PUMA Hoops and Veniceball Court at the Mexico-USA Border

October 27, 2022

PUMA Hoops and Veniceball Court at the Mexico-USA Border

October 27, 2022

“Build Courts, Not Walls”! That´s the name of a programme by Veniceball. And we agree 100%! Veniceball started as a community tournament on the courts of Venice Beach and has since developed several initiatives that empower underprivileged communities, using basketball as a means to connect communities. PUMA proudly partners with Veniceball and here we present to you an important project – a PUMA Hoops court at the geographic border between Mexico and the USA.

PUMA has collaborated with Veniceball since we first recognised their Venice Basketball League, a summer basketball league in Venice Beach California, four years ago. ´CATch up´ sat down with the founder of Veniceball and Hoopbus Nick Ansom to discuss their latest project on the USA-Mexico border. Looking to create a new basketball court to raise more attention on the migrant situation at the border, they created both a piece of art and place for exercise where people can come together for their joint love of the game. 🏀

With the court’s opening, Nick and his team also brought the Tijuana community 20 basketballs and 50 pairs of PUMA sneakers. 👟

How did this project come about?

Nick: To start from the beginning, in 2015 we started a programme called “Build Courts, Not Walls”, where we would travel across the country with basketballs, nets and supplies. It soon developed into us refurbishing our first court in San Pedro, Belize. When we came back to Venice, we refurbished our home court and the movement started to spread like wildfire.

In early 2019, we were invited to play in the FIBA (International Basketball Federation) 3v3 tournaments in Mexico – which we won. The intention going to Mexico City was to expand and so with the money from the win, we decided to refurbish a court in Mexico City with the help of Riccardo Torres, my partner and project manager. Riccardo initiated the project with a company called Innvictus, creating a programme called Legado Innvictus. Since then, Riccardo, like many others involved in the court refurbishment programme, “caught the bug” and the project is now almost their full-time job and life mission. He has been travelling all across Mexico refurbishing basketball courts.

Tell us about the Tijuana court.

Nick: When we reached Tijuana on our cross-country travels, we partnered up with a local professional basketball team called the Zonkeys and they actually guided us towards the court. They told us how the court had been abandoned and lay dormant for years, but in the nineties there were some incredible basketball players that came out of there – including some Mexican legends.

Apparently, Tijuana has a lot of crime. When we started refurbishing the court no one came out for the first three days. But then we found one kid, and then another kid and by the time day four of refurbishment came we had a dedicated team of about six kids that were there day and night. The day before the opening, we came with the Hoopbus. We grabbed the whole crew and around ten of the kids, surprising them with full PUMA fits and sneakers, and we went to the Tijuana beaches for an epic sunset hoop session.

Who was the artist behind the mural?

Nick: There were lots of amazing people that put time and energy into this particular project, with a bit of paint or by driving across the border to bring back giant American pizza for everyone. The artist who created the mural, Rafa Kahlo, is one of the guys that works at Innvictus as a warehouse worker. He happens to be an amazing artist and loves to create murals on his weekends. He created the sketch, and the team came together to execute and paint the final mural with the help of a dozen local kids and 40+ volunteers – even the gardener started coming and redoing all the garden and the landscaping around the court. How the community comes together, it just can’t be scripted. Each story is just so unique and so empowering.

What is so special about this court?

Nick: The intention of the court is to try and raise more attention on the migrant situation at the USA-Mexico border and the communities that live along it. Going to Mexico for the first time and meeting people who genuinely care about the community, who genuinely love the game, it is really magical to transform these public spaces. From the court you can literally see the USA-Mexico border wall a block and a half away. You can see people on the other side of the wall shopping. There is a giant double wall with Border Patrol Officers, it is mind blowing! With this court we wanted to create a message that was loud and clear: no borders. Basketball has no frontier.

How do you aim to help the community with this project?

Nick: We want to remind the youth to dream big and remind them that basketball unites and can bring you places. My hope is that each time we plant a seed, like this court or leaving a few basketballs, we keep on cultivating a bond between Tijuana and LA because they are only two and a half hours apart. Bringing my guys from Venice, having them discover a different culture and a bigger sense of purpose, some said that was the best basketball trips of their lives. You come and coach, you do impactful work, but you also get to play against a professional team. It is a big cultural exchange, it’s really special.

What does this project mean to you, Nick?

Nick: I am a kid from France, I am also an immigrant. Basketball is so powerful: one, it can make you dream and two, it can bring you to places you have never even dreamed of. I don’t want to take too much credit on my end for this project other than connecting the dots and planting the seeds in order for this project to happen. To see people get so inspired and motivated to do something good, I think it’s kind of magical. Power to the people!

You mentioned it was difficult to initially draw people towards the court. How was it once the court opened?

Nick: The day after the opening, the court was full. The night we opened was a two-part event: as a court inauguration, we played the Zonkey basketball club and then an arena game with the Hoopbus and the all-star Venice five that we travel with. The arena game sold out with 5,000 people. For me, the event was about shedding light that there is a brand-new basketball court here, to show its progression. The old, shattered backboard to the new glass one, the transformation you can see very clearly in the photos. The kids of the community are mostly the ones who play there. There is one kid that plays in America, in San Isidro, and he recruits kids to come and play more often. From the moment we arrived to the day after the opening, there was just a transformation of energy. It was simply amazing.


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