NBA great Muggsy Bogues schooling CPS youth at Jr. NBA Day | Photos by Carolina Sanchez [The TRiiBE]

NBA All-Star Weekend is most synonymous with marquee events like the Slam-Dunk Contest and star-studded Sunday night game, and the throngs of celebrities who come into town to sit courtside in their best ‘fits. 

Outside of the entertainment and parties, though, the NBA made a goal to connect with the next generation of basketball players in Chicago, a city considered a basketball mecca. Through events such as Jr. NBA Day, the Gatorade Jr. NBA All-Star Invitational, the Jr. NBA Skills Challenge, 3-on-3 Tournament and Respect for the Game forums, Chicago youth were given the opportunity to meet, play against and learn from some of the best athletes in the world. 

At Jr. NBA Day on Friday, Feb. 14, one of the many league events that took place at Navy Pier during All-Star Weekend 2020, more than 1,000 Chicago Public School students from around Chicago were dropped off for a day centered around developing their skills on and off the court. Once checked-in, each youth was put into groups and taken to stations where a different skill was taught by a trainer who also was accompanied by either an NBA player, WNBA player or NBA legend. 

Rudy Gobert, an NBA All-Star player from the Utah Jazz, rebounded for the kids during his session. Khris Middleton, an NBA All-Star player from the Milwaukee Bucks, led a round of “knockout,” a game that sharpens a player’s skills on the free-throw line. Cheyenne Parker of the Chicago Sky, Coby White of the Chicago Bulls, and NBA legend Tyrone “Muggsy” Bogues also were in attendance.

“Ultimately, basketball is a game. The only way you keep enjoying and loving the game is the happiness and joy you feel when you play it,” said trainer Andre Lodree. He’s the co-founder of Four Point Play, a sports training and mentoring program based just outside of Chicago, and head coach of the junior varsity boy’s basketball team at Walther Christian Academy. 

“As coaches, I believe we must find a way for our youth to learn the skills,” Lodree explained, “but also have fun doing it.”

Lodree expressed that the mental aspect of the game is just as important as the physical aspect.

“There are two important skills that young basketball athletes need — resilience and positive attitude,” Lodree said. “If their resilience is strong, it will allow them to navigate through the high and low emotions, and overcome high-pressured situations that all people endure when pursuing and achieving their goals.”

NBA legend Muggsy Bogues embodies both of those traits. The 55 year-old retired point guard overcame being shot in the back and arm when he was a 5-year-old boy growing up in Baltimore, Maryland. By the time he was drafted into the NBA in the 1987 draft, he stood 5’3, making him the shortest man to ever play the game of basketball.

Muggsy watched a group of 20 kids run suicide drills on a nearby court. He didn’t lead any particular drills. Instead, he walked around, looking in on each session. 

“These kids are the future of the NBA, and it’s important to me that I’m here to let them know how important they are,” Bogues said.

For Bogues, it’s important for youth to learn how to believe in themselves even in the face of non-believers and doubters.

“I always start with the confidence,” Bogues explained. “In my era, I used to have to break down the mindset of the coaches to show them that a guy my size is capable of playing the game and being just as impactful as a big guard.”

In Chicago, Black and Brown youth constantly face systemic inequities and barriers that make it hard for them to achieve their dreams. Bogues wants to be an example for youth to not allow naysayers to control their destiny. 

“It was my confidence, IQ and knowledge of the game that allowed me to reach the levels that I was able to reach,” Bogues added.

As Jr. NBA Day wrapped up around 3 p.m, kids were able to grab pictures with players and receive some final words of encouragement before heading back to their school busses. 

“Each one of you has something special to offer the world,” Milwaukee Bucks star Khris Middleton told children as they began to leave Navy Pier. 

For David Krichavsky, senior vice president and head of Youth Basketball Development for the NBA, watching the smiles on each child’s face meant that Jr. NBA Day was a success. 

“Throughout the week, we wanted to celebrate the great history of Chicago basketball on all levels and provide youth from across the city with development opportunities and memorable experiences as part of NBA All-Star 2020,” Krichavsky said. 

“We hope the weekend was as special to them as it was to the Jr. NBA, and the NBA and WNBA players that came out to teach the next generation,” he added.