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Arts & Life

How A Simple New Addition To Metro Parks Has Become The Ultimate Basketball Opponent In Kansas City

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Gina Kaufmann
/
KCUR
At this basketball court off of the Paseo, all shots are blocked.

When social distancing guidelines didn't stop Kansas Citians from shooting hoops, parks departments throughout the metro brought out the defensive move of the season.

In a memorable speech delivered the Monday after Kansas City's stay-at-home order went into effect, Mayor Quinton Lucas expressed frustration that Kansas Citians had spent the early spring weekend blatantly disregarding social distancing guidelines in parks, particularly on basketball courts.

"It disappoints me that this weekend when I was in Swope Park, I saw probably 50 kids around a basketball game," Lucas told reporters during a March 30 press conference.

So maybe it's unsurprising that basketball courts all over town have been forcibly decommissioned.

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Gina Kaufmann
A basketball court at 70th Street and Roe in Prairie Village has no hoop, but you can see the rust marks where metal used to be.

And now, as so much around us starts to take on a more "normal" appearance, these self-blocking basketball hoops stand like monuments to the virus that's still spreading, reminding us that the topsy-turvy world of what's safe and what's not hasn't righted itself quite yet.

Considered safe in Kansas City in May 2020: picking up jars filled with cocktails without exiting your car, walking in the middle of the street.

Considered unsafe in Kansas City in May 2020: sitting in waiting rooms at doctors' offices, going to school, using a swingset or slide, going to movies, playing basketball.

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Gina Kaufmann
The basketball court at Porter Park near the Prairie Village Shops is also hoopless.

In Prairie Village, little parks can be found every few blocks. And in the ones with basketball courts, the hoops have been removed from backboards, leaving scuff marks in their place.

But on the residential blocks nearby, basketball hoops adorn nearly every private driveway.

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Gina Kaufmann
Homestead Drive between Mission and Roe is basketball hoop after basketball hoop.

Meanwhile, in Kansas City, Missouri, basketball courts look functional from far away. But don't let the hoops fool you. Some have been filled with plywood, which you can only see from certain angles.

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Gina Kaufmann
This basketball hoop, located on a public court at Linwood and Paseo, has been boarded up with plywood to ensure no basketball is played during the COVID-19 pandemic.
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Gina Kaufmann
This is a scene from a three-court park on Paseo, where the distinctive posts are made of arched cement.

And others have been planked. That is, flanked by planks of wood, over and under the hoop.

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Ingrid Clarke
Observation Park, overlooking the downtown skyline, incorporates the trusty method informally known as 2-by-4 over the top.
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Dan Eaton
In Roanoake Park, the 2-by-4 method complements the overgrowth of lush green foliage.

But of all the sad basketball courts in Kansas City, perhaps the saddest is the one at Concourse Park in the Historic Northeast district. Until recently, the gorgeous park with an esplanade, a fountain and a monument to President John F. Kennedy didn't have a playground or other amenities. The Scarritt Renaissance Neighborhood Association rallied to change that, throwing fundraisers, establishing partnerships with national nonprofits, going through a lot of bureacratic red tape and even volunteering to help build amenities themselves, resulting in what the Kansas City Parks Department website calls a "multigenerational playspace": a playground for kids complete with a telescope, embankment slides for all ages, a soccer field and four basketball courts. The work to install it began in 2017.

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Gina Kaufmann
The hoop nearest St. John Avenue is blocked, but someone's managed to clear the other one.

Three years later, the basketball courts are boarded up because using this equipment, put here to keep residents healthy and active, is suddenly unsafe. But some of the 2-by-4s have come down, as has yellow tape meant to keep people out.

A sign still clearly indicates the courts are still closed (as does the Kansas City Parks Department's website), so it probably wasn't a city employee removing the barriers. Another hint that this was a vigilante "reopening" is the evidence left on the court.

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Gina Kaufmann
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Gina Kaufmann

It may be unclear for a while, as Kansas City begins a slow lifting of restrictions, what's fair game, and what's not. But for now, still no free throws.

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