In its earliest days, Downtown Oklahoma City Inc. existed to tackle “big” problems and pursue “big” opportunities.
The rundown underground pedestrian tunnels were renovated and upgraded from the 1970s groovy look to its more modern gallery passages bathed in colorful lighting designed by architect Rand Elliott.
District identity signage was established, street cleaning crews were launched, and the Downtown in December festival ensured downtown stayed lively all year around.
A few years ago, however, the organization began to stagnate, proceeding with a status quo of old-fashioned marketing efforts, few new additions to making downtown fun, and little social media effort.
Under Jane Jenkins, the organization has turned its attention to thinking outside the box and creating smaller attractions and events to fill in the gaps.
A public basketball court was one of those gaps. A Nike commercial featuring Thunder star Kevin Durant served as a reminder that in every great city, there's a great public basketball court. The commercial featured our new downtown skyline, but the closest Durant could get to playing basketball in the “city” was a church neighborhood court near NW 23 and Western.
Jenkins and her crew quickly went to work and struck up an agreement with Bob Howard to build a temporary court on the old Bob Howard Ford dealership at Hudson and Reno. The land is expected to ultimately be purchased by the city for construction of a new convention center in three years.
But for now, the court has proved to be a hit with not just downtown residents and workers, but folks from throughout the city. And they've come to call it “The Cage.”
Avery Stevenson Jr. is no stranger to basketball, having played NAIA ball at the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma before going on tour with the Harlem Superstars. Upon his return to the city in 2012, he saw the cage as a reminder of what's missing in Oklahoma City — a great venue for street ball — and he started up Slick Athletics.
Street ball, as I discovered a couple weeks ago, is different from any basketball played in school, college or in the Chesapeake Energy Arena.
This year marks the second year for Stevenson's series of weekly tournaments, aptly named “The Cage,” featuring some of the best street basketball players in the state.
Family friendly DJs and emcees provide positive music, laughs and color commentary as teams match up.
And if you're needing evidence of how funny these guys can get, just get them debating over who lost their beloved bag of Cheetos.
Yeah, it's that kind of silly, mixed in with solicitations of the audience to weigh in on whether the referees are making the right calls.
Stevenson envisions The Cage becoming the venue for the best basketball players in the city to showcase their talents and build a fan base, becoming our own version of New York City's legendary Rucker Park.
The games continue every Sunday evening through Sept. 22 with the final week featuring a championship game. Each night features three games at 7:30 p.m., 8:30 p.m., and 9:30 p.m.
Portable seating is provided for spectators, and children tend to gather close at the cage fence to get the best views.
So what's next?
Downtown will host the American Volleyball Coaches Association in December 2014. Just give Jane Jenkins and her crew a running start, and no doubt a public volleyball court will be their next addition to downtown.