‘This is what he loved’: Midtown basketball court dedicated to 24-year-old who was killed in 2013

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A basketball court in Kansas City’s Midtown neighborhood was dedicated for Ryan Stokes on Saturday. Stokes was a 24-year-old who was shot and killed by police in 2013.

Organizers, however, called the event not a protest, but a celebration of Stoke’s life and passion.

The court – minus the paint job – is where Stokes met to play basketball for about ten years starting in his childhood.

“He had to have that ball in his hand. He started at five-years-old,” Narene Stokes, mother of Ryan Stokes, said.

“It was a song called ‘Basketball Jones’ that he played all the time. And I said ‘Oh yeah, you jones-ing. You’ve got the basketball-touch,'” Narene Stokes said.

“When I met Ryan, I think he was a Ninth grader and I was the varsity coach over at Southeast,” Derek Howard, Stoke’s Basketball Coach at Southeast African Centered High School, said.

“He just kept playing and playing. and then he’d get a board and he’d put a ball in. And he’d start talking some smack. And I’d be like ‘Man that kid’s got some game to him,'” Howard said.

“His personality kind of lit up the room, you know? Jokester… down to earth, real guy,” Daniel Martin, one of Stoke’s High School Basketball Teammates, said.

“He was short and chubby basically, right? But his work ethic and everything… he would keep trucking and trucking and trucking,” Martin said.

“I was like ‘God, man, he’s just got a fatback. You got to get him running.’ And it was on of those things where ‘Whoa, I don’t know if I should have said that.’ And now I’m seeing on a court…like 15 years later I see ‘Fatback’ in this amazing art on the court. And I’m like ‘What in the world,'” Howard said.

The happy memories follow the sad. Eight years ago Stokes was shot twice in the back after being accused of stealing a cell phone near the Power & Light District. A federal judge later found the officer was using reasonable deadly force despite that Stokes was unarmed and obeying an officer’s commands.

“I was devastated. Like, he was my best friend since high school and afterwards. Like, me and the friends – me and the guys – we hung out afterwards so we stayed true to the core. So it was devastating. It was terrible,” Martin said.

“He gave his heart and soul for this game. For this to be on the court is an absolutely amazing thing,” Howard said.

“Ryan’s here. Ryan’s with us with this. This is what he loved. Thank you,” Narene Stokes said. Stokes family says they are continuing to pursuing restorative justice following their relative’s death and also plan to start a basketball tournament in Ryan’s name to happen at the court in the future.

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