Covid-19 shuts down Nets’ community outreach

By Michael Senatore

The coronavirus spread, affecting events globally, has hit home with the Brooklyn Nets organization as well. Beyond the players announced to have tested positive for the virus on March 17, and the NBA’s indefinite suspension of its season, Brooklyn’s G League affiliate has been forced to halt its community outreach programs.

On Feb. 29, a youth basketball clinic organized by the Long Island Nets was attended by 40 children at the Brentwood Freshman Center. For two hours, the children, ages 6 to 13, participated in drills and events designed to teach the fundamentals of the game and provide a healthy, fun experience.

 A basketball clinic in Brentwood was the last community outreach event that the Long Island Nets will hold for a while because of the coronavirus. Photo by Mike Senatore/Long Island Advocate

Unknown to its organizers, that would be the last event of its kind for the foreseeable future due to the spread of Covid-19. But the clinic’s staff provided attendees with an experience to remember heading into the oncoming time of self-isolation.

The Long Island Nets Youth Basketball Academy Clinic is one of many programs run by the Uniondale-based franchise reaching out to the local community. The clinics had been held monthly since the team moved into Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, each in a different location and all free of charge.

 Kids and instructors had a blast at the February clinic in Brentwood.

“This clinic is to basically show our appreciation to the community, and then also tie in a basketball aspect, where we teach the kids fundamentals of the game of basketball,” said the Nets’ Community Relations Coordinator Wade Richardson.

Richardson helped organize the clinics, designed and staffed by the Nets’ team of clinicians, led by head clinician Kelly Dempsey.

“Usually at the end, we ask [the kids], ‘What are three things that you learned?’” Dempsey said. “And it’s really fun for us to hear…because they’re actually getting something out of it, and we actually taught them on top of having fun.”

“The goal here is to develop talent,” said Nets’ Vice President of Business Operations Alton Byrd. “That is the contextual goal of our franchise, to develop talent on and off the court, to develop kids and their ability to play together. We’ve held firm with the contextual evolution of this franchise, and that’s how we started the basketball academy and the free clinics. It comes from wanting to give, and the more we give, the more we believe people will want to give back to not only us, but to other communities.”

The clinics are part of the Next Gen Series Presented by the Hospital for Special Surgery, a series of initiatives to further extend the Nets’ helping hand in the community. Other programs include the annual Youth Combine and Local Player Tryout events.

“We don’t see our jobs as just our season at the Coliseum,” said the Nets’ Manager of Marketing and Community Relations Amanda Landstrom. “We see our jobs as year-round, and being the G-League organization for the Brooklyn Nets, we see ourselves as being able to be the real grassroots leg on the ground out here on Long Island.”

The organization’s work doesn’t end there. The team also had been holding community events at its games, such as the Women’s Empowerment Game and Cancer Awareness Game. In February, the Nets teamed up with Pink Tie, a Melville-based charity, to donate $25,000 to seven non-profit organizations on Long Island.

The Nets were staging more than 100 community events each year, a holistic approach ranging from teaching children basketball to holding reading programs at elementary schools.

“I think our impact is in how we can help people help themselves,” Byrd said. “If we can do that, I think we’ve done a good job.”

Whenever the world gets back up and running, the Nets’ mission will continue from where it left off.