Right arm propped against a pillar for balance, Miami Heat rookie guard Kendrick Nunn worked slowly through a one-legged rehab routine.
All of the sudden, the right knee buckled and he belted out a chuckle.
Telling Patrick Beverley stories often elicits such a response.
“That’s my guy 100%,” Nunn said. “That’s big bro.”
Nunn figured that out almost immediately on the day he met Beverley for the first time during a summer workout at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Dribbling through drills to tighten his handle, Nunn could hear raucous yelling coming from the other side of the court.
“We ain’t even met yet,” Nunn recalled, laughing. “It was funny as hell. Pat was like, ‘Yo, you standing up that high young fella, I’mma take that [expletive]. You better get low.’”
That first morsel of knowledge serves as one of several that Nunn has insatiably gobbled up as the baby of the crew of NBA players representing the city of Chicago. With All-Star 2020 taking place in Chicago this week, some of the city’s native sons described their tight-knit relationships around the league, and what makes basketball in their hometown so special.
From Dwyane Wade to Derrick Rose, there’s no denying that several Chicagoans continue to put on for their city.
It’s why Chicagoans like former Memphis Grizzlies forward Tony Allen, from the city’s West Side, unequivocally back Anthony Davis’ assertions that Chicago is the Mecca of basketball. Mention Chicago basketball to Allen, and his eyes light up. He becomes nearly breathless by the end of discussing what he believes is the city’s pastime, despite its long, storied history in professional football.
“There’s so many hoopers,” Allen told NBA.com. “The list goes on and on. We can go all the way back, man, Isiah Thomas, Mark Aguirre. Shawn Marion, Mike Finley, Tim Hardaway, Antoine Walker, myself, Will Bynum, Quentin Richardson, Bobby Simmons, who else? These Chicago cats, man. ...Hey, I agree with A.D.
"Don’t forget about our infamous documentary story, the Arthur Agee story (Hoop Dreams), man," Allen said. "Let’s not forget we were the first ones to put reality TV on the basketball side of things. Real content, man. ... I just think that you’ve got to understand why A.D. is saying that. Come on, man. A lot of people would beg to differ in New York. But then again, yo, we’ve got a basketball culture, too.”
But what makes it special?
We support each other, always have each other’s back. ...It’s that Chicago love.”
The answer varies among Chicagoans playing in the NBA. But there’s one seemingly universal description.
“The toughness,” said Timberwolves forward Evan Turner, a native of the West Side of Chicago. “You’ve got to be really, really tough to make it out of there. You hear about the pros, but there are so many people that didn’t make it that are killing elsewhere that went on and became legends at certain universities or overseas. That type of toughness is second to none. When you feel like you can make it in Chicago, you can play anywhere.”
Added Nunn, who hails from the South Side: “If you look at all the Chicago players, we have a different toughness about how we play. I think that’s just in our blood, just the way we carry ourselves being from Chicago.”
That’s primarily because of the intense rivalries within the city at high schools and on local playgrounds.
Beverley, Rose and Duke associate head coach Jon Scheyer grew up admiring the Chicagoans that came before them such as Hardaway, Walker, Marion, Simmons, Allen and Bynum.
But they also came up in Chicago as fierce rivals with Rose leading Simeon Career Academy, Beverley starring at Marshall, while Scheyer played at Glenbrook North.
Turner, who calls fellow Chicagoan Iman Shumpert one of his closest friends, started playing with Beverley at age “11 or 12,” in Oak Park, Ill., he said. Back then, and even right now, regardless of all the talent permeating the national hoops scene, the focus in Chicago was on what was going on locally. Forget about trying to see how you fare against a player from Los Angeles or New York.
The players in Chicago care mostly about establishing dominance at home first, they say.
“Even though there’s a lot of talent around the country, [we would be] be arrogant in the sense of if you went to an All-Star camp or somewhere else, you’d want to play versus each other or we’d be focusing on trying to play at nationals versus whatever other Chicago team we saw,” Turner said. "That’s how we competed; like worrying about who ran the city and who was really holding it down and doing their thing. ...There’s a lot of Chicago talent in the city, and I really believe if you can play in Chicago, you can play anywhere.
“It’s hard to even explain it, bro,” Turner added. “Every weekend wherever you went, you had to really strap in. I remember telling people and they thought I was joking. But growing up on the West Side, the kids I played versus in the alley were some of the toughest kids I’ve played against. ...The playground battles, going to Franklin Park, it’s like everybody you knew was getting busy. So, if you were the man at your school, there were a couple of kids walking that hall where on any given day they could give you some problems. If you go to a different school, Proviso East or Proviso West up the street, you’ll hear, ‘This [other] dude is an animal. This dude is giving out pure hell.’ There are so many guards I grew up playing with or playing versus. That’s what pops in my mind when it comes to Chicago talent; not the obvious players, but some of the local stars. It’s just unreal. There was just that much talent, man. And it made you better. If you made it out of there, you just knew you could go on and do great things.”
Nunn and Sacramento Kings forward Jabari Parker met in the sixth grade “on the AAU scene,” according to Nunn. They quickly became friends, despite the fact they “had always battled,” according to Parker. They later formed what Parker called “a brotherhood bond,” which would help the duo rattle off four straight state championships at Simeon Career Academy, Rose’s alma mater. Parker received all the accolades, as he was named National High School Player of the Year by both Gatorade and McDonald’s.
But he’s quick to point out Nunn’s contributions.
"People give me a lot of credit for four state championships, but I can’t take that credit myself," Parker said. "I had a great team. Kendrick was one of those guys where I would have never gotten that far if it wasn’t for him. And other guys, too. But I always wanted to bring up Kendrick when it came to my legacy because it should never be me alone. It should be him right there with me.”
Nunn was definitely there for Parker when injuries started to derail what was supposed to be a promising NBA career. There was a time when Parker drew comparisons to players such as Carmelo Anthony and Paul Pierce when he first entered the league, but injuries have prevented the six-year veteran from living up to the hype.
“Kendrick was always there for me,” Parker said. “I’ve always been there for him. Shoot man, anything he needed from me, I’ve got him. And he’s got my back.”
Beverley shares similar sentiments regarding former MVP Rose, who has dealt with his fair share of injuries since coming into the league.
“He’s like my brother,” Beverley told NBA.com. “Anything I ask for, he gives it; vice-versa. Whether it’s a car to drive if I’m in his town for a week or if his girl flies to L.A. and [his team hasn’t] gotten there yet, then she comes to my house until they land. It’s just a family thing. We support each other, always have each other’s back. If someone’s going through surgery, we’re right there with him. It’s that Chicago love.”
Parker and Nunn grew up idolizing Rose and Beverley. Parker watched Rose play for the first time in person as an eighth grader. Nunn refers to both Rose and Beverley as “big bros that have taken me under their wing.” You can also count Pelicans center Jahlil Okafor, who played high school ball at Whitney Young in Chicago, as part of the city’s NBA brotherhood as well.
Parker says he “looked up” to Turner growing up. So, when they became teammates in Atlanta over the summer, it was “a dream come true for me.”
“No matter where I go in my career, I’m always paying homage to the guys I looked up to, and [Turner] was one of them,” Parker said. “We’re [all] extremely close because unlike L.A., L.A. has so many other cities. It’s so spread out. You live hours away from a dude. In New York, it’s like private schools. But then you go to Connecticut for a prep school or Rhode Island or Providence. It’s like that. And for Chicago, it’s like we’re so close together because the city is only so big. We all had the same coaches growing up. We’ve played at the same camps. The Chicago culture is very tight knit.”
"Some kids come up to you and be like, ‘I remember when I was a shorty, I watched you play,’" Turner said. "Jabari has come up to me and been like, ‘Yo, I remember when I was 12 years old and you went up against D. Rose at Northwestern, and that was like the coldest game I ever saw.’ I remember being at the crib and seeing Jabari having stuff on smash, and DM’ing him like, ‘Yo, keep doing your thing, keep playing on.’”
While players such as Beverley and Davis don’t typically spend the offseason back in Chicago over the summer, many of the players from the city do. They also maintain a large group chat in which they’re constantly discussing where the next pick-up game is taking place or finding ways to link up to hang.
“We’re trying to make sure we can get some runs at UIC,” Turner said. “Guys are always trying to make sure we try to get back and play or see where each guy is. [Suns center Frank] Kaminsky, Shump, [Cavaliers forward] Alfonzo McKinnie -- he grew up in my hood -- Jacob Pullen, they’re all on the chat."
As Nunn finishes up his pregame rehab exercises, he takes a seat in front of his locker to ponder the importance of basketball in the city of Chicago.
“It’s used as a tool to get out of the streets of Chicago,” Nunn said. “So, it’s been huge for us, and it continues to grow with our youth. When the kids play basketball, it stops the violence. And even though all of us in the NBA are from different areas and parts of Chicago, this is what brings us together. We’re in the same profession. We love to do the same things. This just connects us all.”
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NBA.com's Khari Arnold contributed to this report.