Local Church’s Gym Helps Make “Basketball Without Borders” Hit City’s Black Community In A Big Way

By Gregory Moore
Updated: May 20, 2005

Tanara McLean

The San Antonio Silver Stars took a group photo with the Chinese National Team. The scrimmage was held on the city’s Eastside.

SAN ANTONIO – On Friday the 13th of this month, there was a wonderful event that took place and kicked off a weekend in which two very diverse cultures and communities came together to promote a common goal: camaraderie. The Eastside community of this city was fortunate to be a part of basketball history and very few people were privy to the spectacle that took place this past Saturday. The San Antonio Silver Stars played hosts to a two and a half hour scrimmage between them and the women’s national basketball team of China. On the outset this may not seem to be a big deal because many would believe that the scrimmage took place at the SBC Center and that is where they would flat wrong in their assumption. This scrimmage took place at the community center on the corner of Walters and Eross.

Now maybe no one across the country, let alone in my own back yard, cares about a WNBA team playing host to a bunch of foreigners but maybe that is the problem. Recently, an African American columnist from this city wrote in the daily paper that the church that helped host this afore mentioned event, Antioch Missionary Baptist Church, had no business erecting another building where ‘a bunch of thugs would be hanging out’. There are many in this city that seem to not understand the complete dynamics of just why it is imperative for a professional team of any caliber to be able to assimilate into the community. What this one writer wrote and what others who are being ‘haters’ are doing is actually feeding into the stereotype that Blacks cannot build worthy projects that can benefit the community at large. That is why when the Silver Stars played host to the Chinese National team, it had to happen in a facility that was as state of the art as anything else in the realm of ‘practice’ facilities go in the sports world. For the Antioch Missionary Baptist Church, it’s charter school and it’s leadership, hosting this event helped show the world that not only is this misnomer exactly that but that not only can Blacks hold such an event but that even a church can reach out and welcome international visitors just as well as any other community.

DOING ‘MISSIONARY’ WORK MEANS REACHING OUT TO EVERYONE When the Community Center project was first proposed to San Antonio’s Black community, there were many skeptics who thought that this was nothing more than another pink elephant in a community where they have not seen very much economic growth. I will be the first to admit that prior to the SBC Center’s development and eventual construction, I was very critical of the then city leadership for not putting the arena in a place where economic growth could take place. Let’s be honest about some things for a moment. When it comes to arenas like the SBC Center, they need to be downtown. Where this arena is located there will never be any economic growth because it is too far away from the city’s central nervous center; downtown. Many may say that I have no idea what I am talking about but I am very much a native San Antonian just as much as I am a transplant Cincinnatian. I am also a pragmatist who can understand the economics of sports business. San Antonio is a tourist town people. The Alamo, the Hemisfair Tower, the River walk and many other attractions are downtown and that is where a bulk of the money is spent. There is hotel space galore. When it comes to building an arena, downtown is where it should have happened. Yet we have what we have because of poor leadership at that time. However I cannot say that this multipurpose facility located on church property, a community center that is home to the San Antonio Silver Stars during their season but is also home to the community at large, is in the wrong place. Just as the SBC Center may be in the wrong location due to bad planning and poor economic feasibility insight, the members of one of San Antonio’s most progressive Baptist congregations built this facility in the right location because they are in the business of reaching out to the community.

Tanara McLean

Yao Ming was in town for two days to support the women’s Chinese National Team. This picture was taken on May 13th with some kids and staff members of the Antioch Christian Academy charter school in San Antonio, Texas.

Many would say why would a church want to be affiliated with a professional team and I say why shouldn’t they. If many opponents would actually look at what Dr. Thurman Walker has been able to do in such a short time since this project’s inception, he has formed a bridge with this women’s basketball team. He has reached out to them and said, “make this your home cause you are welcome” and the organization embraced it with open arms. There are several members of this team, including San Antonio’s own Tai Dillard, who attend this church. These players give back to this side of town because they know that without it, they would not be able to put on gritty performances night in and night out. In this case, the marriage between a religious entity and a secular event has not only worked but has built a bond that even the very community that both serve cannot ignore.

For one day the Chinese National Team had an opportunity to practice in what can be said as a state of the art facility that is equal to anything the WNBA may have right now. I took a tour of the facility after the two teams finished scrimmaging this past Saturday and I will tell you that I am seriously thinking about joining this facility to start working out. From the playing floor, bleachers and workout area to the locker rooms and other amenities that the Silver Stars use, this church has done a wonderful job in bringing the Black community of this city a place where all are welcome and anyone can be served.

ONE CHURCH HAS PROVEN TO BE GRACIOUS HOSTS AT AN ILL TIME To host an event like what the Silver Stars did this past Saturday takes a lot of coordination between several parties. For Kris Davis and his staff, it meant getting out a few invites to the Chinese communities in Austin, Dallas, San Antonio and Houston. It meant gathering a list that had the names of the ‘section’ leaders in the season ticket holder fan pool to come out and support their team. It meant letting the media know that they were welcomed to attend and do interviews. Davis and his staff pulled off a heck of a job in that regards. For the church that meant that the scheduling of usage of the facility fell upon Comido Smith and a few other worker bees in the building. It meant making sure that the floor was ready for these two teams to do battle. It meant helping the Silver Stars handle any and all requests from their international guests and it also meant to have a facility that was able to allow the Chinese team to practice the day before. Rev. Walker, Mr. Smith and those others who helped need to be commended as well.

It is rare that a church of any denomination would allow itself to become entrenched with ‘secular’ vehicles like the WNBA but when it comes to bringing camaraderie to two communities that are not known to be partners in any task or project, Antioch not only stood up; the supporting cast members of those who put this scrimmage together did exactly what hosts should be doing; they hosted. On Friday the kids of the charter school got the opportunity to see one of the NBA’s rising stars in their neighborhood. On Saturday, those who attended the scrimmage got a chance to watch a practice that is normally closed to the public. The opponents may want to say that churches have no business being in partnership with entities like a professional sports franchise but I say that if that affiliation means that you expose some individuals in the community, evidently it must be a good thing because if it weren’t, then myself or the numerous others who are into basketball as a sport would not have been able to see history in the making. The Silver Stars helped make this “basketball without borders’ incident happen but if anyone asked me, I think the fact that Antioch went ahead and allowed their facility to be used to house the event was more pivotal than many may want to give credit to. Despite what many say, the fact that a Black church helped host an international event says something these days; it says something.