Kevin Durant impacts San Francisco community, as Hunters Point Community Youth Park opens new basketball courts

HUNTERS POINT — The tenements were razed four years ago, replaced with brand new public housing. The water and power don’t get randomly turned off anymore. The old, dilapidated buildings that housed dance studios, classrooms and a rec center have been bulldozed, to be replaced with a new community center.

In the middle is Hunters Point Community Youth Park, a terraced green space that became the hub of the Hunters View and Bayview communities under the care of Julia Middleton, affectionately known as Aunt Bea, in the 1960s. At its heart: A pair of basketball courts, re-surfaced and re-furbished with money from the Kevin Durant Community Fund, in partnership with Alaska Airlines, HOPE SF, the Good Tidings Foundation and the San Francisco Foundation.

“I was like, ‘Man, my favorite player is doing a court in my neighborhood?’” said Kierre Garret, 17. “I said I was going to cry if I’d seen him. He’s my role model.’”

Garret spoke in front of a crowd of more than 100 community members and others on Tuesday, including Mayor London Breed, as Durant’s foundation christened its second set of two courts in the Bay Area.

With free agent talk swirling around Durant this weekend as the Golden State Warriors visited his top suitor in the New York Knicks, the courts are the first Durant has helped build in San Francisco, which will become the Warriors’ new home starting in the 2019-20 season.

“I just think it’s important for me to tap into the whole Bay Area,” Durant said on Wednesday. “I’ve been from East Palo Alto to Oakland to San Francisco, looking forward to hitting more and more places, just trying to leave my mark and have a lasting impact on a community.”

For youngsters like Garret, who attends City Arts and Technology High School, but plays on the varsity basketball team for the June Jordan School for Equity, the fact that Durant would take interest in this out-of-the-way community was just another reason to admire the super star.

“People doubted him,” Garret said. “I look up to how he persevered through that. When I was in eighth grade, my eighth grade coach told me I would never make anyone’s basketball team, and I just kept pushing forward. I ended up playing varsity when I was a sophomore.”

Like courts in his home of Prince George’s County, Maryland; the Kevin Durant Basketball Center in Austin, Texas; his rookie home in Seattle and courts in his last NBA stop in Oklahoma City, these courts serve as a key piece of Durant’s legacy.

“I asked him years ago what he wanted to do, and other ways he wanted to give back when he came to this city and the other cities in his life that have meant a lot to him,” said Durant’s manager Rich Kleinman. “As obvious as it sounds, the first thing that he said is that he wanted to build basketball courts … He met all the most important people in his life, he learned all the best lessons in his life [on basketball courts].”

For years, the community was full of decaying public housing and not much else. Middleton, who passed away in 2003, began to bring the neighborhoods together in the late 1960s, with children’s classes in dance and cooking. Beginning in the 1970s, her program was centered at the San Francisco Unified School District-owned space which became Hunters Point Community Youth Park, where she served as the director, and where the courts now stand.

Shamann Walton, 43, a candidate for District 10 Supervisor, remembered coming to the park when he was nine-years old. He lived two blocks north, up the hill. He remembered the after school programs that were hosted there, the tire swing, the rock fights.

Garret used to go to the Malcolm X Summer Camp held at the park, and played on the old courts.

“Relationships between communities weren’t always good, so that created violence between communities,” Garret said. “This is a place where all neighborhoods can come and play basketball.”

The decaying buildings with dance studios and classrooms have been knocked down, in order to make way for newer structures that, with the basketball courts as the center piece, will revitalize the center of a community already on the come up.

“I grew up in San Francisco. I grew up in the Fillmore community in public housing,” Breed said. “We didn’t have the best amenities when I was growing up. In fact, although we had hoops, we didn’t have nets, and this park, I remember, looked nothing like this when I was growing up. I can’t even believe what I’m seeing today.”

The courts in Bayview follow in the tradition of courts and facilities Durant has paid for in each of the cities that has hosted him over the course of his basketball-playing life. It’s how he sets down roots in a place.

Though he spent one season at Texas — just seven months on campus — he donated $3 million to his alma mater. The money helped fund newly renovated locker rooms and resurfaced practice courts. He still returns there when his schedule allows.

Though he spent just one season in a Seattle SuperSonics uniform, he returned in 2016 to unveil renovated courts at Powell Barnett Park in Seattle’s historically Africa-American Central District.

“Going to work around the community, [we’re] trying to figure out places where we can leave our imprint,” Durant said. “Our foundation has done such a good job of figuring out where those places are, and we just try to leave our mark.”

The courts Durant himself grew up playing on — at the Seat Pleasant Activity Center — were renovated last year by the Kevin Durant Charity Foundation.

“The mentality of survival mode is always, it happens a lot in these communities, where you don’t have any way out, and you don’t feel like you have a way out,” Durant said. “I just try to show people that there’s just so much going on out here in our world. I know it’s a basketball court, but something that small, hopefully, it makes an impact.”

The courts in Youth Park are the 18th and 19th the foundation has helped finance since beginning the Build It And They Will Ball initiative in 2015. On Tuesday, kids dribbled Durant-branded basketballs on the duo-toned blue courts with one hand and chowed down on pizza with another. Shamann and Fred Blackwell, the CEO of the San Francisco Foundation, played H-O-R-S-E in full suits. It was a block party for the entire neighborhood, complete with a DJ.

“A lot of neighborhoods don’t get to have things like this,” Garret said. “For Kevin Durant to do this, it shows that he cares. He cares about the youth, he cares about helping people.”

Garret plans to attend either Cal State East Bay or Holy Names University next fall. He wants to major in political science. Durant — who can opt out of his two-year deal after this season — was unable to make the opening, but when he heard that Garret was on the verge of weeping, he was at a loss for words.

“Really?” Durant said the next day at shootaround. “Man, it’s, I don’t even, words can’t even describe the feeling that I have when I see kids who really, really admire how I play the game. Everything that comes with it, it’s pretty surreal to me that I could affect someone that way, by playing basketball. It makes me get up every day and continue to put in the work, so I can have positive influence on everyone.”

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