CHICAGO, Illinois. Even at springtime, the “Windy City” feels very much like winter if you’re visiting for the first time. It was 3 degrees Celsius when I landed in Chicago with 7-time PBA D-League champion coach Boyet Fernandez. But it felt like -3 degrees. And yes, it’s windy out here especially when you get near the vast Michigan Lake. Boyet and I attended the Nike Championship coaching clinic last week in Naperville, Illinois, along with hundreds from all over the US.
Just like the Las Vegas clinic the week before, the one in Naperville had elite hoops gurus as speakers. On top of the list is Basketball Hall of Famer and coach of the United States Women’s National team Geno Auriemma. The Italian-American has been the chief mentor of Team USA since 2009, and has led the squad to two World Championships (2010 and 2014) and two Olympic Golds (2012 and 2016). He is also the head coach of the University of Connecticut Huskies women’s team, where he holds the record for most NCAA Division 1 national titles with eleven, and eighteen Final Four appearances. Under Auriemma, UConn produced some of the best women ballers in the globe that eventually carved their mark in the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA), like Rebecca Lobo, Jennifer Rizzotti, Kara Wolters, Sue Bird and Maya Moore. In the clinic, the 63-year old coach talked about the offensive philosophy that made UConn the most accomplished school in women’s NCAA.
Another prominent speaker was University of Memphis coach Orlando Henry “Tubby” Smith, who’s only one of five NCAA Division 1 coaches to win 365 games in 15 seasons or less. Tubby came from humble beginnings to become one of the most respected mentors of the game. He was a one-time assistant coach of the USA Men’s National team that captured the Sydney Olympics gold in 2000 under head coach Rudy Tomjanovich. Tubby has helped shape some of the impactful players in the game, like NBA campaigners Rajon Rondo, Tayshaun Prince, Nazr Mohammed, Jamaal Magloire, Joe Crawford, and even Fil-Am guard and Rain Or Shine ace Maverick Ahanmisi. Smith gave a lecture on rebounding drills and the basic tactics in beating the full-court press.
The other illustrious speakers were University of Oregon’s Dana Altman (pressure defense), Oakland University’s Greg Kampe (offensive sets), University of Florida’s Mike White (individual offensive skills), Southern Methodist University’s Tim Jankovich (defensive philosophy), Monmouth’s King Rice (offensive transition pressure), Purdue’s Matt Painter (defensive drills), and Southwestern Community College’s Todd Lorensen (half-court defense). Xavier’s Chris Mack missed the clinic due to a bad back. Ed Janka organized the Nike clinics.
Chicago is also the home of the Bulls, owners of six NBA titles between 1991 and 1998. Of course, the most distinguished name attached with the franchise is Michael “Air” Jordan (MJ), who is still widely regarded as perhaps the greatest basketball player that ever walked the planet Earth. The current Bulls got eliminated a few weeks ago by Eastern Conference top seed Boston Celtics, even after posting a quick 2-0 lead in the playoffs. But an injury to Rondo somehow started the Bulls’ downfall that saw the team bowing to the Celts in the next four games. Since the Jordan era, the highest achievement by the Bulls was making it to the 2010 Eastern Conference Finals, but the Derrick Rose-led squad lost 1-4 to Dwayne Wade and the Miami Heat. Wade, a Chicago native, now plays for the Bulls after signing last year.
Several years after Jordan, Scottie Pippen and the rest of the glorious Bulls band walked tall in the NBA in the 90’s, the beautiful city of Chicago remains MJ-crazy. He’s still all over the city. In malls, Jordan brands are still very much popular here.
MJ no longer lives in Chicago since owning the Charlotte Bobcats NBA team. He bought a huge waterfront property in Charlotte, North Carolina in 2013. Boyet and I visited his 56,000-square foot mansion in Highland Park, Illinois and took photos just outside the enormous gate that had the number “23” in the center. Reports say the mansion has been on sale since 2012 and is now priced at $14 million from $29million.