Basketball courts

Ballin’ on the South Side: Streetball on Chicago’s legendary blacktop basketball courts

CHICAGO (WLS) — Chicago’s blacktops may not be drawing the crowds they did in the ’90s, and the Bulls may be the worst team in the NBA, but on the city’s legendary outdoor courts , you can always find a great game of streetball.

“The toughest players in the world are in Chicago. We put our soul into basketball,” said Dre, who grew up playing at Nat King Cole Park in the Chatham neighborhood.

All over the city, and especially on the courts of Chicago’s South Side, ballers are emerging with the summer sun to play pickup games as the neighborhood comes out to watch.

The Blacktop. The Cages. Hayes Park. Many of the same courts that made NBA legends like Dwyane Wade and Derrick Rose are still the best places to find a great game today.

The lakeside courts attract the most players during the summer weekends. At Rainbow Beach or Hayes, just off 63rd Street Beach, you might even catch two players squashing a beef in a one-on-one game.

“It’s like our haven. We come here to get away from all the trash that’s in the neighborhoods,” Keith Whittmon said. “There are no shootings, no gang-banging.”

Every generation flocks to Hayes, from high school kids training in the offseason to old school ballerinas like Ethel White – who in 1978 played for the New York Stars, one of the first women’s professional basketball teams -ball.

Patrick Tramble, who grew up playing ball in Washington Park, said basketball was central to the city’s identity.

“Basketball and Chicago are linked. You can’t separate them. Not just because of the game itself, but because of the lessons you learn from basketball,” Tramble said. “You learn to play your role, to be an actor, like in life.”

Back when Tramble was growing up, he says the game was different. Washington Park Courts, known simply as “The Blacktop”, once drew crowds in the hundreds. Violence escalated in Washington Park, and the Blacktop remained virtually empty all summer.

At Cole Park in Chatham, where current NBA players Jabari Parker and Jahlil Okafor once played, the courts are also often nearly empty.

“It’s quite different now. Tournaments were packed years ago, 10, 15 years ago,” said Cole Park regular Dre.

Many say the violence is the reason for the dwindling crowds. Some blame video games for keeping kids indoors. Others say it’s the city’s fault for the poor maintenance of some parks.

But none of that is stopping Chicagoans living for the game. Take a weekend trip to the lakeside courts, and you’ll always find great balls.

“The only downside to this town would be taxes. But there’s one thing you can do that isn’t taxable, and that’s basketball. Nobody can take that away from you. Nobody,” Tramble said. .

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