The City Game focuses coverage on the game of basketball at the amateur levels in and around the city of Chicago; Justin Dukes is a contributor to WARR.com
For the truest of ballplayers in Chicago, hoop dreams never die.
As the years go by, there’s less and less reason for the average person to want to play basketball with regularity — if day to day responsibilities don’t do you in, increasing weight around the middle of your body and less flexibility in the joints will have their say.
But the members of two rec teams on the South Side — Strokers and Team SK8 — would have none of that. If they aren’t forever young, they at least know how to access a time machine for a couple of hours each week.
Matching up this past Sunday at Hyde Park High School, Strokers and Team SK8 established their respective squads as the top two teams in the Flight 35 and Over League, a collection of eight teams which had been engaging in intense, age-restricted battles each weekend since February. With one more run, a champion would be decided in the first season of this unprecedented rec league.
The league, sponsored by Wilson Basketball and BODYARMOR was organized by one of the present-day staples of Chicago basketball and influencers of the city, Jobba Maxey. Aware as anyone of the city’s rich history in the sport, Maxey’s goal with Flight 35 and Over was to establish a platform to keep the wheel turning as far as cultivating and encouraging the basketball talent that exists here in Chi-Town.
“I started this league because I wanted to keep the culture of Chicago basketball in a good place, and still make it cool for guys over the age of 35 to play.” said Maxey last Sunday afternoon.
“You’ve got a lot of ex-pro players, NBA players, a lot of guys that played in Europe, collegiate guys, and I just did this to keep the camaraderie in Chicago and keep the competition going because this is a competitive city.”
Notably headlining the two championship teams were Bobby Simmons and Paul McPherson — each stars in Chicago high schools, stars at DePaul University and stars in the NBA. To no surprise, with a title on the line both had big games for their respective teams.
Originally an attendee of Simeon High School, Simmons played for DePaul for three seasons before turning pro. Selected with the 41st pick of the 2001 NBA Draft by the Seattle Supersonics, who would trade the pick, Simmons began his journey into the ranks as a professional later that year in Washington.
Going on to play professionally for 11 seasons, Simmons most notably won the NBA’s Most Improved Player award in 2005. Presently, Simmons is an entrepreneur with several businesses in Chicago.
Standing opposite Simmons, McPherson came out of South Shore High School and played along with Simmons in college, leaving DePaul in the year 2000. After going undrafted, McPherson hooked up with the Phoenix Suns and the Golden State Warriors during his single season in the NBA, he continued his career in various minor leagues in the United States along with leagues in Europe. His continued connection to the rec and pro-am scenes in the city further deepen McPherson’s place in Chicago basketball history.
In the continuum of basketball talent that Chicago has and continues to produce year to year both Simmons and McPherson exist as notable members of the hardcourt fraternity.
With Simmons being a 6’8 forward and McPherson a 6’4 guard, the star pairing spent little time guarding each other during Sunday’s championship. However, Simmons could be heard yelling “I do this!” on an isolated play where he caught McPherson attempting to guard him in the post before creating separation on a step back jumper. McPherson would get the last laugh, however, as he would lead Team SK8 to an overtime win over Strokers while also winning MVP of the game.
Aside from the two former stars, the supporting casts for both Strokers and Team SK8 couldn’t have been more evenly matched or competitive. The game was a literal back and forth, but late in the second half Team SK8 created an eight point cushion that could’ve given them the win in regulation, but Strokers showed their resiliency and tied the game up with several aggressive drives to the basket, before Maxey — also a member of the team — missed what would’ve been the game-winning shot, sending the game into overtime where Team SK8 pulled away at the end.
Walking off the court with a smirk of disbelief, the moment looked to be bitter sweet for Maxey, whose team was denied the championship, but his league still was getting a “W” after months of action culminating in a thrilling title game that can be built upon.
“It was a good game, honestly.” said Maxey post game. “It had a real NBA playoff style to it. You couldn’t ask for a better game and a lot of people came out to support it. I was pleased with that.”
Follow We Are Regal Radio on Twitter @regalradio1 and on Facebook under We Are Regal Radio; Justin Dukes is a Chicago-based sports writer, follow him on Twitter @1kingzdream