WeAre At: London School of Basketball Launch

Since attending NBA star Chris Paul’s rededication of the Jordan Brand court some months ago, we eagerly anticipated the next dose of activity on the court from Nike. This came on Saturday 2nd October, as the London School of Basketball was launched at Lilian Baylis Old School, Kennington.

London School of Basketball is a new network of coaches, delivering coordinated basketball across London to increase sustainable grass-roots participation and positive playing opportunities. It aims to deliver a legacy for basketball in London, by increasing sustainable participation in the sport. Eight London boroughs are currently engaged in the programme, with a lead coach appointed in each borough.  The boroughs are; Lambeth, Southwark, Brent, Croydon, Hackney, Barking, Islington and Sutton. Nike has committed to grow the reach of LSB to a minimum of 11 boroughs by September 2012

The coaches deliver open access basketball, helping the development of girls’ and boys’ teams from U12-U20. The youth will have access to competitions via to central basketball leagues, mentoring, training and support for them to become coaches/community sports leaders, and progressive pathways to elite basketball for talented ballers.

Nike is a key funder in the LSB structure and also supports the network with product and experiences. LSB is also supported by a number of additional public and private sector partners, which include: Sport Action Zone, NBA, Laureus, Sport England, England Basketball, Greenwich Leisure Ltd and the Metropolitan Police.

Mandy Ayres, Director of Sustainable Business and Innovation at Nike, summed up Nike’s commitment to the LBS:

“Nike is excited to be part of a coordinated effort to give young Londoners opportunities to play basketball. At Nike, we believe in the power of the sport to create a positive impact on young people’s lives on and off the court”.

To help launch LBS, Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant took time out of the team’s busy pre-season training schedule, to watch and advise 100 LBS ballers aged 15-20 rotate around four work stations, all designed to develop fitness, agility and all-around basketball skills, whilst being coached by NBA coaches in partnership with LSB coaches. Kobe took it upon himself to help some of the children with their understanding of each drill, by physically giving examples of how to complete the drill, and explaining how the drill can help in an in-game situation. This was enough activity to inspire not only the youth involved, but some of the elder attendees that once played the sport!

As Kobe moved between workstations, his movement was well documented by all in attendance. He seemed to have an aura of calmness about him, but also seemed to be slightly overwhelmed by the fact that basketball is well received out here.

As the workstations came to a close, he moved to the Jordan Brand court, to give an inspiring talk to the kids. He told stories of his youth, and how dedicated he was to development and growth at a young age. When asked about his introduction to basketball by one of the young ballers, he told the crowd that he began playing at the age of 2. A large gasp of astonishment came from the kids, making one assume that they were encouraged to work harder and catch up on the years of training they have missed out on!

After addressing the youth, Kobe then went on to implement what will now be mandatory for all NBA players that visit the LBS: making a clay hand-print, that will be wall-mounted to inspire all LBS members as they train. This was followed by a closed media session, which featured the following questions and answers:

Where are your rings?
You know I have a safe. I put them in a safe and I don’t wear them. I wear them only one time, which is the night we receive the rings at the ceremony then I put them away with the others. I don’t touch them or look at them and it’s on to the next one.

You have a lot of involvement with your kicks- the design of them. Which have been your favourites of all time including previous endorsements?
My favourite shoe is always the next one.

What can we look to expect in the next one?
I don’t want to spoil the one for this season but the technology that we put in, is even better than the ones I’m wearing now and the one that’s coming out after that is an even greater improvement. What I try to do is focus on adding things and making things better because it starts with performance.  Design is cool but that’s easy, just the finishing touches. But the foundation of the house needs to be solid, has to be built for performance something that can actually help you perform better. We went to a lower cut shoe, lighter shoe and the technology within the shoe helps you change directions quicker and faster. All of those things help optimize performance that’s why I can say the next shoe is my favourite because the technology within the shoe has improved and it helps my performance.

What would you say your most memorable game is?
Game 7 of the finals this year! Always! Because you win a game in a way nobody expects you to win. This is how the Celtics play, this is their style you know and everybody felt we couldn’t play that style. So we proved everybody wrong. So game 7 is my favourite.

What’s it like having Phil Jackson as a coach?
We’re very lucky to have him. He’s not a rah-rah kind of coach. Like [shouts] “GET ON THE LINE!” He doesn’t do that. He sits back and he coaches basketball. What I mean by that is it’s all execution, all fundamentals, basic things. A lot of coaches kinda wear out their welcome by giving rah-rah speeches and being in guys faces. But Phil doesn’t do that. He doesn’t critique you as a person or your character as a person. He critiques your execution on the basketball court and he’s very consistent.

Are you going to retire at the same time as Derrick Fisher? Cos you guys came in together?
Maybe? We’ll see. He’s got me in a couple years (age wise) tho!

Who’s the toughest player to guard in the NBA?
The toughest player for me to guard is Carmelo Anthony cos he’s so big! I mean the guys massive! I’m like a little string bean to him. So to fight him… he’s very physical, he’s very smart. There is only maybe 3 or 4 players in the entire NBA that can shoot 3, shoot the pull up jump shot from mid range and post up. Not too many people can do all three.

Is LeBron one?
He’s become one last year. His mid range game is still a work in progress. The guys like 6’ 9’’ three hundred and sumthin pounds he can get to the ring whenever he wants to. But Carmelo’s pull up game going left; going right he’s a pure scorer. So that’s hard for me.

Talking about LeBron. How do you think the LeBron and Bosh deal influences the chances of the Lakers 3 peating?
Yeah well… It makes it a little tougher! It’s fun for me and for my guys. Were all just like everybody else we sit and watch and I think their gonna be great. I’ve played with LeBron and Bosh on the Olympic Team and I think their gonna gel well and do alright.

Out of the new additions in the Lakers team, which players impresses you the most?
The guys like the veterans that I’ve seen play Matt Barnes, Steve Blake, Theo Ratliff I’ve played against those guys hundreds of time so I know exactly what they can do. But our rookies, our young guy Eubanks and Character they really impressed me. Their patience and understanding of the game has been very good.

Who would normally win in a one on one between you…
I would! I would win!

…Between you and LeBron?
That’s what I believe. One on one is easy for me. Playing one on one is what I grew up playing. That’s like my thing. LeBron is more like a Magic Johnson per say who is a great passer he plays an all around game. That core of me is of a one on one player. I do that in my sleep.

Going into a game coming off a loss or going through a tough stretch/period in your game what goes through your head? And what do you tell the young players?
I think about the next sequence. You see if you sit in the moment and the moments not going how you wanted it to go then you can get bogged down by that and it’s like quick sand. The more you struggle you can’t get out. Sometimes you’ve got to wait for someone to extend that branch and you’ve got to grab that branch so they can pull you out and that’s what team mates are for. But I only always try to think about the next thing and stay positive. You don’t self talk yourself like “I’m playing like crap, I stink!” You can’t do that you always think about the next opportunity and try to have a clear mind.

Everyone was then led to the schools main hall, for all the LBS children and special guests to have a formal introduction to Kobe. Kobe addressed the mass crowd, and answered general questions from Kiss 100’s host DJ for the night, DJ Neev Ranu. She also assisted with a Coach Appreciation Ceremony, in which a number of LSB coaches were presented with trophies by Kobe. After this we were hastily whisked away for our media interview with the man of the hour:

What’s it like to have Phil Jackson back as coach for another title run, in what he keeps saying might be his final season?
Well it means everything to us, for the simple fact that we don’t have to change everything. It’s like we’re a well oiled machine right now, and with him stepping down, it’ll be an adjustment period working with a new coach; so we don’t have that issue.

Your going for a sixth title this season, which will equal Michael Jordan’s amount. We’ve seen reinforcements around the league brought in by Boston, Miami. Are you any less motivated this year to get number six, as you were to get number one?
Noooo. I’ve never been less motivated in my entire life. I’ve always been very driven, very motivated; This is what I’m here for. I’m ready to go!

About legacy. London 2012. We’re sure your going be back here in two years time to get another Olympic Gold with Team USA. You had a chance to meet with the London Basketball Academy kids and coaches earlier. What do you think a games like the Olympics will do for basketball in Britain, and to get young people engaged in playing the sport?
I think the critical component to it, is them understanding the beauty within the game. From the kids that I saw today, I saw a lot of talent. Many physically gifted: height, athleticism, etc. So, I think the big key is for us to get over here, and to have clinics, have things where we can continue to teach and show them the game; I think that’s how you grow it. Then, when the Olympics come, hopefully it’ll give the kids a chance to learn, cause they’re watching the best basketball players in the entire world. Hopefully that’ll stay with them.

In this country, grass routes participation is very important, but professionally it doesn’t really go hand-in-hand. With the question mark that the Team GB has for the 2012 Olympics, what are your thoughts on that?
It’s a process. It’s like in the States with soccer: you see soccer (football as they call it here) at a grass routes level, but it hasn’t grown to it’s ultimate potential professionally in the States; but that’s a process. It’s something that takes time. There are a lot of talented basketball players here that I’ve seen though.

Any chance of a US-UK final?
[Everyone laughs]

You know, Loul Deng is a phenomenal player, so we’ll see.

With the USA’s victory in the World Championships in Turkey, many have said that that should be the same squad going to London 2012. Obviously you weren’t in Turkey. What do you say to that?
Well, I mean, it could be… I have no problem with that at all. I think Jerry Colangelo’s done a great job. When you look at the roster that we had in ’08 and then the team we had in the World’s, everybody said: this team’s not gonna do it, this team’s not gonna do it. He put together an incredible team, and they won!

So, now everybody’s saying: Well, they should be the same team, they should be the same team. You know, that’s just how it is. I think its his decision; his made great ones so far, and is not gonna stop.

What do you make of Kevin Durant’s performance in the World Championships, and also the team itself, as it was a young team?
Very proud. I was very proud, because they were young, playing against some very experienced teams from other countries; they kept their composure, they played together at both ends of the floor, and I couldn’t have been any prouder.

You’ve been talking about keeping the core together. What exactly is the bond that you guys have, by keeping guys around like Derek Fisher and Lamar Odom?
One of the things we’ve continually talked about from the beginning of this process years ago, was to grow together. I think that gives us an advantage, cause we know each other so well. We’re really like brothers; we spend so much time together, so when you have that rapport, you don’t have to work so hard on drilling execution so hard. You just remind each other about things; then you move onto another level of understanding as a unit.

How do you integrate new guys and get them on the same page? Guys like Steve Blake, and rookies?
Well, it’s easy because the majority of our team speaks the same language, cause we’ve all been together. So, when you bring in new guys, they’re just around the game and how we talk about the game, how we communicate with each other about the game is a different language. I think they pick up on that, just by osmosis alone, and mature with us as the season goes on.

What’s a game-day like?
Typically how we do is like: I’ll get up early in the morning. I’ll go work out and I’ll train. Then right after

I train, we have practise; we just call it ‘shoot around’. We go over the offence that you’ll see from the team you’re playing against that night. You go over what they’re gonna do, you prepare your defence, what they might do defensively, stuff like that.

Then we all go our separate ways; Come back around 5 o’clock, for a 7:30pm game.

Do you have any personal pre-game rituals?
Umm, nah. I mean, my meals before a game are always the same. Mashed Potatoes and Salmon. Salmon’s been like my pre-game meal.

We respect the fact that at your age and with your experience in basketball, you still work on your game, as you have done so with Hakeem Olyjuwan. Not many players are still commuted to growth at such a time in their career. What inspires and motivates you to better  yourself?
Cause I love it! I love the game. There’s always an infinite curiosity, like what more? What else can I learn? I think that’s key. You have to keep that curiosity. I’m just infinitely curious about the sport!

Do you ever have a mirror moment, where you say: that’s me?
Yeah! You know, the fact I’m in London playing basketball – that’s crazy! Growing up, I never thought that this [basket]ball would take me all around the world.  Me and Lamar Odom were just talking on the bus, saying: how amazing in the morning we were just practising in Los Angeles; now here we are in London. All this because of a ball! That’s pretty awesome.

Earlier in your career you rapped. We know fellow Laker, Ron Artest, has his own record label and with a ball you can beat him one-on-one, but do you guys ever battle with a freestyle?
Nah, nah [laughs]. You know, for fun we just kinda goof around, and stuff like that. We have a very loose team man. Very loose. You gotta be able to enjoy yourself, so we do just kinds goof around. We have fun.

So no albums or collaborations coming out?
[Laughs] Nah, I ain’t got time for that! I got kids now, and got championships to win!

All in all, a memorable day was had by all. The children were more than joyful to see and interact with one of their most popular and favoured players, and the London School of Basketball was given the best formal introduction it could ever have.

We would like to thank Nike for inviting WeAreHQ down for this memorable opening, to what we envisage as the beginning of an influential platform for young basketball players across our city.

The rest of our coverage for the day:

Words by Dav and B.

Photography by B and Viv Morris aka Cavalry Arts.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,