Bigger Than Basketball: The Story Behind the Gold Nets Project

by October 30, 2019

You might stumble upon one walking the streets of Brooklyn. There’s several out in Philadelphia, too, and in Oakland, CA. About 30 have been put up near the border between Mexico and the United States in a town called Nogales, Sonora. Some can be found outside the country as well, in cities like Cape Town and Johannesburg, and right off Treasure Beach in Jamaica.

Somewhere in each of these unique settings, at least one golden net hangs from a basketball hoop. Pretty much all of them were attached by a man with a big beard wearing a white t-shirt and white painter’s overalls. His name is Jeremy John Kaplan.

Kaplan grew up in Philly and played competitive basketball through high school. His passion for the game remained strong, even as he pursued a career in the art industry. In 2005, along with his friend and fellow artist Michael M. Koehler, he created a simple, yet powerful project.

“It was born out of conversations with Mike and trying to identify an area where we could make an impact,” Kaplan tells SLAM. “It’s hard to find any kind of needle in the haystack that doesn’t exist, so this was something that without a lot of resources, we could immediately identify that it was needed and do it.”

From his own experiences, Kaplan knew that many of the world’s parks had basketball hoops that lacked nets. So, adding his own artistic touch (gold spray paint), he set out to fix that problem.

“The gold was just trying to add a level of poeticism. I see it as giving a gift to a loved one, like you give a necklace or a piece of jewelry,” says Kaplan. “It is just a regular act. We’re just putting nets where they’re needed. But having it be gold makes it that there’s, like, another kind of thoughtfulness involved and out of respect and admiration for the people that make use of these spaces to better themselves.”

Kaplan would devise routes and hit court after court, armed with his stepladder, tool kit and a box of nets. With the help of Koehler, Kaplan estimates he adorned a little over 100 rims in ’05.

The initiative did not continue at that pace but was always at the forefront of Kaplan’s mind. He decided to fully reignite it this summer and the results have been staggering. Since May, around 291 gold nets have been placed, from Kaplan’s neighborhood in East Williamsburg all the way to South Africa. He remembers the first of those, which he hung at a playground right near his personal studio in Brooklyn. Ten guys were about to run full-court but only one of the two hoops had a net. So Kaplan got to work.

When the job was eventually done, he received a huge ovation from the entire group. One player even told him, “I’m gonna win this next game for you.”

“That was really a motivating force. The fact that I know what that’s like. I play on these courts and the gratitude that I felt [made me think]: OK, this is something that you should repeat over and over and over again,” says Kaplan, noting that the short-term goal is to get 365 up before the end of the year, but that’s just the beginning.

“My plans are to continue to grow,” he adds. “I think there’s value in going to the court, and the more parks that I’ve visited, the sentiment is even greater that people use them meditatively and therapeutically. So I think that there’s certainly a mental health element to [the project] in that that action should be rewarded and looked after. If you’re traveling to the court to spend some time to improve your situation physically, mentally, then you should be looked after too.

“The overall message is: That space [the basketball court] is a valuable space and member of our community and deserves to be taken care of.”


For more information on the Gold Nets Project, click here.

Alex Squadron is an Associate Editor at SLAM. Follow him on Twitter @asquad510.

Photos by Sheldon Omar Abba.