Public Basketball Courts on Chicago’s North Side
My eyes get misty and my palms get sweaty when I relive my high school basketball glory days. I didn’t get much playing time, I wasn’t all that good (clarification: I think I’m incredibly good. I think I’m a slow 1-foot vertical leaping White Mike. My coach may have disagreed), and I didn’t get along all that well with my teammates. But I still remember those days, with rose-tinted glasses and a wistful sense of nostalgia that inspire me more than most memories. But the thing with my basketball career is, I think I peaked early. I was AWESOME in grade school. I tore shit up. I remember in a Park District league (where I was an All-Star thank you very much!) having a coach tell me, “There’s no ‘I’ in ‘TEAM,’” to which I, in my youthful dick-ery, responded “There’s no ‘U’ in ‘TEAM’ either buddy!” That kind of “me” mentality — first, shoot first and ask questions later — was an important feature of my game, despite the negative effect it may have had on team morale and general good will towards men amongst my peers. To my mind, the only bad shot was a shot not taken. So despite early struggles, my interest in basketball has really never waned. It’s great exercise and great fun, and it’s a way to really enjoy the beautiful summer weather in Chicago.
The best and most fun way for me to continue playing competitive basketball in adulthood without having to pay league dues and deal with referees, shot clocks, and scoreboards has been to play park basketball. I hesitate to use the term “streetball” because it has some vaguely racist or classist associations to my ear, so park basketball has for me come to mean any basketball played in an outdoor public setting. I’d now like to list and describe my favorite outdoor basketball venues on the North side of Chicago. Enjoy!
Paschen Park, 1932 W. Lunt (Roger’s Park/Edgewater)– Paschen is my true neighborhood ballin’ park. I’ve been coming here for almost two decades. There is no full court action at Paschen — it is two half-courts side-by-side — but this suits my general laziness just fine. The rims are tight and unfriendly, yielding ridiculously high and drunken-looking rebounds, and the floor is ragged-ass asphalt, but the competition is fierce. The game of choice, if the number of attendees allow it, is 4-on-4, which sounds strange, but works well with the size of the courts. I’m generally the only white guy at the park, and this happens frequently when I play park basketball, but it’s never an issue. Without digressing too far and without wanting to wax world peace-y, the tension of racial politics dissolves during park basketball. If you are there to play ball, you’ll never have a problem.
Gross Park, 2708 W. Lawrence (Lincoln Square/Ravenswood)– This court is set up in the classic park style, with one nice long full court bisected by a perpendicular shorter full-court that during heated games on the larger official-sized court goes unused. I’ve only been a few times having discovered this park recently, so I can’t really vouch for the level of competition, but the set-up is great. The location is also relatively nice, despite a recent spate of gang-related incidents in the area. Added bonus: the local Mexican “paleta” (popsicle) man seems to always include this park on his rounds.
Indian Road Park, 6010 W. Matson (Forest Glen)– This park on the far Northwest side is awesome. It’s definitely the biggest and nicest park that I play at, with beautifully manicured green spaces, softball fields, a kids’ play area, and an overwhelmingly pleasant family vibe that owes something to the park’s location in a relatively rich part of the city. The basketball courts are expansive and well-attended. The competition here can sometimes be some of the best in the city, with a lot of serious high school prospects and even some college players regularly showing up on weekends.
Seward Park, 375 W. Elm (Near North/Gold Coast)– I discovered this park by accident when I took off on a basketball park road trip on my bike, using my iPhone and Google Maps to navigate to some new potential hooping locations. The neighborhood that this park resides in is the old Cabrini Green, which still retains some of its sketchiness despite fervent gentrification. There are 4 large full courts here, and although they are somewhat shabby, the competition here is ridiculously good. The last game I got in here was played almost entirely “above the rim” as they say, which means that players were jumping so high they were grabbing rebounds and dunking the ball well over ten feet in the air.
For a full listing of the Chicago Park District outdoor basketball courts, visit the website here.