By Nicholas Fouriezos, The Baltimore Sun
7:56 PM EDT, September 9, 2013
Will Barton took a step back and drained a short jumper.
But this time, he wasn't on an NBA hardwood. Instead, Barton was taking the first shot at the Easterwood Park court, which was renovated this summer as part of a collaboration between Under Armour Win Baltimore Initiative and the NBA.
"It's great to see the smiles on the kids' faces and the parents appreciate it and just to give them an environment to play safely is great," said Matt Mirchin, Under Armour senior vice president of Global Sports and Brand Marketing. "We put great facilities in for the kids to play on and they take it in as their own and hopefully they own it and understand the value."
Barton, a member of the Portland Trail Blazers and a Lake Clifton graduate, received the ball from another Baltimore hoops native, Sam Cassell.
Even Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake provided an outlet pass to get the play started.
"It's more than a basketball court. It's an investment in a community," Rawlings-Blake said. "We're always looking for opportunities for young people to engage in positive activity. This is one of those things."
The Win Baltimore Initiative includes many of Under Armour's recent contributions to the city. A donation to Dunbar High School added 60 computers to the school's computer lab while refurbishing the football field, track, scoreboard and lights. The program also helped fund youth basketball leagues.
Under Armour ended a long commitment as the Baltimore Running Festival's title sponsor, this summer. Mirchin said the move allowed Under Armour to vary its charitable activities.
"Not being the title sponsor, we've taken some of that and spread it around this community a little bit," Mirchin said. "We still have a commitment to the Baltimore Marathon. We are pleased to participate in it."
Mirchin said that when Under Armour became the title sponsor, it provided shirts for all 5,000 runners. But as the runners have increased, so too has the cost.
"Now there are over 30,000 runners, which we are still supposed to provide shirts to," Mirchin said. "The average shirt cost is $35, so you can do the math and see the financial commitment there."
Michael Parker, Under Armour brand director for basketball, said the new court was only a start.
"There's a whole host of things and there are definitely more to come," Parker said. "This is just a first stop."
The Easterwood Park recreational center is operated by Omega Baltimore, a branch of the Omega Psi Phi fraternity. It works in conjunction with Baltimore City Department of Parks and Recreation.
Zanes Cyprus, who helped coordinate the event for Omega Psi Phi, saw the court as a way to unite the area's youth.
"You were identified by what recreational center you came from. That's how the temperature stayed down because people interacted on that level," Cyprus said of his own experience while being raised in Baltimore. "When the rec centers are closing, where are kids going to go? They're going to go to the corner."
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