Basketball for Fun and Safety

Posted: March 12, 2020

In the Midnight Hour: Hoops –

Coach Omari Sinclair’s Midnight Basketball team was 3 – 2.

This year, for the first time, Oakland held a midnight basketball league in winter. Youth ALIVE!’s Violence Interrupter team was a big part of the 6-week winter league for youth ages 16 to 26, which came to a close in early March. It will pick back up come summer. Midnight Basketball is an effort to reach at-risk youth and to give them something fun to do on Friday nights. There’s food. There’s coaching and instruction. There are four games going at a time. And before each Friday night’s games begin, a local service organization has an hour to talk to the players about their lives, about life, and about safety and violence prevention in Oakland.

This year, Youth ALIVE! West Oakland Violence Interrupter Omari Sinclair got to coach a team. They went 3-2, winning more games than people thought they would, according to Coach Sinclair, who added, “Can’t wait till summer league!”

Midnight Basketball League games took place at the Soldiertown courts near the Embarcadero. The league is run by Oakland Safety-Impact Table, made up of representatives of city and community-based organizations working to make Oakland safer, in partnership with Alameda County Probation Department, Oakland Police Activities League and Oakland Unite (the office that oversees Oakland’s violence prevention programs). Every Friday night for 6 weeks in summer, and now winter, youth from all over the city show up to have fun and to work on their skills. Some teams show up already assembled. Others are assembled on the spot for the duration.

It’s really quite an operation. The night goes from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. Lyft provides lifts for youth who need them, especially going home late at night. There are 2 divisions of 10 to 12 teams of 10-players each. Careful and precise player stats and standings are kept. Each Friday a local organization spends time with the players before tip-off’ Pre-game sessions cover life-skills, employment, financial literacy, legal aid and dealing with community violence.

It’s a safe space to be. At a time of night and a night of the week when the risk of violence increases, Midnight Basketball remains a place and a time for fun. As violence interrupter Nina Carter puts it, “It’s the neutral zone for the community. The young people all come to play.”