Venice Women’s League holds inaugural basketball games

VENICE BEACH — At the south end of one of the most popular beaches in the country is a breeding ground for some of the best hoopers in the Los Angeles area.

The Venice Beach Basketball Courts are home to the popular summer basketball league, Veniceball, and on Sunday, the league opened its door to a new group of players.

The newly created Venice Women’s League held its first ever games featuring top basketball prospects in the area as well as some of the most popular women’s basketball influencers on social media.

The Venice Women’s League aims to bring the best basketball players to the beach while also serving as a way to grow the game of women’s basketball in Los Angeles.

“What I love about this league is it gives women an opportunity to have an all-female space in a space that men have just really dominated,” said Venice Women’s League commissioner Jerica Williams. “I’m just excited that it’s happening in L.A.”

Veniceball started off as a local basketball tournament in 2006, held at the Venice Beach Basketball Courts. The mix of waterfront scenery along with the thousands of locals and tourists walking down the beach shore made for a perfect place to hold competitive basketball in the summer.

The league was a breeding ground for local streetball players who wanted to showcase their handle and high-flying dunks. But as the league evolved, the games became more competitive which attracted professional players who wanted to get a run in.

“In year 1, the AND1 scene was real heavy, so cats were trying to do all the tricks just to get highlights,” said J.C. “Mouthpiece” Thompson, Veniceball’s long-time play-by-play announcer. “We weren’t getting along, so I said ‘if you can’t get highlights with your regular hooping, we don’t need you.’ So I tried to make this league a little bit more legitimate in the basketball community in order to get respected.”

The popularity of Veniceball led to the creation of a women’s side of the league that was started this year. Current Veniceball founder Nico Naismith along with Williams helped get the league off the ground.

The Venice Women’s League held its first draft on Saturday and the league is already stacked with players with big followings on social media.

One of those players is M.J. Johnson, a former Sacramento State point guard who’s garnered over 1 million followers combined on her social media platforms.

Known as the “Queen of Venice Beach,” she previously was one of the only women to compete in the Veniceball league in the past couple of seasons. Now, she is one of the faces of the Venice Women’s League.

“I think (the league) helps give women exposure and it allows us to showcase our talents,” Johnson said. “It allows us to have fun as a family and as a collective.”

League organizer Tobias Dimarco said that the deep talent pool of basketball players was one of the biggest factors in creating the league.

“I think it’s long overdue. For seven years running, we’ve been running a co-ed league where men and women play together,” Dimarco said. “The women’s game is here and it’s past time that they have their own stage to play here at Venice Beach.”

The Venice Women’s League currently has six teams. The end of the season will conclude with a championship game on Aug. 27.

Williams said she expects to see more household names pop in throughout the season.

“We’re gonna have women continue to pop in, as the summer goes. People come to LA to train. College athletes, pro athletes, overseas players that come to train in LA and so we’re gonna give them an opportunity to come and play in the league,” Williams said. “How many times do you get to walk by the beach and see a full five-on-five women’s game? I think it’s just really cool for young boys and girls to see.”