WASHINGTON PARK — It was a moment of recognition long overdue.
Charles “Sweet Charlie” Brown, a local basketball legend, was surrounded by friends, family and former teammates Monday night as he was honored for a lifetime of success, mentorship and more.
Brown, 84, had no idea the ceremony inside the Washington Park Fieldhouse, 5531 S. King Drive, was coming until moments before it happened. The field house was already buzzing in anticipation of a special game in the Windy City Senior Basketball League, which Brown formed decades ago.
“This is one of the best surprises I’ve ever had. I’d learned about the ceremony right before the game,” Brown told Block Club. “My daughter shared it with me, because they wanted to make sure I didn’t have a heart attack, I guess.”
Brown was presented a plaque by Lloyd Batts, a Chicago basketball success story in his own right. Batts, a fourth round NBA draft pick of the ’74 Kansas City Kings, is currently the leading scorer of the Windy City League’s Central City team.
“I decided that, since the passing of our dear friend Kobe, that it was time to honor someone here,” Batts told the crowd as he searched for Brown. Soon he emerged, accompanied by his granddaughter, wearing a WCSBL T-shirt and a smile.
The former Seattle University standout said he was “extremely touched” by the outpouring of love, especially from the men he mentored years ago, now fathers and grandfathers themselves.
“Many of them were 12 or 13 when I mentored them. Now they’re in their 50s, 60s and 70s,” said Brown, who led the all-Black DuSable High Panthers to a state championship in the 1950s, the first such team to ever compete on that level.
“There’s a family atmosphere that’s been developed with this league,” added Brown, a former Jewel executive who beamed as he talked about his two-year-old granddaughter singing “Happy Birthday” at his 84th birthday party last week in front of 150 guests, most from the league. “Can you ask for more?”
When Brown started the Windy City Basketball League, there were eight teams, with 10 men on each. Now, 37 years later, it has grown to 12 teams with two divisions: 50 and over and 60 and over.
As it has grown, so has the number of hats Brown has worn, from coach to commissioner.
“We have a waiting list,” chuckled Brown. “A guy told me he couldn’t wait to be 50 so he could join. He was 47. I told him he couldn’t play. That says a lot for this league.”
Some of the players have been judges, janitors, teachers, attorneys and senior-level government officials, but they all have one thing in common: the love of the game.
“When the CEO steps on the court, he doesn’t want to be a CEO. He just wants to play,” said Brown.
Brown was coy about one of his more famous players, Arne Duncan. “I won’t say any names but one was the former U.S. Secretary of Education,” he said.
The game’s equalizing force is just one of the reasons he loves it so much.
“Basketball has given me family, and a holistic approach to the entire world. This is a microcosm of what we could do worldwide. There might be some guys who don’t get along. But we have those guys in the striped shirts, and rules, and they apply to everyone.”
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