It was early spring of 2021 when Bradley Beal started noticing the world coming back to life during the pandemic. It was before sports arenas welcomed fans again, before the NBA roared back in earnest, but Beal could see a shift. He knew because the public basketball courts he drove past on his way to work were filling up again.
Not long after, a D.C.-based nonprofit called Hoop For All Foundation approached Beal with an idea.
The courts at Banneker Community Center in the Columbia Heights neighborhood badly needed a facelift — their lines were faded, cracks splintered across the blacktop like spiderwebs, and the playing surfaces were uneven. Beal, unfamiliar with the courts’ location, discovered they were across from Howard University. He learned about Hoop For All, which hosts basketball tournaments and other sporting events in D.C. while offering on-site health-care resources for people in the community. Beal agreed to sponsor the court refurbishment nearly right away.
“It was a no-brainer. I loved what Hoop For All did as an organization, spreading awareness of medical issues that especially hit the Black community,” Beal said in a phone interview this month. “I liked that they were young, they didn’t necessarily have a big following, and when I saw the courts for the first time — it was exactly what the community needed. You’ve got nice tennis courts over there, a nice middle school, a playground, a pool. The only thing that was missing were nice basketball courts.”
On June 18, Beal will attend the ribbon-cutting ceremony of the newly redone courts, a project a year in the making carried out by Hoop For All with funding from Beal and matching support from the National Basketball Players Association Foundation.
The event comes smack in the middle of a watershed summer for the Wizards’ star guard. Beal said he is still leaning toward signing a multiyear deal with Washington worth roughly $250 million in July, and in the meantime he’s focused on rehab after having his cast removed in late April following season-ending wrist surgery in February.
“Surgery was good; recovery went well. Had no issues,” Beal said.
It will be a while before Beal gets back on the court. In his first month out of the cast, his rehab focused on regaining range of motion in his left wrist and miming his shooting form before progressing to strength work. He has been watching the NBA playoffs. He has been preparing for the arrival of his third child in the coming months. And he has been staying in touch with Tommy Sheppard, the Wizards’ president and general manager, as Sheppard prepares for June’s NBA draft.
But mostly Beal has had a lot of downtime to ponder life off the court — including his charitable endeavors and his legacy in D.C. The timing of the court refurbishment felt perfect.
“This injury also gave me a mental break, a time to evaluate life, and I haven’t changed my mind-set,” Beal said. “I enjoy being in D.C.; I enjoy being on this team.”
The June ribbon cutting will feature a basketball clinic as well as blood pressure checks, heart rate checks and other basic screenings that are often the first steps in identifying major health issues. Hoop For All founders Ayo Amoo and KB Thomas, Howard University graduates, have been hosting the health-care and sports crossover events for nearly a decade.
“Because we were using our sporting events to target illnesses like cancer, diabetes, heart disease, mental health, HIV/AIDS — those are the five major areas that we focus on — we noticed that people just needed to be educated,” Amoo said. “They were lacking a lot of common resources that could improve their overall health profile.”
Thomas said they wanted to partner with Beal because of his high-profile status in the city and history of charity work. The guard won the NBA Cares Community Assist Award in 2019.
It was important for Hoop For All to have a local figure helping spearhead the project.
“I grew up a hooper. I played at Banneker when I was at Howard,” Thomas said. “When you go to the basketball court, you meet new people every time. We want that same feeling at this event, everybody coming together. It’s an opportunity to fall in love with basketball again, to fall in love with your community again and feel like your community is taken care of. It’s very easy to feel forgotten. The number one thing we want to show is that somebody still cares about the people in the inner city of D.C.”
Said Beal: “I think that’s what the community needs, to be able to see many organizations come together for something like this. I love the fact that we’re making it happen.”
What to read on the Washington Wizards
Beal gets the max: The 29-year-old guard agreed to a maximum contract that will cement him as the cornerstone of the franchise. Only in Washington do NBA stars get $251 million participation trophies, writes Candace Buckner.
Wes Unseld’s first season: Players praised the coach’s even keel. But the defense was still bad.
Offseason needs: Securing Bradley Beal’s future is at the top of the organization’s to-do list. Finding a permanent solution at point guard is No. 2 on the Wizards’ offseason checklist.
Candace Buckner: Forget the excuses about lineup disruption, chemistry issues brought on by the massive trade-deadline makeover and Bradley Beal’s season-ending injury. The Wizards took a step back this year.
Peace for Kristaps Porzingis: The big man called Washington the “perfect place” to help him reach his career goal because of the Wizards’ mix of young and veteran players.
Kyle Kuzma’s fashion game: What started as a desire to look sharp became part of his identity when he was drafted with the 27th pick in 2017 and he moved to Los Angeles.