News | 16 November 2023
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Capital Basketball comes in clutch for the community

Capital Basketball General Manager and retired Saints Player Damien Ekenasio has spent the last 30 years dedicated to basketball. He is now working to give back to the community by installing hoops in places without access to equipment, including the one that lifted him up and helped him build his career.

Man wearing a green tshirt holding a basketball inside a gym.

Born and bred in Wellington, Damien grew up playing basketball at his local outdoor court on Taiaroa Street in Strathmore. 

As a young boy, he would make his way down to the courts to play with whoever and whatever he could find. From volleyball to skateboarding and cricket, access to sports equipment was hard to come by, so he would fashion his own equipment with other people in the community, he says.

“We didn’t have a basketball hoop, so we made one out of an old board that we found and nailed it to a wooden bus stop. My friend and I always wanted to play with some of the older boys but needed to prove ourselves so one day when the hoop fell down, I stepped in and ended up being the one to hold up the backboard. 

“I would sit on top of the bus stop and hold the backboard, and I did that for a while. Then I got my chance to play. I think that’s where the love of the game started – it was tough playing street ball, but it was so fun. We played everything, and made it work with what we had.”

When Damien turned 20, he began playing for the Saints in the National Basketball League (NBL). For him, this experience was extremely surreal, he says.

“We never watched basketball growing up as we couldn’t get it on the TV. The closest thing I had was these little basketball cards that you could buy in a shop that came with bubblegum. I never got to watch a Saints game growing up because we couldn’t afford to get to where the stadium was. 

“When I started playing inside a gym, it felt like I was on a trampoline because the floor was so springy. It was a different experience to what others may know, but it gives me perspective. It helps me remember why Capital Basketball does this work – there is so much talent out there and some people just don’t get the same opportunities.”

A group of children listening to a man talk.

Damien retired from the NBL in 2017 and then soon after started at Capital Basketball, where he is now the General Manager. Him and his mighty team of four cover the entire Greater Wellington Region, and their kaupapa is to plug gaps in higher deprivation areas where basketball isn’t present and bring basketball to them, he says. 

“We tackle things like access and geographical isolation for families, by taking basketball to the community. When we started, we had about six or seven schools but now we run programmes at over 30 schools as well as holiday and after school programmes. Thanks to support from the New Zealand Community Trust and Council, we have been able to bring this sport to places where it’s needed most.”

Through a new initiative called ‘Hoops in schools and parks’, the team have been installing hoops across the Greater Wellington Region. They have put out around 20 hoops in schools and outdoor public places and have put two in Wellington city – one at Waitangi Park and the other at Damien’s childhood court in Taiaroa Street, he says.

“There’s a lot of history behind these courts and being able to put a hoop in my childhood neighbourhood where I learnt to play the game was such a full circle moment. Some of the people I used to play with growing up came along to the opening and we just stood back and watched our kids play together. 

“It’s great to see how future generations will use this space. The best part is the hoops are adjustable, so all ages can play. I think basketball is a great way to activate young people because you don’t need a massive group of people to play, you can do so on your own. It’s a game that can be played with whatever rules you create, and if you can grab a ball, drop it, then pick it up again, you’re pretty much dribbling a ball.”

The team plan on delivering more hoops in Wellington city-based locations. 

The cause is one close to his heart, and he encourages people to open their minds to new sports, activities, and play. 

“I never envisioned my life this way but it’s been an amazing journey. Capital Basketball is a charitable trust, so we get to be in the heart of the community and deliver the work and see real outcomes. 

“The best feeling is seeing tamariki start off a little shy and afraid. Some not even wanting to look at you in the eye or say a word. To then being farewelled with hugs, thank you cards and requests to return again at the end of our delivery highlights a boost in their confidence but also the value of the people in our team. We want our young people to know that there is space and a place for them out there, and they can do anything they put their minds to.”

Wellington City Council would like to thank Capital Basketball for their ongoing support in the community and contributing hoops to the Wellington region, including at Waitangi Park and Taiaroa Street. Find out more about Capital Basketball on their website.