Gotham City Panthers founder aims to uplift local youth through basketball

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By JULIEN NAZAR

ERIC KING, FOUNDER of the Gotham City Panthers amateur basketball team, tries a hook shot on the Devoe Park basketball courts at Fordham Manor on Tuesday, March 29, 2022.
Photo by Miriam Quinones

Eric King, 51, observed that the parks near Fordham Manor aren’t as crowded as they used to be. “When I was young, it was a different time,” King said. “The kids were outside playing freeze tag. People were playing basketball on the basketball courts.

These days, he sees children walking down the street, mobile phone in hand, texting. “Everyone in this computer age is in a coma,” King said. “They are living robots that walk. The energy is not there at the level it was in my time.

To address this issue, in December 2020, King started a youth amateur basketball team, Gotham City Panthers. “I give back recreation, because whether it’s in school or out of school, these kids aren’t getting exercise,” King said. “I want to create a new team so that more bodies play here.”

The Gotham City Panthers’ goal, King said, is to keep kids on the path to school and success. Gym closures, after the onset of the pandemic and the related city shutdown, prevented King from finding a gym for his team to train in for more than a year. “It stopped everything,” he said.

On April 6 of this year, King sent letters to the office of the Bronx Borough President, the anti-violence group, Bronx Rises Against Gun Violence (BRAG), and the Madison Square Boys & Girls Club, a Bronx social service organization that provides targeted programs for youth in underserved neighborhoods. In the letters, he described his need for a gymnasium as well as his goals for the Gotham City Panthers.

His efforts initially led to a breakthrough. The Madison Square Boys & Girls Club, located at East 189th Street and Lorillard Place in Belmont, has agreed to rent its gym space to King twice a week. However, on Tuesday, April 18, King said the club had rescinded his offer, citing the rising number of COVID-19 cases.

Apart from this setback, King is made progress and took several steps to get the team up and running. For example, he opened a bank account with Citibank in the name of the Gotham City Panthers. “I’ve already saved a lot of the money to cover uniforms and things like that,” he said. According to King, Parkview Sports Center, located on West 242n/a Street and Broadway on the Kingsbridge/Fieldston border, agreed to make the sports team uniforms.

The team name was also trademarked and King owns the logo. He even has his own team of volunteer coaches. He said he hopes the team serves as a healthy activity for Bronx kids to keep them out of trouble. “There’s a lot of gang activity,” King said. “If you don’t give them something to do or keep them busy, someone else who doesn’t care about them is giving them fake love and giving them another kind of recreation.”

ERIC KING, FOUNDER of the Gotham City Panthers amateur basketball team, rocks Panthers apparel on the Devoe Park basketball courts at Fordham Manor on Tuesday, March 29, 2022.
Photo by Miriam Quinones

He acknowledges that youth involvement in gun violence is a big problem in the Bronx. “Every day in the news, since even just before COVID, young people themselves are shooting at each other tremendously,” King said. According to 2021 NYPD data, there were 701 shootings in the Bronx. In about 43% of these shootings, the victim or perpetrator was between the ages of 18 and 24.

One of the reported incidents at Fordham Manor so far in April alone involved two men who were shot in a drive-by shooting. Additionally, a 76-year-old woman was attacked and robbed, and a 13-year-old boy was reported missing.

The issue of gun violence is personal to King. “I had several colleagues who lost their children to gun violence,” he said. “I have several friends I grew up with who lost their lives to gun violence. A long time ago I was shot.

Because of this, King reached out to David Caba, an experienced anti-violence leader and Vice President of BRAG, to ask for his help in promoting the Gotham City Panthers. As previously stated, BRAG works with youth, residents and community organizations and the public to promote safer streets and new community norms where violence is not accepted.

Program staff help reduce gun violence by identifying youth at risk of violent retaliation, working with victims and their families and friends to help prevent future violence, and providing links to resources and aftercare services .

Before basketball tryouts, King asked Caba to address the team’s rookies about gun violence. For his part, Caba is interested and knows first-hand how sports can be used to engage young people. BRAG has already launched a successful boxing program at the Healthplex at St. Barnabas Hospital in Little Italy, as reported Norwood News.

In reference to BRAG’s ongoing community outreach and response efforts, Caba said Norwood News in a March 2 phone interview, “We spoke to different organizations before the pandemic.” One of them was Gotham City Panthers. “We’re trying to get those conversations back,” he said.

In terms of success rate, Caba said BRAG reduced gun violence by 50% in its first year of operation in the Bronx in 2014. Based on five years of shooting data at the time, BRAG’s violence switches have identified the most dangerous areas for shootings and homicides in the 46and the precinct, which covers Fordham, University Heights, Morris Heights and Mt. Hope. These areas were East 183rd Street to Fordham Road and East 188and Street between Jerome Avenue and the Grand Concourse.

In 2013, there were eight shootings in these areas. “When we set up our program in 2014, there were four shootings in this hot zone,” Caba said. BRAG has since expanded its work to the 47th and 52ndn/a pregnant. Caba attributes the group’s effectiveness to the identity of its messengers, some of whom have direct experience of street violence. “The key is a credible message,” he said. “The very individuals who affected others were the cure. This is why he is so successful. »

Caba has a pretty good idea of ​​what he might say in a speech at Gotham City Panthers tryouts, saying he’d start with simple questions centered around people’s personal experiences with gun violence and whether they know someone who made it rich. street activity.

Meanwhile, in addition to inviting BRAG to basketball tryouts, King also plans to invite rappers he knows. He had conversations with Azie Faison, founder of the Hip-Hop group Mobstyle. Faison has appeared several times on VladTV. “He has credibility on the street,” King said.

Another local sports group, the Bronx Buccaneers, which trains young children in football, has somewhat similar goals to the King’s Panthers, as noted. Coaches also use sports as a way to keep children focused on their education, providing them with a fun support system that also involves structure, commitment and discipline.

Once he gets his team together, King would like to place them in tournaments with some of the hottest teams in town like the Riverside Hawks and New York Gauchos. “I want my team to play against teams that have established names, so we can be recognised,” he said.

Another future goal is to provide unique opportunities for its players. “I want to sponsor them so they can do basketball camps in the offseason,” King said. “I want to buy them pairs of sneakers and have family nights where I take the family to a Knicks game.”

To cover these expenses, he plans to seek funding from several sources, including the Bronx Borough President’s office. “I would ask for a certain amount and split it between all these things I need,” King said. For now, the priority is to secure the use of a gym to schedule training sessions for its players four days a week. “I want to get them ready for the tournament,” King said.

Anyone interested in getting involved with the Panthers can contact Norwood News, and we’ll put you in touch with King.

*Síle Moloney contributed to this story.

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