The Last Basketball Court in Vancouver and Why We Don’t Deserve Nice Things

For some reason, chasing a ball around just gives exercise a little more purpose. I wish it wasn’t like that. I wish I could just jog around and be happy about it. But no, having some sort of activity or challenge involving a sport has always made doing cardio considerably more bearable for me.

Naturally, when social distancing first started becoming a thing in our fair city, I was worried.

I wouldn’t be able to play ball hockey with my regular crew, or roll up to the basketball court with a buddy looking for some 2-on-2 action. (We fancy ourselves Michael and Scottie, but it’s really more of a Big Country and Bibby situation.)

But solo sports were going to be allowed—Dr. Bonnie Henry was even encouraging people to get outside.

So it was a bit of sad day in the middle of March when, after a couple of particularly tough COVID-related bits of personal news came down, I went to shoot on my neighbourhood hoop to get out some frustration.

Everything was going well—the outdoor facility in question also has a hockey net, so I was basically in solo sports heaven.

Until I saw him. A yellow-vested city officer, multiple locks in hand. I didn’t get his name, but I did appreciate the kind way he crushed my dreams. He said he couldn’t make me leave but was going to lock all the gates once I made my way out. He tried to wait me out in his truck for a bit, but I wasn’t going anywhere (my jump shot needs a lot of work, as anyone I’ve played with can attest).

When it got dark, I said my goodbyes to the hoop and the hockey net, hoping it wouldn’t be long until we danced once more.

The next day, everything changed. Hoops in public parks were boarded up with plywood on either side. At schools, the hoops were simply ripped off the boards.

Everywhere I looked, they were gone. Except one. And it’s about three blocks from my apartment.

In a vast stretch of emptiness, it stands out magnificently. A single basketball hoop, net and all, just sitting there. And while I’m not going to spill the deets on where exactly it’s located, I can report that the secret is out on it. (We’ll get back to that later.)

So I went in search of other courts in the city that might be open. I wracked my made-in-Vancouver brain, I crowd-sourced on social media, I scoured Reddit and Facebook and Twitter online and the entire city on my bike.

I started to get some hints, some urban legends about still-standing hoops near Union St., or one hidden among a post-secondary institution. None of them came to fruition. There was a suggestion about private schools; maybe they weren’t bound by the same rules. I started feeling a parent with a troubled teen, visiting school after school only to be disappointed time and time again. It all added up to the most pointless cycling since Lance Armstrong took to France.

I found one other hoop, a single eight-footer (regulation is 10) buried in a larger park on the east side. It remains mostly undiscovered, but it’s also not a great look for a grown man to be shooting on a net meant for children. Sigh.

And thus, the hoop by my place—an often empty area save for passing bikes and cars—has become one of the most popular spots in the city. Ostensibly, it’s still up there because the court sits free to public access on private land.

Every day and night, I hurriedly try to beat the crowd and hope that maybe, just maybe, it’s free for me to practice my fadeaway jumper on my lonesome. Spoiler alert: it’s not. 8:15 a.m., 11:45 a.m., 7 p.m. It doesn’t matter.

Sometimes it’s a solo dude, shooting away. Sometimes a kid and his dad. And sometimes, like earlier this week, there’s a group of 12-15 kids playing full-on games on it.

Am I jealous? Sure, I’d love to be out there egging on my friends, hitting one easy layup and then pounding my chest before floating air balls the rest of the game. We all would.

I’m no narc, but it’s not like the hoop is hidden from view. It sits viewable from a busy street, and that night there were multiple people who stopped on their bikes to take photos of the young men plainly and willingly breaching the well-established rules.

When I checked this morning, it was thankfully still there (and people were playing on it, of course). It remains one of the only refuges in a city where sports like tennis and golf are allowed to exist. 

And while that pains me to no end, I also understand why.