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If you’re a hooper who grew up watching basketball movies, the first image that comes to mind when you think “playing ball in Los Angeles” is probably of the picturesque courts at Venice Beach. That spot was made famous by White Men Can’t Jump (with some cameos in Baywatch). It’s the quintessential landmark of LA hoops. But it’s not where the best games are played.
Save Venice for a postcard. If you really want to ball, there are better runs out there. Including one right up the road at Santa Monica Memorial Park. This is where you’ll find a game with players who have big hoop dreams. The courts are packed with Drew League stars and local college ringers. With palm trees overhead and the beach beckoning several blocks away, you have to make sure not to let the chill vibes take you off your game, especially when the competition really ramps up later in the afternoon.
To understand exactly what makes Santa Monica Memorial the spot, we talked to a gatekeeper of LA street hoops — Keion Kindred. Kindred grew up in Los Angeles and embodies the spirit of SoCal basketball. As a teen, he played at Dominguez High in Compton, winning a state championship with Tyson Chandler. In the years since, he’s gone on to a career training pros on their way to the league or stints overseas. When he’s not on the road, Kindred runs Air West — an exclusive open gym, where local stars and NBA hopefuls battle it out indoors.
Here’s what the LA legend told us about balling in his city.
WHERE TO PLAY IN LA:
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Dear Basketball, I always wondered why did you pick me? Why did I have to be in the rare and unfortunate group of "If he never got hurt…he would have been"! I gave you everything, literally! Forced to retire at the age of 27 at the only thing I've ever known since I was 6yrs old. Damn, I hated you, I felt you and my body betrayed me!!! With that being said, I wanted to say, THANK YOU. You gave me a chance to see and experience things most will never endure in a lifetime. Even after my injuries, you're still here and making me a better person. We have had our ups & downs and I'm forever grateful. Continue to guide me as I guide others. You saved my life and now my promise to you is, I'll save the lives of others. 📸@montyimages📸 #CLC #BiggerThanBasketball #Airwest #iTeach #TheDrew #Redemption #KeyzToTheCity #TheGateKeeper #LA #Nike #JustDoIt
For anyone who comes to Los Angeles looking to punch a stamp on their basketball passports, Kindred calls out Santa Monica Memorial. Of all the courts, including the most notorious ones, this is the spot that keeps the competitive spirit burning brightest.
There are UCLA runs which are nearly impossible to get in. You can go watch if you have the right connections…like me [laughs]. You can go to a Drew League game and just watch. Venice Beach is open and it’s a landmark. Then of course, you have Poinsettia Park, Pan Pacific, Washington Park and places like that where you may catch a game…
But for right now, it’s Santa Monica Memorial. There are still pros around, so there’s always a good run. Guys like Chris Copeland, Craig Smith and James Wright. Some of the best guys play up there a lot. Casual people can play on the other side. There’s one main court, then there’s the side courts. You can be on the other end playing with the regulars, and if they’re not good enough you can play with the pros or semi-pros.
One sets this spot apart is that it’s more fundamental. Guys are actually trying to play to win. It’s not just fastbreak, outlet, and layups. Guys actually moving the ball, setting the screens, actually trying to win. The intense play style. They’re actually trying to get a good run in. Get up and down, shoot some jumpers and then get out of there.
KNOW BEFORE YOU PLAY:
For those coming to play at Santa Monica Memorial, Kindred suggests that you know not only who you’re playing against, but who you’re playing with. In this moment of iso heavy, ball dominant play, you’ll find a different style on these courts.
I’ve actually got death threats over this…I’m just gonna say it — I believe Los Angeles is the new mecca of basketball. And not even including other parts of California…Dame Lillard is from Oakland.
I would say the game nowadays is geared towards playing the right way. When you look at it from the perspective that we’re involved in now, from the pro prospective. Guys are passing the ball and getting upset when guys don’t make the right play. We’ll get a guy that comes down and thinks he deserves to shoot the ball every time. There’s the winners court and the losers court. The winners don’t play like that.
YOU GOTTA BE TOUGH:
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Here is the beauty of coaching. You get to touch lives, you get to make a difference. You get to do things for people who will never pay you back and they say you never have had a perfect day until you've done something for someone who will never pay you back. Love my girls!!!! #CLC #iTeach #KeyzToTheCity #TheGateKeeper #WomenGotNow #TheDrew @womensdrew #NMyFeelings 📸@actknowledgeit📸
As for that myth of LA players being soft, Kindred wants to set the record straight. Just take a look at the top players on the planet — you’ll find a staggering number who come from SoCal. Know that when you roll up to the court and bring your best. No lazy calls. No pouting.
Santa Monica Memorial brings together the best from the area to play for bragging fights, validation, and respect. How you play is who you are. This involves not only raw talent, but a blend of poise, confidence, and, yes, toughness.
If you look at the amount talent in the NBA at the highest level, arguably some of the best players are from Los Angeles. If you look at how they approach the game, not many are soft. You may get a primadonna here and there, I get it, because of the bright lights and the Hollywood sign, but in terms of how they approach the game, I don’t think anybody’s soft.
From Russell Westbrook to Kawhi Leonard to Demar to James Harden…they don’t come off as soft. That’s the heart you need to play here.