Basketball courts

Sacramento’s legendary basketball courts still have some play

There is a small basketball court nestled among the tall trees that house the western offshoot of William Land Park. Many are of the pine variety, and the aroma they give off easily overpowers that of a green tree air freshener hanging from a rear view mirror.

The land, about 40 by 65 feet, with an uneven asphalt surface, isn’t as busy as it used to be, before video games became big business.

Archie Thompson dished out passes in the field in his heyday in the 70s during breaks from the University of Nevada, where he played for the Wolf Pack. He then played professionally in France for seven years.

As he spoke, he underlined his points with closeness and a slap on the upper arm.

“We played on summer afternoons. Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays,” Thompson said. “I started at 18 (years old) back from Reno in ’73, ’74 and ’75. I was always a point guard.”

There were other grounds to play on. Thompson said there were serious three-on-three night games at Reichmuth Park, where RJ Reynolds would play before becoming a professional baseball player. Sacramento state courts were also popular.

But Land Park was special.

“Everyone who came to town knew where to play. You would put your name on a list and there were a lot of good players,” he said.

This list later included Ernest Lee, a prodigiously talented young man from Kennedy High School. And of course, there was former NBA star and Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson.

After dropping a few more names, Thompson said, “People would just come and watch. Bill Cartwright would come there, but he would never play.

So what are the hot spots in the Sacramento basketball scene these days?

MCKINLEY PARK: THE FAMILY SPOT

Although many games at McKinley Park included slam dunks just a few decades ago, today the field is a great place to come as you are and shoot a basketball. In the morning, park staff are known to take a break and work on their jumps. On the weekends, fathers mentor their sons, 5-year-old daughters work on their dribbling skills, and soccer balls sometimes share the pitch with families visiting the adjacent picnic area and rebuilt playground.

Towering trees provide oxygen to the east and south sides of the full yard.

Late afternoon during the week, weather and sunlight permitting, there are occasional three-on-three or even five-on-five matches, although the pick-up culture here is much more sporadic than she was at her peak.

ROOSEVELT PARK: SERIOUS 5

The pinnacle of outdoor competitive basketball in Sacramento is often found at Roosevelt Park at 9th and P streets. Both perfectly flat courts were redeveloped by the Sacramento Kings in partnership with the Capitol Area Development Authority in 2015, and now sport clear panels and purple and gray paint.

Five-on-five matches are the norm here, often taking place on both courts at once. A giant retractable-handle speaker occasionally provides the soundtrack, sounding like luggage. Active players request songs.

It’s pure basketball, with teams brought together through fringe recruiting. A representative of a new team calls the next game.

The majority of players are African American, although participants from all races fill the teams. A lack of umpires makes clean play a valuable asset. Although arguments over appeals occur naturally, it’s usually with a jovial competitive spirit that’s part of the fun.

Shots from behind the 3-point line are important; they are worth two runs instead of a standard hit, and games are often played at 12 to keep teams rotating. A minor celebration resembling a touchdown dance sometimes takes place after a long-range bucket.

JUMP_LEDE_SAC_PickupBB
Community members gather to play basketball in Roosevelt Park on Sunday, November 3. The pinnacle of outdoor competitive basketball in Sacramento is often found there. Daniel Kim [email protected]

SOUTHSIDE PARK: THE WILD MAP

It’s also worth mentioning that 10 blocks away at 6th and W streets is a single full lot bordering a couple of tennis courts. He was also spruced up by the Kings.

The games here are varied. When things are slow, friends play games of HORSE.

When more people are present, two-on-two matches occur, and an occasional four-on-four match takes up the whole court or just half, depending on the fitness level of the participants.

Characters range from a 6-foot-5 millennial who can dive or shoot 50% from beyond the arc to a shirtless 230-pound man with a low center of gravity who fights for rebounds under the basket , giving opponents the occasional karate chop.

You never know what’s going to happen at Southside Park.

Games at William Land Park were much more predictable in the 1970s; three-on-three was the norm and, according to Thompson, it was a proving ground for the best of the best.

To some extent, the culture endures.

This article was updated at 9:29 a.m. Nov. 9 to remove a misattributed quote.

This story was originally published November 7, 2019 1:00 a.m.