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“Through basketball and just sports, we believe that if the people really get to know each other, particularly young people, they’ll have a hard time killing each other,” Thomas said. “Sports play has been taken out of the community, in terms of the park district, and what we want to do is just open up the park districts again and make them available.”

The 10 sites were selected based on high crime levels, low median income and the facility itself. The park district is hoping each location will field at least eight teams of 10 for each of four sessions during the year.

U.S. cities have used sports to help fight gang violence for years. But there is still something hopeful about this program that potentially could take thousands of kids off the streets and put them in a gym for a couple nights each weekend.

“It doesn’t so much curb youth violence as it gives good kids a place to go,” Emanuel said.


You play the ball to the wall in the tiny gym at Kennicott Park, so pay no attention to the lines on the floor. It seems as if the white ceiling with intermittent light panels just clears the baskets on each side, so be careful on long shots. And it’s going to be another week until the jerseys arrive, so take a good long look at your teammates so you know where to throw the ball.

There is a faded NBA sign in the corner and a painted Bulls logo in the middle of the court, a quiet reminder of all the great players who learned how to play in these same poor neighborhoods.

Things pick up when Javon Reynolds and Xavier Robinson hit the court.

First, Robinson, 17, sweeps in and dunks a missed 3-pointer, drawing wide grins and chuckles from the players lining one side of the court. Then the 18-year-old Reynolds, wearing a black T-shirt that reads “IT’S GOOD TO BE THE KING,” thunders down the middle on the other end and throws down a ferocious right-handed jam, sending the boys on the side into even more of a tizzy.

They use a running clock for the Windy City games, so the duel between Robinson and Reynolds ends almost as quickly as it started. But the friends and former King teammates are grateful for the few plays to add to their collection.

“It’s an honor, just to get us black kids off the street, you know, stop killing each other, and just a way to just hang out, play,” Reynolds said.


This is how it’s always been on the courts of Chicago: The kids watch, then they grow and become stronger. They take their lumps for a while, then start running the games themselves.

Some turn into household names.

Hall of Famers like George Mikan and Thomas. Maurice Cheeks. Mark Aguirre. Tim Hardaway. Today (Dwyane Wade, Derrick Rose and Anthony Davis) and tomorrow (Jabari Parker and Jahlil Okafor).

Story Continues →