Basketball was invented in Massachusetts and perfected on the streets of New York, but the city of Chicago boasts a proud, rich history on the court as well. Not many other cities can claim as impressive a roster of basketball stars as Chicago can. Let’s look at all the men and women who have given Chicago its hardwood reputation over the last seventy years.
George Mikan is a giant in more ways than one. Not only was he the original basketball big man, but his influence on the game of basketball extended to the rulebook and to the makeup of the NBA itself.
After attending Joliet Catholic and DePaul University, Mikan played for the Chicago American Gears and the Minnesota Lakers of the NBL. As the NBL became the NBA, George was an early star of the league we know today. He won seven titles overall in his professional career.
Mikan’s lasting impact is more seen more thoroughly in the NBA rulebook than the NBA record books. The wider lane, the shot clock, and defensive goaltending are all in place specifically because of George Mikan’s dominance during his era. He started the big man revolution, showing that larger players could still maneuver well enough to play the game.
No matter who you talk to and what list you read, George Mikan’s name will appear in the conversation as one of the best of all time.
Michael William Krzyzewski is better known by a much less difficult name to pronounce: Coach K. His impact on the sport of basketball in America is unmatched at any level.
Before he was known as Coach K, Krzyzewski was a renowned player on the court in his own right. After starring at Archbishop Weber High School, he elected to play for a young Bobby Knight at The United States Military Academy at West Point from 1966-1969.
Following his college career, he served in the US Army from 1969 to 1974, directing armed forces sports teams. Following his service, he joined Knight at Indiana University as a member of his staff. In 1975, he accepted the head coaching position at his alma mater, West Point, and stayed until 1980.
In 1980, Coach K began a tenure that would redefine collegiate excellence. As the coach of Duke University’s men’s basketball team from 1980 until today, he has enjoyed more success than any coach in college basketball history. He is the winningest coach in college basketball history and the only coach who has ever crossed the 1,000 win threshold.
He has won five NCAA championships, second of all time to John Wooden (10). His teams have appeared in the Final Four 12 times, won 12 regular season ACC titles and won 14 ACC Tournament titles.
Amazingly, he has found time amid his Duke coaching duties to lead the resurgence of the US Men’s National Basketball team. After Coach K’s introduction to the post in 2005, the US has won three gold medals in the Olympics and two more gold medals at the FIBA World Cup.
His position as an assistant on the coaching staff of the 1992 Olympic “Dream Team” has earned him the distinction of being a two-time inductee into the Basketball Hall of Fame. In addition to his induction with the “Dream Team,” he has also been honored for his own coaching career.
Red Auerbach and John Wooden might be more revered as basketball coaching legends, but Coach K has surpassed them all and shows no signs of slowing down.
Arguably the best basketball player Chi-town has ever produced, Kevin Garnett has amassed a list of accomplishments that places him among the best basketball players in the history of the game
After earning the Mr. Illinois Basketball title and a spot on the McDonald’s All-American team in 1995 while starring at Farragut Career Academy, Garnett declared for the NBA Draft straight out of high school. When the Minnesota Timberwolves drafted him fifth overall, he became the first player since 1975 to be selected straight out of high school. Garnett blazed the trail for other all-time greats like LeBron James and Kobe Bryant.
Garnett established a reputation as a ferocious competitor and a tremendous leader. He was named MVP in 2004 and won a championship with the Boston Celtics in 2008. He finished his career as a 15-time All-Star. He is still the NBA’s all-time leader in defensive rebounds and holds the following ranks:
- 3rd all-time in minutes played
- 5th all-time in games played
- 9th in rebounds
- 17th in points
Garnett’s career and legacy will stand among the giants in this league for a long time.
Thomas, the St. Joseph High School product, starred at Indiana University for Bob Knight, winning the 1981 NCAA Championship. Later that year, he was drafted No. 2 overall by the Detroit Pistons.
Along with Mark Aguirre, Isiah Thomas led the “Bad Boy” Detroit Pistons to two NBA titles in the late 1980s. Thomas earned his reputation as a top-five point guard in the history of the league with his quickness, court vision and distribution skills. Michael Jordan may be the best who ever played, but it was Isiah Thomas who provided the competition he craved so much. Thomas made Jordan better, and Jordan certainly made Thomas better.
A generational talent, Dwyane Wade has won multiple NBA titles and established himself as the best shooting “2” guard in the league over the course of his career. Originally from Harold L. Richards High School, Wade played for Marquette University before earning a No. 5 overall selection in the 2003 NBA Draft.
Wade has won three NBA titles with the Miami Heat, along with an MVP award. As a member of the “Big Three” alongside LeBron James and Chris Bosh, Wade and the Heat made it to four consecutive NBA Finals, winning two.
In 2016, he signed a deal to play for his hometown, the Chicago Bulls, but, long before he returned to Chi-town professionally, he was active in the community as a busy philanthropist and activist and passionate role model for the youth of Chicago.
A native of Napierville, Illinois, Candace Parker won two state championships, in 2003 and 2004. She is still the only two-time winner of the USA Today High School Player of the Year, was named Naismith Prep Player of the Year and to top it off, she was awarded the Gatorade Female Basketball Player of the Year in both of those years (2003 & 2004). If that sounds impressive, it’s nothing compared to her three-year Ms. Illinois Basketball reign, from 2002-04.
In 2004, she won the McDonald’s All-American Dunk Contest, over the likes of NBA Stars Josh Smith and J.R. Smith. That’s right — there was no separate women’s competition. She beat the boys, the first female to do so.
Her success continued in college, where she won two national championships under the legendary Pat Summit at the University of Tennessee. Each time she was named the Most Outstanding Player of the NCAA Tournament, one of only four players to ever do it.
Following her college career, she was selected No. 1 overall by the LA Sparks in 2008, and her 34-point debut still stands as the WNBA record. She has been named WNBA MVP twice, and she led the Sparks to the 2016 WNBA title, earning the Finals MVP award in the process.
Not content to dominate the WNBA, Parker competed in professional leagues across the globe, playing in China and Turkey, winning five league championships in Russia. Add two Olympic gold medals and one FIBA gold medal to her list of international accomplishments, too.
After starring at John Marshall Metropolitan High School in Chicago, Pondexter attended Rutgers University. After her successful career in New Jersey, the Phoenix Mercury used the No. 2 overall pick in the 2006 WNBA Draft to bring her to town. Their faith was rewarded twice in the first four years after Pondexter led the Mercury to WNBA championships in 2007 and 2009.
She has also enjoyed success abroad, winning titles in both Turkey and Russia. She is an Olympic gold medalist with Team USA and is currently starring for her hometown Chicago Sky.
Yolanda Griffith was a two-sport star at George Washington Carver High School, having been named a Parade All-American in both basketball and softball. She graduated college before the WNBA was founded, so she spent the beginning of her career playing overseas.
In 1999, the Sacramento Monarchs selected her with the No. 2 overall pick. She played with the Monarchs until 2007 and spent a year each with the Seattle Storm and the Indiana Fever. An Achilles injury cut her career short in 2009, but she was still elected to the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in her first year of eligibility.
In addition to her professional success, Griffith can claim Olympian status, having taken gold medals with Team USA in 2000 and 2004.
Another Illinois Ms. Basketball winner, Tamika Catchings was the youngest winner at the time. A star for Adlai E. Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire, Catchings chose to play for Coach Summit at the University of Tennessee.
While at Tennessee, she became the only recorded basketball player in the history of the sport at any level to record a quintuple-double — double-digit totals in all five counting stats: points, rebounds, assists, steals, and blocks. She was a freshman star on the third of three straight UT women’s teams to win the NCAA Championship between 1996 and 1998.
In 2001, the Indiana Fever selected her with the No. 3 overall pick. Catchings spent her entire 15-year WNBA career with Indiana, and, by the end, she won every award in the league and still stands near the top of every career statistical category in the book.
As with the other female basketball players on this list, she has enjoyed a successful international career in European leagues and for the US National Team. She is a four-time gold medalist with the US Olympic team, with three more medals at the FIBA Women’s World Basketball Cup.
Glenn “Doc” Rivers has enjoyed success at the professional level as both a player and a coach. From his early days at Proviso East High School through Marquette University and onto the NBA, he has dedicated his life to the sport of basketball.
A second-round pick for the Atlanta Hawks, Doc teamed up with Dominique Wilkins for a reasonably successful run in the 1980s, but his playing career coincided with some of the best to ever play the game, so it didn’t translate to titles for Doc during his 14-year playing career.
Doc the coach, however, has been quite successful since he began coaching the Orlando Magic in 1999. He won Coach of the Year in 2000 with Orlando. By 2004, he had moved on to the Boston, where he guided Kevin Garnett and the Celtics to their first NBA Championship since the 1980s.
In 2013, Rivers was the centerpiece of a rare coach trade when the LA Clippers sent a draft pick to Celtics for Coach Rivers. In 2014, he was promoted to President of Basketball Operations, and, in 2015, he became the first coach in NBA history to coach his own son when Austin Rivers joined the Clippers in a mid-season trade. Doc Rivers is still the coach of the perennial playoff contender Clippers.
Derrick Rose is an elite athlete at the point guard position and has enjoyed success at all three levels to this point in his career. Starting off as a star with Simeon Career Academy, Rose won two State Championships, a Mr. Illinois Basketball award and a McDonald’s All-American nod.
In his year at Memphis University with Coach John Calipari, he led the Tigers to a top ranking for the first time in over 25 years. The team went on to win an NCAA-record 38 games that year, though they fell short of the title.
In the 2008 NBA Draft, his hometown Chicago Bulls selected him with the No. 1 overall pick.
He took the league by storm, earning Rookie of the Year honors and establishing himself as the best young point guard in the league. In 2011, he became the youngest MVP in the history of the league. Unfortunately, his career has been affected by injuries over the last few years, but he is far from finished.
Dan Issel was a star during a turbulent time in American professional basketball, but his accomplishments compare favorably with anyone from his era. After attending Batavia High School, he played under the legendary Adolph Rupp at the University of Kentucky. He is still the school’s all-time leading scorer.
After college, he signed with the Kentucky Colonels of the ABA and won the 1976 ABA Championship. He was the leading scorer for the Denver Nuggets at the time of the NBA-ABA merger in 1976 and is the second all-time leading scorer for the Nuggets. He finished his career fourth on the combined ABA/NBA career scoring list and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1993.
Mark Aguirre might have trouble standing out on this list, which speaks to the quality of his competition here. After Westinghouse High School and DePaul University, Aguirre was the No. 1 overall pick in the 1981 NBA Draft for the Dallas Mavericks. He won two NBA titles alongside Isiah Thomas as an integral piece of the Detroit Pistons.
Tim Hardaway was a member of the infamous “Run TMC” trio with the Golden State Warriors in the 1980s and early 1990s. His run with the Miami Heat established him as an all-time great shooter and passer. He became the second-fastest player ever to 5000 points and 2500 points, after Oscar Robertson.
The Carver High and UTEP graduate, Hardaway can also show off his gold medal from the 2000 Olympics.
Hornacek has found tremendous success in the NBA as both a player and a coach. After his time at Lyons Township High School in La Grange and Iowa State University, the Phoenix Suns selected him with the 22nd overall pick in the 1986 NBA Draft.
He led his Phoenix Suns to the playoffs on several occasions, but he reached new heights in Utah with John Stockton and Karl Malone. Those Jazz teams reached two NBA Finals, unfortunately running into Michael Jordan’s best Chicago Bulls teams each time.
After his playing career, Hornacek became an in-demand coach, first in Phoenix and currently in New York with the Knicks.
“Mo” Cheeks attended from DuSable High School and starred at West Texas University. In 1978, the Philadelphia 76ers made Cheeks a second-round draft pick. Over the course of his career, he was an integral defensive piece on the formidable Sixers teams of the early 1980s, including the 1983 NBA Championship team.
His reputation as a defensive menace is backed up by his place atop the all-time NBA steals list at the time of his retirement. Four others have since passed him, so he still sits at fifth all-time. He subsequently enjoyed a long coaching career in the NBA and is still a member of the staff of the Oklahoma Thunder.
During the 2000s, Eddy Curry established himself as a dominant force under the basket, one of the best centers in the league. The South Holland star vaulted into his professional basketball career after being named Mr. Illinois Basketball 2001. Rather than attend DePaul University, Curry declared for the NBA Draft straight out of high school.
His hometown Chicago Bulls selected Curry with the fourth overall pick in the 2001 Draft. In just his second year in the league, he led the NBA in field goal percentage, shooting 58.5% from the floor. After a stint with the New York Knicks, Curry signed with the Miami Heat and played a part in their championship season. His career took him to China and the Zhejiang Golden Bulls for a season before retiring in 2013.
Jabari Parker was destined for NBA stardom practically from birth. The son of former NBA player Sonny Parker, Jabari was racking up Division I scholarship offers in fifth grade as a 6’0” guard. Parker attended the Simeon Career Academy in Chicago, where he was named Mr. Illinois Basketball in 2012 and 2013. His first win made him the first underclassman to win the award, and his second win made him the first repeat honoree in Illinois basketball history.
Parker was also named a McDonald’s All-American as well as the Morgan Wootten Male Player of the Year. He earned two gold medals in international competition with the FIBA USA U16 and U17 teams in 2011 and 2012. Following his high school graduation, Parker attended Duke University with Coach K.
During his one year in Raleigh Parker won the ACC Freshman of the Year award and finished second in Player of the Year voting. He also became the first freshman in Duke history to lead the team in scoring and rebounding.
Parker declared his eligibility for the 2014 NBA Draft, and the Milwaukee Bucks selected him No. 2 overall. He was a favorite to win the Rookie of the Year award in the 2014-2015 season before he was sidelined with a knee injury. The future is bright in Milwaukee, and Parker is front and center in the rebirth of Bucks basketball.
Jahlil Okafor’s career has followed a similar trajectory to Jabari Parker’s, so forgive us if it sounds like we are repeating ourselves. At Whitney Young Magnet High School, Okafor was named Mr. Illinois Basketball in 2014 and a McDonald’s All-American. He competed with cross-town rival Parker for Team USA in several FIBA tournaments, winning gold three times.
After graduation, he attended Duke University. Okafor accomplished what Parker couldn’t and led the Blue Devils to an NCAA Championship in 2015. Along the way, he was named USBWA Freshman of the Year and ACC Player of the Year.
Following the NCAA title game, he declared for the NBA Draft. He was selected No. 3 overall by the Philadelphia 76ers and earned NBA All-Rookie First Team honors in his first year in the league.
As you can see, not many cities can claim the heritage Chicago can on the hardwood. The list of stars who call the Windy City home is staggering, and the next generation is just waiting for their turn. So, to see the future generation of Chicago b-ballers, make sure you catch the next game while eating a Giordano’s pizza.