I wholeheartedly believe that if you can make it in Baltimore you can make it anywhere. Baltimore breeds some of the most confident individuals alive. Never let anyone tell you differently. In Baltimore City, you have to earn every ounce of self-confidence, no matter what the field is.
Like many others in West Baltimore, I earned mine on the basketball court.
In my youth, I lived and breathed basketball. It was the first sport I ever loved and I spent most of my time playing on crates, at outdoor courts and at rec centers. There, I learned true grit, mental toughness and how to compete. My basketball love affair bred life lessons I carry with me till this day. No, I did not make it to the NBA or grow to be 6 feet, 5 inches tall or even ever dunk the ball, but most of my internal strength came from hooping as a kid around the city.
There are plenty of courts in Baltimore, but here is a curated list of my favorites — and where I experienced my personal growth.
Located in the heart of West Baltimore, Cloverdale is one of the oldest and most legendary outdoor courts. In the summertime, it is the mecca for hoopers all across the city. Notables like Carmelo Anthony and Will Barton have graced this six-
Druid Hill Park
Not even five minutes away from Cloverdale is Druid Hill Park, one of the first large public parks in America. Druid Hill’s four-rim court is one of the easiest in the city to catch a run. It’s all love at this court, as hoopers of all ages and races compete year-round. Don’t get me wrong, to this day you still have to be tough to play here, and you have to follow the unwritten basketball code. You don’t leave the court until you win at least one game here, because the court itself is a challenge. Until recently, Druid Hill was known for its double rims, meaning you really had to perfect your jump shot because double rims are difficult. I grew up hooping in the crossover, ankle-breaking Iverson era, but what I gained from this court as a teen was how to shoot the ball with range. And yes, this was before today’s Steph Curry shooting-frenzy era.
I learned individuality on this court. When everyone was trying to break ankles, I was perfecting my jump shot.
It’s now a rec center, but the outdoor court at my school, the now-closed Langston Hughes Elementary, were one of the only courts on my side of Belvedere Avenue. Everyone from my side of 21215 played at Langston Hughes. Langston Hughes represented what many nearby courts represented for kids in the late ’90s into the early 2000s — that disparity could exist in close proximity to something as joyful as a basketball court. For the youth, basketball courts are an escape from reality, but oftentimes my friends and I would kick drug paraphernalia to the side just to enjoy a game of 50, Baltimore’s version of the game 21. We didn’t care. We were just happy to play basketball. As an elementary school kid, the outdoor court at Langston Hughes taught me early to be aware of my surroundings while hooping — a gift and a curse.
Every legendary Baltimore basketball player has at some point played at this famed semi-indoor court. The Dome is exactly what it sounds like — a court under a dome. So many national and local superstars have played there. This was the first court I played on in East Baltimore as a teen. The lesson I learned here was that in order to become a better hooper, I should always challenge myself in unfamiliar territory.
C.C. Jackson Recreation Center
Anybody who is somebody from Park Heights has at some point hooped at C.C. Jackson, “the old one or the new one.” There is not much to say about this Park Heights staple except that I learned how to love my neighborhood here as a young hooper. At C.C. Jackson, you didn’t just let hoopers from other neighborhoods come in and bully you around — you played hard and won as a team here.
Wallace Lane is a teacher, poet, writer and author from Baltimore and a Creative in Residence at the Baltimore Banner.