MA in Sports Journalism at St Mary's University

Sports Gazette

by sports journalism students at St Mary's University, London

‘Chi-Town:’ A review of how Keifer Sykes is making a difference through basketball

It’s no surprise that people use sports to escape reality, but for some athletes their love of a sport can save their life.

‘Chi-Town,’ a documentary film, recently premiered at the Raindance film festival in central London. This film — directed by Nick Budabin — tells the story of Keifer Sykes and his seven-year journey from high school to professional basketball, to demonstrate that sports is a vehicle for opportunities, not just four quarters on the court.

Chicago is known for basketball and gun violence, but at a young age Sykes knew that he only had control of one. Athletes like Sykes grow up in a city where ‘right place, wrong time’ is a reality, not just a phrase.

In 2016 there were 3,550 shooting incidents in Chicago, which not only impacts the community, but the lives of young athletes like Sykes. With the support of his family and friends, he was determined to spend his time on the court, not the streets.

All great sports stories talk about how young inner-city athletes want to make it to a professional team. The difference is that Sykes’ basketball career all started because he wanted to get a degree, not just to be drafted in the NBA.

The constant fear of the unknown and the support of his family was what propelled him out of Chicago and into the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay.

Throughout his time in college, we can see in the film his growth both on and off the court. The University of Wisconsin not only changed his mindset, but introduced him to a new way of life.

We see his view on Chicago change when the bullets drastically altered the lives of those close to him — reminding him that it easily could have been him instead.

It was then that Sykes wasn’t just playing basketball on a scholarship, but to also honour his dad, coach and friends who helped him break away from the street violence in his youth.

Now that Sykes is playing professional basketball in Italy, he sees his story as a way to reach other inner-city kids not only in the United States, but all over the world.

No matter where you live, Sykes’ message to the next generation of inner-city athletes everywhere is that they have to fall in love with the journey on and off the court.

But by watching Sykes’ story on screen, it’s easy to see that it’s not only about the love of the game — because all athletes have that — it’s about what you are playing for that sets you apart from the rest.

Featured photograph/Rachael Mathewson