Celebrating the 20th anniversary of White Men Can’t Jump.
SLAM: How were things in the early days?
Kenn I. Hicks: Los Angeles guys felt like they owned the whole court, nobody thought guys from Pomona, Riverside or Bakersfield could play, but they had some guys that could ball. We had teams from other areas, which got the reputation out and if you were in Venice you put your city on the map. We had cities that went against each other not just a team name like “the Hoopers” or something like that, which made it great.
SLAM: Around the time that White Men Can’t Jump came out how do you feel it portrayed Venice and Los Angeles hoop culture?
KH: When the movie came out it kind of brought more focus on Venice and people started asking, “Hey they play ball in Venice?” I remember, some guy named Keith Gibbs was jumping out of the gym and had us all saying “white men can jump.” When word got out and more guys came out to Venice we really started balling. They had the movie out and people knew we were throwing the tournaments, so a lot of white guys who were balling actually started showing up to get their reputation. They were out there doing it, so the reputation of the tournament continued to grow.
SLAM: So what resulted in the discontinuation of the tournament in ’02?
KH: We started originally started calling it the Road to Venice beach and it got so big we had to start two or three weeks in advance and play in local gyms all around Los Angeles and the San Fernando Valley. Eventually, we had to start about six months before we even got to Labor day and it became a money issue. Nike would be with us for a while, or a person we would be working with might of gotten a promotion. Parks and Recreation want their money upfront and it really took the fun out of it after three or four years. I can’t get all that in order without sponsors, so we paid for all that with registration fees but we didn’t want guys to have to put up a whole lot of money. We never had money up for the winners, we had trophies and felt that playing at Venice and the reputation was enough.
SLAM: How do you feel L.A. as a community embraced the tournament?
KH: Everybody in Venice comes from somewhere else so it wasn’t a territorial thing. Some of the guys from there could play but people came from everywhere to play and to watch the games. Our thing was that we were an alternative to gangs, drugs, and violence, so we wouldn’t let them fight or anything like that. As far as the community is concerned, we were respected because it was a positive activity. Nobody wants to just want to sit and watch a game especially if they have their kids with them so we made it about entertainment with MCs and performances.
SLAM: Who were some of the main pro guys who really had a love for what you guys were doing at Venice?
KH: One person was Chris Childs from the New York Knicks. He’s from Bakersfield and came down before he even got drafted. Bo Outlaw was another guy, if you look at our website we have a whole list of guys who played. Kobe really put his whole career on line when he was 17 and just got drafted. He came down had to jump over his own player to get a rebound and broke his wrist. People were calling me, “You let Kobe go out there and break his wrist!” and were mad at me for letting him play, but he’s from Philadelphia and used to playing outdoor ball. He was turning the crowd out at 17, it was packed, and he was just showing. That injury had him out of summer camp for the Lakers, but look what he became, one of the greatest to ever play the game and he put his whole career on the line at Venice.
SLAM: Where do you see things going forward with Venice basketball as a premier location for streetball?
KH: A lot of times if you go the Rucker, or other places, it’s very territorial and you have a lot of culture. People don’t want to go into Harlem and see the Rucker—it’s kind of scary when you say “Harlem.” Venice Beach is very safe and it’s for tourists. People come from all over the world to go there and that’s why the Venice Beach name and Venice Basketball has went all over because it’s not threatening to anybody. Your kids can come and feel safe watching good basketball at the beach and that’s why it spread out so far. I think Nick is doing a good job there at the beach starting the streetball back up again the guys are having a good time. Guys are respecting, people are watching, the guys are doing the play by play and it’s starting up again. It’s a positive thing.