For a few hours, the Monte Sano Park Gym in North Baton Rouge was the site of the largest collection of basketball talent in the city.
The NBA Cares organization along with the New Orleans Pelicans and BREC combined to refurbish the local youth gym, giving it a new court and holding a skills clinic for area children as part of the NBA All-Star weekend in New Orleans.
To help with the opening of the facility was a star-studded event that featured big names from former NBA and WNBA legends to Baton Rouge Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome.
Along with the new court, NBA Cares and the Pelicans donated athletic equipment to three local schools whose equipment was damaged during the summer’s severe flooding.
“This is going to certainly elevate and enhance our facility here,” Broome said in her address to the group. “But more importantly, I’m really excited about what’s going to take place here with our young people in the community and this awesome basketball court.”
Despite being almost 90 miles from the Smoothie King Center, where this weekend’s All Star Game will take place, NBA Senior Vice President of Social Responsibility Todd Jacobson said holding an event in Baton Rouge to help a community battered by recent tragedy was an obvious decision.
NBA Cares held similar events in the New Orleans area, but Monte Sano Park was the only Baton Rouge gym to be refurbished.
The NBA donated the money for the court, which was then built by Connor Sports.
The three schools to receive equipment donations were Brookstown Middle Magnet Academy, Park Forest Middle School and Glen Oaks Park Elementary.
“When the floods happened here, we responded with the Pelicans and the Saints, and we wanted to show our support,” Jacobson said. “We knew when we were coming back here for the All-Star Game that we wanted to come to Baton Rouge and visit the schools and families that were affected and make sure we could offer our support as part of the All-Star Game and the NBA family.”
The facility was christened with the help of former basketball legends Hall of Famers Bob Lanier and Dikembe Mutombo as well as Muggsy Bogues, Bruce Bowen, Felipe Lopez and the WNBA’s Swin Cash and Ruth Riley.
The former players went through drills with the 75 boys and girls from the BREC Youth Group, teaching everything from basic shooting techniques to dribbling skills.
The NBA and WNBA Cares ambassadors travel with the organization to help in events around the country similar to the one held in Baton Rouge on Wednesday.
Bogues said he loves to work with the children, but they tend to remember him more for his acting role in the movie “Space Jam” than his 14-year career in the NBA.
“The NBA is all about giving back,” Bogues said. “Giving these kids an opportunity to see what goes on behind the scenes, but more importantly, mentoring them, getting them resources like the basketball court and just enriching their lives, better their lives and give them hope that, one day, their dreams will come true.”
As part of a push for more community outreach, local law enforcement also joined in on the day, celebrating the new court by running drills with the children.
A few of the officers looked like they were struggling to keep up with their younger teammates, but Lieutenant Chad Parker with the Sheriff’s Office Community Policing Division said it was a joy to get to spend time at the event.
“This is something we do all the time, but to be able to get affiliated with an organization like the NBA or BREC — we’re always doing something fun with them — but the NBA takes it to another level,” Parker said. “They’re able to pull in a group of people or a group of kids that we may or may not be able to touch. … If we can get out and touch the lives of kids, I think it’s always a great thing.”