Hoop York City's Alex Taylor: A league of her own
© Kenny Cousins
Hoop York City, a New York City basketball community for women, by women.
While walking down the streets of Harlem, or even the Lower East Side, it’s virtually impossible to go without seeing a basketball league getting after it or a pick-up game. With over 500 outdoor basketball courts and countless indoor, as well, one might say that basketball is ingrained within the culture of New York City. And yet, this culture is more-or-less dominated by men.
Alex Taylor is looking to change that.
Alex is the founder of Hoop York City, a basketball community established specifically for women. She started building this network for women to connect and hoop together in 2018, and pre-COVID-19 the group would get together weekly to practice, scrimmage and bond.
Hoop York City grew from a single mixer event to a network of more than 400 women, and it has garnered interest from brands like Adidas and Converse. The path to this point wasn’t without hardship, especially for its founder.
Alex started playing basketball at a young age and her passion only grew the more she played it. Between bus trips to tournaments with her teammates to voyages to college camps, basketball was a really important part of her life. But then at 17, she walked away from basketball for good, or so she thought at the time.
It came to light that her high school coach was engaging in an inappropriate relationship with one of her teammates, ultimately driving Alex and the rest of the team to quit. “Obviously at that age, we're so impressionable,” she says, “You live by [your coach’s] words and you look at them for mentorship, guidance and safety.”
She felt betrayed by someone she trusted, and the experience left a “bad taste” in her mouth. Alex says, “We weren't offered any support or counseling...at least for me the way that I thought about basketball, I associated it with him for so long.”
So, Alex put basketball behind her and eventually moved to New York City from her native New Hampshire and started a career in fashion and brand marketing. Years later, however, she found herself on Harlem basketball courts in the early hours of the morning or late at night, anytime the space wasn’t “overtaken by teenage boys or older men.” Like muscle memory, she quickly realized how much she missed playing basketball.
“The biggest part about sports and the thing that really kept me in it was the connections that I made,” she says, “You can't really describe the depth until you've been removed.”
Alex started reflecting on the root cause of her hiatus from the sport she once loved and began venturing out to play with co-ed and women’s groups.
After sharing a post about basketball on Instagram, an old friend reached out to Alex looking to build a larger presence of women at the courts in the facility she worked at. They soon worked together to create an event centered around women’s basketball that included some games and a mixer afterwards. Alex was also able to reel in some sponsors to give the attendees some mementos.
“Of course, being the person that I am, [if] I'm really passionate about it, I will go to the end of the earth to get it done and make it the best possible thing,” she says, “She gave me an inch, and I took a mile.”
The event went off without a hitch, and Hoop York City was born.
Alex was looking to fill a void in her own life by jumpstarting this group, but she ultimately filled one within New York City, as well. Hoop York City is not only a community, it’s also a safe space for women. Alex mentioned by the second event, the women coming together to play would be heckled and harassed by men who felt the courts were more suitable to them.
“They would come over and be super rude and ask us if we even knew how to play basketball [and say,] ‘do you even know what sport you’re playing,’” she says.
After another instance where toxic masculinity interrupted the event, it was time to find a new place to play. Hoop York City was on pause while Alex navigated a new world: finding courts and securing time. While reflecting on this stretch, she says, “I have this growing network of women who had come to our early events and loved it and wanted to continue, and I am stuck in this challenge of having to figure out having this community and not having a venue.”
The harassment and court hiccup didn’t deter Alex from her mission for Hoop York City. If anything, it emboldened her. “It became so important for me to create safe spaces,” she says, “Because not every court is a safe space…for women to be able to play free [from] abuse and harassment.”
After a three-month hiatus and countless phone calls and emails, Alex found a community center owned by the New York Housing Authority on the Lower East Side. They were eager to bring a group of women to their court on a regular basis, hoping it would have a positive effect on the neighborhood youth. Now, Alex was able to provide a consistent time and place for women to play.
“Having something consistent just allowed us to continue to grow really quickly,” she says.
If you take a look at Hoop York City’s Instagram account, you’ll find that while the community is centered around basketball, other domains are interwoven into the fabric of the organization, including art, fashion and a commitment to community service. Hoop York City has raised funds for non-profit organizations like Children of Promise, NYC and worked with PeacePlayers International to inspire young girls in basketball. “With a platform, I feel like I have a responsibility to do good with it, to put something back in the pot that I've taken from,” Alex says.
Alex only sees Hoop York City growing from here. She one day wants to open a facility specifically for this group and perhaps even venture to other areas nationwide to uplift women in basketball. Post COVID-19, Alex hopes to bring the Hoop York City community back together for a court clean-up or renovation. She says, “I'm not here to just use those resources, I also want to support them so they can continue to be available for people like me and kids all over the city.”