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How The Hoop Bus Became A Symbol Of Community During A Turbulent Time

The Hoop Bus is a vehicle of community, nostalgia and, above all, change.

It turns out you can really bring people together when you slap a couple of basketball rims to an old school bus.

However, it’s not doing the Hoop Bus justice to call it simply a bus. It’s an idea in motion, nostalgia personified. 

Anyone who comes across it out in the street knows the impact it has as you see the iconic yellow of an ordinary school bus, hearkening back to the days when your biggest worry was getting to school on time and getting your favorite seat on the ride there.

Shooting hoops off of it brings back memories of the days when everything was a game and whatever was in your hands was the ball.

An Idea Is Born

“Hoop Bus allows people to unexpectedly (emphasis Robinson’s) reconnect with the game,” founder and director of Hoop Bus Eliot Robinson said. “Experienced or not, taking a shot on the bus seems to bring out a joy in people that is indescribable. Second of all it helps people connect, playing basketball lets people's guards down, which allows them to connect with others in a more genuine way.”

Referred to as no less than a social-media MacGyver by Adweek, Robinson is the CEO and founder of Dunk, which welcomes 2.4 million followers on Instagram.

While he helped develop the Hoop Bus, he’s quick to give credit for its inspiration to Nick Ansom, the founder of Venice Basketball League.

“I recall us enthusiastically chatting about it for hours, layering additional ideas on top of each other,” Robinson said. “I'm just happy we were able to push each other to take it from idea to reality.”

And the reality is this bus is breathtaking. And that’s not to say that it’s beautiful in any way that a school bus isn’t normally aesthetically pleasing. What I mean is when you see it roll down the street as I did during a recent protest, you are immediately drawn to it.

Something wells up in you and you think, Damn it, I need to take a shot at that rim immediately.

It’s probably the same feeling you had when you were five and saw a puddle, which was an obstacle to jump over or a pool to splash in. Either way, it was something you had to engage with.

“It’s the ultimate basketball traveling machine,” Ansom tells En Fuego. “It brings people together. It’s about the love of the game. It’s about uniting communities around the world and it’s about doing what feels right, what brings back memories of your inner child.”

The frivolity and levity paused recently when the world left their self-isolation to march on the streets, demanding that BIPOC be heard and that the message that black lives matter resonates from every corner of the globe.

The Hoop Bus is, more than anything, a part of the community. Hell, in about half a year it’s left in indelible mark in myriad communities. So, it makes sense that it would head out and become part of an inspiring community outpouring.

“We first realized the bus could have a positive impact on the worldwide (Black Lives Matter) protests after these protests came to Venice,” Nate Kelly said. "After experiencing how everyone, from protestors to the police, embraced the Hoop Bus, Eliot, Nick and I discussed the idea of taking it one step further and rededicating the Hoop Bus to the BLM movement. We have been absolutely blown away and incredibly inspired by the response so far and hope we can continue to bring the BLM HoopBus to protests and support the ongoing movement."

Like any living thing, the Hoop Bus is a reflection of the times. It’s windows adorned with the names of those who perished in the helicopter that robbed the world of Kobe Bryant, daughter Gigi and seven others in February. It now dons Black Lives Matter and the names of the victims of infamous instances of police brutality, such as George Floyd who lost his life when an officer kneeled on his neck for over eight minutes.

It’s an evolving thing; affected by the environment but also evoking change in the community in which it rides. 

 “The bus itself is full of movement, power and joy, and we are honored to have been able to do our part to bring Black Lives Matter the attention it deserves,” Robinson said.

A Vehicle of Protest

And then after a day of protests and buckets on June 7, the Hoop Bus was impounded. A Hoop Bus official explains the bus was stopped near the Staples Center.

“Originally, we were asked to leave L.A.,” the official who asked to remain anonymous states. “Then we were told we would be getting a police escort. Then the riot cops showed up. Hearing and seeing an officer cock his (rubber bullet) shotgun was not what we were expecting immediately after deciding to turn back and head to Venice. All of a sudden one of our taillights is broken and that’s the reason ‘we pulled you over.’”

The bus is back in Venice, destined to reignite the streets with impromptu sharpshooting and spur-of-the-moment dunk contests. Its release serves as a hat tip to the hashtag #Freethehoopbus and a GoFundMe campaign both of which illustrate just how beloved this bus really is.

It will continue to be a part of the momentum of change sparked by the protests. It’s part in all this, as I am reminded by its founders, is peaceful and constructive.

“Get a bucket; Relieve some tension,” Robinson said. “Hopefully that brings a different kind of energy to the rest of the march.”

Moving Forward

Spreading love and connecting people through basketball helps to not only heal but cultivate empathy with the person you’re playing ball with.

It goes back to its initial mission. The Hoop Bus is a time machine.

“It’s the idea that us as adults we forget to play,” Ansom said. “The idea that little kids were on their way to school to learn. Us as adults, we want to stay in that mindset of discovery every day. So, every time you get aboard the hoop bus or you discover the hoop bus it’s a new discovery; it’s new friendships, new travels. It’s new places you’ve never seen.”

You only need to appreciate the camaraderie of kids on a playground to truly get it, perfect strangers willing to interact and have fun.

It’s time we all acted a little more like children.