Last week began as a somber one in the Chicago basketball world, as news of Jonathan Mills’ passing made its way across the city. Mills was a Chicago pro-am favorite, former star and state champion at North Landwale College Prep, and a beast on the boards no matter what city he was in.
Mills was gunned down in broad daylight on a Monday afternoon. Yet another entry in the Chicago gun violence narrative.
The week finished on a much different extreme with Dwyane Wade officially becoming a Chicago Bull, Team USA coming to the United Center for an exhibition game against Venezuela, and Nike’s Chi League Classic. If any city appreciates basketball in all forms, it’s definitely Chicago.
“It’s an amazing sports town that loves its athletes and its coaches,” USA head coach Mike Kryzewski—a Chicago native—said after a 80-45 victory on Friday evening. During pre-game introductions, former Bulls head coach and assistant coach Tom Thibodeau was met with a resounding round of applause from the fans.
“They should love Tom,” Coach K said. “He brought great basketball here when it was not going well. He’s the best as far as preparation and being a team player, and the fans appreciate it. I love the fact that my town acknowledged that he’s a guy who gave his heart and soul. That’s a great thing.”
That spirit was on display Saturday and Sunday at nearby Whitney Young High School for the Nike Chi-League Classic. What had been a popular summer-long pro-am tournament titled “Chi League,” was changed this year to a one-weekend showcase. But the turnout was no less. Same teams, same players, same atmosphere, all packed into two days instead of 20.
The Classic featured runs by current Milwaukee Buck Jabari Parker (whose team ultimately fell short) and other hometown favorites such as Will Bynum, Cliff Alexander, Jeremy Pargo, Jimmy Gavin, Osiris Eldridge and Keifer Sykes. Also in uniform were current college players like Billy Garrett (who won MVP) and out-of-town studs like Tyshawn Taylor. In the end, the Mac Irvin Fire won the title for the first time.
Nike and Jordan both made the most of the attention by showcasing several new basketball products including the LeBron Soldier 10 (no laces but fits like a glove), the Hyperdunk 2016 and the Jordan XXXI which doesn’t officially retail until September.
Mills’ death reminded all that we can’t take anything for granted, and to play and be around this game is even more of a privilege. With the gym as its sanctuary, Chicago was reminded of that fact this week.
Photos courtesy of Nike