Occasionally seen sitting courtside at Chicago Bulls games, Mayor Rahm Emanuel is a basketball fan.
So it stands to reason Emanuel is excited for Chicago to host the World Basketball Festival that Nike, the Jordan brand and USA Basketball is staging Aug. 13-17.
“It’s a great way to showcase our city and basketball culture,” Emanuel said by phone Monday. “It’s also a great opportunity to get 5,000 kids exposed to clinics where they’ll get a good sense of values for the right choices in life. The mentoring they’ll receive will be for life and the classroom, not just the court.”
Community events, including an opening ceremony at the 63rd Street Beach House, are planned along with the skills clinics led by USA Basketball players. Emanuel, who has worked with Pistons Hall of Famer and Chicago native Isiah Thomas on Chicago Park District programs, talked proudly of the city’s hoops heritage.
“We are a great basketball town,” Emanuel said. “We produce incredible talent. Individuals have gone big and stayed loyal to the city. Derrick Rose is classic to that. Isiah, even though he didn’t play here, has come back here to do business. Scottie Pippen . . . again, not from here but Chicago is his home and he continues to support and invest in the city.”
It’s a bond that Chicago native and USA Basketball head coach Mike Krzyzewski understands as well.
“I think the city really loves the game,” Krzyzewski said by phone. “It’s played all over all year-round with passion and love. And you play with other people who love it. It is followed passionately. High school basketball in Illinois and especially the Chicagoland area is as good as anywhere in the country. It produces so many players on the collegiate and eventual pro scene.
“People see that. If you’re a kid, you feel that. And it’s passed on. There has never been a lull in Chicago. So the event will be pretty cool.”
By August, Carmelo Anthony will have made his free-agent decision. Does Emanuel the Bulls’ fan want Anthony running alongside Rose next season?
“I’m all for what Coach (Tom Thibodeau) wants,” Emanuel said, laughing. “He doesn’t do my job. I don’t do his job.”