The court was like Rucker Park to the third power.
Unlike professional tennis players or golfers, who mostly developed their skills at plush country clubs, most basketball players fine-tuned their games at their local playgrounds and parks.
While baseball and football may be popular, basketball is the only sport you need nothing other than a ball and a pair of kicks. It is by far the most democratic game. You don’t need to pay any memberships anywhere or buy any special equipment, you just have to show up to the park and holler out, “I got next!”
It comes as no surprise that the NBA possesses more diversity than all of the major sports; and no team embodies that quality more than the Phoenix Suns. They have players from France, Canada, Brazil, the Virgin Islands, Slovenia and even UNLV.
So as you watch Phoenix take on Denver on TNT in the NBA’s first outdoor game in the modern era, think about where all of these hoop dreams started and how they all ended up converging together at one moment in time.
Shaquille O’Neal cut his basketball chops playing in the projects of Newark at Weequahic Park, and occasionally makes surprise visits there during the offseason for some pick-up ball. Matt Barnes knows all about playing on the concrete as well. Growing up in a favorable climate like Sacramento, CA., Barnes was able to hoop outside all year. He’s really looking forward to getting out there and testing his jumper against the breeze.
“It’s awesome,” the Suns’ swingman said. “I might be jumping around out there like I’m 15 of 16-years old. You get a little extra juice playing outside.”
Although raised in France, where one wouldn’t think that playground basketball is popular, Boris Diaw remembers running some game on the outdoor courts of Bordeaux.
“Playing out here makes me think of growing up and playing ball in the summertime,” he said.
The same goes for Steve Nash. The two-time MVP developed his picture-perfect shot at the local school’s playground near his house. That habit has carried over to today. When Nash goes to New York to live for the summer, you might be able to catch a glimpse of him shooting around at the famed West 4th Street courts in Greenwich Village.
For Alando Tucker, who grew up in the Chicago area, concrete courts were abound, but he decided to keep his basketball journey a little closer to home. Actually, real close.
“I remember making my backyard my court,” he said. “I remember my mom having to reject so many people because that would be the place to go, especially in the summertime.
“Sometimes we’d have 10-20 cars lined up in my backyard. We played from sun-up to sundown.”
Coach Porter harkened back to his days on the blacktop in Wisconsin, working on his game throughout the summers. Porter fondly remembers that Atkinson and Lincoln were the two playgrounds he grew up playing on. Although the set up at Indian Wells is reminiscent of those days in the schoolyards, it’s not quite the same. If the Indian Wells Tennis Garden were considered to be a playground, it would be the Taj Mahal.
“There are no chain nets out here,” Porter said.
And the Suns’ new Head Coach has no problem with that. When asked if the two teams playing on blacktop would make it more authentic. He responded while laughing, “Oh yeah, the owners would love that!”