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San Quentin Warriors referee signals a three-point shot taken by a member of the Golden State Warriors on Sept. 16, 2022.
Photo courtesy of California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation

This article was first published by San Quentin News, a newspaper that reports on rehabilitative efforts to increase public safety and achieve social justice from inside San Quentin State Prison. Visit SQN’s website or follow them on Twitter. Aside from the headline, it appears as it was published and has not been edited by PJP.

The Golden State Warriors, champions of the NBA, sent members of their organization to San Quentin to support the incarcerated population and resume their basketball rivalry with the San Quentin Warriors. The visiting team won the Sept. 16 game, 83–65, and extended their series lead to 5–3.

The team the GSW brought in to play was led by owner Joe Lacob’s athletic sons, Kirk and Kent Lacob, and was comprised of coaches, trainers and front-office staff from the organization. The new group included two women who balled out on the court to the delight of the crowd, and featured former NBA and college players along with the GSW’s top assistant coach, Kenny Atkins, who served as head coach for the game.

It was the first time the GSW had been able to return for their annual visit and game since the pandemic began over two years ago.

Kent Lacob emphasized how much they all missed being able to come into to San Quentin. “I really enjoy coming here to spend time with you guys… There was so much positive energy here today. No matter whether you’re on the inside or the outside — we’re all people and we all need support and love,” he said after the game.

SQW’s Montrell Vines has played six games against the GSW during his career. He said that whenever they come in here, it shows him that people do care about the incarcerated and will “treat us like humans.”

Kirk Lacob was confident in his team’s chances before the game, given all the new weapons he’d brought in. “I don’t think that we will lose today,” he said before the game.

Two of those weapons were former college player Noel Hightower, who is 6’5”, and former NBA player Hilton Armstrong, 6’11”, both of whom are now on GSW’s coaching staff. Armstrong was a first-round pick in the 2006 NBA draft and he showed why with his dominating defense in the paint, swatting balls like they were flies.

Two other notable weapons brought in by the Lacob brothers were physical trainer Danielle “Dani” Langford and data analyst Hannah Heiring, who wowed the crowd with three-pointers, tight defense, and even a no-look dime pass into the paint that brought both benches to their feet.

Heiring, who came off the bench before Langford, had the distinction of being the first woman ever to play a game on the men’s prison’s basketball court. She impressed the crowd with several clutch three-pointers and showed she was not afraid to drive or pressure the defense. She went two-of-three from three-point range and one-of-one from the field.

“It felt good,” said Heiring, who played basketball in college. “It was fun today, my first time coming in here. The level of competition was more intense than I was expecting, but great to meet everyone. I had a great time.”

Many of the GSW’s younger players came along to watch their team play and to visit the prison for the first-time. Notable among them were budding NBA stars James Wiseman, Moses Moody and Jonathan Kuminga. Just like at a NBA game, they had fans smothering them with pens and paraphernalia for them to sign.

The GSW gathered at a stage erected for SQ’s Mental Wellness Week and spoke to the assembled crowd after arriving. Brian Asey, GM of SQ’s basketball program, greeted the team and thanked them for their continued participation in the annual event. The GSW’s General Manager Bob Myers did not attend due to a nagging hip injury, nor did Draymond Green or any of the other Warriors’ starting players come for the visit.

Other special guests who accompanied the GSW were former SQW coach Rafael Cuevas, filmmaker and SQ alumnus Adamu Chan, and SQNews alum Aaron “Showtime” Taylor, who came in to bless the event with his unique play-by-play calling.

“This is a surreal feeling for me. To come back in and to see all the dudes who I left here and who I love here. I’m speechless,” said Taylor, who brought along his fiancée.

After the speeches and meet-and-greet, the GSW players graciously signed autographs and joined residents for the traditional lap around the Lower Yard’s track. Wiseman, Armstrong, and former GSW center Zaza Pachulia, who are all nearly seven feet tall, towered above the crowd on the packed yard.

Wiseman was amazed at the culture inside the prison, saying that it was nothing like he expected. “I am familiar with the good and bad things that happen in life and that people have to serve time for crimes, but at least people can get a second chance,” he said while he walked around the track.

Wiseman jumped over a puddle and weaved around all the Canada geese poop so that he would not get his retro-Michael Jordan basketball shoes dirty. He laughed about it as he rounded the corner by the recreation tables near the Black section of the yard.

After the lap, the group gathered in the center of the basketball court to share words of encouragement and pose for pictures. It was finally time to play ball.

Aaron “Showtime” Taylor introduced the starting five players for each team. For the GSW, the starting five were Kirk and Kent Lacob, Hightower, Mujtaba — the GSW’s Santa Cruz G-League head coach — and Armstrong. Starting for the SQW were Rickey “Big Rick” Hales, Derrell “Sadiq” Davis, Dontaye “Twin” Harris, Delvon “Delvy” Adams, and Keyshawn “Steez” Strickland.

Hunok Rufael played his rendition of the national anthem on his violin. “It’s an honor to serve my community in this capacity, and I am blessed by this opportunity,” he said.

The crowd was excited to see “Big Rick” go head-to-head with “Big Hilton” Armstrong and they were not disappointed. “Big Hilton” started off the scoring with a lay-up that “Big Rick” quickly answered with a turnaround jumper. Despite “Big Hilton’s” height advantage, “Big Rick” held his own and was dominant off the boards. Adams also had some big-time “wow” moves under the rim early and got himself to the free-throw line often.

The first quarter looked good for the SQW, who took an early lead and kept the game close. It seemed as if they were going to hang tough with the big-league weapons the Lacobs had brought in this time. The SQW’s stingy defense was giving the GSW a hard time, but too many turnovers by the home team and superior ball movement by the visitors did not allow the SQW to hold on to the lead for long. By the end of the first quarter, the GSW led 21–16.

The SQW made a push for the lead in the second quarter thanks to a big three-pointer by Harris and the sweet feet of Strickland. Burton added a pull-up jumper and cut the GSW’s lead to 34–31 in the middle of the second quarter.

The GSW started running a two-three zone defense that increased the turnovers of the SQW, who were also having a hard time getting shots past the long frame and dominating swats of “Big Hilton.”

At halftime, the score was 38–33. After “Showtime” Taylor’s halftime speech, Warden Ron Broomfield got in on the action by attempting a shot from the free-throw line. Other prison staff, from custody to free-staff, attended to root for the teams.

When the game resumed, it was back to battling. SQW’s Adams turned it up and “Big Rick” tried to keep the team in it, but it was not enough to compete with Lacob’s new weapons. Hightower started pouring on the offense, including a highlight-worthy left-handed dunk that got the crowd going. “Big Hilton” couldn’t let his teammate steal the show and added some big dunks of his own. The GSW maintained a 10-point lead through the third quarter.

A left-hand lay-up by SQW’s Adams over “Big Hilton” forced Coach Atkins to call a timeout, but Heiring started blasting her three-pointers, refusing to let the SQW challenge her team’s lead.

“It was hard guarding Hannah [Heiring],” said SQW veteran Vines after the game. “She’s a woman and I didn’t know how to defend against her.

“Plus, she’s just got a good game. I really have no excuses,” he added with a laugh.

In the fourth quarter, a surprise no-look pass by Langford on a dime into the paint for an assist sent the GSW’s bench into a frenzy of celebration as they jumped up and down cheering on their teammate. The SQW’s coach Brown called a time-out with one minute left, GSW leading, 79–63. Shortly after, as the game clock wound down, Heiring hit the last shot off the glass to make the final score, 83–65 GSW.

Both teams brought hustle and talent, but the deciding factor of the game was the many missed opportunities by the SQW’s team.

“We played terrible today. We have to work on our turnovers and make those free throws. We weren’t ready,” said Coach Jeremiah Brown of the SQW.

All players were competing for the win, but more importantly, it was the human aspect and the love of the game that mattered the most.

“Keep your heads up,” said Hightower. “We’re here for the love of the game.”

The SQW shared the same sentiment. “Hope and inspiration. There is light at the end of the tunnel. People that care — it’s bigger than prison. People take time out of their life to do the things we love, becoming like family,” said the SQW’s Davis.

“I have been playing with the San Quentin Warriors for 10 years. Playing with a spiritual mind-set for the love of the game is a big part of my rehabilitation,” Vines added.

Another guest, sports reporter Vern Glenn from KPIX Channel 5, said the day was a truly great event.

The GSW have now won five of the eight games they have come into the prison to play. The GSW’s NBA team has also won the NBA Championship four of those times after they have come into the prison.

Kirk Lacob said that perhaps they are getting their winning luck from coming into the prison. After the game, he thanked everybody gathered around the court, saying, “Good things happen with the Golden State Warrior’s season when they come into San Quentin to play basketball.”

A few stats: Hightower finished with six blocks and a team-high 12 points while Armstrong had seven blocks and 11 points, Kirk scored nine and Kent eight. For the SQW, Hale led his team with 15 points and 11 rebounds, followed by Burton’s 12 points, while Adams and Davis had 11 each, and Strickland had seven.

Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. Global Forum Online has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned.

Timothy Hicks is a staff writer for San Quentin News, an award-winning newspaper published out of San Quentin State Prison in California, where he is incarcerated.