Vancouver Bandits announce new Indigenous basketball courts

The season may be over, but the Vancouver Bandits’ work is continuing throughout the off-season

Former Vancouver Bandits player Levon Kendall at the Snumeymuxw First Nation court. (Submitted/Ansh Sanyal)

Former Vancouver Bandits player Levon Kendall at the Snumeymuxw First Nation court. (Submitted/Ansh Sanyal)

British Columbia’s professional basketball team, the Vancouver Bandits, has been building new basketball courts in Indigenous communities along with visiting high schools to teach students basketball skills.

As part of their “Court Projects” initiative, in partnership with the Indigenous Sport, Physical Activity and Recreation Council of British Columbia (ISPARC), have installed new rims and nets in 28 communities across the Lower Mainland since 2018.

Vancouver Bandits President Dylan Kular says Court Projects began with putting up nets in the community as a lot of outdoor basketball courts don’t have nets. 

“Having a net on a court increases the interest [and] enjoyment of the game,” Kular says. 

In 2023, the Bandits expanded the project to install outdoor courts in four Indigenous communities. Two fully furnished courts have been completed for the Shxwhá:y Village in Chilliwack and the Snuneymuxw First Nation community in Nanaimo. One half court has been completed for the Soowahlie First Nation in Chilliwack and one is in development for the Sumas First Nation in Abbotsford.

The new courts feature a cement floor and two metal rims with mesh nets, completed with an outline of the Bandits’ signature blue and orange.

ISPARC worked with the Bandits to help identify four Indigenous communities that didn’t have any outdoor basketball courts or lacked basketball facilities.

Kular says youth have been running to the courts before and after school, sometimes using them during the evening and on weekends. Kular was surprised how positive the feedback and impact of the courts was, especially with something as simple as adding a new net or rim. 

Originally, the aim of “Court Projects” was to install new nets, but the project was so successful and drew in so many children that the rims started falling down. That’s when Bandits management realized the project should be expanded because so many children were using the nets that they never stayed up, Kular says. New rims were added in the communities in 2021.

The project was only announced recently but Kular says much of the work was done “behind the scenes”. 

“We weren’t looking for any recognition. We just wanted to improve these spaces,” he says. 

Kular also says the courts take a year to be completed, which includes scouting for communities to build in and the installation of the courts. The team hopes to expand the project to more Indigenous communities in the future.

The British Columbia Ministry of Tourism, Culture, Sport and Arts and FortisBC were also partners for Court Projects, along with ISPARC.

Daniel Narayan, an athlete and member of the Kwakwaka’wakw First Nation, feels there are going to be more players who play basketball in high school and college because they have the means to do so in their community. 

Narayan praised the Bandits’ initiative and hopes more teams will follow with similar projects.

“If other teams can get into it, we might see more native players in [professional] leagues,” he says.   

This is just one of the many reconciliation projects created by the Bandits. During the 2023 Canadian Elite Basketball League (CEBL) season, the Bandits started off every game with a land acknowledgment and had an Indigenous jersey created by Kwantlen First Nation artist Jeff Dickson.

Following the end of the 2023 CEBL season, Bandits coach and general manager Kyle Julius’ work was just beginning. Since October, he has visited high schools across the Lower Mainland to work with their basketball teams.

“It inspired [our students] to see what it takes to get to the next level,” says Jeff Hodgson, the head of the physical education department and athletic director at University Hill secondary school.

“We appreciated their knowledge and their experience. They did it out of the goodness of their hearts to help our coach and players and [educated us] on how hard you have to work,” continued Hodgson.  

Building more courts across the province is something that Kular says the Vancouver Bandits are hoping to do in the future. Kular says they hope to identify possible court locations this year and build courts in 2025.