Local sports teams and athletes are highlighting the progress they’re making in Oakland and the East Bay as yet another professional team appears set to leave the city, using the moment as an opportunity to gain more attention and support in their community.
“I have a special affinity for Oakland and I know just how beautiful, these people are in this city and we do deserve to have nice things,” said Mariah Cooks, a player for the Berkeley Royals of the Women’s Premier Basketball Association.
Cooks was there on Saturday when actress and Oakland native Zendaya celebrated new basketball courts at Lowell Park in West Oakland. She worked with the nonprofit Hoopbus to renovate the facilities. She loves seeing basketball become more accessible to everyone and hopes the WPBA can be a part of that, as the teams all play and compete in the East Bay at the College of Alameda gymnasium.
“There’s such a need and to be able to be a part of fulfilling that need in a city that, you know, I care so much about is just very, very special,” Cooks told KPIX. “I have the skillset that I gained from college and just all my years from playing but now the freedom to just hoop and it’s just brought me so much joy and definitely has promoted a lot of balance in my life.”
The Washington State standout said she still feels a connection to Oakland sports as someone who has lived and worked in the city. She hopes the league can help develop talent and bring more excitement for the city’s WNBA team, the Oakland Swish, as well as the other teams in the league.
“Oakland has a heartbeat, you know, the people here they are just so, so special,” Cooks said. “The fact that this is happening now, this is what our ancestors prayed for, and so to be a part of that, to have been a district attorney in this county, to serve the people directly and now be able to grow that footprint even more, I know is a part of my call.”
She retired from basketball only to come back to the sport with the WPBA. Cooks was the MVP of the finals and Player of the Year. Representing a league of diverse and talented women who balance busy lives inspires her to keep going with her team.
“A lot of us have lives outside of basketball when for so long it was basketball and then everything else,” she said. “I’m just really grateful to play alongside such purposeful, powerful women on a weekly basis.”