By GWEN MURANAKA
Rafu English Editor in Chief
The Lakers and Clippers may both still be in the playoffs, but the real full-court action took place in Little Tokyo on Saturday. Kids happily dribbled basketballs up and down a full-size court set up in a parking lot on Los Angeles Street, the future site of the Budokan of Los Angeles.
With every pass and rebound, every blocked shot and free throw, a vision of what the future could be became a bit clearer.
“This is the first sporting event on this site. It’s a foreshadowing of what could be here, a lot of activity, a lot of young folks,” said Bill Watanabe, Little Tokyo Service Center executive director. “This whole lot will be much different once it gets built out, it will have a very different feel.”
The court was set up as part of a community barbecue and sports clinic fundraiser to benefit the gymnasium, which received a big boost in March with the awarding of $5 million in Prop 84 grants. Budokan is now about a third of the way to its $22 million fundraising goal.
“This is an amazing project that is going to bring much needed jobs and recreation to Little Tokyo,” said Assembly Speaker John Perez, who noted that LTSC had to compete with more than 400 other projects for the funding. “This project was able to be successful, not only because of the project itself but we were able to bring together a coalition of folks advocating for it.”
The Budokan project will be located at 237-249 Los Angeles St., between Second and Third streets in Little Tokyo, near the Little Tokyo Branch Library and Vibiana LA. The project will consist of a gymnasium, community space and a rooftop park with a walking/jogging track, playground, Japanese garden/performance space, and reading grove. It will host an array of sports (basketball, volleyball and martial arts), special events, tournaments, and programming for all ages.
“We’re finally moving forward after so many years,” said Councilmember Jan Perry. “It’s great to see some of the young people who were little kids when I started working on this project.”
On Saturday, former USC starting point guard Jamie Hagiya put the kids through the paces, drilling them on basketball basics. Earlier in the day, Matsubayashi Shorin-Ryu of Little Tokyo performed a martial arts demonstration.
For the less active, there were snow cones and trip-tip barbecue lunches. Volunteers included players from Wanjettes and the Yonsei Basketball Association.
State Sen. Kevin DeLeon, who represents Little Tokyo, said Budokan is a vital project that will revitalize the area.
“The bottom line is, regardless if you’re Japanese American or Chinese American, Latino or immigrant, your financial wherewithal shouldn’t dictate if you have access to green parks, nature or open space,” said DeLeon.