NBA legends teach kids at park clinic

Advocate staff photo by ELIOT KAMENITZ --- Retired professional basketball player Eldridge Recasner, right, shares a high five with Townsend Grant. Recasner, who played for the Atlanta Hawks and the Charlotte Hornets, grew up three blocks from Oliver Bush Playground in New Orleans' Lower NInth Ward, where the National Basketball Retired Players Association put on a youth clinic Saturday.
Advocate staff photo by ELIOT KAMENITZ --- Retired professional basketball player Eldridge Recasner, right, shares a high five with Townsend Grant. Recasner, who played for the Atlanta Hawks and the Charlotte Hornets, grew up three blocks from Oliver Bush Playground in New Orleans' Lower NInth Ward, where the National Basketball Retired Players Association put on a youth clinic Saturday.

The pitter-patter of dribbling basketballs filled the air on Saturday at Oliver Bush Playground in the Lower Ninth Ward, where more than 150 children gathered for a youth basketball clinic put on by the National Basketball Retired Players Association.

The association, also known as the NBRPA, led by former New Orleans City Councilman Arnie Fielkow, was making good on its pledge to return to the park, where it teamed up with the National Basketball Association and the National Basketball Players Association to donate $25,000 last August.

At Saturday’s event, children of all ages hooped it up on the three newly renovated courts. Those too young to join in climbed across the monkey bars of the adjacent playground equipment and bounced around in a spacewalk.

Fielkow, who left the City Council in October to become CEO of the NBRPA, said that his organization has a strong commitment to community involvement, and the Oliver Bush Playground was an ideal project.

“My heart is still here. New Orleans is in my blood,” said Fielkow, who admitted it’s been tough for him to live away from the city.

The clinic was directed by Eldridge Recasner, a New Orleans native and graduate of nearby Alfred Lawless High School, who played for eight years in the NBA.

Recasner, who dueled with Michael Jordan in the 1997 playoffs as a member of the Atlanta Hawks, said he learned his basketball chops at Oliver Bush, where he spent long hours playing with friends.

“It’s always nice to return to my home court,” he said.

New Orleans City Councilman James Gray II, who represents District E, also assisted in organizing the event.

A lawyer and longtime track coach, Gray said he believes that providing recreational opportunities is a key component of revitalizing the Lower Ninth Ward.

Gray said that now that the infrastructure has been constructed, the next challenge would be finding dedicated community members willing to volunteer their time.

As players practiced layups and went through shooting drills, Enos Hicks, a coach at nearby Dr. King Charter School, joked with friends and watched the action on the court.

Hicks, who has been involved in youth sports in the area for three decades, said that you can see the importance of the park on the faces of the children

“In 2013, there’s not a lot of times when you’re going to see so many happy kids. This is what it’s about. Look how peaceful they are. They deserve it,” he said.

Geno Smith, 14, traveled from eastern New Orleans with friends to attend the clinic.

He said he was impressed by the basketball facilities at the park.

“Everyone is smiling and having fun, this is what basketball is about.”

Even those not playing basketball seemed in good spirits.

A few girls sported vibrantly painted faces and a rogue skateboarder carved his way across the payment, at one point sinking a layup from his moving perch.

On Saturday, event organizers announced that another $8,000 would be donated to help refurbish the recreation center, which features tennis courts and playing fields in addition to the new basketball pavilion.

Councilman Gray said that he believes that recreation facilities such as Oliver Bush can lower crime rates by getting young people involved in sports.

He added that his experience as a coach has shown him how the lessons learned in athletics can build self-discipline that leads to success in many areas.

“Everything in life is like push-ups,” Gray said. “The more you do, the better you get.”