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Charles Oakley delivers on promise to Orr basketball players

Orr Academy basketball players take a peek at the Air Jordan sneakers given to them by Michael Jordan, former NBA player Charles Oakley and Chicago businessman John Kelly. | Max Herman/For the Sun-Times

Last winter, former Bull Charles Oakley and a buddy — Chicago businessman John Kelly — promised to buy Air Jordans for the Orr boys basketball team if it won the state championship.

Orr went on to beat Mount Carmel for the 2A title in March.

On Wednesday, Oakley and Kelly paid up — with an assist from His Airness.

Former NBA player Charles Oakley and Orr Academy basketball coach Lou Adams carry a cart full of Air Jordan sneakers into school for the basketball team. | Max Herman/For the Sun-Times
Former NBA player Charles Oakley and Orr Academy basketball coach Lou Adams carry a cart full of Air Jordan sneakers into school for the basketball team. | Max Herman/For the Sun-Times

Oakley and Kelly unofficially adopted the team after reading a Sun-Times series about Orr sitting at the center of violence in the city. They’ve hung out with the boys, talked to them, watched them play and even took them to Bulls games.

“These are kids who love basketball who had never seen the Bulls play live; that’s a tragedy,” said Kelly, owner and president of All-Circo, Inc., a lobbying firm.

Kelly and Oakley planned to bring the players together at a River North high-rise in which Oakley has a condo for a pep talk before the start of the school year. Then they’d surprise them with the Air Jordans.

Oakley shared the plan with his friend Michael Jordan, who, in turn, donated the black Air Jordan 5 Premium shoes and threw in some jerseys, too.

But getting high schoolers together at 10 a.m. for a meeting on a summer day proved difficult. Only coach Lou Adams showed up. Oakley smiled and shook his head. It doesn’t matter what neighborhood they’re from, he said, “They’re still teenagers.”

Undaunted, the men loaded up their car and drove to the school at 730 N. Pulaski. Adams had issued a stern warning for the players to show up ASAP.

They beamed when they saw Oakley — and the shoes.

Chicago businessman John Kelly meets with members of the Orr Academy basketball team. | Max Herman/For the Sun-Times
Chicago businessman John Kelly meets with members of the Orr Academy basketball team. | Max Herman/For the Sun-Times

Oakley feels a kinship with the students, having grown up in a struggling neighborhood in Cleveland. He’s also familiar with the crime-ridden neighborhood that Orr calls home. A favorite barbershop is Ellis Price Barber Shop on Madison Street, not far from the school.

“I know what they’re going through,” Oakley said of the teens who’ve seen violence firsthand.

Adams praised Kelly, Oakley and Jordan for their generosity. After the Sun-Times stories ran, he said, “A lot of people said, ‘What can we do? What can we do?’ But these guys said they’d do it, and they did. It means a lot.”

Follow me on Twitter @ShiaKapos.

THE FIVE-PART SERIES BY RICK TELANDER:

Day 1, Violence really never ends around Orr High School

Day 2, Orr sits in the center of the storm

Day 3, First there’s gunfire, then there’s tipoff

Day 4, Amid violence, a hope basketball leads to better things

Day 5, Where playgrounds have little to do with play