Church service: A look at the court that launched Anthony Davis’ hoop dreams

By Tony Garcia
Medill Reports

Anthony Davis’ basketball career began in a florescent blue gym, on the third floor of the all-stone, Second Presbyterian Church in Chicago’s South Loop neighborhood.

The church, a Gothic age creation that was rebuilt after the fire of 1900, boasts nine Tiffany windows and was named a Chicago Landmark in Sept. 1977 and a National Historic Landmark in March 2013.

Chicago’s Second Presbyterian Church.

A gorgeous church. A subpar basketball facility.

During that time 10 years ago, Davis was an unknown product, playing for an unknown school, staring into an unknown future. Just another teenager, ascending three-dozen winding steps to reach the dusty court that was closer to 64 feet in length than the regulation 94 feet.

Coming from the city which has produced players such as Derrick Rose, Isaiah Thomas and Dwyane Wade — stars who frequently are found in powerhouses like Simeon or Whitney Young.

Never before had Perspectives Charter Schools — a school so small it didn’t even have its own basketball court — had an elite athlete.

Davis attended the school’s Joslin campus, on the corner of Archer and State, and remembers the days of walking two blocks over to the aforementioned church with his teammates for practice.

“I just rolled past the church,” Davis said during his media availability on Saturday of All-Star weekend, sitting at a podium in Wintrust Arena, less than half of a mile away from his high school. “I was just talking about it.”

The gym inside Second Presbyterian Church — Anthony Davis’ practice gym during his time at Perspectives Charter School.

With Davis back in town for the NBA All-Star game, this time he won’t be playing in a church, he’ll be playing in his hometown’s hoops cathedral, the United Center.

Davis was admittedly ambivalent about staying at Perspectives. After all, his team could only run half-court sets in practice, and for reasons like that and potential lack of exposure, he debated a transfer to Simeon.

Wade went to Harold L. Richards High School, a more well-known school in Oak Lawn, but said he could relate to Davis’ come up.

“When I was growing up we didn’t play in gyms, we played on asphalt, so you find any local court, anything to try and live out your dream,” Wade said. “We all grew up in Chicago and it’s unfortunate we weren’t playing in gymnasiums, but we knew we had to do whatever to find a way to play the game.”

After convincing from his dad, Davis was convinced he could get the looks necessary to make it to the next level no matter where he was.

It didn’t hurt that he was picked up by Meanstreets, an AAU basketball team on the Nike Circuit based out of Chicago, following his junior season.

Former NFL player Tai Streets coached that team and it was an assistant on his staff who recommend giving Davis a look. Streets vividly remembers Davis’ initial practice.

“At first he was a little shy, I think maybe even a little intimidated which is funny to say now,” Streets said.

Streets was a standout wide receiver at the University of Michigan, but also played one season for Michigan’s basketball team, and still had some game. Every now and then he would test his players by going against them.

Davis didn’t quite pass that first assessment.

“I wasn’t the best player on the team, I was actually probably one of the worst,” Davis recalled. “It scared me so much I didn’t want to play basketball anymore.”

Streets remembers that.

But he also remembers what happened next.

“I was kind of pushing him around,” Streets said. “But then, I don’t know, something just clicked.”

What “clicked” was Davis’ confidence. It was his first AAU game with his new team and Davis, done playing scared, was determined to prove he belonged at the highest level AAU had to offer. It was in the new Nike EYBL at the famous Boo Williams Sportsplex in Virginia. In his mind, that’s where he was going to put his name on the map.

Instead, he lasted six minutes before he rolled his ankle and missed the rest of the game, serving as another discouraging blow.

However those half-a-dozen minutes were all coaches needed to see.

“I got back home and I had tons and tons of scholarship offers,” Davis said, smiling and gazing off as he were watching a replay of himself opening those letters. “When I seen that I said, ‘You know what, I’m going to stick with it.’”

By the end of the summer, he was the No. 1 player in the country, gracing the covers of some of the biggest sports magazines in the country.

Following a dominant senior season, Davis became a national champion at Kentucky, and was subsequently taken as the No. 1 pick in the 2012 NBA draft. In his eight-year NBA career, he’s been a seven-time All-Star, three-time All NBA selection, and an All-defensive first teamer.

He’s widely considered one of the top 10 players in the game, and is on the cover of NBA 2K20 — the world’s most famous basketball video game.

In that game, there’s a mode called “My Player’ where the user can create their own player and go through the simulation of trying to make an NBA team and playing out their career.

One of the first steps in that mode is a game of one-on-one against Davis.

But where the player faces him isn’t just any old court.

It’s the court that resides at the corner of Archer and State, a solitary hoop on the blacktop outside of Perspectives Charter Schools, something Davis donated so there would be somewhere to hoop at his old stomping grounds.

“I just tried to do something for the school because I didn’t have a place to go that was on campus so I wanted to do something special,” Davis said. “It’s a small school, so there’s no place for a full indoor gym, but we could do something outside and we were able to do something special with it.”

He continues to give back to his community and former school. He pays for the teams uniforms, gets them a line of his shoes and makes sure the financials are in order. When his team comes to Chicago to play the bulls, he makes sure to get tickets for all the boys and girls in the basketball program to come see him up close.

Davis has performed his craft around the globe. Playing for the Los Angeles Lakers, he’s now one of the most well known faces on one of the most widely recognized brands in sports. He’s made more than $100 million and has hundreds of millions more coming once he signs a new contract after the 2019-20 season.

But for everything he’s seen and done, there will always be something special about coming back to Chicago. Davis always remembers where he came from, but there’s nothing like being back in it to bring up old memories.

“Just being here,” Davis said of his favorite memory of Chicago. “Me and my cousins would go outside and have snowball fights almost every day out of school. I kind of miss that.”

Photo at top: Anthony Davis sits at his podium at for All-Star media day. The media day was hosted less than half a mile from his old high school. (Tony Garcia/MEDILL)