Do you love hoops?
Do you love the culture of basketball, the beauty of the game, the freedom that comes with playing pick-up ball on sweet outdoor courts?
Then Chicago is your city.
In fact, unless some other place (New York, you’ve been asleep since Herman “The Helicopter” flew out of Harlem) claims the title, Chicago should declare itself “Basketball City, USA.”
Because by the middle of next summer, the Chicago Park District will have rebuilt, refurbished, repainted and repolished 100 basketball courts on playgrounds from Rogers Park to Jackson Park, from Hyde Park to Humboldt Park.
“This is the single largest basketball court renovation the Chicago Park District has ever seen,” said park district communications and marketing director Jessica Maxey-Faulkner. “We estimate each court will cost $25,000 for a total of $2.5 million.”
This will pay for “resurfacing of basketball courts, seal coating and striping, drainage improvements, new backboards and supports,” Maxey-Faulkner said. If you have seen the new Murray Park in Englewood, Derrick Rose’s old playground, then you know a rehab will turn pothole-dotted, uneven slabs of pavement with rusted poles at each end into mini-hoop heavens.
Yes, the city is nearly broke, but there are capital funds, believe it or not, in the park district coffers that will pay for this. And park district employees will do the actual grunt work.
Oh, it’s a splendid moment for Chicago hoops. And it comes about because Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who recently gave us our libraries back, loves basketball and believes functioning outdoor courts should be part of the gift of living in this city and part of the educational mission.
After all, safe, clean, public sporting venues lead to a more civilized urban environment.
To make it all happen, Emanuel tapped former Bull and current sports agent B.J. Armstrong to be a vice chairman in the park district with the specific task of seeing this beautification to its completion.
“The mayor asked me to help refurbish the basketball courts, and I am honored to do it for several reasons,” said Armstrong, who won three NBA championships while playing beside Michael Jordan in the early 1990s. “One, basketball is just a great experience. Two, because playing in an environment that is safe is a true gift. Growing up, that’s what you did. You went to the park, and you played basketball. I just thought it was an excellent way to give back to the community.”
Armstrong, who was raised in Detroit and starred at the University of Iowa before the Bulls drafted him in the first round in 1989, said that Chicago is now, truly, his home.
“I love this city,” he said. “I feel I should be a responsible citizen. Anything I can do to help the community, I will. I feel a great responsibility to see this project through. You know how people have great ideas and nothing comes of them? Not this. This is from the heart.”
Of course, it can’t go unnoticed that Armstrong is the agent for a fellow named Rose, who happens to be a pretty big advocate for safe basketball courts. But Armstrong hasn’t talked to Rose, or any of the players he represents, about this.
But might the Bulls’ star point guard get involved?
“I’m not sure,” Armstrong said. “It’s not about them.”
Nope, it’s about Basketball City, USA.
People who worry about the violence and gang crimes that sometimes occur on courts shouldn’t be against this project.
“The bigger picture is education,” Armstrong said. “Civility and learning. If fights occur on a hoops court, well, they might have occurred in far worse form somewhere else.”
To those who say city basketball courts should be dismantled rather than improved, Maxey-Faulkner said, “We believe basketball, like other sports, provides a constructive outlet and promotes physical activity.”
Armstrong said outdoor hoops is a joy. For him, it transcends even his NBA titles.
“You’re playing outside with all the things that matter,” he said. “I miss it so much. There’s just something about it.”
The project title, by the way, is “Slam Dunk.”
And it’s on.