Meet the Leeds basketball pro joining sports stars in the fight against racial inequality
Leeds basketball player Danny Evans is using his voice to fight for change. He talks to Abbey Maclure about Black Lives Matter, turning pro and why his mum is his biggest fan.
Danny Evans was inspired by a range of sporting heroes growing up, from NBA legend LeBron James to David Beckham and Usain Bolt.
But his biggest source of inspiration is much closer to home.
"There were people I looked up to on TV, but it was my mum who pushed me and encouraged me to dream big," the 24-year-old told the Yorkshire Evening Post.
"She raised me as a single mum and encouraged me to try a bunch of different sports, as I had a lot of energy.
"I went to a basketball after-school club in Year 4 and the coach saw some natural ability in me. He invited me down to a club and that's where I caught the bug for it.
"My mum showed me there were bigger things out there for me, she helped me think big about what my potential could be."
Danny has just finished his first season as a professional player in Spain, a boyhood dream when he was growing up in Moortown.
With the support of his mum Helen behind him, Danny threw himself into training at Leeds Carnegie Basketball Club (now City of Leeds Basketball Club), where coaches nurtured his talent.
He got his first taste of a major tournament when he was 14, playing for Great Britain's junior squad, before winning a coveted university scholarship in America.
Playing competitive college basketball was an opportunity that not many Brits got to experience at the time, Danny said.
“I was overwhelmed with emotion when I got that call,” he added.
“It wasn’t the natural path to go down - being a kid playing in Leeds, to getting a scholarship in America. It was huge for me and something I’ll always remember.”
After finishing his last season in the States on a high, Danny was signed by Spanish club L'Hospitalet on a one-year professional contract last summer.
Speaking about his nerve-wracking first game for the club, Danny said: “You don’t want the moment to take over, you want to stay present. At the end of the day, you have a job to do as a basketball player.
“But I allowed myself a bit of reflection during the first game when there was a pause in play. I was out in Barcelona on my own. I came from an empty gym in Leeds dreaming of being a professional player, to getting paid to do what I’ve wanted for all those years.”
Danny joined the Team England camp in Manchester earlier this month in preparation for the 2022 Commonwealth Games and he's in talks to move back to Spain later this summer.
As he progresses in his career, he's determined to use his voice as an athlete to make change - joining high-profile sports stars speaking up about racism and inequality.
Danny is part of the Black Lives Matter Leeds movement and helped to organise a demonstration in Hyde Park in June 2020.
Thousands joined the socially-distant rally following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, who died after a police officer restrained him by kneeling on his neck.
“The support was unbelievable," Danny said.
"We organised the event at short notice in the middle of a pandemic and it was overwhelming to see the support - on that day, and even now.
“It shows there are people from all cultures and backgrounds that do support it. It’s now about helping that filter out and getting the racist views, that some people do hold, eradicated.”
Danny's own experiences growing up in north Leeds, from snide comments to being followed by shopkeepers suspecting him of stealing, and those of his family and friends have been a catalyst for his activism.
"My grandma was part of the Windrush generation," Danny added.
"When she came over, she was a bus conductor and people said and did the most horrific things to her. That was one of the things that inspired me to get involved [in activism], to remember those stories and recognise that it’s not gone away.
"People still do and say horrible things, and there’s still misrepresentation in a lot of areas of society. It’s a problem that I want to see, one day, no longer an issue."
Danny's advice for aspiring sports stars
Danny was one of the only British players in the competitive college basketball leagues in the States, although he says more youngsters are now coming through the ranks.
He wants to encourage young sports men and women in Leeds to set their sights high.
"There’s not a tonne of high-profile sports people in Leeds," Danny said.
"But it's more than possible - I’m an example, people like Kalvin Phillips are an example - you can go and do it on a big stage.
"Set your mind on what you want to achieve and be brave enough to dedicate yourself to making it happen.
"You'll end up experiencing things that will teach you how to be successful in life, not just in sport.
"Then in the end, even if you don't achieve your dream, you'll not have any regrets."
A voice for change
Danny became involved in the Black Lives Matter Leeds movement in 2020, which is now under an umbrella coalition of groups fighting for equality - United for Black Lives.
Led by Leeds activist Marvina Newton, the group is now working to raise awareness of health issues affecting ethnic minorities and tackling youth violence in the city through positive diversion.
“The mental wellbeing of minorities is hugely important," Danny said.
“It’s something we’re focusing on, as well as raising awareness of sickle cell disorder which disproportionately affects black people. It can be so debilitating for those who suffer from it.”
Danny is encouraged by the high-profile sports stars who are speaking up about their experiences of racism, from Manchester City's Raheem Sterling to former Leeds United striker Kemar Roofe.
As the England football team continue to take the knee before Euro 2020 games in a stand against racism, Danny wants to use his own platform to make a difference.
He added: "Through social media, sports stars are now a lot more accessible than they were in the past.
"Athletes are looked up to and it’s important that, as leaders, we use our followings and views in the right way to make change.
"Even if it’s just to help someone stop and think about a particular topic, that’s a great thing."
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