Isiah Thomas, city officials team up to keep kids off the streets

February 19, 2013

When NBA Hall of Famer Isiah Thomas was growing up on Chicago's West Side, basketball was a big part of his life. But it wasn't just the game that influenced him, he says playing helped him meet mentors, make friends outside his normal circle, and keep him safe.

"Whether it be 3-on-3 competition, 5-on-5 competition, it teaches you how to function in a group," Thomas said. "It teaches you how to get along, how to plan, how to strategize, how to set a goal and how to accomplish that goal."

Thomas said he wants to bring that experience to kids across the city, so he's teaming up with Mayor Rahm Emanuel in expanding the Windy City Hoops basketball league for at-risk youth.

Starting in March, the Friday and Saturday night tournaments will be expanded to 10 more Chicago parks. The Park District selected the neighborhoods, including Englewood, Roseland, Rogers Park and others, based on high crime levels and low median income. 

As for how the expansion will be funded, the Park District has chosen an unorthodox route: they're asking Chicagoans to donate. They're hoping to raise $480,000 over the next two months to fund an additional 3,200 registration slots for the 13-17 year old round. 

"Chicagoans are interested in helping combat these problems, and we are pleased to offer them an outlet to do so,” Emanuel said in a statement.

The 10 parks are spread across eight community areas:

·     Pottowottomie (Rogers Park)
·     Amundsen (Austin)
·     Columbus (Austin)
·     Garfield (East Garfield)
·     Franklin (North Lawndale)
·     Kennicott (Kenwood)
·     Jackson (Woodlawn)
·     Ogden (Englewood)
·     Hamilton (Englewood)
·     Fernwood (Roseland)

When asked how this will help those kids who don't play basketball, Thomas said the tournaments would provide a place for neighbors to meet new people, helping them break out of that "three to four block radius" that he said people can sometimes feel they are confined to.