BRONZEVILLE — Charlie Brown loved people as much as he loved basketball, his loved ones said.
The Canton, Mississippi, native and creator of the Windy City Basketball League died Friday after being injured in a fall. He was 86. He is survived by his daughter, Rosalind; granddaughters Grace and Ryann; and grandsons Rawlin and Justin.
Brown was part of Chicago’s basketball community through every step of his life, playing from the time he was in school and even creating the Windy City Basketball League to give older men a spot to hoop.
Brown was a standout at DuSable High School, where he was part of the first all-Black basketball team to make it to the state finals in 1954. He was NBA material, but quotas kept him out, former teammates said.
Brown pivoted, playing in the Amateur Athletic Union for several years after graduating from Seattle University. He retired to take a job as an executive for Jewel-Osco.
But Brown found a way to stay close to basketball, his first love: He became a high school referee and created the Windy City Basketball League league for men older than 50 who never gave up on their hoop dreams.
When the basketball legend was honored for his decades of dedication to the game in March 2020 at the Washington Park Fieldhouse, he said basketball’s “equalizing force” was one of the reasons he loved it so much.
“Basketball has given me family and a holistic approach to the entire world,” Brown said. “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.”
Brown’s love for the game and impeccable sportsmanship is what his friends and former teammates will miss most, they said. He took the fouls life brought in stride, preferring to focus on the good, they said.
“He had no ego. Life was grand for him. Charlie was a thoughtful, easygoing guy,” said Bill Frey, who met Brown when he joined what would eventually become the Windy City Basketball League in 1990.
Frey, who played in the 2022 National Senior Games at age 82, said his skills “aren’t that great” — but talking to Brown, you wouldn’t know it.
“He always thought I was great player. He’d tell me I was underestimating myself, that I was really good, but he hadn’t seen me play in six or seven years. But he always said I was good,” Frey said.
Another teammate, Tom Ward, was in awe upon meeting Brown more than 20 years ago, he said. They eventually became best friends.
Brown was a basketball legend who had a gift for connecting people “from all walks of life,” Ward said. Through his league for older men, judges played alongside janitors, stockbrokers and teachers, forming friendships to last a lifetime.
Ward, who turned 80 Monday, will miss the man who gave him a reason to keep going.
“I invited him to my daughter’s wedding at the Palmer House, and he had such a great time. Some of my son-in-law’s relatives are basketball players, so they really liked him. I was so happy he could come,” Ward said.
Pat Craddock said he will remember Brown as a teammate who played five consecutive games during on the second day of a two-day tournament, their team eventually winning after playing all day.
“We were so tired we couldn’t even walk over to where they had the trophies. It was exhausting. I never thought I’d get that tired,” said Craddock, who got to know Brown during trips to games across the United States.
Craddock, an 87-year-old retiree, spoke with Brown regularly, the two updating each other on their lives and sharing stories about their grandchildren, he said. Though years had passed since the two had been on the court together, the brotherhood was still strong.
Visitation for Brown is noon-7 p.m. Thursday and 10 a.m. Friday at Travis Funeral Home, 14338 S. Indiana Ave. in Riverdale. Funeral services are 11 a.m. Friday at Shekinah Chapel, 13800 S. Wabash ave. in Riverdale.
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