‘Such an honour’: Family and friends of late basketball star celebrate park renaming

Joe White’s family and friends with the park’s new sign. Photograph: Hackney Council

“His philosophy was to get the boys off the streets and onto the basketball court,” recalled Joe White’s brother John at a special ceremony in Hackney.

White, a basketball player and coach who helped players achieve their sporting dreams, has had a park in Hoxton renamed in his honour.

Family and friends joined his widow Claire on Pitfield Street to celebrate as a new sign was put up.

The park, formerly Aske Gardens, was picked because it has a popular basketball court.

White’s relatives Robert and Jean Skerret also used to live nearby, his brother revealed.

Joe White. Photograph: courtesy Hackney Council

White lived in Stoke Newington and, at six feet and eight inches tall, he was well suited to basketball, which was not widely played in the UK when he was growing up.

He had a successful career as a professional player, representing Team GB, before becoming one of the most successful youth coaches in UK basketball history.

His teams won 14 national schools titles and 18 national club titles.

He also coached football players, and friends from Hackney-based team Deportivo joined his family at the renaming.

Bert Emmanuel, a former player who is still involved with the club, said: “Joe did so much for us. He got our team disciplined and in those days that was unique.

“He turned us from a moderate side into a very elite side and we played in a national tournament at Wembley.”

White died in 2002 and his widow Claire said: “It’s such an honour to have the park named after him.”

She said: “He worked at Homerton School and the children had to do their homework before they could start to play on the basketball pitch.

“He just wanted discipline. He was a mentor and 32 players he coached turned professional.”

They include London 2012 Olympian Pops Mensah-Bonsu.

The park was renamed as part of Hackney Council’s response to the Black Lives Matter movement and a campaign to rid public spaces of names associated with people who profited from slavery.

The new name replaces that of merchant Robert Aske, who made a fortune by investing in the Royal African Company, which transported 187,697 enslaved people on company-owned ships to English colonies in the Americas. A fifth of these people died on the gruelling and overcrowded voyages.

The renaming is part of a wider review into the names of local landmarks, streets, buildings, and public spaces in Hackney.

It is the second park the council has renamed. Cassland Gardens became Kit Crowley Gardens in 2021.

The Town Hall will hold a community event next spring to unveil an information board about Joe White.

A crowdfunding campaign has been set up to raise funds to enable the public release of Big Joe, a documentary film about White.

If you’d like to support the documentary, visit gofundme.com/f/big-joe-doc.