Back in the 90s I started a Junior Basketball Association.
I had a long career - played at starting centre at representative level. Didn’t have the hops to make it to the semi-pros but did alright setting screens and rebounding in the rep grades.
I lived out of town a way and it was a 40-minute drive to get to the stadium.
When my kids wanted to play as well, I was making that drive 4 or 5 nights a week. It got a bit old pretty quickly but there were no local competitions for kids. So I decided to do something about it.
I booked Friday nights at the local YMCA, asked the American Pros from the city’s NBL franchise to visit the schools in the local area to promote a sign-on day - and a hundred and fifty kids turned up to register.
Then I conscripted a few of the keener mums to form a committee and we got the club registered with the state body, formed the Association and started holding games.
I got some support from the Y, (and ended up joining its board of Directors – which was a real eye-opener, but that’s another story). I refereed most of the games myself while I was training up a few of the high school kids to blow the whistle - and teaching some of the mums and dads how to coach at the same time. Running it turned into a part-time job.
Some Mormon Elder missionaries poked their heads in one night and they were quickly conscripted to bench scoring duties, which they enthusiastically embraced. An easy way to rack up their required community hours. The only proviso I made was no preaching in the Y. But the way the community got past their suspicion of the Mormons when they found out they were nice people, keen to help out, was gratifying.
Everyone was welcome. The numbers and age group competitions swelled. We stated to run on Monday Nights as well. We were up to 300 kids and youths.
Then Stevie showed up. A fit Aboriginal man fresh down from the Torres Straight Islands, a bit shy, but with a wide smile and a decent three-point shot. We started shooting around after the kid’s games and the next week I had him on the court refereeing with me. He became a fixture. In time I made him my Assistant manager. The kids loved him. He might as well have been Jordan. Because the kids loved him the parents warmed to him as well. We became friends. Me and a few of the dads formed a team and played in the A grade in town, ‘The flash’ was our point guard, we were all BBQ social. Stevie even got a job working in the Deli at the local supermarket on the back of his community popularity. And the club kept growing. We started to run Junior representative teams at State. So it continued till we moved to NZ in '01.
A few years later Stevie wrote me the best email I have ever received. About how a Black man can overcome - if people believe in him and how much better his life was for walking into that YMCA that night. What it meant to be welcome.
Then in the late 90’s many of the Aboriginal residents in public housing in Sydney were relocated to our area to make way for the Sydney Olympics (a blight). There was a large influx of Awabakal folks to the area and quite a lot of understandably edgy youths hanging out at the Y. There was nothing else to do on the fringe of the city as we were.
So we got them uniforms and integrated them into the club. They became part of it. Basketball doesn’t see colour very well.
Although it did have some funny moments when they played the local high school teams. The white High School kids wore black singlets and the Koori kids wore white singlets.
More than once while refereeing, when the ball went out of bounds, I called ‘white ball’ or ‘black ball’ and both teams came to grab it. Laughter ensued.
I even got a Community commendation for the work on integrating the community. It didn’t mean as much as Stevie’s letter. It was an interesting chapter in the journey.
I wish our Nation’s history was filled with stories of learning about the Husbandry of the land from the original inhabitants and respect - rather than the way it was written, and a million other things. But I can’t change that. All you can try and do is make a difference now.
I don’t think there is any such thing as ‘reverse racism’. There’s just racism – and I hate that shit.
As far as giving minorities a perceived advantage in business funding etc - I'd personally be more inclined to call that 'compensation'.