Landon Cox, a basketball coaching legend, died of coronavirus in May. He was 81. Credit: Provided

Chicago remembers Landon “Sonny” Cox as a sometimes controversial but always talented basketball coaching legend.

His daughter, Danielle Cox-Jones, remembers him as her hero.

“He was my superhero,” she said. “Although I shared him with many people, guys and other families around the city, he still was just Dad to me. … He was just Dad for me — and I got my time with him. But he gave a lot of himself.”

Landon Cox, 81, died of COVID-19 on May 5.

At Cox’s visitation, a basketball player he once coached — who went on to become a Chicago Public Schools principal — wore his old letterman’s jacket. The high school jacket was far too tight on the grown man, and Cox-Jones and others laughed.

But he wasn’t alone: Many of Landon’s former students and players came to pay their respects, wearing their own letterman’s jackets or school colors.

The coach ran the basketball program 1981-2001 at Martin Luther King Jr. College Preparatory High School in North Kenwood. In Cox’s time there, the team won 503 games and lost just 89.

They’re not just boys and men who Cox coached, though. They were a team, a brotherhood whose members still help each other, years after finishing school. And Cox brought them together.

“A lot of those guys, some of them, when you talk to them, you hear their stories, a lot of them didn’t have their fathers … in the house,” Cox-Jones said. “Their fathers weren’t around. And so my dad was their father.”

Now, she said, she feels like she has many brothers scattered throughout Chicago. (She does have one biological brother, Jeffery Thompson.) All of her “brothers” look out for her — and for each other.

“Of course, they’re all grown now, and in their different either careers or lifestyles …, but they help one another,” Cox-Jones said. “If someone needs a job and there’s somebody there that can help, they really band together as a brotherhood and look out for each other.”

Cox-Jones’ warmest memories of her dad mingle with those of his team. When Cox took his players to the now-defunct Fun Town amusement park in Stony Island, she got to tag along and partake in the treats.

“We were there riding rides and eating junk: popcorn, cotton candy, just having a good time,” she said. “And that’s one of the things that I can remember about him: That when it came to me, I can truly say I was his princess.”

But Cox was a father figure to many of his players.

When Cox-Jones was younger, her dad would pick her up from her babysitter. When she got in the car, it was always full of the basketball players who Cox was giving a ride home to after practice.

Although I shared him with many people, guys and other families around the city, he still was just Dad to me.”

Danielle Cox-Jones

“He would get them something to eat,” she said. “He would get them a bucket of chicken — this is when you could really share stuff like this. And then he would make them, they had to save me some chicken, so that when he picked me up, I could have something to eat, as well.”

Landon showed affection through actions like these, showering those around him with support — and resources. One of the things that made him controversial, his daughter said, was his partnerships with organizations that donated gym shoes to his players.

“Every year, when they got new uniforms, that was a big to-do,” Danielle said. “It was almost like Fashion Week in New York, but it was like Fashion Week in CPS sports, like, ‘OK, what kind of uniforms are King gonna come out with this year?'”

Another aspect of Landon’s career that made him controversial: He was a school counselor as well as a coach, so he kept a close eye on his players’ grades. (Although working with the Board of Education was a second career. He’d already had a successful stint as a jazz musician.)

“He knew that the kids that he was dealing with, they had issues, if you will,” Cox-Jones said. “Issues, be it poverty or just whatever was going on in their home life. So one of the things that he tried to get rid of, one of those barriers, is just making sure that the kids could get to school.”

Back in those days, when it was still allowed, Landon would give rides to players who didn’t have a way to get to school. One mom had to be at work earlier than most, and she would take her son to Cox’s house along the way. 

“His mom would drop him off at our house in the morning so that he could get a ride to school,” Cox-Jones said. “And I would come downstairs in the morning, after getting dressed, getting ready for me to leave for school, and you’d see this big 7-foot boy sprawled out on the couch.”

The boy would be sound asleep, Danielle said. He’d drift off waiting for her dad to come downstairs so that they could all drive to school together.

Coronavirus was first found in Chicago on Jan. 24, 2020. In the year since, the virus has killed more than 4,500 Chicagoans. Block Club is remembering victims from across the city with our series, A Year of Loss.

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