Celebrating the 20th anniversary of White Men Can’t Jump.
by Brandon Harrison / @_brandonallen
This summer, we’ve reminisced over the exploits of everyone’s favorite ‘90s juggernaut, the Dream Team. A dope documentary and endless debates over which incarnation of Team USA is the greatest have kept Jordan, Barkley and Magic in our collective psyches. While Chuck Daly’s squad may have held it down for the professionals, if we keep looking through our foggy nostalgia goggles, we’ll be reminded of another team (albeit fictional) that was killing it on the blacktop back in ’92.
Twenty years ago, basketball lovers and general audiences alike were blessed with Ron Shelton’s, classic streetball tale, White Men Can’t Jump. Street basketball had more or less always had an east coast flavor and for many (myself included), it was the first taste of what street basketball out on the west coast was all about.
Billy Hoyle and Sidney Deane hustled, kicked it with Rosie Perez, broke some stereotypes, and rocked the snapback-heavy ’90s look that you’re probably currently wearing. Oh, and they dropped buckets all over Los Angeles, most notably at the Mecca of west coast hoop, Venice Beach.
The beach wasn’t just about laid back surfers and blondes in bikinis. There was serious basketball being played by the ocean. The film brought image of Venice basketball to the masses, but there are some key people still putting on for those sun-soaked courts after all these years. In the ever-present spirit of nostalgia, we checked in with past and future of Venice basketball.
Los Angeles born, French-bred, founder of the current Venice Basketball League, Nick Ansom, who in a nice touch of serendipity, happens to a fair skinned baller, and the founder of the original National Outdoor Basketball Championship, aka the Summer Basketball Showdown, and current organizer of the Venice Beach Hall of Fame, Kenn Hicks, gave their thoughts on the film, and the culture and legacy of Venice beach basketball.
SLAM: How did you get this version of Venice Basketball League started?
Nick Ansom: In 2007, I was organizing a lot of different pickup games around the city and decided to throw a big one at the end of the summer, the Sunshine Ball Tournament. I thought I stacked up the teams so I could win but we had a lot of players that showed up. It was $100 to get in and $500 if you win it all. I guess the money spoke to them, I don’t know if it was the money or they just really wanted to play at Venice Beach but we had 16 teams come out. It [had] been a headache, organizing the event and dealing with all of the players and such but the next summer in 2008, we decided, “Hey let’s start a league,” and we came with the Venice Basketball League concept. We started bringing partners on board, assigning team captains and coaches around town and every year we’re trying to get more structured and have better competition.
SLAM: In terms of style, what do can audiences expect when they watch a VBL game?
NA: We tweak the rules to make the game a little more interesting for fans and players. You’re not going to see any free throws; you’re not going to see any carrying or first step travels. One of our slogans is “bringing fun back to the game.” Twenty-five percent of our players play professionally and they’re willing to play on concrete during the summer time just because it’s bringing the love back for them in their mentality. Basketball is work for them but they come back in the summertime.
SLAM: So what is the make up of the players in the league right now?
NA: We have a lot of pros that come back from overseas, guys that play in the ABA, or the D-League. Zack Andrews, our MVP for the past two years, signed with the Lakers for 10 days and then got released. We have a lot of talent look out soon for one of players to be signed to a NBA format hopefully.
SLAM: How did you guys start up the Kids’ league?
NA: A lot of the players had kids, there was just a lot of them running around and we paid for the court for the day so I just put it on my insurance. We’re not really going to schedule men’s games at 8 a.m., so we start with the kids at 9 to build this family atmosphere and make it all about family. There’s not much going on for kids at the boardwalk, it’s kind of became a little too far out and funky and big on marijuana. We take the kids surfing, do yoga and feed them strawberries, bananas and little organic eating, just give them a little different perspective about life. It opens your mind, Venice Beach in general; I think it makes you grow a little bit more.
SLAM: What are your plans for the league in the future?
NA: Global expansion. I just took my top-10 guys to Paris. Go to South America and take care of some communities that really need help. Kids in Los Angeles are still a little spoiled. We do a project every Christmas called “Toys in the hood,” and we do a big fundraising game and we raise 100 or so toys for kids and we go to different projects like Nickerson Gardens in Watts and give back to the kids. But you know kids are rolling in $150 Js and stuff like that. I just came back from Central America and kids in Belize and Guatemala don’t have shoes they don’t have balls but there are basketball courts in every village. Every village has a basketball court. It inspires me to travel, and also for the players in league who don’t get to travel overseas it’s a real mind opener. We want to recreate these kinds of leagues around the world. Find different ambassadors in every city. It’s a simple format: It’s the DJ booth, the exciting MC with the play by play, fan interaction, and just showcasing talent and [one day] a grand championship finale with international teams from every city battle it out in Venice Beach.
SLAM: Where do you think the international street game is headed?
NA: At the beginning of the year we had the world games and we had teams from the Philippines and England that flew in and it brings a nice vibe you know? Basketball is still dominated by Americans as far as skill level especially in streetball/outdoor, where there’s a lot of one-on-one and no zone defense. There are certain rules where you’re if you’re not the best, you’re going to get served, and that’s the thing about the VBL. The rest of the world is catching up though, there’s true heart out there overseas. There’s more of knowledge of teamwork, where here its more individual but you combine the two and you’ve got a hell of a ball player.
SLAM: How do you feel about the sponsor support so far?
NA: It’s been six years, but it’s been slow with all the work that we’ve put in and the people I’ve brought on. You think it would be a dream place for sponsors with 100,000 people walking by and us doing something positive every week. We haven’t had too much support; some minor support, but on the scale of what were doing nothing consistent. We’ve got Red Bull this week, Nike will come out do something, mostly everyone that does basketball events will do it one day or two days but you won’t really see sponsors doing a three-month league. It’s weird because you go to New York City and every park has their summer program they have their leagues and this is kind of the Mecca for California.
SLAM: Where do you see your involvement in the community with the VBL going forward?
NA: Basketball is a passion of mine—something that I want to share and hopefully start profiting from so we can hire some more people, create more jobs, more opportunity and provide more of a structure for kids. What better place? Venice Beach is so historical. If you ask me it’s the heart and soul of the city, you don’t see this anywhere. I’ve traveled to 25 countries and this is unique in the world, you’ve got people playing on every court on Sunday morning.