Members of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Santa Monica were among the first to test out one of the contributions that resulted from a significant decision made by one of the NBA’s greatest players.
The youngsters eagerly took to the outdoor court at the club’s main facility Dec. 16, when the club officially unveiled a project funded by proceeds from a national TV special in July involving LeBron James. When James announced his highly anticipated decision on ESPN that he would be leaving the Cleveland Cavaliers to join the Miami Heat, the LeBron James Family Foundation chose to use all funds raised from the TV special to support the Boys & Girls Clubs of America.
A contribution of $3 million in cash and in-kind donations from Hewlett Packard and Nike was raised during the broadcast to support youth programs and build and refurbish various facilities at Boys & Girls Clubs across the nation. The Santa Monica Boys & Girls Club was the first to unveil one of those projects that came courtesy of a turning point in James’ career, said Frank Sanchez, vice president of the Boys & Girls Clubs of America.
“When LeBron James decided that he was going to do something impactful with a significant moment in his life he knew he wanted to help kids with that moment,” Sanchez told the crowd of youths that was ready to play on the new court at the Lincoln Boulevard branch.
Bud Pernoll, Santa Monica Boys & Girls Club board president, said while James’ announcement was a decision for his basketball career, “I think really the decision he made was to help people.”
Sanchez said 60 clubs around the country have received funds to renovate and refurbish facilities, with approximately $40,000 donated to the Santa Monica club for its court renovation project. James has had a strong relationship with Boys & Girls Clubs over the years and his decision has helped give Santa Monica a playfield to enjoy, Sanchez said.
“The message is real clear: this space is yours to use and protect,” he told the youths.
The courtyard is at the former site of the club’s skate park, which covered most of the outdoor area for 12 years and was demolished earlier this year. While some parents of club members criticized the removal of the popular skating facility, club officials said the new play area can accommodate a variety of sporting activities and noted that the city has other skate parks, including one at Memorial Park.
The renovated court area will be used not only for basketball but sports such as tennis, baseball, soccer, volleyball and roller hockey, and club officials say it will be able to serve hundreds more young people each year. It includes seven courts with adjustable hoops.
“Here (at the club) we’re all about deepening the impact and increasing the number of youth we serve, and with this space we’ll be able to do that,” said Aaron Young, Boys & Girls Clubs of Santa Monica CEO.
Speaking at the court unveiling ceremony, Young, an alumnus of the Santa Monica club, was reminded of playing on the same space as a youngster, though with non-adjustable hoops.
“This is very nostalgic for me because this is kind of what the court looked like close to 30 years ago,” Young said.
Another former club member, Brandon LaBrie, who is now the club’s athletic director, also said the new site appears to resemble the old playfield, which could fit large groups of children for recreation.
LaBrie noted how his young athletes were eagerly anticipating the court’s opening and said he was pleased to see their smiles as they finally got to test the surface.
“This is the best part about it,” he said, adding that over 100 kids can fit into the area.
As part of the donation, the Santa Monica club will receive 15 new computers and various Nike products and apparel, Sanchez said.
LaBrie said the club is thankful that James made sure that youngsters would benefit from his career choice.
“What he did was offer so much more to the kids; he offered this huge playfield to the community,” LaBrie said.