LOS ANGELES — Every kid on the court at Crete Academy was looking at Chris Paul.
It was nearing the end of the Houston Rockets point guard’s Go Hoop Day youth basketball clinic.
Participants ranging from 6 to 12 years old flocked around Paul as soon as he’d arrived at the South Los Angeles school on Sunday.
On the court, he’d shot the ball with them and watched them run back and forth under the hoops. Near the food trucks at the back of the court, he signed their T-shirts and jerseys. In front of a large Go Hoop Day sign by the entrance, he took pictures with them.
Now, with the kids sitting in one large group on the concrete and their parents watching from the sides of the court, Paul spoke about why they were there.
“This game is all good and well,” Paul told them, “and people might see the houses, the cars and all that, but … this is really your passion, giving back and showing you guys that people care about y’all and that these communities can come together.”
Paul and Justin Leonard co-created Go Hoop Day in 2018 to be a day of appreciation for basketball. They envisioned a day where kids, athletes and basketball fans all over the country would go to their local courts, play ball and simply be with the people in their communities.
Basketball courts in New York, Philadelphia, Cleveland and other cities around the nation were unlocked on Sunday with sponsors such as Spalding, the National Basketball Players Association and Jordan Brand.
But for the members of the Crenshaw community, Go Hoop Day meant more than basketball.
“I think it was good for the community, especially after Nipsey Hussle’s passing,” Marquesha Sizemore said of the late rapper and community activist. “I think it was just a staple to have something positive to bring everybody together and help remember him in a positive way.
“People that knew him in the sports field as well as kids in the community, this is just something positive for them to do and actually be here, be safe and know that they can actually do something that they like and love.”
Sizemore’s daughter, Ryan West, is a first-grader at Crete Academy and was a participant in the clinic.
Sizemore said she put her daughter in sports like basketball, dance and softball to keep her motivated and aware that her options in life are endless.
“She didn’t know she was gonna actually have to come out here and do a little bit of work,” Sizemore chuckled as West went through drills with the trainers on the court, “but these kids need that. They need that.”
Paul spoke about Hussle’s legacy while he stood on the Nipsey Hussle Memorial Court, which was dedicated to the Los Angeles native after his death on March 31.
“The man right here before us,” Paul said, pointing at the rapper’s face under his feet. “Right here. Just learning, learning about different things about how to give back to your community as much as possible.
“Now, I wish I would’ve learned a lot more from him. But what it does now, I think it starts the conversation, and a lot of people are a lot more aware of what’s happening in their community and trying to figure out how they can give back.”
Small forward Trevor Ariza and Las Vegas Aces forward Tamera Young joined Paul on the court at the clinic, helping participants with their shooting and taking pictures on the sides.
“When you look at all the children over here and you see everybody over here trying to do something good to better the next generation,” Ariza said, “you always want to be a part of that, so the fact that we are able to somehow touch lives is important.”
Young, along with Paul, was at another Go Hoop Day clinic in LA earlier that day before arriving at Crete Academy.
“Basketball is something that Chris and I and other people grew up playing, and it’s what helped our confidence,” Young told Yahoo Sports. “It’s what brought us together as kids.”
Toward the end of the clinic, after participants had gone through their drills, eaten from the food trucks and gotten haircuts at the barbershop booth, Paul was presented with a Certificate of Recognition, signed by Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, recognizing June 23 as the official Go Hoop Day.
“I think as big as the game of basketball is and as important as it is culturally,” Justin Leonard said, owner of Game Seven Marketing. “We knew that creating this platform would give us the opportunity to arguably create one of the biggest moments in basketball every year.”
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