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Thursday, June 20, 2024
<p dir="ltr">Pointing at a map dotted with colored pushpins, Gainesville Police Officer Bobby White shows where he has delivered basketball hoops and balls as part of his Basketball Cop Foundation.</p>

Pointing at a map dotted with colored pushpins, Gainesville Police Officer Bobby White shows where he has delivered basketball hoops and balls as part of his Basketball Cop Foundation.

Bags have begun to form underneath Officer Bobby White’s eyes.

Up until eight months ago, the Gainesville Police officer’s life was routine: four days working the night shift from 4:00 p.m. to 3:30 a.m., and then four days off, with a couple days of overtime shifts in between.

But then he became Basketball Cop, the officer who went viral after he took a few minutes to play basketball with local kids while he was on duty. And now, at noon on a Tuesday — when White would normally be watching sports — he’s monitoring the aftermath of his internet fame.

In the months since the video clip spread through social media, the Basketball Cop has built courts and hoops in Gainesville neighborhoods, shipped sports equipment to police departments throughout the U.S. and become a father figure for a 3-year-old boy.

The goal, White says, is to build positive relationships between police and the community. But the extra load has taken a toll on the 46-year-old as his old patrol work takes a back seat to community outreach.

“My time at work has become my weekend,” he said.

***

It was 5 p.m. on Jan. 15 when White received a call.

It was yet another noise complaint: nothing out of the ordinary for a Friday night.

A group of kids and teenagers were playing basketball on Northwest 21st Avenue, in a low-income Gainesville neighborhood, when someone reported them for being too loud.

When White arrived, he told the kids they had done nothing wrong and was surprised that someone had complained. A few minutes later, he joined them in their game, throwing jump shots toward their basketball hoop. At one point, after the hoop was lowered, White threw down a slam dunk and promised the kids he’d be back.

The dashboard camera on his cruiser filmed the whole exchange, a clip he sent to GPD spokesman Ben Tobias. Tobias, who manages the department’s social media accounts, had only one response: “YES,” texted in all capital letters.

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Bobby White

After his shift as a Gainesville Police officer ends, Bobby White begins his second job as the head of his Basketball Cop Foundation, which has helped erect two basketball courts in the city since February.


Within a week, the video Tobias spliced together had more than one million views on GPD’s Facebook page — and the Basketball Cop phenomenon began.

“It became bigger than me, bigger than GPD,” White said.

As the footage circulated through major news outlets across the world, White hesitantly stepped into the spotlight.

But the newfound fame became a way for White, raised by a single, drug-addicted mother, to help at-risk youth in Gainesville and to change their perception of law enforcement, he said.

“The opportunity literally hit him in the face,” Tobias said.

In the next month, retired NBA megastar Shaquille O’ Neal came to town and a new court popped up in one of the kids’ backyards, courtesy of White and his following.

He can’t go anywhere without being recognized, he said.

On Sunday, White’s second local project was christened: an NBA-sized court behind a local church in a neighborhood plagued by crime.

“This is ultimately about the community being able to trust the police,” Tobias said.

***

Despite the fame, the extended hours have left White exhausted.

The calendar on his phone is dotted with “work” and events related to his Basketball Cop Foundation. About 30 emails flood his inbox every day. A guest bedroom in his apartment has been transformed to accommodate his outreach, with a dry-erase board and map listing all the police departments in the country where he has sent basketball hoops and balls.

“It’s nonstop,” he said, checking his phone for messages.

It’s harder for White to spend time with his girlfriend, fellow GPD Officer Becki Holcomb. While it’s been hard not seeing him as often, Holcomb said she’s proud of what he’s accomplished.

“It’s tough,” she said of the commitment. “(But) if there’s a person that can handle it, it’s this guy,”

Even when White tries to ignore the goings-on within his one-man foundation, he can’t seem to get away.

“Even if I don’t want to think about it — ‘ping,’” White said, motioning to his phone.

But thanks in part to his dedication, the foundation has raised more than $16,000 since it was established February, White said.

Tobias said White has found a balance between work and charity, but he isn’t sure how.

Buckets and Baksetball

Gainesville Police Officer Bobby White plays basketball one-on-one against Anthony "Buckets" Blakes of the Harlem Globetrotters on Feb. 23.

“I don’t know when he sleeps,” Tobias said. “I don’t know if he sleeps.”

White said if he can’t find a way to hire someone to take over day-to-day responsibilities, he may need to take a break.

Since he began with the foundation, he has dropped overtime shifts with GPD, a sizeable source of income for many officers.

“If it ever fails, it won’t be from a lack of effort,” White said.

***

Gainesville resident Keda Sermons has always been scared of police, she said.

But a few months ago, her 3-year-old son found a role model in White, after the officer visited the family’s apartment complex for football and snacks.

“He’s more like a father figure for Duke because his dad is not in his life,” Sermons said.

White is now listed as Da’Maryon “Duke” Hopson’s emergency contact at school, and he will attend a father-son breakfast with Duke at school this month.

“I’ve kind of adopted him as my kid,” White said.

Sermons said White made her change the way she looked at policing.

“I just think he has a good heart,” she said.

And that’s why, despite the lack of sleep, the unpaid overtime and the uncertainty of stability, White said he will continue the foundation on top of his normal 11-hour GPD shifts for as long as he can.

“I think in my community, I’m making a difference,” he said.

Pointing at a map dotted with colored pushpins, Gainesville Police Officer Bobby White shows where he has delivered basketball hoops and balls as part of his Basketball Cop Foundation.

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