Three pro teams help make Martin Luther King Jr. Park playfields state of the art

The new basketball courts at Martin Luther King Jr. are stunning.

Three years ago, Oakland Raiders Hall of Famer Jim Otto was stunned upon arriving at the grand opening of a newly renovated football field at Martin Luther King Jr. Park in Richmond, which the Raiders helped fund.

“When I walked in here about an hour and a half ago I just said, ‘Wow, this would be wonderful for me if I was a youngster,’” Otto said. “I never had a field like this to workout in when I was a boy.”

Imagine what Otto’s reaction might be today at the park, where the football field is no longer the only gorgeous attraction in the once dilapidated space at Harbour Way and Virginia Avenue.

In May, the park’s baseball field was renovated with funding help from the Oakland A’s. Then on Monday, NBA legend Mitch Richmond was honored at the grand opening of the park’s brand new basketball courts, funded in part by one of his former teams, the Golden State Warriors.

NBA great Mitch Richmond arrived before the Martin Luther King Jr. basketball courts were named in honor of him.

The park might be the first in the country to have received funding for renovations from three separate professional teams, said Roxanne Cruz of the Richmond Community Foundation, which has helped in all three efforts.

The result are three state-of-the-art athletic fields that will provide local children of an improving neighborhood a place to be active, healthy and to be safe and off the streets.

Mitch Richmond, who the new basketball courts have been named after in honor of his summer induction into the NBA Hall of Fame, stressed the latter point to the Richmond youth who attended Monday’s grand opening. Nate Thurmond, another Warriors great, also attended. The Warriors have teamed with the Good Tidings Foundation to renovate some 50 courts throughout the Bay Area.

Mitch Richmond (left) sits next to another NBA legend, Nate Thurmond (middle).

“Playing sports kept me motivated, dedicated,” Richmond said, standing in the middle of new courts that feature a 14,000 square foot all-weather acrylic playing surface, four new NBA plexiglass hoop systems, new benches for spectators and a drinking fountain. “[Sports] builds character, it showed me how to be a great teammate, how to work with others.”

While local residents are utterly grateful to the local pro sports teams, the community itself is responsible for the change that has happened there.

“This is a park renovation that began 10 years ago as part of the Nystrom Revitalization Effort,” said Cruz.

Cruz was referring to the Nystrom United Revitalization Effort (NURVE), where neighbors weighed in on the improvements that needed to happen in their community. What followed was the uniting of the community’s stakeholders, with public, private and nonprofit groups teaming up to gather the funding and support necessary to realize the requested improvements.

park.10-20-3The new basketball courts, for example, were a collaborative effort involving the Warriors Community Foundation, The California Endowment and Healthy Richmond, Good Tidings Foundation, the Richmond Community Foundation, the City of Richmond and neighborhood residents.

For the Raiders-funded football field, neighbors of surrounding communities again worked with the Richmond Community Foundation and also the Local Initiative Support Corporation.

As for the A’s-funded ballfield, funding was also received by Pacific Gas & Electric Co. with the Richmond Community Foundation, City of Richmond and Good Tidings Foundation all collaborating.

“Coming together is what this is about; to do what needs to be done to move this city from one place to the next,” said Andre Akins of Healthy Richmond. “It’s all about listening to the community; we bring everyone to the table…..this is not just a basketball court. This is much, much more.”