Butch Cordero

LOS ANGELES – The basketball court at Rancho Cienega Sports Complex Tuesday was covered in chairs and folding tables, and players from 14 communities in and around Los Angeles shuffled around the old gym, waiting their turn to receive jerseys and headshots.

It was the tipoff of Late Night Hoops presented by The California Endowment which provides positive alternatives for young adults, aged 18-25, by allowing them to participate in a 17-week, late-evening basketball league.

It’s the second year in a row the league has included more than 150 participants from various at-risk neighborhoods. Caron Butler, who represented the Clippers at the tipoff event last season as well, Ryan Hollins and Lamar Odom were in attendance and each addressed the audience at the conclusion of the jersey distribution.

Butler said, “This is something that is truly dear to my heart. Coming from a troubled background, I went through a lot of adversity growing up and playing in a league like this is where I got my start and I was able to prosper from it. And 13 or 14 years later, playing in the league, doing some good things and having a platform to come back and help the community that’s what it’s about.”

For Los Angeles Police Officer Jelani Janisse, who is a member of the LAPD’s basketball squad in the Late Night Hoops league, it is another chance to give back to a community that he grew up in. Janisse has been a member of the police force for seven years, but played two seasons at the University of Kansas immediately after graduating from high school in L.A.

“I remember growing up in situations like this,” said Janisse. “I didn’t come from well-to-do neighborhoods. I kind of grew up in the hood where basketball was my life. And a lot of times a lot of people here, basketball is their life, and it’s their only outlet. To have something like this go on and have positive people come in and have the Clippers be the face of this whole foundation is extremely great.”

There are several talented individuals taking part in the league, which will hold its championship game in the summer. One player said nearly everyone involved played high school basketball, meaning the league serves as a competitive outlet as well as an opportunity for community bonding.  

Another player named Marquis, who is suiting up for the second straight year in the league, talked about how the event can benefit a community that is sometimes perceived in a negative light. “It helps a whole lot,” he said. “Some of these people I would never see over here. I know them, but they’d never come because they think this area is not for them to come to. It helps keep people tighter than what they are. It gives them a reason to come together and be successful at something.”

A significant reason those different neighborhoods can come together is the work of The California Endowment, a private, statewide health foundation that was established nearly two decades ago to expand access, quality health care for underserved individuals and communities, and to promote fundamental improvements in the health status of all Californians.

“We’ve been involved in our community for many years, since our existence,” said Kathlyn Mead, who serves as The California Endowment’s vice president and chief operating officer. “But it was really through our partnership with the Clippers that allowed us to come to Late Night Hoops.

“The opportunity to come from different communities and share this experience and take it back to their communities and say, ‘I met somebody from another part of town’ is key.”

Vicki Israel from the Department of Recreation and Parks agreed, saying, “It’s not just what it does for this community, but it’s all of the participating communities. You have all of the 14 communities here that are participating in the league. It’s fabulous. It gives them a sense of belonging. It gives them pride. It gives them excitement. And let’s not forget the whole idea about physical fitness, and teamwork, and sportsmanship. It’s just a great program and great collaboration and partnership.”

The partnership is ultimately culminated by the excitement around the game of basketball and the Clippers’ players. Butler, Hollins and Odom stuck around after the press conference to coach the Late Night Hoops team as they took on the LAPD team.

Soon after the court was clear, the three Clippers called all of the players in for a pep talk and they were actively involved in the entire game. Butler was pacing up and down the sideline, mimicking his former coach at the University of Connecticut Jim Calhoun. Odom was talking to one of the big men about getting good positioning and Hollins was helping organize a late-game play.

“The experience was great,” Butler said. “It was extremely fun to see the young men and women come out here and support the league and see people not on the streets but in here doing something productive and having fun. I think it was real heartfelt and I think they reacted and accepted the league with open arms.”