For years, the gym hosted the Championship Basketball League during winter evenings at San Quentin. The League provided an opportunity for competition and camaraderie. But the 2016-2017 tournament ended abruptly one evening in mid-December when the administration closed the gym for recreation to house a treatment program there temporarily.
The closure coincided with some of the worst rain storms in the Bay Area. For at least three weeks in January, men often had no place to go for recreation.
CBL founder Aaron “Harun” Taylor said that he had scheduled games in the gym on Saturday, Monday and Tuesday evenings to give people something to do during the off-season for the S.Q. Kings and Warriors. “That’s also the rainy season and Daylight Saving Time,” he said.
“We can’t play outside in the evening — it’s too dark, too cold and too wet.”
Public Information Officer Lt. S. Robinson said that the prison had a mandate to start the substance abuse program (SAP) in December and the gym had been the only space available. “We are looking at alternative locations for SAP,” he said, adding that the administration planned to re-open the gym at nights and on weekends. The gym reopened on Jan. 27 for all general population inmates for weeknights and weekends.
In the past, the CBL season had run from December to February. The CBL hosts a half-court basketball league for men 38 years old and over, often coached by men in their 20s. The league, which is one of the most anticipated winter events, features an NBA-style draft to select players and referees for games. Taylor even keeps stats and holds an all-star game mid-season.
But this year, Taylor said there wouldn’t be enough time to fit in a full CBL season before the start of the official 2017 SQ Warriors and Kings season.
“I’m disappointed the CBL was canceled because it gave me, as an old guy, a sports activity to do and a way to set an example as a leader for the youngsters,” said player Eugene Williams.
Player Brad Shells said the CBL brings people together. “Basketball is just a guise. Who doesn’t love basketball?” he said. “Recreation is a big part of keeping the population grounded.”
Taylor said he created the CBL while at Centinela, a Level III prison, in 2008 to give the men a positive outlet. He added that it “virtually ended violence on the yard from 2008 to 2011 among Blacks and Asians.”
Originally called the Convict’s All-Star Basketball League, he changed the name to Championship Basketball League to reflect the rehabilitative culture at San Quentin.
Taylor said he hopes to plan more sports events such as one-day tournaments on holidays.
“As long as I’m in CDCR, I’m going to stay organizing sports leagues that need little to no assistance from the administration because that in itself shows we need no supervision to do positive things,” he said.