In all the ways that I can discern from speaking to him for five minutes, Michael is a typical San Antonio kid — one of 25 or so at Thursday-night Spurs Youth Basketball league event in January. As you might expect, he’s polite but short in his answers as his parents watch supportively: Yes, he’s looking forward to another season of SYBL; yes, he likes basketball and, yes, he likes playing with the friends he’s made there; no, he’s not actually a Spurs fan — he prefers the Pelicans because he likes “Zion” and “Lonzo”; he’s excited for another season of SYBL and has had fun so far, noting an improvement in his dribbling and shooting.
This is one of many events the Spurs put on this time of year through the Spurs Give charity (previously, Silver and Black Give Back), and which I’ve attended to practice some amateur photography and generally capture the spirit of an event we at PtR are hoping to support with SYBL/PtR Night. The goal: to send as many kids like Michael as possible to the Spurs-Jazz game on March 22nd.
Like many clinics, this one is coordinated at a partnering location by various members of the organization and training staff, emceed by Dan Weiss, and featuring a young player (in this case, second-year guard Lonnie Walker IV) who’s greeted by applause before interacting with the kids, taking part in drills with them, and signing autographs afterward. Parents watch, cheer, and take pictures from the bleachers.
Michael’s parents have a bit more to say about what the league has done for him as he begins his third year as a participant. Their answers touch on what the initiative has largely been about for the past 25 years, since being founded by Gregg Popovich and Frank Martin — namely, using basketball to promote positive values and good decisions in groups of children that can most benefit from it.
“The thing I’ve enjoyed is he started in the Spurs League and he’s evolved in the Spurs League,” says his father, John. “What it’s done for him, he’s playing in competition now. Tournaments. It all started in the Spurs League. The coaches really helped him out. He’s really evolved and loves basketball.”
His mother adds, “It’s definitely opened a passion that he didn’t know he had, and it’s made him confident. Everything else, his future, his education. Especially with the discipline. [Participating in SYBL has] kept Michael out of trouble. Basketball is his main focus.”
As with the SYBL coaches’ clinic I attended, there’s an appreciable sense of community involvement that permeates everything the kids are involved in.
The same members of the Spurs training staff — familiar but largely unknown figures that you might see warming up players on game day — look just as natural engaging kids and teaching the fundamentals of the game in fun ways. There are layup lines, rebounding and defensive drills, and more.
SYBL, Spurs Give and the organization in general do plenty to make this happen by providing all the necessary resources, from workshops like these and jerseys, to additional incentives like appearances from Spurs players and coaches. Clinics like this are another important part of the initiative, but they’re just the beginning. And for kids like Michael, they’re something that participants return for reasons basketball- and non-basketball-related.
After signing autographs and taking pictures with kids and family, Walker addresses some members of the media. “These kids, they’re the next generation,” he says. “Growing up, I was always inspired by seeing people doing what I love to do. Talking to me, watching them work out with me. It always goes a long way, more than just basketball, so being able to put a smile on these kids’ faces, it’s very priceless for me.”
You can’t put a price on making a difference, but we have attached a few different values at which Pounders can get involved and help send kids like these to a game, with all key aspects of the experience covered for parents and chaperones. Here’s what your contribution provides at three different price points:
- 2 game tickets (1 SYBL kid and 1 chaperone)
- 2 food vouchers (hot dog or nachos and soda)
- Parking pass
- 5 game tickets (4 SYBL kids and 1 chaperone)
- 5 food vouchers
- Parking pass
- 10 game tickets (SYBL basketball team – SYBL team and a coach/chaperone)
- 10 food vouchers
- Parking passes
- (Light House Recognition – Thank you)
Again, here’s the link where you can donate.
SYBL count themselves among the estimated 400,000 who have taken part in it as a player or coach through the years. Founded in 1989 by Gregg Popovich and Frank Martin and funded by Silver and Black Give Back (now, Spurs Give), the SYBL remains a paragon for team-based initiatives of its kind. With involvement from players, coaches and a range of partners throughout Texas, it uses basketball as a vehicle to impact kids in primarily low income neighborhoods, promoting positive values and good decisions. Basketball is taught and played, to be sure, but, like many things associated with Pop and the Spurs, the lessons and relationships it establishes run far deeper. You can learn more about the SYBL by visiting their page.