A couple weeks ago my roommate and I decided we wanted to head to the park to shoot some hoops. We aren’t frequent basketball players by any means, but we both enjoy playing and it was a beautiful day, so it seemed like the right move. I shot out some texts and got confirmations from folks to meet up at Mosswood Park, home of the most storied courts in Oakland. Those of us playing weren’t exactly the second coming of local heroes Gary Payton, Hook Mitchell, or Jason Kidd, but we had some good run going.
I personally sucked, but I suppose that was inevitable given that I hadn’t played a pick-up game since college. And for the record I was never that good to begin with. I think my best game on record is a whopping 11 point performance for Bret Harte Middle School in 1999. Nonetheless, our games at Mosswood were a blast, especially since a lot of the dudes out there could ball a little bit. We had teenagers, OGs, a police officer, rappers, writers, teachers, students, a singer, a waiter, and more all playing on the same court. If ever you wanted a glimpse of the richness and diversity Oakland has to offer, that afternoon at Mosswood would have been a great introduction.
Given that athletes can get competitive, there was a little smack talk that escalated at one point, but one of the OGs knew the young dude’s pops and went over to calm him down. It was just one of those old school Oakland moments that reminds you how much this city needs mentorship and a commitment to collective accountability. Once the conflict was resolved, it was right back to the game at hand.
Whether you used to play semi-pro ball or just like to play for fun, I highly recommend lacing up your shoes, heading to a local park, and shooting with a couple friends. A game will start organically, you’ll have a blast, and you’ll meet an interesting cast of characters.
Where to Play
Mosswood Park is always a great place to play given it’s legendary history and central location. The Warriors and Kaiser Permanente refurbished the courts a couple years back, as an investment in the next generation of Oakland ballers (Damian Lillard anyone?), so the grounds are in good shape. The CSN video below documents the ribbon-cutting of the improved courts, interviews Warriors legend Al Attles, and tells the story of playground messiah Hook Mitchell’s infamous dunk over a car–well before Blake Griffin was even born (pictured above).
Given my rather limited basketball prowess, I asked 38th Notes contributor, and frequent baller, Pendarvis Harshaw to name his three favorite courts in Oakland. He mentioned Rainbow Rec Center on Seminary and East 14th, where I also played as a kid, but he says the best court and most consistent run is in Chinatown’s Lincoln Square Park at 11th st and Harrison. Despite this high praise, Lincoln somehow didn’t make Pen’s top 3. Read on to see which courts did and why.
OG Penn’s Favorite Oakland Hoop Courts
- Dimond Park: The gravel, I mean pavement, is horrible. There’s only one court. It’s probably 9’6″– definitely not 10 ft. But I love hooping at Dimond. Why? Because right after hooping, you can hop in the pool and cool down or act like someone’s cousin and come up on some BBQ hot off the grill.
- FM Smith on Park Blvd: There’s always a kid playing on the big fake stage coach and horse at the back of the park… And an OG drinking or smoking at the bench near the hoop courts. The run on Sundays and afternoons is good. The courts are in good condition and the rims, although they did me shady on my last trip there, they’re alright… I guess.
- Manzanita Center: The courts aren’t regulation size, the lighting is shady, and flooring is made of synthetic material that causes people to static shock one and and other (at least it was when I played there) … And that’s why it’s special to me.
If you want to experience a rich slice of Oakland, put on your shoes, pump up your Spalding, and mobilize a few friends. Have fun, but remember that you’re balling on courts that have given rise to legends.