A PLACE CALLED HOME
Isaac Laboy was 5 years old when he lived in Lawton because his father was stationed from the Army in 1989. Just down the road where he grew up, an imperfect, yet beloved basketball court at Lee West Park served as a sanctuary for the neighborhood kids.
Now living in Dallas and married with two kids, Laboy caught word that the Thunder Cares Foundation was giving the place that delivered his fondest childhood memories a makeover. So moved by the news, he wrote to Thunder Vice President of Community Relations Christine Berney to express his gratitude.
On Friday afternoon, the ceremonial blue ribbon was snipped and the 24th Thunder Cares basketball court now belonged to a new generation at Lee West Park.
Date: May 13, 2019
From: Isaac LaBoy, Lawton resident 1989-2003
Dear Ms. Berney,
I am writing this letter to express gratitude and much appreciation for the court that you are refurbishing and donating to Lee West Park in Lawton/Fort Sill, Oklahoma; the court that for a long time we have simply called "Lee West".
After seeing pictures of the recent development, I had a deep desire to share with you a little history about the beginnings of this court, on behalf of a certain group of kids that treated it as their second home for a good portion of seven years, so you can understand how profound the effect of this gesture is and the lengths in time that it travels.
I grew up about a 10-minute walk from Lee West and like most kids who grew up in Lawton, we were all military brats. Not having any family ties made it really easy for kids to connect and build relationships. When Lee West was first built in the mid-90s, it wasn't necessarily in a desirable location since it was placed next to the railroad tracks and alongside a ditch on a huge field in the middle of nowhere.
Any slight breeze was a wind storm. The court itself was new, but it was poorly built on an uneven slab of cement that would collect water like a well when it rained. One half of the court had slippery cement, while the other half was rough. One side had a three-point line, while the other side didn't. One goal was barely 10 feet high, while the other was closer to 11 and both were double rimmed, which made it unfriendly for a jump shot.
It was these characteristics that gave this court an infamous reputation, but for a certain group of kids who had a fierce love for the game of basketball, it became OUR court. It became our home, our refuge, our field of dreams.
As kids in middle school and well into our high school years, we would talk trash all day building up hype to see what the day’s game had to offer. When school let out, we would rush home, do whatever chores needed to be done and race to the court. Since the court was in the middle of nowhere, it was like a scene out of an old western movie looking in the distance awaiting the arrival of the next competitor.
We would sweep the court of dirt, push broom water off when it rained, chalk up a temporary three-point line and put up new nets when we could. This was a daily thing for us. I believe in the summer of 1999, we created so much buzz at one point, that besides the 10 bodies running full court, there were 30 to 40 people either waiting to get next or just spectating the street ball madness.
My oldest brother even got involved and signed us up to play in Hoop It Up tournaments in Dallas, TX under the name "Lee West Representatives". We even made it to the championships one of those years. We carried this court with us everywhere. No matter how tough things got at home or school, or maybe things weren't working out with the organized ball club you played for, Lee West was a place where you could hit the court and just fly. No stress, no worries, just fly.
For a certain group of kids who had a fierce love for the game of basketball, it became OUR court. It became our home, our refuge, our field of dreams.
I've gone into great detail to say that, those kids who felt like the fore fathers who built this court, those kids who are all husbands or fathers now pushing forty and for most of us who no longer reside in Oklahoma, the great deed you are doing by blessing Lee West with a new court 20 plus years later, has absolutely recaptured that joy and nostalgia for us hoopers who once called this court home. I'm sure there were kids who came after us who feel the same way and without a doubt a new generation of kids who will learn how to fly and appreciate the new Lee West as well.
I couldn't imagine playing on a court like that every day after school. Coming from an era when Oklahoma didn't even have a professional sports team to root for, I want to thank you Christine Berney and the OKC Thunder. Thunder Cares Program, thanks so much for your love and support and God Bless all those who have had their hand in this.
These are the kids of Lee West: Isaac and Arturo Laboy, Irvin “Junior” Spencer, Camilo and Javier Parris, James Hammond, James Sasser and John Walters.