Prints of the playground
When photographer John Huet shot the images for his book about street basketball, "The Soul of the Game," the only Chicago player featured was prep star Ben Wilson, murdered in 1984 at the age of seventeen. But at an exhibit of Huet's black-and-white portraits opening January 9 at the Field Museum, there will be additional shots of Chicago legends that Huet -- whose photos of New York streetballers accompanied Sun-Times sportswriter Rick Telander's 1997 Sports Illustrated cover story -- snapped at Nat King Cole Park on the South Side in November. The new images include former Dunbar High School star Billy Harris, a Public League scoring champion who went on to become a Division I All-American at Northern Illinois and a Chicago Bulls draft pick.
The 46-year-old Harris (below), who grew up in the Robert Taylor homes, scoffs at the current state of affairs in basketball, which he feels has lost its "purity." He also decries a selection process for college and pro players he sees as racist. "The Utah Jazz has two white guys at guard who can't jump, and they're supposed to be All-Stars? You could have twenty-six teams full of Michael Jordans, and it would be the most beautiful game you'll ever see. But the suits are worried about whether people would come and see the game."
Harris even has some trash-talk to throw Jordan's way. "The NBA manufactures legends. They say Michael Jordan is the greatest player ever to play the game. I'm not impressed with him dunking; I was dunking in grammar school. Wilt Chamberlain averaged fifty points a game for an entire season."
Isiah Thomas, another Chicago basketball legend, once called Harris the best player he'd ever seen. The 6'3" Harris's NBA career ended when he got cut by Dick Motta from the Bulls, and he wound up playing in the ABA. "My greatest accomplishment is when guys say I'm the Prince of the Playground," Harris says. "On the street, everything you get, you gotta take. I gave everybody a shot, and there's nobody who can say they got a piece of this ass." (Sam Jemielity)
Copyright 1998 New City Communications, Inc.