UPPER EAST SIDE, NY — The basketball courts at the Upper East Side's John Jay Park were bustling with activity Thursday. Neighborhood kids flocked to the courts after the first day of school to practice their shots, play one-on-one and partake in one of the park's largest games of knockout in history.
The scene was a far cry from when Upper East Side father Greg Davis first took his son to the courts four years ago.
"What it consisted of was three metal rims, and that's about it," Davis said
The courts were in sorry shape. Cracks riddled the playing surface, metal backboards had rusted, there were no painted lines and the hoops had no nets. Local kids never got to hear "swish" when they sunk a basket at the York Avenue and East 77th Street park, Davis said.
A friend suggested that Davis, a 50-year-old real estate professional, attend a participatory budgeting meeting to advocate for upgrades to the park's courts, but the project's budget would have been too expensive. That's when Davis got the ear of local City Councilmember Ben Kallos by attending one of his "first Friday" meetings where constituents can get some face time with the lawmaker.
What followed was a four-year venture where Davis and Kallos work with the city Parks Department to make incremental improvements to the courts. During this time, Kallos estimates that Davis attended nearly 50 first Fridays.
"It's a lesson in civics first hand for his sons to show how you can get things done in government," Kallos said. "Spoiler alert, the secret to success in dealing with government is perseverance."
Upgrades came to the park in "fits and starts," but the city Parks Department never broke a promise once it was made, Davis told Patch. At one point during the process Davis made a vow not to shave until new backboards were installed, but after waiting more than a year his kids "let him off the hook" when his beard grew out six inches.
In 2016 boundary lines were painted for each of the park's three half-courts, the next year three-point arcs were painted, in 2018 parks workers painted the court surface, fixed cracks and rid the courts of weeds and this year three polycarbonate backboards with new rims and nets were installed.
Davis estimates that the number of kids and adults playing basketball in the Upper East Side park has quadrupled since the project began.
"I see younger people, older people, everybody's playing basketball now because of the equipment and it just makes it much more enjoyable," Davis said. "It took something that was just unprogrammed space and made it wonderful for everybody to use."
"As I joke to my kids — Jay-Z brought the Nets to Brooklyn, but I brought the nets to John Jay Park."