Keifer Sykes has been extra motivated during The Basketball Tournament.
As a Chicago native and Marshall graduate, he relished the opportunity to win the $2 million championship game Tuesday at Wintrust Arena. Unfortunately for Sykes, his Loyalty for Love team fell 86-73 to Overseas Elite in the quarterfinals Friday.
But the game provided him with a rare opportunity to play in front of his family since going undrafted out of Green Bay in 2015.
“Being overseas all this time, we don’t really get a chance to not just play in front of our family, but play in Chicago in front of our family,” Sykes said. “That was a motivator, that the championship run was here in the city.”
But Sykes was motivated by more than playing in Chicago. Or what his share of the $2 million prize would have done for his family.
Sykes said a portion of his potential winnings would have gone to his Free 10 Foundation. He also said he would have donated a portion to his church in Chicago, Free Salvation MB (7549 S. Phillips Ave.).
One of the foundation’s goals is to help children who lose their parents or guardians to gun violence and mass incarceration.
“When people get killed in Chicago, a lot of people don’t realize that these people have kids,” Sykes said. “Even though one person died, this person might’ve had three or four kids, and now that just makes life harder for that kid when they don’t have resources to get from their dad they just lost.
“My best friend is in prison, and he has a daughter. We do a lot of things to help his daughter because as a single mom, raising a kid in poverty isn’t easy.”
The foundation’s mission is to provide hope by “resurrecting, re-educating, and retraining current and future generations to embrace their purpose with humility through a deeper knowledge of God.”
Sykes said he was inspired to create the foundation because a lot of his friends from high school got hurt or lost their lives to gun violence.
He understands the pain caused by losing a parent.
Sykes’ father died of a heart attack when he was heading into his sophomore year at Green Bay. Although his father’s death motivated him to create the kind of opportunities for his family that his dad created for him, he remembers how it set his family back.
“That traumatized us,” Sykes said. “Without him being here to provide and support our family like he did. That’s why with my foundation, I want to fill that void.”
Free 10 helps fill the void by hosting year-round donation events. The foundation teamed up with Sykes’ church at the end of 2018 to host a bowling party and toy drive for the Christmas season.
Sykes’ foundation also regularly hosts basketball camps in Chicago. He has teamed up with Golden State Warriors forward Alfonzo McKinnie, whom he calls his “blood brother,” with basketball camps in the past.
The two attended Marshall and Green Bay together and remain close. Sykes joined Loyalty Is Love at McKinnie’s recommendation.
Sykes said DeMarcus Cousins, four-time NBA All-Star and McKinnie’s former teammate, asked McKinnie if he knew any good overseas players to help put the Loyalty Is Love team together.
Sykes jumped at the opportunity when he realized the tournament would be played in Chicago.
He had hoped that The Basketball Tournament’s prize money would benefit the youth in the city.
“I’m excited to win because there are other players in this tournament from Chicago, but if they win, they’re leaving Chicago,” Sykes said. “They’re getting on flights and taking that money wherever they’re going. I’m here. The money is staying in Chicago.”
Sykes wants his camps and foundation to be an inspiration to the youth. He said it’s important for him to show his face so they understand he has been in their shoes.
Sykes hopes he motivates them to give back to their communities.
“We’re blessed to have an abundance of resources to give back and help those in need,” Sykes said.