When several of the top teams and players in the state of Illinois take the floor in the Chicago Elite Classic to take on five of the nation's top prep teams on Dec. 1, it will take Don Jackson down memory lane.
While Whitney Young coach Tyrone Slaughter is the brainchild behind this inaugural event, and Simeon coach Robert Smith has partnered up with Slaughter and Whitney Young, the Chicago Elite Classic wouldn't be exciting hoop fans around the Chicago area if not for Jackson and many other local leading business and community leaders.
Jackson is the co-founder and past president of the Alliance of Business Leaders and Entrepreneurs. The Chicago group, recognized as ABLE, is an organization of a select group of approximately 25 leading African-American CEOs. The CEOs who make up ABLE, which was founded in 1992, are Chicago business and community leaders who, together, strive to establish business relationships for its members and to promote business business opportunities and inclusion in the corporate community.
In addition to the corporate connections and business savvy Jackson brings to the table, he's also a basketball fan with fond memories of big-time basketball events in Chicago.
"When I heard about this it got me thinking about the old Tech Tournament Chicago used to have," says Jackson, who was a 1961 graduate of Chicago Marshall and played on Marshall's 1960 state championship team. "It was a tournament around the holidays. It was played at the old Chicago Amphitheater near the Chicago Stockyards on 43rd and Halsted. All of the top Chicago area teams played there."
With that thought in his head, Jackson envisioned an event that all of Chicago could get excited about and be proud of, which is what he thought the Chicago Elite Classic could do for the city. Jackson sees Chicago resurrecting some of that basketball history and that type of feeling again with this event. Jackson, who was captain of the 1965 Northwestern basketball team, wanted to give Chicago kids exposure here, in their home city, against top national teams, in an event that will draw a lot of interest.
"I played in that tournament when I played at Marshall," says Jackson. "It was ours, the city of Chicago's. While this is a little different with the national teams that will be coming in, it's time for the city of Chicago to have a tournament, to have an event, for all of us to see, enjoy and be proud of. There has been nothing that has replaced that.
"The Proviso West Holiday Tournament did to a degree, and they do a fantastic job and it's a great tournament. But it's not ours. It's not Chicago. Why doesn't Chicago have something of its own?"
The event is just that -- an event. There will be cultural experiences for the visiting teams throughout the weekend, a banquet for all the participants the Friday night before the event with a special guest speaker, and of course high-profile matchups on a big stage at the UIC Pavilion.
Jackson is a fan. He follows the high school basketball scene. He has watched many of the top Chicago teams leave the city, fly to other areas of the country to compete in high-profile events. He saw an opportunity to help and used his ties and connections in the Chicago business world to assist in helping make the event happen.
"If we, and by we I mean our community and the city of Chicago, don't step up to the plate, our teams and players will always be invited to someone else's events and tournaments," Jackson points out. "Why not have one of our own and one that is memorable?
Enter ABLE. Jackson sent out a letter out to ABLE members regarding the event and their willingness to support it. Jackson says the positive response was overwhelming in support of the Chicago Elite Classic and what it could do for the city of Chicago. The immediate response was "Lets do it" from the members, Jackson said.
"It wasn't about how much money or any specifics," says Jackson of the initial response from members. "It was just 'Lets do this,' and they got behind the reason and rationale of why we should do this. We wanted to step up to the plate as African-American business and community leaders, get behind the event financially and have something that is really tremendous."
"We hope and want to attract the corporate community for support. We can help the Chicago economy, bring business to Chicago. And the potential to grow is there. We want to start a new, fresh and rich tradition. We said, 'Wouldn't it be great to play a part in starting this?' We wanted to put our relationship with corporate America to work, put our money and support behind it. Most all of the businesses are professional service firms. It's not like we are selling our product."
Slaughter had been kicking around the idea of an event like the Chicago Elite Classic for years. While his Whitney Young team was invited to and participated in large-scale national events, Slaughter took notes and recognized what worked and what didn't. He spoke with organizers, researched and tried to make connections along the way. Slaughter knew, however, the big ideas he had for the event and for it to be on the grand scale he wanted, that he would need help and support from the likes of Jackson and others.
"When you look at the big picture, one of the first people we reached out to and spoke with was Don Jackson," says Slaughter. "He volunteered himself and the organization to do whatever was necessary to help make the event what Rob [Smith] and I envisioned. This kind of shows and represents the whole spirit of Chicago being the city of broad shoulders."
For information on the Chicago Elite Classic, go to www.chicagoeliteclassic.com