This Is What Chicago Means


What does it feel like to be a Bull? To be coming back to Chicago, where it all started?

I’ll try my best to tell you.

It’s me and my friends saying “79th and Jeffery” — proud — like it was our own little country. It’s the South Shore — the neighborhood I came up in.

It’s 53rd and Garfield, hoopin’ Washington Park on Saturday mornings.

It’s being a tall seventh grader in Ms. Reed’s history class, reading Frederick Douglass for the first time. It’s my eyes opening up to literature and poetry and history.

At the same time, it’s old textbooks and old computer labs. It’s 50-something schools closing down in Chicago in the last few years, mostly in neighborhoods like mine. It’s too many kids’ dreams untapped.

It’s watching Spike Lee films with my parents and discovering our collection of VHS tapes about Jean Baptiste Point DuSable and W.E.B. Du Bois.

It’s 81st and Stewart, Simeon Academy — my high school. It’s teachers like Ms. McCormick and Ms. Taylor, who knew there was enough space in life for books and ball. And it’s making history with four straight high school state championships. We were all kids from the same neighborhood, and our names will always be together.

Jabari Parker

It’s putting on my first pair of Js.

The mint black IIIs — like walking on pillows.

But that wasn’t till I was a teenager. Before that it was the Eastbay catalogue. I was seven or eight years old, reading it all excited with my friends. We knew we couldn’t get half of them — we’d all rock the same plain black Nikes with the white swoosh. But that didn’t stop us from ranking all of the colors, debating all of ’em.

It’s neighbors. It’s people like Mr. Johnson, an older man next door who had served in the military who would invite me to his house to play video games with his son. And it’s Mr. Brown, who had a hoop I’d play on with his grandson. It’s people looking out for you.

It’s family. It’s my mom and dad and their sacrifices that had nothing to do with us succeeding on the court. It’s the Sonny Parker Youth Foundation and how my parents taught us that giving back is a requirement, not an option.

It’s looking up to my older brothers — both a few years older than me — who showed me you could leave home and still represent it with pride. Darryl played ball overseas, and Chris played D-I ball. So I wanted to as well.

It’s going to Juwan Howard’s basketball camps as a kid and wanting to be just like him — the ball player and the guy who keeps coming back to Chi for the kids.

It’s shoes, and how shoes weren’t just what you wore — they were part of the conversation and part of the culture. Darryl had a crazy collection of Jordans — more than 20 pair, that he got from playing overseas. He has the 2s with the Italian leather, the matte gray 9s, the true-blue 3s with the elephant print. Chris used to rock the Scottie Pippen Uptempos — remember the ones with AIR on the sides?

It’s feeling like you’re wearing the city on your feet.

It’s 23.

What he did. How he did it. And what he made us all want to be.

It’s the James Jordan Boys and Girls Club, just a few blocks from the United Center, where I got my start playing basketball. The gym looked like an exact replica of the real United Center — the Chicago Bulls logo at half court, the six championship banners hanging above us, the lights made to feel like an NBA arena. It had almost this aura that made you feel like a pro. I spent so much time playing in that gym it was like a second home.

It’s the stories about the Zen Master and Paxson’s shot and a lanky unknown lefty named Kukoc.

Jabari Parker

It’s Scottie running the break with his Uptempos flying along with him.

It’s how the whole city embraced Rodman’s hustle — and how, with his crazy hair and all his antics around town, he made it seem more normal to act different.

It’s overhearing my dad’s friends say, “Did you see the game last night?” and getting excited even if I didn’t see the game.

It’s the Bears, the Cubs, the Sox. It’s how the city always showed up to support, win or lose.

It’s music.

And it’s more than just the sound of the music. It’s the culture that comes with it.

Like how Common is a celebrity everywhere outside of our neighborhood. But here? He’s a legend in the community but at the same time just a member of it. He’s always coming back, busy going back to his old spots and connecting with old friends. It’s how he’s around.

It’s, This is street ra-dio, for unsung heroes, riding in the Regal.

And it’s, No matter what, the people gon’ see me.

It’s Chance. His sound and his soul.

It’s Coloring Book blasting outta cars in the summer. It’s, You gotta fight for your way. But that don’t take nothing away, ’cause at the end of the day, music is all we got. And it’s who Chance is as a human being — his support of public schools and the youth in Chicago. How he always knew where he came from.

Jabari Parker

It’s No I.D. … and all the producers that this place creates. It’s the desire to produce … the need to produce.

It’s seeing Kanye for the first time, back in 2006. He was this guy in a polo shirt, shutter shades and khakis, rapping for a crowd of 30 or 40 outside of a mall at the Hyde Park City Center. No commotion or anything. He was promoting a new CD, and he wanted Chicago to hear it.

It’s the feeling of fresh. Brand new. Different.

And yet somehow familiar.

It’s the feeling of growing up in the same house my dad grew up in and making it all the way to the NBA.

It’s November 4, 2008 and the crowd at Grant Park. How full we all felt. It’s being inspired.

And it’s being terrified, too. It’s being 18, already committed to play at Duke, walking to Walgreens in the dead of winter and then hitting the concrete when gunshots rang out.

It’s hearing about people like Jahnae Patterson, who was killed this summer by a stray bullet. She was 17, out with friends at a party. It’s not knowing her, but knowing lots of people just like her.

And it’s all the other names we never hear — the almost 3,000 people shot each year, a lot of them who look like me. It’s wanting to help, but also wanting to run.

It’s the feeling that you can never have too much company, and too much time with family and friends.

It’s every single friend who reached out to me during my injury rehab. And the entire section of people who would cheer for me when I’d play away games in the United Center. Parents, brothers, aunts, uncles, coaches, teachers. Too many people to even name that never missed the chance to see me come home.

It’s my new teammates and my new team. The glory days of the past and the ones coming in our future.

But it’s not any one place or thing or person. It’s everything together, you know? Like the way a dream feels real but hard to really explain at the same time. It’s the entire culture and community. It’s the people living here right now and the people who lived here in the past.

Deanne Fitzmaurice/The Players' Tribune

I guess that’s the thing … my Chicago might not be the same as your Chicago. Or maybe you don’t know Chi at all. But we all know home.

And Chicago is home. We might all come from different places, but home means something — something powerful — to each of us. We carry home with us, all the good and the bad and the in-between.

I’m back home, Chicago. But I never really left. I’m just excited to be with y’all again. There’s so much that I still want to do — so much that I want to give to the city that’s given me so much over the years. I’m lucky to have the support and the platform I have, and I plan on making the most of it.

And if the going gets hard at times, which it always does in life, I’ll know where to lean.

Because I know where I’m from.