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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.
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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.