Photo courtesy of the United Center [Facebook]

For the first time in more than 30 years, NBA All-Star Weekend is making its return to Chicago. That means celebrity basketball players, entertainers, influencers, locals and tourists will flock to Chicago this week. Last year’s All-Star game in Charlotte, N.C., attracted 150,000 people and had an economic impact of $100 million over the weekend, according to the Charlotte Regional Visitor’s Authority.

As official — and unofficial — NBA All-Star Weekend festivities kick off this week, various venues, hotels, clubs, bars and restaurants across the city will see an increase of patronage and activity. 

In a city like Chicago, which often makes national and international headlines for gun violence, hosting a large-scale event like NBA All-Star Weekend is a chance to show the nation a different side. Visitors can experience things including live jazz at M Lounge, dining at Virtue Restaurant, shopping at Fat Tiger Workshop and Black history at the DuSable Museum. 

“It’s violent wherever you go,” former NBA player Will Bynum said. “The key is to make something good out of something bad. I’m focused on the positive things happening in the city.”

Bynum is no stranger to violence. The 37-year-old Crane High School graduate, who played point guard for the Detroit Pistons, Golden State Warriors and Boston Celtics during his NBA career, grew up in Bronzeville, a culturally and historically rich African-American neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side. 

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, he traveled from the South Side to the West Side daily to attend Crane High School, where he ranked among the nation’s top 50 high-school seniors and earned Chicago Public player of the year honors. 

By the time Bynum graduated from high school in 2001, homicides were down significantly from 1992, when Chicago recorded 920 homicides. However, the city still made headlines with 667 homicides, the highest of any city in the country that year, according to the Chicago Tribune

In 2019, Chicago saw homicides fall below 500 for the first time since 2015. The number of shooting victims and incidents declined, as well, according to the Chicago Tribune.

With homicides and shooting crimes on the decline, Bynum sees NBA All-Star Weekend as an opportunity for Chicago to show that it’s more than the gun violence often sensationalized in mainstream media. 

“The events that will be held during All-Star Weekend, and the things that will happen, will inspire the next generation of stars to do something special,” Bynum said.

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The NBA and Chicago Bulls teamed up to develop the first-ever All-Star Youth Leadership Council. A partnership with After School Matters, Chicago CRED and Youth Guidance, the council includes 20 high school students from the Auburn Gresham, Austin/North Lawndale, Englewood, Roseland and West Humboldt Park communities. 

On Feb. 13, the council will present their vision for change and discuss neighborhood needs in front of civic leaders, NBA and WNBA players and legends and other youth leaders from across Chicago.

“Together, these projects, which will come to life in the coming months, will empower the youth leaders to help shape the impact and legacy of NBA All-Star 2020 and effect change in their communities,” the NBA said in a Monday press release.

Additionally, throughout All-Star Weekend 2020, more than $1 million will be contributed to local organizations through NBA Cares. The TRiiBE is awaiting response from the NBA about the names of the organizations receiving donations. 

Other official NBA All-Star events will include a Mitchell & Ness pop-up store, on 207 S. State Street from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. beginning Feb. 8, featuring collaborations with Chicago-bred folks such as Afro-futuristic artist Hebru Brantley and luxury streetwear brand Just Don. 

There’s also NBA Crossover at Navy Pier beginning Feb. 14. This league activation will include live performances, appearances by current and former NBA players and exclusive product drops from the worlds of art, fashion and technology. Tickets start at $20. 

Outside of the NBA, music streaming platform Audiomack is hosting Hometown Heroes, a concert featuring platinum-certified rapper Polo G and other Chicago artists such as G Herbo, Calboy, Tink, Dreezy, Ann Marie and SBG Kemo. Audiomack has dubbed the show, “A Concert for a Cause,” as it hopes to raise awareness for mental health among youth. Tickets start at $40, and the show is open to all ages. 

“What’s coming to Chicago during All-Star Weekend is a bunch of inspiration and motivation for Chicago’s children,” Bynum continued.

The TRiiBE reached out to city officials for comments about their safety plan for the weekend. City spokesperson Patrick Mullane emailed the following statement from CPD.

“The Department has been working with the NBA and federal security partners on this event for the last year and patrons and residents can expect a highly visible police presence of uniformed officers as well as supplemental plainclothes security teams,” the statement read.

“The All-Star deployment will not adversely affect normal neighborhood patrols or specialized unit operations,” such as SWAT and Critical Response teams, the statement continued. 

Alongside Bynum, Chicago Police Officer Roger Washington also sees NBA All-Star Weekend as an opportunity for the city to rewrite its narrative. St. Louis and Baltimore each ranked number one and two, respectively, for U.S. cities with the highest murder rate per capita in 2019.

“I think the city should focus on being totally positive and leaving all the negativity that can follow such a great event,” Washington said. “As far as looting, carjacking, robberies, thefts — let’s leave all that behind and just have a weekend of peace in Chicago.” 

According to Washington, police officers are being offered overtime to help with the department’s increased security measures for the weekend. He also noted that private security firms and state police will be on duty that weekend.

For anyone attending official NBA All-Star Weekend activities, Washington said it’s best not to travel alone and to take necessary precautions when using public transportation. 

As for Bynum, he hopes NBA All-Star Weekend will help visitors and national news media see the Chicago he knows and loves. 

“I’ve never really wanted to be the one to look at the bad part of the city and just focus on that,” said Bynum. “I’m more so focused on the positive things that are happening in the city.”