Fullerton: Heaven is a Playground for Chicago Basketball Players

Fullerton Stop IconBy Calvin Williamson and Julian Zeng
The Red Line Project
Posted: Sunday, June 5, 2011

The Chicago playground. Where NBA superstars like Dwyane Wade and Derrick Rose first developed their games. Where some still chase the dream of basketball fame and recognition. But you don’t have to be a rising star to join a pick-up game on a court in the Windy City.

“Some people can’t play it, but they play hard though, all they gotta do is watch,” said Darnell Triplett, shortly after a 4-on-4 game on the court at Lincoln Park. “You watch and you learn.”

There is no shortage of courts in Chicago, and many people like Triplett travel from place to place in search of a game. Others, like Jarvis Flounoi, have one court they call their own.

“There’s other courts we can go to but we choose this one,” Flounoi said. “The beach is right there … it’s a good place, man.”

Darnell Triplett puts up a shot at Lincoln Park's playground courts

Darnell Triplett puts up a shot at Lincoln Park's playground courts. (Photo by Julian Zeng)

Some prefer to play by themselves, like Gino Salva, who was listening to his iPod while shooting alone at Wrightwood Park, and had to stray from his home court to find an empty court.

“I live on Campbell, we got [a court] over there…but since it was so full I came over here,” Salva said.

Some courts are maintained better than others, however, and that can make finding a usable court tricky at times. Oz Park, for example, has four hoops, but none of them have a rim. According to Salva, who was shooting on one of the two hoops with a net on the rim out of Wrightwood Park’s eight total hoops, that is not an uncommon situation.

“They take the rims down on a lotta the schools, the grade schools, and you can’t play, so you gotta go around and find the ones that got ‘em,” he said.

Whether it’s alone or with friends, there are as many reasons that people play pick-up basketball as there are courts. Salva, 52, uses basketball as a way to exercise.

“This old guy’s gotta keep in shape,” he said.

Triplett listed multiple reasons why he likes to play. “[It] keeps you occupied, makes you do things, you know. Gets things off your mind, releases stress,” he said.

For others, like Roberto Guzman, it’s all about the environment. He cites “the lakefront view” at Lincoln Park as an important factor when he wants to play basketball, and he isn’t the only one. Triplett and his friends walked across the park to the beach when they finished playing.

Moses Santana uses playground basketball as a vehicle to educate the youth in the community. Santana, a graduate from Robert Morris University in Chicago who is currently pursuing his master’s degree, hails from Puerto Rico and played Junior Varsity and Varsity basketball as an undergraduate. Now he tries to help kids achieve their dreams by teaching the game and advising them to stay in school.

“I never know if I’m going to go pro or not but education is the one plus thing today in the economy,” he said. “I just come out and have fun and teach a couple fundamentals to the kids out here at the playground, motivate them to stay in school.”

Game of pick up basketball at Lincoln Park (Photo by Julian Zeng)

Basketball can also be used as a tool to stay healthy and out of trouble. Santana plays not only to motivate those around him, but himself as well. His dream is to represent his home by playing on Puerto Rico’s national team.

“Many have dreams but you gotta be motivated to keep them.  Stay away from violence, drugs and you know, just get motivated in what you do. I’m motivated to stay in school and play for my national team,” he said.

The rapid growth of social media has had a noticeable effect on pick-up basketball. Elias Martinez, a student at the University of Illinois in Champaign, uses Facebook to recruit players, especially during the school year.

Websites dedicated solely to helping players find a game have sprung up as well. Courts of the World, for example, maps out the locations of public courts around the world. Members of the site can add new courts, rate the courts they have used, and even upload videos of game action on that court’s page.

Courts of the World is also active in other forms of social media. Over 1,000 people “Like” their Facebook page, and members include people from across the globe, including Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, and Lithuania. The iPhone App Store even carries a Courts of the World mobile app.

But no matter how players find a game or where they play, whether they are a casual player or a rising superstar, they all have one thing in common. They play for the love of the game.

As Salva said, “It’s a good sport.”

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