After a four-year hiatus, the Harlem Crowns were back in Williams Lake for a fun-filled game against members of the Williams Lake Men’s Basketball league.
A solid sized crowd of all ages settled into the bleachers at Columneetza Secondary School to watch the Crowns carry the ball and some players, cajole the referees, repeatedly slam-dunk the ball, and instigate fun with their antics, which even included stealing a reporter’s camera to take some photographs for themselves.
Williams Lake player Cody Wakefield, being the shortest on his bench, was probably picked on the most, but he held his own, even thinking quick when one of the Crowns passed him the ball in his court, hoping he’d score on his own basket.
At the end of the first quarter the Crowns were leading 22 to 8, at the half 32 to 21, at the third quarter 49 to 33, with a final score of 68 to 47.
The games always come with a positive message and at half time each Crown took a turn at the microphone talking about his experiences.
Manager Herb Scaife, number 3, told the crowd four of the team members grew up in Oakland, CA.
“I grew up in a very violent area. There weren’t a lot of gangs but there were turfs and hoods. It was easy to get into trouble,” he said. “You can give into peer pressure or you can choose your path to obtain the things you want. Sometimes we stumble, sometimes we make mistakes, to say that we haven’t would be hypocritical.”
Basketball, he told the kids in the crowd, has allowed him to travel, feed his family and have fun.
A friend stole an iPod once and to this day he cannot even cross the border into Canada, Scaife said, adding his father always said every decision has a consequence.
Mario Malave, number 23, said when he was nine years old, teachers and adults told him he wouldn’t live to be 18 years old, the way he was heading.
That comment motivated him to make some changes, even at nine. One of the main things that helped was the decision to play basketball.
“In high school I played and colleges were coming and asking me if I would come and play for them. I attended Bakersfield for two years, but after my first year, the coach told me I wasn’t living up to his expectations.”
Malave decided to enroll in summer courses and work on his basketball every single day and by the end of the summer the coach agreed he had definitely improved.
He went on to complete a Bachelor’s Degree in Recreation Studies.”
Paul Nash, number 21, is the only member of the team not from Oakland. He grew up in Navada, a few hours from Las Vegas. Sports was seldom the forefront, his town was mostly about slot machines, Nash said.
He started off playing football, but the rule in his home was unless you maintained a 3.0 grade point average, you couldn’t play sports.
Nash played for the U.S. Air Force and eventually joined the Crowns.
“With athletics you can always clear your mind,” he said. “And to play basketball you can always make the best of it and have fun.”
The shortest Crown, Tion Lofton, described his neighbourhood in Oakland as a place where “people were killing each other,” but he survived by listening to what his parents and teachers had to say.
“They can really guide you,” Lofton said.
Number 33, Damon Powell, sporting dreadlocks, also grew up in inner city Oakland.
“Everyone around me played basketball so I did too. In high school I changed my ways for the better and totally focused on the game,” Powell said, adding it helps to hang around with the right crowd.
The Harlem Crowns were founded in the 1950s by Chico Burrell, who was born in Harlem, NY, after he spent 12 years playing for the Harlem Globetrotters. When Burrell retired, Scaife took over the team as manager.
Proceeds from the game will go to the Punky Lake Wilderness Camp Society.