Behind jobs, outlets for recreation are a key missing factor in inner cities, leading to youth idleness and trouble, some legends of basketball and hip-hop said Wednesday.
Kenny “The Jet” Smith — who played 10 years in the National Basketball Association, six with the Houston Rockets, and now co-hosts TNT Network’s “Inside the NBA” with Charles Barkley and Shaquille O’Neal — led a star-studded panel announcing plans to refurbish some West Side basketball courts.
“These communities are a lot of times forgotten, whether we’re talking about basketball courts or 12 years ago Katrina. You empower people when you give them a chance to flourish inside their neighborhood. People live here and that’s what this is about,” Smith said at the event at Columbus Park in the Austin neighborhood.
Smith represents Full Court reFRESH, a national initiative of Coors Light that donated $40,000 to the Chicago Urban League to renovate three basketball courts in massive Columbus Park and one in downstate Urbana for the University of Illinois.
Hoop Magazine writer Bryan Crawford, who grew up in Englewood, attributed some of Chicago’s violence to the lack of resources in neighborhoods.
“A lot of this violence has to do with just the fact that kids in our community, they have nowhere to go. They have no positive structure, nothing to get involved in. Some of these parks today, they barely have rims. If you don’t give these kids an outlet, what’s left for them to do aside from running the streets and getting into trouble?” Crawford said.
Joining them on a panel were four-time Grammy-nominated rapper Tauheed “2 Chainz” Epps; Dee Brown, director of player development and alumni relations at U of I; and former players like Ronnie Fields, the 1990s Farragut High School star whose NBA career was stunted when he broke his neck in a car accident after being drafted. Fields went on to play for the Continental and American basketball associations, and was the subject of the documentary, “Bounce Back: the Ronnie Fields Story.”
Parks in his native Atlanta are just as lacking, 2 Chainz said.
“What we’re doing is providing an important resource for the younger generation. A lot of the kids don’t have anything to do with their time right now,” the rapper said. “A lot of them look up to athletes or entertainers, so when you do these things, build a studio or refurbish a basketball court, it helps change the trajectory in our neighborhoods, along with seeing somebody like myself, speak to what’s happening in the streets.”