Basketball changing the culture in a south Auckland street that's home to three gangs

A notorious gang street in south Auckland has had a change of fortune, thanks to a former policeman with a passion for basketball.

Glen Green was so concerned about the increasing use of synthetic drugs and street fighting in the Papakura road, he took a rather novel course of action.

Smiths Ave locals say for the past five years synthetic drug use has led to deaths and an increase in violence, so they've turned to There's A Better Way Foundation for help.

"Since the introduction of synthetics you'd find bongs all around the community house," says community leader Violet Slade. "You'd find needles. You'd find clothing from those sleeping around the area. It wasn't a very good sight."

Better Way foundation CEO and former cop Mr Green has raised $50,000 through sponsorship and built a basketball court, which is having surprising success.

"I wanted to fight with Violet and drop a world-class basketball court right here on Smiths Ave," he says. "I'm quite surprised how people have responded. They've taken ownership, and I say to them, 'This is your court. This is your investment. This is your future.'"  

Youths are hooked on the game; adults are curious. 

There's been a noticeable drop-off in tagging and drug use in the three months it's been in place. 

"Police were getting phone calls every second night, whether it was domestic violence, street fighting, people lying around," says Ms Slade. "It's been a miraculous change in attitude from not only our little ones, our teens, but even our parents, who come over and say, 'Whoa, I can actually do something.'"

Former user 19-year-old Zachariah says he's just got out of jail and is clean. He's noticed the difference the court makes. It gives people a sense of purpose.

"Yeah man, I used to be one of these guys. I just want to put it out there - people like this need more help and motivation to change."

Star power helps. Saints player and former New Zealand basketballer Benny Anthony pops up from Wellington most weeks for a session.

"It's the perfect sport for urban areas," he says. "Everybody listens to rap - it's part of rap and everybody wants to be LeBron James, and I think it just connects."

Court 2110 is named after the Smiths Ave postcode and is Mr Green's second across Auckland. The first was in Titirangi.

"We've had 20 people who've raised quarter of a million dollars for two courts to be pushed out south, so why can't this be pushed across the country?" says Mr Green.

He hopes the real turnaround in this street where three gangs reside could inspire other communities to take up the challenge.