London Knights: Inclusivity at the heart of game

South east of Lambeth Bridge is the famous Regal & Jordan basketball court, which is the home venue of the London Knights, London’s first competitive and LGBT+ friendly basketball club – its mantra: ‘everyone welcome’.

Started over 24 years ago, the Knights compete in the GoMammoth adult basketball recreational leagues, and have won medals at the EuroGames, GayGames and European LGBT+ basketball competitions.

Current Chair, Nick Brown, says the club engenders a sense of belonging, meaning people can forget about whether they fit in and can concentrate on developing their basketball skills.

“There’s been this huge influx of LGBT+ sports groups in London,” said Brown.

“But in basketball, specifically gay and inclusive basketball, we are the only option. And that's probably across the whole country.

“Here, you’ve got a place to come and play sport and socialise. That’s really at the heart of it.

“You don't need to be somebody you're not, you just need to be who you are. When you can authentically be you, then you can get better at the game of basketball. You can focus on that, rather than on ‘do I fit in?’.”

London Knights' Athena Critcher competed in the 2023 GG3x3 charity basketball tournament

Basketball is meditative

Athena Critcher is one Knight who has felt the benefit of the club’s welcoming atmosphere.

Originally a swimmer, Critcher took up basketball eight months ago and although she says getting to grips with the sport has been a ‘steep learning curve’, she cannot think what life would be like without it.

“Not only is [the Knights] an important part of my social life. It’s important for my mental and physical health. It can’t be understated,” said the 26-year-old.

“There's just that sort of immediate feeling of safety and being able to be who you are. It's built into the club culture itself.

“Basketball is probably one of the sports where you have to be the most athletic and fit. But more than that, I find that when you are playing well, and you're in the flow, it's one of the most calming experiences I've ever felt. It's almost meditative in a way.”

London Knights' Chair Nick Brown tips off against rival French team in the International Tournament of Paris

Inclusivity is at the heart of the game

Brown’s journey in basketball began in his home city of Lichfield, where he was influenced by his teacher, Mr Martin, who was heavily involved with the Birmingham Bullets.

After a move to London, the 29-year-old, who is a saxophonist and music producer, was hungry to play basketball more regularly, as well as connect with the LGBT+ community.

His first session with the Knights left him feeling like he belonged and challenged him to play the sport he loves to the best of his ability.  

Under his tenure, Brown has made the Knights a Community Interest Company (CIC) and has been able to apply for funding to strengthen the club’s governance and safeguards, and capacity.

The club now boasts coached beginners, as well as experienced basketball training sessions – helped by the Black Prince’s Trust, which looks after the Regal and Jordan court, who gave the Knights free court time to trial its beginner sessions.

For Brown, inclusivity is multi-faceted, and says the Knights are constantly having open conversations about how it can improve its inclusive offering, be open to others in the LGBT+ community and try different ways of doing things.

Something which he believes is at the heart of the game itself.

“40 people signed up [to the Knight’s beginners’ sessions] within a week. It’s clear evidence of need. People are hungry [to play basketball].

“When we say inclusive, we have to really mean it. Not just people of all different backgrounds, but also levels of ability.

“[The club] is a true reflection of London and what community should look like. We have had trans players for the first time within the last six months. And that was a big learning curve for us to see how we can be inclusive of trans people. And we're learning and we're open to learning, we're open to feedback, and there's always those open channels with everybody.

“Look at the way you have to support each other when you play the game.

“You're on offence and then you're straight back on defence. You have got to get back and help your teammates because they need you. That's in the very heart of the game. It's helping each other out. That's what the game stands for.”