A Brief Overview and History of Basketball Figures at Los Angeles State Historic Park in Glassell Park

This past weekend marked the retirement of one of the Weekend Warriors League's greats.  After 6 years of determination, player-coaching, point guard Rene Garcia has decided to call it quits and move on with his life in Sacramento.

He averaged somewhere between 2-5 points a game, and about 2 or 3 assists in his long career at the WWL.

He was most notable for playing the role of player/coach, wearing a knee brace, and talking up a landfills worth of trash.

When I think of the way an ESPN sportswriter would cover what I guess is our little basketball league/team, I guess that's how an article chronicling one our player's "retirements" would read. 

Over the last 6 years, I've been playing basketball with a hodgepodge of guys at the park on Macon St. and San Fernando at the Los Angeles State Historic Park in Glassell Park. 

Why here?

It used to be where we all lived.  The courts were new in 2007, and offered ample opportunities to get a game.

For me it's been like the adult-ized, postmodern, multicultural version of the movie The Sandlot, except on the basketball court with a bunch 20-30 somethings.  For the sake of easy reference, I am going to call what we do the Weekend Warrior League (the WWL).

While it's not as overflowing with participants as in the past, were still competitive, least when I'm around.  3 on 3, 4 on 4 basketball, half-court.  

How it has worked over the years:  I'd get a text from someone asking if I was done to play at this time at this place.  It used to be 2:00 PM on Sundays at Los Angeles State Historic Park, in its infancy, when we thought the courts were extremely slippery.  I have two bruises on my knees that will show you the extent of the slipperiness of that court. 

It's an exclusively hetero-normative male place, from the courts to the benches, though on occasion some of us will bring a female companion.  I've been the worst offender of late, bringing with me my fiance' en route to visiting my parents in the San Fernando Valley.  I feel terrible ghetto-izing her to the grass or the bench underneath a usually unforgiving sun.

Most of the time during the basketball season, we would play before or after a Lakers game.  At one point we played every Saturday/Sunday. 

No matter what mother nature spit out for us, we would play.  Sometimes, it was overcast and gloomy.  Other times, the kind of heat that makes you want to live in the ocean.  Though in all fairness, as Southern Californians we don't experience the cold that Easterners do.

Our venues aren't always at that park.  Sometimes we would play in the actual gym in actual Glassell Park in which sooner or later we'd be culled to play 5 on 5, reluctantly.  Sometimes, we would play at a vacant court in Riverside.  Sometimes we would play in Eagle Rock.

After a handful of games playing full court, matched up other random hodgepodges of people, and a general inability to locate our lungs thereafter, we've firmly established ourselves as a "half-court only" ensemble.  Someone sees that were playing 4 on 4. 

They ask us if we want to play 5's.  No, it's fine, were good. 

We've played a lot of games over the years.  Sometimes we've had as many as 12 players, and we'd have to wait to get next.  Sometimes, we'd wait and wait, struggle to get a 2 on 2.

The league has definitely been a chunk of my life now, but it's not really something that I've talked about much.  It just kinda happens, and I never really get the chance to talk about it.

Maybe The Sandlot/Fight Club.

But in this case, I think it's just something worth writing about because its taken up a chunk of my life in the public spaces of LA, particularly at Los Angeles State Historic Park.

If you're going to know anything about this league, you have to know that if there weren't a Brian or Leo, cell phone text messaging, and or a constant stream of contacts, we wouldn't have played all that much.

Here's a breakdown of all the major players in our league.

The Two Fixtures:

1.  Brian (2007-Present):  the beating heart of the WWL, texting me a day or two before we decide to play.  He's the main guy bringing in new people to play against.  I've played against his friends, his co-workers, his relatives.

He's also the only other Brian I really know, and I don't mind knowing him as the Brian, because on this court, I'm known by my childhood initials.

The curly-haired power forward/center at the legitimate 5'8.  He used to have hair like Anderson Varejao coupled with a Ben Wallace headband.  I always thought he was taller than he is, and that's due in no small part to the type of game he plays:  rebounding, defending the tall guy, playing back to basket, and scoring in the paint.

As of late, he's adopted a big dog personality, meaning he's done a lot of yelling lately.  He's also learned to develop a shot inside the paint.

Outside of the court, he's been a long-time tutor at a local high school, and now is a student at CSUDH.

2.  Leo (2007-Present):  the franchise player in the WWL.  I can say that playing basketball at public parks in LA began with him and our friend Hugo sometime back in 2007.  I actually vaguely knew about him when we first went to UC-Santa Cruz in 2002-2003, but I didn't know him as well and we were on separate parts of campus with no common classes.

A 5'3 (and that is probably a stretch) point/shooting guard who was/is the Kobe Bryant of the court with the industrial strength of a tank.  A short, quick buff guy. 

He had a dazzling array of moves and a strength inside that was difficult for me to defend.  I would hate the days where I'd be on the opposite team, trying to shut him down because I knew I would eventually smell like his Axe body deodorant.  I love being on his team, thinking that we are the street version of a 5-ft tall Ben Gordon/Derrick Rose.  It used to be like something of a law that if you had him on your team, your team was going to win.

He's relaxed now, maybe cause he's got a girlfriend and a desk job. I kid.

The Constants

1.  Rene (2007-2013): the competitive spirit of the WWL, who has "retired" on the count that he's moving to Sacramento.

He was the funniest, quick-talking trash-talker I'd ever met, which I wouldn't have known had I only played with him a few times in 2007 and left it at that.  He gets mad at you if you don't listen to his direction, but mostly gets mad at himself if he blows a lay-up.

He's a 5'5 point guard with the determination of a bull, but the legs of a turtle with an ACL injury.  He's always prioritized driving in and being aggressive in the paint.

I used to bank with his bank, specifically until they started charging for not having the minimum amount.

2.  Edgar (2010-Present): the 5'8 small forward/power forward.  He has a solid back-to-the-basket game and a shot inside the paint.  And by most solid, I mean "strong-looking" and when you find him in the right spot, he will score.

Otherwise, mostly a quiet, cool customer whom I have tried to silently figure out if he is Arab or Latino so I could know how to judge him properly.  Last I heard, he's graduated Cal Poly Pomona in some kind of engineering.

3.  Chris (2010-Present):  A 5'6-5'7 long-range shooter whose never met a shot he doesn't like.  Though when he's on my team as of late, he's found a way to pass.  When he's on you gotta give it to him only because if he gets on a streak he will make the game go a lot quicker.

I actually fought with him one time because he tried to pigeonhole me into doing all the dirty work while he he would take the shots.

He's always been an enigma to me because he's had a Captain America target tattoo on his leg and alternated his wardrobe between military or Christ worship kind of stuff.

The Ever-So-Oftens

1.  Gary: A 5'5 point guard with the body of Khalid El-Amin.  He makes plays inside and can lay the ball in.

Brian and Rene are pretty funny guys but for some reason everything Gary says is pretty damn funny.  He was the reason that I wrote the post about the question Where you From?.

2.  Mike:  A 5'6 point/shooting guard.  He plays like Manu Ginobili, he makes plays:   Driving, shooting, whatever you need.  I generally like it when he's on my team.  When we went to a tournament one time, I was super-glad that he was one of the guys that would be playing.

When he's not playing basketball with us, he's some kind of geographer at UCSB.

3.  Me:  Since there's a Brian, I am known here as "BJ", my childhood nickname.  The "5'7" (they'd love to bring me down and call me 5'5), point, shooting, or small forward.

I don't really know how to play basketball in any kind of structured, systematic way, I just...play.  I'm now in the phase where I like to keep it simple --- not as much running, but more shooting when the chance is available, getting putbacks, making weird shots.

WWL Hall of Fame
  • Hugo (2007-2011):  I used to play with him and Leo in Glassell Park, and he also went to and of the three of us actually finished UC-Santa Cruz.  I thought of him not as Hugo Lopez, but as Hugo [Luol] Deng because once he had confidence in his shot, it was automatic.  The key was just getting him in the right spots.  I miss this guy's brand of sarcasm and constant trash-talk with Rene.  Now he's playing basketball somewhere in the westside with his lab/science buddies.
  • Omar (2007-2011): A guy with a shaved head and you'd think would be intimidating, but totally isn't.  He was just a good guy to have around.  He worked in some kind of medical field, either as some kind of doctor or technical specialist.
  • Steve (2007-2010):  A 5'5-shooting guard who sometimes had a shot.  Brian remarked one time, "I like him because he plays and he just loves basketball."  He was cool. He drove a motorcycle.
  • Eric (2009-2011):  A massive 6'2 guy who loved to shoot.  Seemed like he never wanted to exploit the size advantage he had over anyone.  But if you had him on your team, you'd be guaranteed a win.
  • Tony (2007-2009): I don't know who brought him, but it didn't seem like anyone got along with him.  I think of the word "mierda" when I think of him.  He was actually pretty good and could challenge Leo, but he was also a guy who would cry foul at the slightest touch, but be ready to run you over, put the ball in, and nonchalantly call out the score.  Seemed to get along with Joe because he was a snowboarder.
  • Joe (2007-2011):  A 5'8 small/power forward who always reminded me of Metta World Peace and a running back in football.  He had the body of a running back, relatively speaking, and knew how to make headway into the middle, though sometimes he'd rely too much on this bulldozing play. I've had unexpectedly good conversations with him.  He's some kind of LVN.
  • Dave  (2007-2010):  A 5'10 power forward/center who like Joe powered his way inside but also did a lot of the big man dirty work.  Whenever he was on my team, I'd like to pass to him in the middle because I know he would've made the best of it.
  • Frank (2007-2012):  A 5'6 shooting guard/small forward who took lots of outside shots.  He was chill.
  • Keith (2007-2010):  Actually the origin of the links I made with Leo and Hugo.  I always thought of him as a resourceful basketball player all the way back to grade school. He was always the type to make the best of a bad situation, and has a knack for making things look easy.  For some reason, maybe because of lack of confidence or lack of motivation, he just faded away from the basketball court.  I've known him since grade school, and were still good friends.  He's an gung-gung-chi-cho, or engeniera, or engineer at a big computer hardware company.
  • Dom (2009-Present): A 5'5-5'6 point guard with a sweet shot, and most importantly basketball IQ.  He's all basketball IQ as you can see by his quick, decisive passes or shots;  I guess I can attribute that to his high school basketball experience. He hates running or any kind of mobility, so whenever I guard him I try to push him out of his comfort zone.  After meeting him at UCLA, he's become an academic counselor at CSUN, going to be my best man.
Honorable Mentions: Nobody called/texted any of these guys to play, but they showed up every so often, and we integrated them into our competitions.
  • Mexican Steve Nash:  A 5'6 point guard and patient player, who could find crafty ways to score a basket.  It seems like he resented any pressure defense and the fast style of basketball I'd played against him.  He played the type of defense that I'd run down all day.
  • Small Shaved Head El Salvadorean Guy with Lips Tattooed on His Neck:  He and his buddies had their own league going on, but every so often we'd play against him.  Brian called him "the Mexican Leo."  In my head I've always "pssshed" at that comment, but he is shifty, quick and you do have to guard this guy.
  • Old Chinese Man:  This guy probably actually was a grandpa.  He looked every bit like one, but his shot.  Goddamn, his shot!  At first you'd be surprised that he could even pick up a basketball, then after a while when his team is winning, and he's silently killing you, you'd find yourself actually trying to defend his old ass and get frustrated when you couldn't block it.
  • Three Korean Kids:  Some kids whom we picked up to play when there was no one else around at the height of our league.  They could probably beat us now.