With the sad passing of Dutch football icon Johann Cruyff, his quotes appear to be getting as much exposure as his legendary footwork. Take “Playing football is very simple, but playing simple football is the hardest thing there is”.
Now, having seen previous local teams try and fail, City of Birmingham Basketball Club have resisted the bright lights of Britain’s big league. Instead, they have protected what is important; development – the nurturing of talent, and keeping their young members and volunteer coaches at their very core. Club alumni, many from deprived backgrounds, have gone on to achieve success nationally and internationally, bearing testament to the club’s principles.
Go to the club’s weekday training sessions, and match Saturdays, and their home venue at Nechells is buzzing. Handshakes, hysterics and high-fives are the norm amongst the kids, parents, volunteers, organisers and officials.
Most people linked to the club know the demand for basketball in the city. They feel the massive undercurrents of love for the game. However, with only the toil of the largely voluntary workforce to support it, progress and growth has been very gradual, often to the frustration of it’s members. If ever there was a club that needed and deserved the support of it’s townspeople, it is this one.
And this is no glossed over version of the reality; the view has received endorsement from, literally, one of the highest, trusted and revered authorities in world basketball – NBA Champion, MVP, Hall of Famer and Olympic gold medallist, Hakeem ‘The Dream’ Olajuwon.
How he stumbled upon the club is a story for another day. However Olajuwon, a specialist in development projects across the world, saw the special setup that CoB have created, and he wanted to be a part of it. A summer camp with international class coaches is now in the offing, a basketball academy agreed with a local sixth form college, and an ongoing partnership between Olajuwon and the club.
However, from what has been carefully and proudly cultivated to become one of the country’s biggest basketball operations, one thing is still missing,. What still appears to be the hardest thing to obtain, is real support from the city’s community.
A national survey, The Future of Basketball, questions why such a dynamic, exciting, indoor, and fairly simple to understand sport, has not reached the heights of rugby, football or even cricket. And the question applies even more acutely in Birmingham and Solihull.
It also identifies that most kids in basketball are from ethnic minorities, and are boys. That’s great for social cohesion and says a lot for those children and their active lifestyles. But it also, by definition, proves the under-representation of white, english children.
So one solution is surely that basketball needs to be inclusive, not exclusive. Take Hakeem Olajuwon himself – a footballer plucked from Nigeria in 1980, he became possibly the best basketball centre in history.
For further evidence still, look at the team photos of Manchester Magic, who ran the most successful youth basketball teams in the country this year. You will witness that the area’s ethnic majority, in their teams, are not the minority.
It seems clear that, for the benefit of the city’s kids, and the city itself, the game really needs to reach out for the support of it’s community, and needs to receive that support in return.
So going back to Cruyff’s theory, maybe it really is fairly simple.
Picture this; a little english girl’s parent or teacher puts a ball in her hand when she stands near a basket. She will invariably play. We just need to get someone to hand her the ball right? But that simple thing at the moment seems to be the hardest thing there is.
An inspirational Girls Basketball video has been published, this and details of a short survey and free prize draw can be found at http://www.cobbasketball.co.uk/survey .
For those wishing to get involved in basketball in the Birmingham and Solihull area, further information about City of Birmingham’s basketball offerings, and other opportunities, is on the club’s websit: http://www.cobbasketball.co.uk/play ; http://www.cobbasketball.co.uk/opportunities .
For those already involved in basketball, take the opportunity to have your say at http://www.futureofbasketball.co.uk/be-part-of-it .
Register for the groundbreaking Hakeem Olajuwon City of Birmingham Basketball Summer Camp here: http://www.cobbasketball.co.uk/summer-camp-2016-registration-form