Q & A with VBL Founder Nick Ansom

Story by Damien Fahrenfort for General Admission

Nick Ansom has a unique story. Few people that move to Venice Beach have been as impactful on the community as he has. At 13 years of age the Ansom’s decided to pack up their home in France and descend on Los Angeles. They ended in the hardened town of Venice Beach. Venice 18 years ago wasn’t the gentrified metropolitan it is now. The Boardwalk ran wild with gangs and crime was rampant. Nick found solace here because the Boardwalk was home to Nicks first love, Basketball. He recalls learning most of his english on these courts and credits them for shaping the man he is today. Since then Nick has become a critical member of the Venice Community and this year he’ll celebrate 10 years of the league he founded, The Venice Basketball League. Nick still mixes it on the court as well as anyone but these days he finds more joy in elevating the sport and bringing it to those less fortunate. I grabbed Nick for a few minutes one day while he was wooing people in the store with his ball tricks.What was it like for a French kid growing up in Venice?The first time I came to Venice I barely spoke any English, I was 13. And my first words I learn’t was “who’s get next?’ I would spend every day down at the courts and sorta move my way from court to court, just playing basketball. But I loved it, I loved the people I met down here and I learn’t all my english on those courts. I guess i kinda found home on this playground that sits on the water in Venice beach.

I imagine it was a little heavy down at the courts for a 13 year old kid back then?

It was funky and crazy for sure but I was never scared though. I mean, I was sticking around the courts and the ocean so maybe it was different. I was playing with the Old School guys after being moved up from playing with the kids on court #3 next to the handball court so it was cool and I felt proud to play with them. This was before our VBL blue court was built.

It was definitely a bit sketchy though. When the night fell you definitely felt a lot of gang presence, but again you know, when you in your own world, your not really thinking about whats going on out there. I mean for me, it was really happening on the court, so it was just very physical play and it toughened me up. I learnt a lot from those playing here and the people I met.

How did the Venice Basketball League come about?

I had a passion for basketball and DJing so wanted to tie them both in one epic afternoon. At the time I had a website that was like a guide to basketball in LA, BallinLA.com. That was in 2005 and basically me and four of my boys would go from court to court all over the city and just kinda run the courts, we would win 10 games and go to the next court and win 10 games and we felt like we were the kings. That was like the golden era of basketball for me just playing ball all day long. I dropped out of college after the politics of the game really annoyed me so I just wanted start my own thing. I was always meeting and playing against different people so I would go and rate it from park to park and also rate the competition, so I’d write about it and say like “okay the courts and competition are 7 out of 10, and you can go hoop at that court from 12-4 for open gyms”. So at the end of one summer I thought “we need to find a court and do a tournament because we need to get everybody together and win some money”.
At first it was called the Sunshine Baller Tournament and was $100 to get in and the winner would get $500. That was in 2007, so this summer we will be celebrating 10 years at the Venice courts.

For the first tournament we had two courts working simultaneously, we wanted to have 12 teams, but 16 teams showed up. Some of my favorite hoopers that I grew up watching like Bone Collector and Sick Wit It showed up. I remember showing up at my tournament and was like “what is going on” how did all these people show up. My squad and I we’re all 6’2” and under and there was big 7 foot guys like Keith Closs stacking up from all over LA.

My team ended up getting knocked out first round and the team ‘Ballin For Peace’ with mostly pro players ended up winning. We were like “damn we really need to practice more”. It was kind of chaotic at the tournament but when we were looking back at all the videos that evening we were like “this is sick, we need to do more of this next year”. And that’s how the league was born.

Did it all go down in Venice?

I would still go hoop all over the city but decided focus on the events at Venice since we already had built in fans and great competition. I’d keep all my speakers and all my gear in the trunk and at our events I was basically DJ’ing, MC’ing and playing at the same time. What was that movie called with Will Farrell? It’s like a parody about the game? Oh yea- SEMI PRO. I was like “Welcome Everybody” and I was DJ’ing and I’d bring all these people to do halftime show performances and it was just skin vs shirt, super underground style then.

Then a year later, we got T shirts, cut off the sleeves and they said VeniceBall.com and slowly but surely we built our brand. RVCA was our first sponsor that started making uniforms for us, more like T-shirts.

Fast forward 10 years and now Reebok is sponsoring a team, we got And1 sponsoring a team, Hall Of Fame is sponsoring a team, Brand Black, Metta World Peace and Nick Young have their own team…

Did it ever get heavy when you’d win your own tournaments?

I’ve won the league twice with the VENICE BEACH WARRIORS and that created a lot of conflict. You play in your league and win the league, people hated that.
It’s a bit of love and hate though, Venice has a lot of culture so it’s fast and there’s always a thin line between the love and the hate, so you got amped up guys on the court and somebody’s going to win and somebody’s gotta lose and some of the losers aren’t so happy.

Pissing heavy guys off sounds bad for bizz yeah?

Yeah and they got embarrassed. Theres a certain way we would win. We would win with swagger. It’s gonna be like cross you one way, bring you back the other way and then dunk on you. They would go home at night and meditate on that and think ‘We got smashed, and I was beat by a french white boy’. That would make them even more pissed. But respect is gained, nothing is given.

So what’s next for you and the VBL?
I’ve been blessed!! The league keeps on growing organically and getting better each year so we are going to keep on doing that each and every week and give a great show to the fans. We created a head to toe clothing line to create an alternative to your classical sportswear and make the league stays sustainable.

To me, basketball belongs outdoor with people who love the game and bring different flavors and real characters, because the NBA has became so mainstream and all about the money. My wish is to keep on innovating the art of the sport and create more opportunities for people who share my passion.

Every summer I discover new players and I like showcasing new talent and giving them a platform. I love the time I get here, I can come down here, meet some interesting people, play ball, get sweaty and jump in the ocean and surf. That’s a good day. And then watch the sunset, kick back, reflect on things, and when you come to Venice the clock stops. LA is always such a rat race, meetings, you gotta go there and life has a lot of responsibilities but then you get to Venice the clock just stops ticking… And you actually living. And thats what I love about the game, I don’t like just playing with the same people in the same place all the time. It gets boring and repetitive.

Venice has changed a lot, its kinda gentrified but I think as long as the courts are up there, we can keep giving people inspiration to come out and play. I feel like I’ve played my part and that’s where I wanna be. For me I don’t really pay attention to all of the politics going on in Venice. There’s a 100 000 people that come here everyday, theres a variety of people. They come and they go. Its still funky, the art, the creative hub, it’s still right here. It’s the last place where you can kinda be free and express yourself and be who you are. If you look at that boardwalk, where it’s accepted to be eccentric, I feel like there is still less judgement in Venice. And a bit more unpredictability because you never know whats gonna happen.