LOS ANGELES -- Three nights a week in a South-Central Los Angeles park gymnasium, Crips still shoot and Bloods shoot back.

Except that at night's conclusion there are no toes to tag or funeral arrangements pending.

Some said it was foolhardy to bring elements of Los Angeles' most notorious street gangs together for organized games of basketball from 8 p.m. until 2 a.m.

The Six Deuce Brims thought so.

"Ain't no way we want Crips over here," they told Andrew Williams, senior director at Harvard Recreational Park, which is Bloods turf.

But beginning in 1989, a few Crips dropped their grudges, laced up their shoes and ventured into enemy territory for the purposes of a different sport.

A few Bloods did the same, allowing themselves to be exposed -- in shorts and T-shirts no less -- deep inside Crips neighborhoods.


They came as participants in the community-sponsored Late Night Basketball League, which sought not only to get gang members off the street in peak crime hours, but also to bring bitter rivals face-to-face.

No AK-47s. No gang colors.

No Old English 800.

Just hoops.

Leave your rags at the door.

At Late Night they call it "exchanging bullets for baskets."

Except that it has not been that simple.

During a game last year, rounds of gunfire rattled the Harvard Park gym.

Samuel "Stretch" Reece, captain of Watts's Willowbrook Park, a Crips neighborhood team, almost jumped out of his high-tops.

"First thing we did was run behind the brick wall," he said. "I thought they were trying to shoot right up in the door."

Thankfully, the drive-by shooters left their bullets only in the body of a Camaro.

"It had to be someone from this {Bloods} neighborhood," Reece said. "They wanted to make the league close down."


Gunshots outside did not stop the jump shots inside. The game resumed to the drone of a Los Angeles Police Department helicopter, which hovered over the park in search of the gunmen.

In October, a game matching a Crips neighborhood team against a Bloods teams at Harvard Park dissolved into violence. Chairs were hurled and jaws were broken.

Not exactly your average YMCA league.

On game nights, Harvard Park becomes a fortress. All doors remain locked except for the main entrance into the gym, dangerously exposed only 20 yards or so from 62nd Street in a residential district.

On a Thursday night in late October, six police officers, occupying five squad cars, kept watch outside.

Late Night does not allow players to drive their own vehicles to the game for the obvious reason: In gang life, cars can double as a munitions warehouse. Instead, players are transported to and from games in vans leased by the Los Angeles Community Youth Gang Services.


Teams await pickup at their respective neighborhood parks. Drivers of Community Youth Gang Services vehicles use walkie-talkies to keep in contact with superiors. A police department vehicle is never far behind.

Cure for Boredom

Gym rules are commandments.

There is to be no recognition of gangs inside the building. No gang signs. No gang wardrobe. The colors red and blue are strictly prohibited. The teams wear jerseys of neutral colors, either black or green.

But for a few exceptions, the games have proceeded without incident. The vast majority of players, some hardened criminals, come in peace.

Johnny McKnight, a 32-year-old guard for the Watts team from 109th Street, a neighborhood of Bloods known as "Bounty Hunters," wants to leave a different legacy.

"When my son says 'Blood,' he'd better be talking about somebody bleeding." he says.


Organizing three nights of basketball per week does not pretend to untangle a complicated web of gang history and alliances.

There are 90,000 gang members in Los Angeles County. There are about 300 players in the Late Night league.

"It's a good event," said Art Lopez, commander at the Los Angeles Police Department's South Bureau. "But I'm really not quite certain we're reaching out to some of the individuals who would best benefit by it."

For those who do play, basketball occupies important ticks on a dangerous daily clock.

"This league goes until two in the morning, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday," one Blood player said. "Those are three days out of the week we'd normally be doing something. That leaves Friday, Saturday and Sunday open. You can go and get your partying in. Monday is like a rest day."


Boredom is the best friend of gang members.

"They complained they had nothing to do," said Charles Norman, assistant director of Late Night. "We intended to tie them up for three nights."

Thirty-two teams compete in two divisions; one for players 6-feet and under, the other an open level called All Comers. Late Night is sponsored by Community Youth Gang Services, the Department of Parks and Recreation and the Los Angeles Police Department.

The league is funded with a $66,000 grant from the Amateur Athletic Foundation, an organization that uses interest on profits from the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles to sponsor selected area programs. There is no cost to the players.


It is naive to suggest that generations of rivalries and hatred somehow vanish the moment a few players step onto a 94-foot patch of hardwood. Most players have been touched by gang violence. The stories are recounted so often they are passed on with a certain callousness.


"I'm not going to say there are no hard feelings," said Monte Stevens, a 23-year-old guard for Harvard Park III. "But it {basketball} is something we all have in common."

Stevens was released two months ago from Folsom Prison after serving three years for armed robbery. He said the Crips killed his cousin, a nephew and an uncle. He said the cousin had been arrested for murder but was released for lack of evidence. He said the Crips thought he turned over evidence to police in exchange for his freedom.

"The day he got out of County Jail, they cornered him in an alley and shot him in the head," Stevens said. "He died in his momma's arms right next to his house."

Stevens now faces rival Crips teams in the Late Night league, but insists he does not seek retribution.

"I know who did it," Stevens said. "But he's in the system {jail} now doing time for something else. He's not doing time for murder. But if I saw him now, that would just be a chalked-up situation. I would have nothing to say to him. But I know he killed one of my relatives. Before I went to jail and found out really what life was all about, I would have tried to tear his head off. But I have done woke up."


The fact that a few rivals have been willing to gather under one roof offers at least some hope that a greater peace might be realized.

"Every year the teams come back, we get more familiar with each other," Reece, of Watts Willowbrook, said. "It's hard to fight someone you know well. It breaks down a lot of barriers."

Some teams now prefer to take their vengeance inside, to the backboards.

McKnight tells the story of his 109th Watts team, which was practicing last summer at Algin Sutton Park as the team prepared for Late Night Basketball.

The league had been suspended for four months because of the April riots.

Algin Sutton Park is turf of the Hoover Crips.

"When we left, seven guys came up and put guns to our head and took two of our cars," he said. "They were calling out 'Hoovers!' "

A few weeks later, McKnight's team confronted the same Algin Sutton Crips in a Late Night league game.

"We didn't take it on the court," McKnight said. "There was no hard fouling, nothin'. We wanted to beat them by 20 points, but we only beat them by 18. ... It felt good to go in there and beat them straight up with our athletic ability."



Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Arline Emard IV

Last Updated:

Views: 6160

Rating: 4.1 / 5 (72 voted)

Reviews: 87% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Arline Emard IV

Birthday: 1996-07-10

Address: 8912 Hintz Shore, West Louie, AZ 69363-0747

Phone: +13454700762376

Job: Administration Technician

Hobby: Paintball, Horseback riding, Cycling, Running, Macrame, Playing musical instruments, Soapmaking

Introduction: My name is Arline Emard IV, I am a cheerful, gorgeous, colorful, joyous, excited, super, inquisitive person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.