There’s something magical about a community basketball court. No reservations are required. Age and class are irrelevant; skill is all that matters. The rules of engagement are simple: Win and you stay on. Lose and you sit.
Growing up, my home court was the local YMCA, on the outskirts of Atlanta. I’d first picked up a basketball when I was eleven and I never really put it down. Summer camps. AAU leagues. Endless driveway shooting sessions. I even finagled a gig in high school as a NBA ballboy for the Atlanta Hawks (you’ve never seen feet as big as Dikembe Mutombo’s).
Over time, my passion outpaced my physical talents. No matter: the love remained. At Rhode Island School of Design, I inquired about joining the hoops team. Learning none existed, I founded one, and became a real triple threat: a scrawny, energetic, player-coach-GM. That team is still going strong.
So when I heard about the Kevin Durant Charity Foundation and its mission to enhance communities through court renovations, I was intrigued. KD and his agent and business manager, Rich Kleiman, came to our Airbnb headquarters, joined by angel investor and philanthropist Ron Conway — one of my mentors. They told me about the work the foundation has done over the last half-decade through the Build it and They Will Ball initiative, refurbishing nineteen courts in low-income and at-risk neighborhoods in dozens of cities around the world, from Oklahoma City to Oakland to Berlin, creating welcoming environments for local youth.
Like other hoops fans, I’d long admired Durant for his skill and determination. Now I gained a different appreciation. Here’s a guy with one of the most demanding jobs in the world, constantly lauded and scrutinized for his performance, and yet, few people know how much time and energy he devotes to giving back. He’s traveled around the country to open these courts. Donated $10 million to bring College Track’s renowned college access program to his hometown of Prince George’s County, MD. There’s a reason ESPN named him the 2018 Sports Humanitarian of the Year. If he wanted to partner on a court in my home city, I was all in to help fund and design it.
We chose a playground in Hayes Valley, not far from where I live, in a vibrant part of San Francisco. We didn’t just want to fix up the court; we wanted to breathe fresh life into it. To do that, we turned to art, envisioning an iconic mural covering the surface.
Being a design guy, I went looking for a local artist who could reflect the city’s culture in the project. People come from around the world to see the famed Mission district murals, a series of portraits and spray-painted art depicting the city’s shared heritage. I hoped to find a non-representational artist experienced in the public space who demonstrated a highly refined graphic style. It wasn’t easy. Months passed and the search continued. Then one day I saw the work of The Apexer, aka Ricardo Richey, a brilliant graffiti artist whose murals dot the city. I knew immediately: This was the guy. You can see some of his work here.
We reached out; Apexer was into it. Work began.
The result: Today, with the backing of a $99,500 grant from KD’s foundation and support from San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department, the court opens, resurfaced for the first time in 17 years, with new goals and a striking piece of work from Apexer covering the court. You have to see it. It’s beautiful — a kaleidoscope of color.
KD wanted to be on hand for the opening ceremony but he’s in Los Angeles, recovering from surgery. I know how excited he is, though. Recently, he reached out to share his enthusiasm about seeing the finished product and his hopes for how the court will positively impact young people in the area.
When we founded Airbnb, we envisioned building a company that could bring together strangers, create a sense of community, and foster unlikely connections. Our hope is that this court does the same thing. Not just for those playing — though I know I can’t wait to get out there for a game — but for all who live in the area. A space to hold a farmer’s market. For kids to play double dutch. Where passersby might stop, drawn by the artwork, pausing a minute to lose themselves in the designs. Where a community can find common ground.
A place where the next eleven-year-old can fall in love with the game, and all that it represents.
To make a donation to the Kevin Durant Foundation, click here.