AUSTIN — Norvell Meadows felt the love of his neighborhood at his basketball games.
Neighbors from around Washington Boulevard and North Cicero Avenue watched Meadows learn to play in his grandmother’s West Side driveway, then cheered him on as he became an all-city point guard at Prosser Career Academy and Orr Academy High School. Dozens or even hundreds of relatives, friends and neighbors would shake the stands and smack the floor at every game, and “he’d show out for the hood,” said his mother, Octavius Morris.
Meadows, 19, was fatally shot June 30 outside of his grandmother’s home in the 4800 block of West Washington Boulevard, the same place where he first gravitated to the game, Morris said. He was shot in the abdomen and died about two hours later at Stroger Hospital, according to police and the Cook County medical examiner’s office. No one is in custody for the shooting, police said.
Meadows became a father weeks before he was killed and had hopes of joining a college team next season, Morris said.
“All he talked about was wanting to be a good father,” Morris said. “He wanted to take off and help his family. Basketball was his way to do it.”
“People really loved this kid. There’s just shock right now,” Prosser coach Perrick “Moon” Robinson said. “All my old players called back to say they can’t believe their little brother is gone. They raised him on the basketball court.”
Morris affectionally nicknamed her son “Lil Dude” because “he was born with a mustache,” the youngest of a large family that has been in the neighborhood for over 50 years, she said. He was driven, goofy when he could be and always “loved his family,” Morris said.
Meadows was the “golden child” of the neighborhood and it wasn’t long before locals recognized his talent for the game, Morris said.
“One day, a man came up to me and said, ‘I’ve been watching that little boy work; get him out of this neighborhood, because he is going to be nasty with that ball,’’ Morris said. “We all raised Lil Dude. His games took our minds off the area.”
Meadows shined early on at Prosser as an undersized point guard, Robinson said. He was always the youngest kid on the teams he played on, a testament to his talent and his ability to “make anyone gravitate towards him, laugh with him,” Robinson said.
Meadows made time to stop by Robinson’s special education classes at Prosser, he said. He served food at community non-violence events and passed out backpacks at back-to-school drives, Robinson said.
Meadows transferred to Orr after his sophomore year and “the pandemic really hurt him,” losing seasons and key opportunities to showcase his talents to college scouts, Robinson said. Meadows was practicing with the team at Lincoln College when the school closed in May.
Meadows stayed closed to Robinson after he switched schools and was a fixture at his former coach’s home — a safe place where the two discussed basketball, fatherhood and everything in between, Robinson said.
Meadows was back at Robinson’s house the day before he died, “trying to figure out what came next” for the young player’s future, Robinson said.
“Had it not been for all this, the pandemic, all of it, Norvell would have been in a different place, a different scenery,” Robinson said. “This kid really had a future. He wanted to change his life and get back on track. He never got the chance.”
Morris said she has long dreaded the possibility of burying her son.
“As a mother living where I live, it was in the back of my mind every time the phone rings,” Morris said. “I got in trouble at work talking to Lil Dude. I didn’t care, because he was on the other line.”
Meadows was protective of Robinson’s two young daughters and a steady presence in the life of his 5-year-old niece, his coach and mother said.
“She’s been crying, we heard her saying, ‘Lil Dude, why you go on without me?’” Morris said of Meadows’ niece. “What does she know about death?”
Robinson said he’s still processing his grief, keeping busy at a basketball tournament in Charlotte, “but come Friday, when I sit with it, it’s going to be a totally different story, I’m sure.”
“Norvell is gone, but I still have 30 other kids that are trying to live his dream. I tell them you know where we’re from, we know the stigma. We play so you’re not around all that,” Robinson. “I saw myself in Norvell.”
But these days, promising young players in Chicago rarely feel that sense of security, Robinson said.
“When I was growing up, there was a community safety net for athletes. If they knew you played sports, you were off limits. Nobody tried to get you in gangs and involved in things,” Robinson said. “Now nothing is off limits. Everybody is out for themselves. And it’s just increasing the violence.”
Meadows was a “student of the game,” always on his family’s couch watching film of his favorite players, Morris said. He loved candy and would fall asleep with the TV on, wrappers scattered on the floor, Morris said.
“I still feel his presence in the house,” Morris said. “They’re killing kids for nothing.”
Listen to the Block Club Chicago podcast: