In an attempt to increase youth basketball opportunities across socio-economic, racial and gender lines, the National Basketball Association and the Women’s National Basketball Association have launched Jr. NBA Leagues in 11 markets.
The national network of youth basketball leagues for boys and girls ages 6 to 14 will tip off in November, with the goal of adding more cities and reaching nearly 500,000 participants around the country during the effort’s first five years. Officials from both the NBA and WNBA say that access to best-in-class recreational basketball is more important than ever, in the wake of unprecedented disruptions to youth sports and decreases in community-based sports providers caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The youth basketball ecosystem has experienced unique challenges over the past two-plus years, and we are committed to addressing those challenges with programs like Jr. NBA Leagues, which is the most expansive grassroots basketball initiative we’ve ever launched in the U.S.,” David Krichavsky, NBA Senior Vice President and Head of Youth Basketball Development, said in a statement. ”We look forward to using the resources and expertise of the NBA, WNBA and our teams to support recreational and community-based youth basketball programs at a time when they need it most, while also enhancing the playing experience for hundreds of thousands of boys and girls.”
Jr. NBA Leagues participants will represent NBA and WNBA teams in their home markets and across the leagues by competing in official team-branded uniforms in seven of the 11 markets. Here is a list of the initial Jr. NBA League cities and their NBA/WNBA affiliation (if applicable):
• Boise, Idaho
• Kansas City, Missouri
• Las Vegas, Nevada (Aces)
• Louisville, Kentucky
• New Orleans, Louisiana (Pelicans)
• Omaha, Nebraska
• Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (76ers)
• Sacramento, California (Kings)
• San Antonio, Texas (Spurs)
• Seattle, Washington (Storm)
• Washington, D.C. (Wizards and Mystics)
“We really wanted a good mix of some larger traditional markets and some smaller markets,” Krichavsky told The Courier Journal in Louisville. “Louisville, in particular, is a passionate basketball market with a vibrant youth and amateur sports community.”
“Generations of Omahans have lived without being able to claim a local NBA team in the 47 years since the last one — which the city shared with Kansas City, Mo. — left town. And many may have been oblivious to the team given its short existence,” noted the Omaha World-Herald. “The NBA’s return to Omaha isn’t exactly on the horizon. But the youth of the city will reap the benefits of the league’s initiative, Jr. NBA Leagues.”
The launch also will bring back the NBA’s presence to Idaho. “The association’s D-League team, the Idaho Stampede, was moved to Orem, Utah, after the 2016-2017 season,” according to kivitv.com. “The team was renamed the Salt Lake City Stars, and the D-League was renamed the G-League.”
RCX Sports, a Jr. NBA partner since 2018 and market leader in youth sports experiences, will serve as the program’s official operating partner. All Jr. NBA Leagues members — which will include a combination of community-based organizations, schools and independent operators — will receive a suite of resources that include training opportunities and basketball curricula designed to enhance league effectiveness, gameplay, and on-court and off-court player and coach development.
The new leagues will be part of the global Jr. NBA basketball program for boys and girls that teaches fundamental skills and core values such as teamwork, respect, determination and community. The Jr. NBA offers a free curriculum covering all levels of the game, including 48 practice plans and more than 250 instructional videos featuring NBA and WNBA players, according to the NBA. During the 2019-20 season, the NBA and its teams reached 14.5 million youth around the world through in-person events and clinics, before transitioning to virtual programming and online youth basketball development events that generated more than 210 million views from youth players and fans in 118 countries.
The Jr. NBA also recently announced a partnership with SHAPE America (Society of Health and Physical Educators) — a professional association that serves more than 200,000 health and physical education professionals across the country – to provide 40 Title I schools across the country with Jr. NBA programming, resources and basketball development curricula to host afterschool Jr. NBA Leagues and improve how the game is taught and played in physical education classes. Additionally, high school students will receive the opportunity to enroll in a Jr. NBA Referee Development Program to learn the necessary skills to become a referee and gain an understanding of the career opportunities in officiating.