By Jen Whiting
La’keisha Sutton got her nickname–Fan Favorite–on the basketball court. As a basketball player, Sutton was known for including people–her teammates, the fans, even her opponents–in the spirit that rises from deep within her.
A native of Trenton, New Jersey Sutton played high school basketball for Trenton Catholic Academy and then went on to play in college at the University of South Carolina. After playing basketball professionally in Europe and South America for several years, Sutton was recruited by the Harlem Globetrotters as one of the few women ever to play on that iconic team. Her basketball nickname “Fan Favorite” followed her from the courts in America to the arenas of the world. Now, she’s back home in Trenton and is bringing her spirit to the community.
“It was an honor to be a part of the Globetrotters,” Sutton says. “Even though there will be many more women to wear that jersey, I’ll always be proud to be the first one from New Jersey.”
Sutton has returned to Trenton and now brings the lessons of the court–and her Fan Favorite spirit–to the community. Sutton joins her love for the community and her spirit on the court together in a gym that offers young basketball players a chance to see themselves as Fan Favorites and to find the strength that’s inside of them.
“During the pandemic, I got to see the need in Trenton first-hand.” Sutton describes how she pivoted during the global pandemic to offering virtual workouts but now is back at it in her gym in socially distant training sessions. “We’re focusing on meeting people where they are and creating outlets for the kids.”
Sutton, a force both on the court and off, muses a bit:
“If we can connect with the kids, we can reach the community.”
Sutton smiles as she describes the kind of basketball player she likes to see in her gym. “We want everyone to come play basketball with us. As long as your kid can go to the bathroom by themselves, they’re welcome at the Fan Favorite Club.”
|Sutton’s story goes well beyond the court. A self-described avid reader–“I was a Harry Potter kid,” she says–Sutton had finished writing her first book, From the Projects to Fan Favorite, just as the pandemic began. “My love for reading brought me to writing the book. The kids always asked me about playing professionally and I saw the need to put everything down on paper.” Sutton pauses, then explains, “I always get embarrassed when people talk about my accomplishments. In my mind, I haven’t really done much.|
|I took all of the questions the kids asked me on social media and built chapters.” Sutton smiles again. “A lot of people have told me they really needed to read this.” A beat goes by and then she continues, detailing some of the chapters, “It’s about decision making, peer pressure, how to deal with different people. But it’s really about the importance of having a dream.”|
Sutton’s dream now is of expanding her reach into the community even further, offering more chances for Trentonians to find their spirit, on and off the basketball court. “The Fan Favorite Club is something that people say they didn’t know they were missing. Kids need some place to feel like they belong. All people need that. The coolest thing for me is when these kids come into the gym and we form one big family. They’re connecting through something that’s bigger than basketball.”
Sutton knows that basketball can be a part of a person’s journey. “I’m proud to have grown up in the projects in Trenton. I talk about it in the book. And now, I’m hoping to find a place to grow this spirit in our city. Maybe the West End Recreation Center or we can renovate an abandoned building and turn it into a second Fan Favorite Club. I’d like to thank Simone Bryant and Romone Dunnagan for helping me build this idea since 2013. They believed in my vision, believed in the need to serve to community, both kids and adults. Parents need help, too. Trenton is a beautiful place. We’re surviving a pandemic thanks to local supporters and believers. There are a million things we can do together. What I know is that if we can connect with each other,
everything will be OK.”