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San Antonio Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich shares his special bond with Gary

Photo caption: Gregg Popovich at the 2023 Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame Enshrinement Ceremony.

During the 2023 Naismith Hall of Fame Ceremony, San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich gave a speech that would impact those in attendance. One of those individuals the speech may have resonated with the most was Gary, Indiana native Charles “Chuck” Hughes.

Hughes, a former player for Popovich, is currently president and CEO of the Gary Chamber of Commerce. Hughes said Popovich has impacted his life in many ways since the age of twelve.

“I had the pleasure of meeting Gregg Popovich as a 12-year-old Biddy Basketball player,” said Hughes in a statement to the Crusader. “I was selected with some others from teams around the region to represent the big city of Gary in the World Biddy Basketball Tournament. Like the Dream Team, we all assembled at the old Gary Armory. Since the team I played for, the Gary Ol’ Timers, was the best in the leagues, our Coach, Edward “Doc” James, was given the honor of being the [head] coach. That occasion was the first time I had white teammates.”

Hughes said when it came to players’ reputations on the floor, Gary’s legendary coach, “Doc” James, had ‘no respect of persons’ and treated every player the same. During the meeting, Hughes also mentioned that James had each individual player introduce themselves, prior to representing the best Biddy Basketball team the city of Gary had to offer.

“Now of course this kid representing either East Chicago or Merrillville at the time by the name of Gregg Popovich took those lessons to heart,” said Hughes about James’ coaching influence on Popovich. “Blacks at that time were reluctant to go past 25th Avenue unless to shop or work and certainly not to play basketball on the Glen Park courts. But because of the endearing relationship of a guy like Popovich, we maintained those friendships gained through our Biddy experience and we were greeted warmly and played practically daily on the court at 39th & Broadway in the heart of Glen Park (Gary).”

Hughes said due to his relationship with the Hall of Fame head coach, Popovich has supported the community and several of his events, including Hughes’ annual Lakeshore Classic event. Hughes said his event survived all circumstantial challenges thanks to Popovich’s support.

“In 2013, as part of the Lakeshore Classic, I was able to bring every surviving member of the historic Gary Roosevelt and Indianapolis Crispus Attucks teams to Gary. Commonly known as “The Forgotten Hoosiers,” it was to give them a celebration for making history that had denied them in 1955,” said Hughes to the Crusader. “That team included for Attucks the great Oscar Robertson and on the Roosevelt side former NBA great Dr. Dick Barnett. These gentlemen and their families relived the memories, were interviewed on site here in Gary by the TNT network of the NBA and their presence was made possible in large part by the support of Gregory Charles Popovich.”

“Relationships matter and true friendship is everlasting,” Hughes said.

According to Hughes, Popovich loves the city of Gary and is the winningest coach in the history of the NBA. He coached his team to 5 NBA championships, an Olympic Gold Medal and won multiple NBA Coach of The Year awards.

“But a moment that should thrill and warm the heart of all Northwest Indiana and particularly Gary, Indiana was when Pop began his acceptance speech by paying tribute to his birthplace of East Chicago and his high school years in Merrillville. But what made me almost jump out of my seat, because yes I was there in person in Springfield, Massachusetts as a guest of my guy Pop, was when he talked about Coach Doc James, when he spoke of the experience of playing on 39th & Broadway in Gary and when he referenced our Biddy Basketball team. A guy who forgot from where he came – I think not! I feel now that not just us here in Gary and the region but the entire sports world knows how special this guy is.”

Hughes said he could not have dreamed of being a part of such a momentous occasion. Sitting in the Spurs section with the likes of David Robinson, Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobli, Tony Parker and their families, made his “Make-A-Wish” dream come true.

The other 2023 Hall of Fame inductees were the 1976 Women’s Olympic Basketball Team, Becky Hammon; David Hixon, Dirk Nowitzki, Dwyane Wade, Gary Blair, Gene Bess, Gene Keady, Jim Valvano, Pau Gasol, and Tony Parker.

The Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame Enshrinement Ceremony was held August 12, at Symphony Hall in Springfield, Massachusetts, the “Birthplace of Basketball.” Forty-five Hall of Famers were expected to be in attendance for the ceremony.

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Sports Editor at Chicago Crusader Newspaper

Joseph Phillips is the Sports Editor for the Chicago Crusader Newspaper. He is a Chicago native, who has been a sports writer for over 17 years. He also hosts the SC Media News and Sports Network Q&A radio show on WHPK 88.5 FM Chicago.

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