Golden State Warriors Take On San Quentin Prisoners In Basketball

Jun 7, 2017
Originally published on June 7, 2017 6:05 pm

For the past five years, the Golden State Warriors, coaches and support staff have traveled to San Quentin, the well-known California maximum security prison, to play a basketball game against select prison inmates. The Kitchen Sisters teamed up with the podcast Life of the Law to bring us this most recent showdown of these two Bay Area teams.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Tonight is game three of the NBA Finals. For the third year in a row, the Golden State Warriors are battling the Cleveland Cavaliers for the NBA championship. But that isn't the only annual battle for Golden State. For the last five years, a team of Golden State players, coaches and support staff have been going inside San Quentin, the legendary California maximum-security prison, to play the San Quentin Warriors, the prison's notorious basketball team.

The Kitchen Sisters, producers Nikki Silva and Davia Nelson, teamed up with reporter Nancy Mullane and the podcast "Life Of The Law" to bring us to the most recent showdown between these two Bay Area teams. Here's their story. They call it "Warriors."

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

BOB MYERS: I hope we say we didn't come here to lose. It's hard. This is a road game for us. We're going to prison. Nothing easy about prison.

NANCY MULLANE: Name on tape.

MYERS: Bob Myers.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

DRAYMOND GREEN: I'm Draymond Green. I'm a forward for the Golden State Warriors. We park in the parking lot and walk over right on the water. So it's a pretty good view.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: A single-file line, have your IDs ready.

GREEN: Going in and only three people at a time can go in.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Sign your name.

GREEN: You're having to show your ID.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: You'll get a stamp before you go in and out of here.

GREEN: You know, making sure you don't lose that ID to get out.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: You want to go out.

GREEN: Having to wear certain colors.

SAM ROBINSON: No cellphones, no pocketknives, no cigarette lighters.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: One single-file line.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

ROBINSON: Sam Robinson, public information officer at San Quentin State Prison. We house over 5,000 people here at this facility. The guys you see walking around in blue - they are medium-custody inmates, people who are serving life sentences.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: Draymond, Draymond.

GREEN: Going in there and walking in and, you know, guys running up to you, showing love and appreciation.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: Draymond, man.

GREEN: You know, I grew up in Saginaw, Mich. Some of my friends are in prison that I grew up with. Just to have the opportunity to go in there and mingle and talk, show those guys they matter.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #4: Hey, Draymond, I've got the San Quentin Warriors...

GREEN: Yeah.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #4: ...And I'm giving you two and a half for 20 pushups.

GREEN: You're giving me two and a half for 20 pushups.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #4: I'm giving you two and a half. That's a bet.

GREEN: I'll take that bet for sure.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #4: For sure.

BILL EPLING: I'm Bill Epling. I run basketball for Prison Sports Ministries. We're up here first and third Saturdays of every month. I mean these guys are good. If you don't bring your A game, they're going to beat us. But I like our chances.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #5: Two minutes, two minutes.

ANTHONY AMMONS: My name is Anthony Ammons, and my position is guard-forward. I've been in prison for 15 years now, since I was 16 years old. I'm 31 now. I received 102 years to life for my crime of murder that I committed when I was 16. What basketball have helped me do - it helped me work on my anger management and my emotional instability. It helped me to trust people that I normally don't like. And these guys coming in, giving us that human contact because we have to be patient with them - we don't want to hurt them.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #6: Hey, Kevin Durant. Come over here, Kevin.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #7: Uh oh, Kevin.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #6: Thanks for coming, bro.

KEVIN DURANT: All right, man. Thanks for having me here, man. I'm new to the town, so this was a must I come here and show you guys some love. So I'm looking forward to shooting some hoops. Let's get it going.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

EPLING: We've played four times. Golden State Warriors have won three. Two years ago, they had their one loss. They play a lot at lunch. They've upgraded the squad. They're ready.

ISAIAH CALDWELL: My name is Isaiah Caldwell, inmate ref. A grown man refereeing in an institution like this, dealing with other inmates, it becomes important for them to know that you're doing this with integrity. Without that, things can get out of control.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #8: One, two, three.

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: Play.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #9: Here we go, y'all.

(SOUNDBITE OF BUZZER, CROSSTALK)

AARON SHOWTIME TAYLOR: We've got Big Money Myers (ph).

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #11: We've got three going this way. We've got two going this way.

TAYLOR: Bob Myers for three money. No good - rebound comes down.

(CROSSTALK)

TAYLOR: Here comes Swaggy Swoop (ph) with the paw. Goes down - he's going to Bob Myers. He's (unintelligible) with the deep shot. That's in.

(CROSSTALK)

TREVOR BIRD: You're going to get the slaps, and you're going to get the pushes here and there. My name's Trevor, Trevor Bird. I've been in here playing for, like, about 17 years. I got 25 to life. When you come to prison, you better find a whole new respect for authority. A lot of men in here have grown up without that father figure.

On the playground, you call your own. That's how the conflicts arise. When they're organized, it forces you to obey and submit to the game. Argue all you want, but when the whistle blows...

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BLOW THE WHISTLE")

TOO SHORT: (Singing) Blow it.

BIRD: I mean, you keep playing.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BLOW THE WHISTLE")

TOO SHORT: (Singing) Blow the whistle.

MICHAEL WARE: Hey, that was in your face three times. One, two, three, shoot it.

MULLANE: Who are you rooting for?

WARE: I'm rooting for the green team.

MULLANE: You're rooting for the Golden State Warriors.

WARE: Yeah.

MULLANE: And you're inside.

WARE: Yeah. See; everybody can't root for the prisoners. I'm the heckler, so I've got to root for the opposite team. Yeah, that's my job. That's my passion.

MULLANE: What's your name?

WARE: My name Michael Ware (ph).

MULLANE: How long you been in?

WARE: Almost 28 years.

MULLANE: Wow, life term?

WARE: Yes, ma'am.

MULLANE: Gone to the board?

WARE: Well, I go next week.

MULLANE: Good luck.

WARE: Thank you.

TAYLOR: I want to give a shout-out one more time to Draymond Green still over here playing dominoes. Man, he's really feeling like he's back home again.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #14: He's getting beat bad.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #15: (Laughter).

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #14: Draymond, we want a rematch.

GREEN: Golden State Warriors and the San Quentin Warriors - they battle. Our guys go in there and play a game. I go and I sit at the domino table the entire time, playing dominoes, talking junk. They're talking junk. They're very good. The first time I went, I got beat really bad. You know, I've brushed my game up a little bit over the last five years.

KARLEE MACFARLANE: My name is Karlee MacFarlane (ph).

MULLANE: How long you been in?

MACFARLANE: Twenty-two years.

MULLANE: Life term?

MACFARLANE: Yeah. Hopefully, I go home in another year and a half.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #17: Hey, fools, you've got to score...

MACFARLANE: That's for sure. I'm going to miss this.

MULLANE: Why a basketball game inside a prison?

ROBINSON: Why not a basketball game inside a prison? I think it's educating both sides.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #18: A foul by Willie Green (ph).

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #19: Foul.

TAYLOR: Y'all don't get to cussin' now, Willie Green. That'll get you 115, too.

(LAUGHTER)

TAYLOR: My name is Aaron Showtime Taylor, the play-by-play guy. And to my left is Damon Cooke. And we got this one today. This a good thing when they come up in here like this and get a up-close look about individuals that are about to go back into the community.

One minute left in the game. Pookie (ph) inbound the ball to Swaggy...

WARE: Hey, man, I'm calling a timeout.

TAYLOR: Fifty-five seconds on the clock.

WARE: Hey, man, you better call a timeout, buddy. You better call something. Call the paramedics, 911, anybody.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #18: Thirteen comes up with it. Pookie was all over me. Hammer me. That's an assault case. That's his third strike. Fuji (ph) with the ball, feed the ball in today. But 13 steals it away from him. Swaggy goes by 13 all the way to the rim.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #21: Four, three, two.

(CROSSTALK)

TAYLOR: And that is the game. The Golden State Warriors gets another win. Appreciate everybody...

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GREEN: You know, hearing the guys from death row yelling, knowing that we're there...

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #23: Appreciate it, man.

GREEN: ...You take it for granted. And then you come in here and see this. It make you want to do everything right, not mess up. At the end of the day, you know, whether you want to believe it or not, everybody's one second away from here.

MYERS: I grew up in Alamo, Calif. San Quentin - those two words don't come up too much (laughter) where I grew up. I barely know anybody that's been to jail for two days or one day. I'm lucky. A lot of these guys, you know, grew up in the wrong place, make the wrong decision. I think when we come in, it brightens it up a little bit. You know, but we get to leave.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #25: We lost, but it was amazing, the experience. For them to take the time out of their day and not spend with they family but spend with us - us, it's like a visit. Some of the people don't get visits here. And them guys coming in to mingle with us is a blessing. And we want to send them back the same way they came in except with a different experience.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIEGEL: "Warriors" was produced by the "Life Of The Law" podcast and the Kitchen Sisters and mixed by Jim McKee. More of their stories can be heard on their podcast, "The Kitchen Sisters Present."

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.