to compete this summer, too. The best players, Beast among them, arrive with girlfriends who dress for the red carpet, not a summer pro-am. Baron Davis coaches a team in the league. Nipsey Hussle, a West Coast rapper, cheers from the front row. Terrell, who plays in the league. It's the best place to play in L. You've got pros from all over out here.
There are many theories that attempt to explain the exodus from L. People don't want to ruin expensive footwear. There are concerns about injuries.
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Violence, too. But it might not be that complex. Elite players seek top competition, and that's not consistently available outdoors in Kids are not into playground basketball like we were. There are games on three courts and a collection of players trying to sort out who called next on this illuminated court. Demetri Miller, 18, travels the 25 minutes from South Central L. He always finds a good game, he said. But he wishes L.
Many gather to watch Williams and his teammates battle in the Venice Basketball League. Eleven-year-old DJ Kiss has a staff that pushes his brand's T-shirts to spectators while they bob their heads to the rap instrumentals he blasts from his full digital setup. The VBL's emcee, Mouthpiece, assigns names to the players who've clearly competed beyond the recreational level.
But Beast isn't having fun. He's missing shots and layups. And he can't buy a call. Arthur Agee Jr. Now, he just sees emptiness.
Things have changed. When [Jabari] came to the park, I had to let people know he was coming through. Violence is an issue in America, but it saturates Chicago, a city that once hosted some of the best playground basketball in the country.
The city's police are working overtime shifts this summer in parks to curb crime, according to a CBS report. There were murders reported in Chicago in , the highest total in America that year. That number dipped to in , still the highest. Last year, Hadiya Pendleton, a year-old who had participated in President Barack Obama's inauguration festivities, was killed at Vivian Gordon Harsh Park when a shooter ambushed a group gathered under a canopy.
Thirteen people, including a 3-year-old boy, were wounded in a September shooting at Cornell Square Park. And that shooting began when a gunman attacked those playing pickup basketball. The violence persisted over the recent Fourth of July weekend when a year-old woman reportedly was killed at Morgan Park.
More than 80 people in Chicago were shot, and 16 died, over the holiday weekend, per reports.
Violence is the refrain in a city sacked by heavy pockets of trouble. So the front pages read -- bleed -- like Agatha Christie's novels. As a result, fear has cleared some of Chicago's former basketball havens. Miles Rawls, commissioner of the Washington, D. He has been assured that competitors will play indoors for next month's event.
They're not playing outside at all. On one West Side street, there are homes with broken glass and barred windows.
Across the street, trimmed bushes abut small flower gardens in front of two-story, stone anomalies in this tough West Garfield Park neighborhood. Parks should be the sites of basketball games, not crime scenes. A Black and Mild cigar balances on his lower lip. On this court, Agee once dazzled crowds with acrobatics that encouraged director Steve James to focus on Agee's and William Gates' basketball journey in the film that won the Audience Award for Best Documentary at the Sundance Film Festival.
Playgrounds aren't what they once were, but the characters and the games have not all disappeared. Take a look around and see what is still out there. In mid-June, Agee stood on that court with a few friends -- including Shannon Johnson, who also appeared in the film -- and a cameraman capturing the scene as part of an upcoming reality TV project.
There were no kids. No games.
The thump of basketballs bouncing on concrete, a sound that once signaled summer in America, was absent. With the standing room taken, Johnson had to climb onto the school's rooftop to watch the older guys play when he was a kid. The troublemakers never interfered. The court was a safe zone. But Agee won't end the pursuit. He's certain the next stop will feature a buzzing playground scene.
It's not just neighborhood parks, either. A father and his young son practice alone on Lincoln Park's courts. Five teenagers play at Horner Park, which, they say, hosts good games all summer.