SACRAMENTO, Calif. — The Sacramento Kings are enjoying their offseason but their court was put to good use at the Golden 1 Center on Tuesday night for the Kings and Queens Rise Co-Ed Youth Basketball Championships.
Kings and Queens Rise is the youth initiative launched in direct response to the unrest in their city following the officer-involved shooting death of Stephon Clark in March 2018. For the second straight summer, the Sacramento Kings teamed up with the Build.Black.Coalition and the Black Child Legacy Campaign to give more than 300 kids from underserved communities in the Sacramento region a safe haven from the violence in their neighborhoods: the basketball court.
The league has 21 teams for kids ranging from 5th to 10th grade in eight different Sacramento neighborhoods: Arden Arcade, Del Paso Heights/North Sacramento, Foothill Farms/North Highlands, Fruitridge/Stockton, Marina Vista/Seavey Circle, Meadowview, Oak Park and Valley Hi.
Kenneth Duncan, co-commissioner of the Kings and Queens Rise Co-Ed Youth Basketball League, understands the power sports can have as a catalyst for change, being a former basketball player himself. But the purpose of this basketball league is about much more than basketball.
"It's all about crossing those boundaries and different neighborhoods and unifying as one community in Sacramento," Duncan said. "They get to meet new friends each Saturday. It's competitive, so they want to practice and be prepared for the games and they have something to look forward to each week. When you don't have anything to look forward to, that's when you get into trouble. But we're keeping these kids off the streets Saturdays, Tuesdays and Thursdays, and it gives them no opportunity to get in trouble."
Through youth forums and mentoring sessions, like the one recently led by Kings legend Chris Webber ahead of the second annual California Classic, Kings and Queens Rise is giving Sacramento youth a safe and caring place to grow.
Adrian White has two boys representing the Fruitridge neighborhood in the Kings and Queens Rise Co-Ed Youth Basketball League. He said the lessons and opportunities the initiative has given to kids like his sons is invaluable.
"It's great for upward mobility as far as the black community is concerned," White said. "When they [his sons] first started it was horrifying! They didn't know how to dribble or play defense or where to stand on the court to get rebounds. Now it's like they're seasoned and ready for the next level and that's a good thing. These coaches are phenomenal. You wouldn't expect that at this level [that these] coaches would have that much knowledge, but they love the game just as much as the kids do and they'll take that extra time to spend it."
White's oldest son, 13-year-old Alijah Amour, said he wants to be an NBA player when he grows up. But that's only if he can't become an engineer, first. His love of basketball is what drew him to the co-ed summer basketball league but it's the lifelong connections he's made that keeps him looking forward to every game day.
"It's been pretty fun," Alijah said. "I've been able to learn from new people and get new friends."
Alijah's summer of basketball culminates with the championships at the Golden 1 Center, home of the Sacramento Kings. Having the opportunity to play on the very same court NBA stars like De'Aaron Fox and Marvin Bagley III is a dream come true for these young players and their parents.
"I used to come to Kings games a lot even in Arco [Arena]," said incoming high school freshman Alijah.
Weeks of hard work have paid off on the hardwood for these young kings and queens, who were made to feel like NBA players for a night.
"To see them out there where the people they love play, like Fox and Bagley... It's amazing," Alijah's father said as he watched his younger son playing on the court.
"The kids are just soaking it all in," Duncan said of the championship games at Sacramento's state-of-the-art arena. "Parents maybe haven't been to a professional game and literally they're down on the court. They get a feel of the NBA stadium and it's just a great opportunity for our babies."
The Kings and Queens Rise Co-Ed Youth Basketball Championships conclude with an award ceremony complete with MVP awards for the kids and recognition for the coaches involved.
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