CHICAGO — The obstacle for a lot of NBA alumni and fans in naming the best players in Chicago history is deciding where to draw the line between city and state.
As fertile as the area has been in sending talent to the NBA, as rich as the traditions have been in producing players who have become household names, the trick has been differentiating Chicago from “Chicagoland,” and then determining who’s in and who’s out.
If you stick with the strict boundaries of the Windy City as drawn by the politicians and bureaucrats (always potential trouble here) and go either by place of birth or high school, you cut out heavyweight candidates such as Dwyane Wade, Michael Finley, Doc Rivers and more who developed a few miles or even blocks outside the city’s hardcore hoops scene.
But if you open it up too far — to Illinois products such as Jack Sikma (Kankakee), Jerry Sloan (McLeansboro), Doug Collins (Benton) and Andre Iguodala (Springfield) — then you’re no longer talking about Chicago.
So you wind up defining the eligible area, and the candidates, by what’s considered a manageable daily trek downtown, accepting no one who lived beyond the commuter railroad lines’ last stops.
Here then are my first, second and third teams of All-Chicago NBA players, based on growing up in the greater metro area — and thus, excluding even Bulls superstar Michael Jordan, forever a North Carolina guy.
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First Team All-Chicago
High school: St. Joseph
NBA stats: 19.2 ppg | 3.6 rpg | 9.3 apg, 1981-1994
Thomas arguably is one of the most underrated players in NBA history — he was an All-Star in 12 of his 13 seasons, with five All-NBA selections and two rings — but he generally is considered the best player ever from Chicago. Thomas went to high school about 14 miles from the impoverished West Side neighborhood where he grew up but that doesn’t matter. He is fifth all-time in assists average and ranks near the top of unofficial NBA categories for inch-for-inch quality and toughness.
High school: Richards
NBA stats: 22.0 ppg | 4.7 rpg | 5.4 apg, 2003-2019
Wade technically grew up outside the city limits — in Robbins, Illinois — but nobody is challenging his status as a first-team Chicago elite. He was a 13-time All-Star and three-time champ who’ll head to Springfield, Mass., as soon as he’s eligible. Wade scored more points in the NBA (23,165) than anyone from his hometown and blocked more shots (885) than anyone his size (6-foot-4) or smaller in league history.
High school: Westinghouse
NBA stats: 20.0 ppg | 5.0 rpg | 3.1 apg, 1981-1994
“The Muffin Man” triggered the resurgence of DePaul basketball and is revered by fellow members of the Chicago NBA alumni. Aguirre was a low-post, wide-bottom threat with Dallas, averaging 24.6 points with three All-Star appearances in eight seasons. But when buddy Thomas got the Pistons to acquire him in 1989, Aguirre adjusted his game (12.9 ppg in five seasons) but helped push Detroit over the top to NBA titles that spring and again in 1990.
High school: Carver
NBA stats: 16.4 ppg | 7.3 rpg | 1.9 apg, 1982-2000
Cummings was a man among boys in college and even when he arrived in the NBA, beating out Hall of Famers James Worthy and Dominique Wilkins as 1983 Rookie of the Year. He was a two-time All-Star who went to the playoffs 13 times in 18 seasons, and he ranks third in points (19,460) and fifth in rebounds (8,630) among Chicago products.
High school: Quigley
NBA stats: 23.1 ppg | 13.4 rpg | 2.8 apg, 1948-1956
Mikan was the NBA’s first superstar, a player whose size (6-foot-10, 245 pounds) put his name on marquees in the league’s early years. He led the Minneapolis Lakers to five titles in seven seasons, and the only reason he didn’t go 6-for-6 in All-Star berths is that the game didn’t exist in Mikan’s first two seasons. He might have won four or five MVPs but that honor wasn’t created until Mikan’s final season.
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Second Team All-Chicago
High school: Simeon Career Academy
NBA stats: 18.8 ppg | 3.4 rpg | 5.6 apg, 2008-Current
Rose’s career was broken for a while, but he remains the only Chicago product to be named NBA Most Valuable Player (2011). That traditionally is a ticket to the Hall of Fame, which Rose — who missed 318 of 624 games from 2012-2019 — seemed unlikely to achieve. But he has been a borderline All-Star and Kia Sixth Man candidate for Detroit this season, either of which would polish his resume.
High school: Du Sable
NBA stats: 11.1 ppg | 2.8 rpg | 6.7 apg, 1978-1993
It took Cheeks 21 years after he retired to reach the Hall of Fame, awfully long for a four-time All-Star, five-time All-Defensive pick and the floor general of Philadelphia’s 1983 championship squad. Cheeks ranks 13th all-time in assists, fifth in steals and 60th in career FG percentage (.5234) — the top point guard on that list (Magic Johnson ranks 70th).
Born: Melrose Park
High school: Proviso East
NBA stats: 15.7 ppg | 4.4 rpg | 2.9 apg, 1995-2010
Finley was definitely a “Chicagoland” product, coming from Proviso East in Maywood — from which a dozen NBA players including Doc Rivers, Jim Brewer, Shannon Brown and Steven Hunter graduated. The two-time All-Star who spent nine seasons with Dallas won his ring in 2007 with San Antonio.
High school: Mount Carmel
NBA stats: 17.5 ppg | 7.7 rpg | 3.5 apg, 1996-2008
Walker’s production, while good, never reached its potential, just as his Celtics only reached .500 twice in his first seven seasons. He often wasn’t in great shape and was done at 31, but he earned a late ring with Miami in 2006.
High school: Perspectives Charter School
NBA stats: 24.0 ppg | 10.4 rpg | 2.2 apg, 2012-Current
With Rose as one of two active players here, Davis has done enough to merit this spot. He’s a seven-time All-Star, assumed to be a future MVP, a monster in efficiency ratings and already 59th in blocks (a stat not tracked until 1973-74). Still ringless, though, with one series victory in two trips to the playoffs.
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Third Team All-Chicago
High school: Carver
NBA stats: 17.7 ppg | 3.3 rpg | 8.2 apg, 1989-2003
Only Thomas and Cheeks passed for more assists among the Chicago guys than Hardaway (7,095). A five-time All-NBA choice who missed a full season in his prime to injury (1993-94), he was part of Golden State’s exciting “Run TMC” crew in the 90s with Mitch Richmond and Chris Mullin. Seventeen years after he retired, his 1,542 3-pointers still lead all Chicagoans.
High school: Lyons Township
NBA stats: 14.5 ppg | 3.4 rpg | 4.9 apg, 1986-2000
Notes: Hornacek hails from the second ring of Chicago suburbs and is remembered most as shooting guard on Utah’s Karl Malone-John Stockton teams that reached the Finals in 1997 and 1998. He was an All-Star with Phoenix in 1992. And he happens to be the only alumnus of his massive high school in LaGrange — to the chagrin of this writer, a fellow alum — to reach the NBA.
High school: Chicago Vocational Career Academy
NBA stats: 13.4 ppg | 6.1 rpg | 2.2 apg, 1994-2013
Nineteen seasons, eight teams and Top 10 spots in scoring, rebounds and minutes among the Chicago players. A one-time All-Star and one-time champion (2012 with Miami), Howard’s greatest fame probably was as one of the “Fab Five” freshmen recruits at Michigan in 1991.
High school: Westinghouse
NBA stats: 16.0 ppg | 4.0 rpg | 2.1 apg, 1981-1999
Johnson, who teamed with Aguirre at Westinghouse and followed him into the NBA 28 picks apart in the 1981 Draft, played for six franchises across 17 seasons (with one year in Greece). No rings, never an All-Star, but he was the league’s Sixth Man winner in 1989.
High school: Batavia
NBA stats: 22.6 ppg | 9.1 rpg | 2.4 apg, 1970-1985
The “yeah but” responses to Issel come down to two things: Batavia is 40 miles west of United Center, far from Chicago’s mean streets. But it is a suburb as “Chicagoland” continues its sprawl north, south and west. The other objection is Issel spent six of his 15 pro seasons in the ABA. But he dominated that league, was a workhorse for Denver once the Nuggets entered the NBA in 1976-77 and by far is the points leader (27,482) among Chicago products. If you stripped out his ABA tenure, he’d still rank 14th in points in nine pure NBA seasons on a Chicago list where everybody above him played at least 12.
Tony Allen, Nick Anderson, Quinn Buckner, Dave Corzine, Kendall Gill, Rickey Green, Hersey Hawkins, Johnny (Red) Kerr, Corey Maggette, Jahlil Okafor, Kevin Porter, Quentin Richardson, Cazzie Russell, Glenn (Doc) Rivers, Darrell Walker, Patrick Beverley.
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