SACRAMENTO -- It wasn’t your typical Thursday evening. Instead of sitting at home and taking in a few extra minutes of NBA basketball, I dressed in a mandated all black outfit and headed to Folsom Prison to watch Sacramento Kings head coach Luke Walton play basketball with and against a group of incarcerated men.
The basketball was sloppy but entertaining. The emcee of the event wandered around the court making up nicknames for the players like “Skilz," “The ponytailed gangsta” and everyone’s personal favorite, “white shadow.”
There were no fights or risk of danger. A few hundred of the estimated 2,400 residents of the prison sat in the stands eating popcorn and cotton candy and cheering everything from dunks, to the tap dancers at halftime to Vivek Ranadivé, Vlade Divac, Marvin Bagley, Trevor Ariza and Nemanja Bjelica, who were in attendance.
Before taking the court, players and management met with individuals in a closed-door session. Media members were not allowed in, but Bagley gave a glimpse into what the conversation was about.
“We had a round table discussion earlier before we got to the court, we were sitting in a circle and one of the things I was saying was that basketball isn’t going to be forever it’s something that I do right now, but I’m a person first, just like everybody here,” Bagley said. “To be able to share love, show love, no matter what you’re doing or what you did in the past, no matter what you’re in here for, everybody has an opportunity to move forward and love. I think if we all continue to love one another and have positivity in the world, we’ll get to a place where there’s not as much silly, craziness going on.”
The Kings’ 20-year-old power forward is just starting out on his NBA journey, which will include all kinds of opportunities to get involved and use his platform in unique ways. He was on the sidelines dancing and greeting players coming off the court. He even went over to the stands after the event and took pictures.
“I can’t even really put it into words, it’s something I’ll remember for the rest of my life,” Bagley said. “Coming in, I didn’t know what to expect. I’ve never been to a prison before. You always hear about it and see it movies, but to walk through and see what it’s like, it was definitely eye-opening and something I’ll remember.”
Photo via Sacramento Kings
Opened in 1880, Folsom is a level 2-3 prison. While there are lifers mixed amongst the population, many of the residents will someday find their way back into society, which was the focus of the event.
“Through art, storytelling, and values-based conversations focused on redemption, mercy, and the possibility of a second chance, the REPRESENT JUSTICE Campaign, in partnership with One Community, will aim to humanize incarcerated individuals in the media and public opinion,” the team’s official press release said.
The event was co-sponsored by the Kings, the Milwaukee Bucks and the REPRESENT JUSTICE campaign and it won’t be the last event like this that the Kings will be involved with.
“We're proud to be the first participant in the Play for Justice initiative, which is shining a bright light on the unique issues facing incarcerated people in communities around the country,” Ranadivé said in a prepared statement. “Sports franchises have a unique opportunity to bring about positive change, which is why in the past year, the Kings and the Bucks brought together leaders from across two cities to share best practices and find new solutions to social injustices. This collaboration with REPRESENT JUSTICE is another example of how we can use our platforms for good.”
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According to the team’s press release, “The games are part of the Campaign’s efforts to engage audiences and spark collective action to demand a fair legal system, dignity for system-impacted communities, and an end to extreme sentencing.”
The game was played outdoors under a makeshift tent brought in by the Kings. Walton’s team came away with the victory, but he was too winded to speak to the media after the game. He had a few dunks, but he looked every bit the part of a 39-year-old who retired from the game six years ago.