Eighty elementary-school athletes showed their mettle on the court this
week during a two-day basketball camp led by former Knicks star forward
But the sheer joy of the Brooklyn school kids, ages 10 to 12, belied a
public relations battle being waged over the efforts of the camp’s
sponsor, Forest City Ratner, to bring the New Jersey Nets to an arena
that the company’s owner, developer Bruce Ratner, wants to build
at Atlantic and Flatbush avenues.
Opponents of Ratner’s plan to build the 19,000-seat arena and a towering
residential and commercial complex stretching into Prospect Heights say
the event was nothing more than a exploitation of the youths intended
to fan public support for the development, which would displace hundreds
of residents and merchants.
But spokesmen for Ratner say the company wants to reach out to the entire
New York metropolitan area and added that similar camps are planned this
summer. Additionally, they said, discounted tickets to Brooklyn Nets games
would be available to youth groups as would gymnasium space if the development
comes to include an amateur facility, as reported in The Brooklyn Papers
“These are the type of things that kids remember the rest of the
school year,” said Keith Lewis, executive director of Youth America,
which helped organize the camp with Forest City Ratner. “And for
it to be knocked, I don’t think they understand what makes impressions
on young people.”
Parents who came to the gym on Tuesday and Wednesday to watch their children
dribble, pass and shoot, learning from the former Knicks great, said nothing
but good could come from a day or two of physical activity.
The kids? Well, they loved it.
They gathered at Pratt Institute’s Athletic Recreation Center in
Clinton Hill to learn basketball tips from King, one of New York’s
most cherished athletes. And as much as he taught them court skills, the
6-foot-7, 205-pound All-Star forward spoke to the budding B-ballers about
the importance of education.
In between the small talk, he and a cadre of coaches, including Dwayne
“Tiny” Morton, coach of Lincoln HS basketball star Sebastian
Telfair, instructed 10-minute shooting and dribbling drills. Filmmaker
Spike Lee and former Knicks guard John Starks were also on hand.
Anton Dickerson, a shy 12-year-old from PS 307 in Vinegar Hill, said his
favorite part of the camp was learning how to shoot lay-ups.
“I like how they teach how to lay-up the ball,” said Dickerson
who said he hopes the Nets move to Brooklyn one day. “And now I know
what leg to shoot with, too.”
If that wasn’t enough, all 80 of the kids were treated to a basketball
game at the Continental Airlines Arena, in New Jersey, where they watched
the Milwaukee Bucks defeat the Nets, 103-98.
Ratner agreed to purchase the Nets in January for $300 million. He is
awaiting NBA approval of the sale.
Asked what role he plays in the Brooklyn Nets effort, King, who grew up
in Fort Greene and led the league in scoring in the 1984-85 season with
the Knicks, said he was “an adviser” to Ratner. “We also
want to assure to these kids that there are people who genuinely care
about them,” he added.
Opponents believe the outreach is hollow and meant simply to bolster support
in neighborhoods that have yet to sound off on the development plans,
which would relocate more than 300 residents of Prospect Heights. The
neighborhoods surrounding the Pratt Institute, where most of the children
go to school, would not be directly affected by the plan.
Sisters Patti and Shellie Hagan, two vocal opponents of the development,
showed up at the event, much to the chagrin of some of the parents and
organizers. Patti Hagan, president of the Prospect Heights Action Coalition,
said she was upset about the camp organizers’ selection of just six
public schools in Fort Greene, Clinton Hill and Prospect Heights from
hundreds in Brooklyn.
She also questioned why most, if not all, the children were black. Hagan
Organizers and parents at the event said race was not an issue.
“We didn’t choose the kids, they were chosen by the principals
and gym teachers of their respective schools,” said Ratner spokesman
Barry Baum. “As for her other remarks, we have no comment other than
to say she may want to think a little more carefully before she speaks.”
Among parents who showed up at the gymnasium, most said the activities
of the two days rose above the feud. Sarina Dumas, who lives near Shellie
Hagan on the border of Bedford-Stuyvesant and Clinton Hill, said the event
was for kids, not grownups.
“I understand what they’re saying and I got nothing against
it,” said Dumas, whose 12-year-old son Najhmier Lee, took part in
the camp. “But I was there for my child. This is for the children.
I liked it because, like I say, it kept them off the street.
“Anyway,” she added, “these kids, they aren’t into
politics right now. They’re into B-ball.”