Ball for All
Luke Harangody and Converse team up to bring basketball to Boston youth.
by Jonathan Evans
Out on Commonwealth Avenue, banners for Converse’s Open Gym program are a welcomed finish line for basketball lovers out on this freezing Saturday morning. This oasis from the bitter cold of the Boston winter day draws families from all over the city for the simple pleasure of playing basketball. Up in the gym the place is fully decked out to give the hundreds of Boston area kids a day they won’t soon forget. Along one baseline, there’s a DJ spinning and a barber set to give free haircuts. Along one sideline is a photo booth and a display of Converse’s newest basketball sneakers. In the middle of the scene stands Celtic rookie Luke Harangody.
“I want to get a chance to be on the court with the kids because this is a great event,” Harangody said. “It gives the chance for kids to come out be active and play and make new friends. It gets kids off the streets and here in a safe environment.
“The main goal is to get some games going and show how easy it is to get a game going,” Harangody said.
Though that may seem easy enough, it’s not so easy to just get a game going in the middle of the frigid Boston winter. While the notion of a sneaker company sponsoring an indoor basketball event is nothing new, the fact that this program is open to all comers and not just the most talented is. Converse’s Open Gym strives to simply spread the love of basketball and provide an opportunity for kids to play who may not otherwise have the resources. The program has been running for four years now and more than 40,000 kids have participated in cities across the east coast. In Boston, a select few program participants had the opportunity to play during halftime of last week’s Spurs/Celtics game at the TD Garden.
Playing at the Garden is still a relatively new experience for the day’s main attraction. Due to injuries to the Celtics veteran frontline, the second-round Draft pick from Notre Dame has been thrust into meaningful minutes off the bench. He’s responded well to the increased time, recently notching a career high 17 points and 11 rebounds in a win against Toronto.
“I’ve got the chance to get an opportunity with Kevin going down and I’m trying to make the best of that,” Harangody said. “Over the last ten games I think I’ve gained the coaching staffs trust. Every game I feel more comfortable.”
The 6-7 forward is well aware that while the return of Garnett and others means good news for the Celtics, it means more time on the bench for himself.
“There are positives and negatives,” Luke said about playing on such a veteran-laden team. “The playing times not going to be there because there are so many great players in front of you. But at the same time I’ve learned so much, especially from Kevin. He’s been great with me, very patient. He pulls me aside after practice which has been great.”
Doc Rivers has noted to reporters in the past that Garnett is always willing to take a young big under his wing but once that young player doesn’t listen or show a willingness to heed Garnett’s advice that player’s days as a Celtic were quickly numbered. Harangody is wisely choosing not to tune out KG.
“I think when Kevin Garnett speaks I’m going to listen,” Harangody deadpanned. “Kevin’s been great, I’ve just tried to soak up everything the vets do every day and watch their routines. It’s been a great process.”
On this day, Harangody goes from being the eager understudy to the main attraction. Out on the floor there are four full court games going on with kids of all ages and backgrounds. Between shots and playful smack talk, the kids scan the gym to catch a glimpse of what the rookie forward is doing. Later, during a scheduled break in the action, Luke holds court and answers questions from the kids.
“What’s the best part of being a Celtic?” asked one participant.
“My teammates,” Luke answered. “For me being a young player it’s been a great opportunity to learn.”
“Who’s your favorite teammate?” asked another young baller.
“I’ve got to go with my fellow rookie Avery,” Luke answered. “Sometimes the vets give us a hard time so I got to go with my fellow rookie.”
While his rookie teammate is down in the D-League, Harangody has slid right into the Celtic cult hero role abandoned by Brian Scalabrine.
“Playing in front of these fans in Boston is amazing,” Harangody said. “The atmosphere in the Garden truly fuels you out there. When the crowd’s behind me I feel like I can do anything. I have to give it up to the Boston fans they’ve been great.”
That same energy that is characteristic of the TD Garden is on display in Converse’s Open Gym program. In this unique atmosphere, hundreds of young balers, their families and a certain 6-7 forward foster a sense of community united by a love of the game.