Since the NBA announced All-Star Weekend would be making its return to Chicago for the first time in over 30 years, the city has been getting ready. All of the pageantries of basketball’s biggest weekend will be present like other host cities. Brands like Nike are ready to place their stamp on the city, clubs are preparing their sections and bottles for those who will brave the cold of late nights and early mornings, and fans are ready to take in all the sporting events.
For those who know Chicago as home, the arrival of this event is more significant. It’s the stage to show the city isn’t just hot dogs, deep-dish pizza, Michael Jordan’s statue, and The Bean. Nor is it the negative headlines that flood national media, while the good stories remain local knowledge. There is a pride in the communities of the South and West sides with stories that deserve to be told. To assist in uncovering those narratives and give back, Anthony Davis and Nike are reaching beyond the glitz of the Magnificent Mile to continue their efforts in impacting underrepresented communities.
In the past year, Davis has used his downtime to return home and touch the youth. Every summer, The Brow and Nike host the Rise camp for the rising basketball stars in the city. This past summer, AD surprised the campers playing at Kenwood Academy by running the drills himself.
While the Los Angeles Lakers were in town for a November matchup with the Chicago Bulls, Davis took time the night before to surprise his own Chicago-based AAU team and players from the high school he attended, Prospectives Charter School. The event, held at a Chicago-Style Nike branded diner, allowed for Davis to speak with the young players and provide advice. The conversation was followed by brisk open runs outside, because nothing is too cold in Chicago.
Matching AD’s dedication to Chicago, Nike has provided a $5 million contribution to support the Program, Athletic and Activity Center at the Obama Presidential Center. During All-Star Weekend Nike and Chicago-area native, Virgil Abloh will unveil a new basketball court at the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boys and Girls Club on the Westside. In addition, the locker room and game room areas will be refurbished. For their impact to continue beyond All-Star weekend the club will be the host site for Nike All-Star Academy, which will allow members to learn through and beyond the game with on-the-court- skill-building and hands-on learning in the topics of sport design, sport science, journalism and coaching.
Before taking the floor at the United Center, Anthony Davis talked The Source about the importance of giving back to his hometown and what it means to wear an All-Star jersey in Chicago.
The Source: You will start on Sunday in the first All-Star game in Chicago in 32 years. What does it mean for you to put on that jersey and walk into the UC as a native?
Anthony Davis: It means a lot. Any opportunity to play in the United Center again, play in Chicago in front of friends, family and then my fans there is special. I’m used to only getting a chance to go there and play once a year, once a season. I had so many games there before in high school. You always imagined yourself playing there as a kid. Every kid wants to play in their hometown arena. So to be able to get to come there again and kind of be the face, the all-star, it’s going to mean a lot to me and I’m excited about it.
The game is coming at the same time that you are reestablishing yourself in the community. I was at the event with your AAU team at the hot dog stand and also at Kenwood for the day camp. What has the feeling been for you stepping back into these spaces and seeing the smiles it brings?
That’s what it’s about: seeing the smiles and giving back. Things like this court. I’m putting a computer lab learning center at my high school. I want to be remembered past all-star. There is a place where people can go six, seven, eight months, years from now. Getting help from Nike as well has been great. It’s been something that I always wanted to do, something I’ve been doing for a long time. This was instilled in me from my parents. I’m excited to go back in and see the smile on the kids’ faces, adults as well.
I know you have a want to continue this initiative going forward. How important has it been to have a partner like Nike to believe in your vision?
Oh man, it’s amazing. Great brand partner. These guys have been nothing but amazing to me and a great help. Having a brand partner who is family-based and a family guy like myself, it works hand in hand, it goes together. So I’m excited about All-Star weekend and things that we’re going to be able to do in the community.
Do you feel like you had an outlet to be able to receive this type of mentorship and programs when you were growing up n the city?
You know, the computer lab learning center, I had it in high school and I went to go visit last year and they took it away. It was gone. I remember that’s where I did my college apps. A lot of students don’t have computers in their houses or printers where they can do that.
As far as the court, I didn’t have a court at my high school. Even now in Chicago, it used to be you go to the park and we just hoop it and it was nothing but play basketball. Now, the rims are missing from the goals and there are little cracks and holes in the floor. I think Chicago is the Mecca of basketball, so let’s be able to make these courts sustainable for years to come. So these kids or whoever wants to come don’t have to worry about anything but playing basketball and having a great time.
You are contributing to the new basketball court/facilities called Nike All-Star Academy, which does programming. It’s located on the West Side, you have roots on the Southside. When we grow up we largely stay to one side. How does it feel to have that impact citywide?
I’m still learning parts of the Westside. Like you say Southside stays on the southside and out west stay on the Westside. It’s just how it is. But now that I have the ability to make things better from a position that I’m in, why not use it? I want to make sure that I target as much as I can. I can’t be there all the time because of the season, but I said let’s go to the Westside and show that a guy from the Southside can come over here and show I want to help everyone out.
What do you think will make All-Star in Chicago different than other hosting cities, other than the crazy cold?
Yeah, it’s going to be super cold. Chicago is a unique city. Obviously we get a bad rap for all the stuff that goes, the violence and everything like that. But I think it gives an opportunity for people to actually come to Chicago to see something different. I have a friend that has never been. I have so many events in Chicago and he wants to come all the time, but he’s like, I’m scared. And so now I think it gives the opportunity for people like himself to come to Chicago and realize like, look, it’s good. This is what Chicago is about and it’s so much great stuff, great parts of Chicago, great things to see great sites and great food. It’s good for people to actually come here and be able to see this. That’s why I’m glad it’s here because now it can kind of change that perception of the city of Chicago.
Chicago hoopers have a different build to them. You see it in you, people love to show the grit in Pat Bev, the championship pedigree of Wade. Is there anything you want to tell the next generation of Chicago ballplayers?
My dad would always say no matter where you are, they’ll find you. I went to a small high school and he always tells me, no matter where you are, they will find you. Chicago, you grow here. I grew there literally, like physically 6’3” to 6’10”. But it’s just not physical. You have a different mentality coming from Chicago, and with that don’t allow anyone to hold back your dreams.
I was starting to think I was too short or I wasn’t good enough and I had a father who told me basically, you’re going to be fine. Just keep doing what you’re doing, keep going, keep working hard and now I’m here. So, just because things aren’t going to where you want it to be, don’t let that stop you from doing what you need to do to accomplish your dreams. It’s funny cause I see this picture on Instagram all the time where two dudes digging in a diamond mine, like digging in. One is right there, I’m pretty sure you’ve seen that one before, and he’d give up. He’s that close. So don’t give up on your dreams, whether it’s basketball, football, lawyer, doctor, whatever it is. Chicago is a big enough city where anybody and everybody can help you.