Our History

Basketball Smiles started with an umbrella

“Nobody cares about my kids,” Coach Patty Johnson told Coach Sam Nichols.

Coach Sam Nichols had just finished his acceptance speech after being inducted into the Hall of Fame 500 Victory Club at the Women’s Basketball Coaches’ Association meeting in San Jose, California, in 1999. He stepped outside of the meeting hall. It was raining and he popped open his umbrella.

Coach Patty Johnson, from H. O. Nash Junior High School in Nassau, The Bahamas, asked if she could share the umbrella with Coach Sam and he made a place for her.

Coach Patty told him how much she had enjoyed his acceptance speech.

“I wish you could come to my country and do a coaches’ clinic and a camp for kids,” Coach Patty said.

“I do camps all over the world,” Coach Sam said.

“No, my kids are in the worst, the poorest, most dangerous place in The Bahamas,” she said sadly.

“I knew at that point that I was going,” Coach Sam says. He told her, “I’ll come.”

“No, you don’t understand. It’s the worst, the poorest, most dangerous area. Nobody cares about my kids,” she said, “and I can’t pay you anything.”

“No,” Coach Sam said, “you don’t understand. I said I’d come. Let’s go plan how we’re going to do this.”

That was the beginning of Basketball Smiles.

Coach Sam with campers
A little girl being watched by Coach Sam
A camper under close supervision
Coach Sam with camper
Coach Sam wants more for the children than basketball skills. He wants character and leadership, a desire to achieve and success in life.

The first year Coach Sam went by himself and coached 85 neighborhood kids. Since then, more than 11,000 children have participated in the annual program, which may be the largest free basketball camp in the Caribbean.

No child every pays. No child is ever turned away. Camp costs roughly $350 per child.

The camp is held in the underserved neighborhoods in The Bahamas, where 20 percent of the homes have no running water or electricity. The area where the camp is conducted has one of the highest murder rates per square mile in the entire Caribbean.

Basketball Smiles has brought generational change to this impoverished neighborhood. We have former campers who come back every summer, volunteer their time and share their success stories with the campers.