A Chicago Guide to Alley Basketball

by Raf


“I’ll tell you what. Why don’t we take all these bricks and build a shelter for the homeless, so maybe your mother will have a place to stay. And your sister too. I want your mother and your sister out of my house immediately.” – Billy Hoyle

Growing up, I mostly took a dilettantish approach to my hobbies. Only as an adult did I begin to nurture fixated interests—sometimes ones that could be construed as borderline-insane. Not like, “I want a room with a view and a bowl of fava beans, Clarice” insane. More like hanging-out-in-alleys insane. (Obviously.) Anyways, basketball was one of the few things that I always seemed to like throughout the years, regardless of how good I actually was at it. I still think it’s pretty much the best.

I mean, if you don’t get your neck-veins surging by thinking about Marv Albert yelling “Yes!” during the Finals and John Tesh’s “Roundball Rock” getting replayed until that’s all you hear when you close your eyes and the smell of fresh basketballs as you shop at Sportmart for hand-pump needles and Gatorade gum, then you may just as well stop reading here. This one’s for the true Y ballers.

I know plenty of people who think sports is an opiate for the masses, and that’s fine. There’s no point in trying to persuade them. They’ll never understand that draining a fadeaway baseline-jumper for the win is better than free money. They’ll also never understand that sometimes you end up at a friend’s backyard barbecue, drinking Stroh’s and munching on chops, and challenging every Brady Bunch chump in sight to a game of one-on-one. This is where this guide to alley basketball-hoops may come in handy. Grab a ball, stroll over to the nearest hoop on this list, throw down some Andrew Jacksons, and see who’s goin’ Sizzler tonight.

Logan Square


Location: South of 3221 W. Belden Ave.

“Doesn’t this guy look like one of those motherfuckers from The Brady Bunch?” – Sidney Deane

This milk-crate basketball hoop happens to look quite scenic in the summer, when the wall adjacent to it is covered in verdant ivy. It’s not the best spot to practice hard-ass dunks, but it’ll serve for a quick game of HORSE. There are plenty of kids on the South Side who don’t have fancy breakaway rims to play on, so see what that’s all about before heading over to Parson’s and paying $8 for three fish-nuggets.

Noble Square


Location: South of 1465 W. Willow St.

“You can put a cat in an oven, but that don’t make it a biscuit.” – Sidney Deane

Located behind the venerable Hideout, this hoop actually has the lane marked off under the basket, which is pretty hoity-toity for a back-alley. It also has some faded “PITT” insignia which is real cool if you went to school there or your last name is Pittsnogle. Just imagine playing until your shorts are all sweaty, then stopping in at the Hideout to crush some tall boys and chat with truck drivers about that one time Horace Grant kicked it out to John Paxson for a trophy.



Location: East of 3211 N. Southport Ave.

“Sometimes when you win, you really lose, and sometimes when you lose, you really win, and sometimes when you win or lose, you actually tie, and sometimes when you tie, you actually win or lose.” – Gloria Clemente

In 1992 and 1993, my cousins from my mom’s side lived in New York City. In 1992, we were visiting from Chicago, and a rivalry for the ages was in full swing between the Knicks and Bulls. Immediately after game 7 of the playoffs, the two families (dad, mom, son, daughter x2) went to a nearby park in Queens to play some four-on-four and finally decide whether Chicago or NYC was #1. In 1993, we did the same, but that time it was after game 6 and in my family’s driveway in the Chicago burbs.


Mom + Bulls hat

I remember that it was the sweatiest, most-intense inter-family competition that I have ever seen. John Starks throwing down baseline dunks and Charles Smith getting stuffed four times in a row under the hoop had nothing on this. Moms were going for boards. Dads were sweating through their shirts. Daughters were boxing each other out, and sons were hot-doggin’ it. I don’t remember the outcome of either game. Maybe I was just having too much fun. But I do remember that the Bulls won championships both years, and I guess that’s worth something.

After 1993, my cousins moved to Jersey and Jordan retired (for the first time), and we never had a showdown on the court again. The fam would play backyard volleyball for years, but it was never the same. It was never the same because when the Bulls played in 1994 or 1995, Spike Lee wasn’t sitting courtside and Bill Cartwright wasn’t getting dicey with Patrick Ewing. At least not in the same way. As sports fans, we’re part of the collective experience, and that experience was so much more collective when we were huddled around a small TV that had a finicky antenna. That’s why, for me, I don’t think I’ll ever see a rivalry that even approaches Bulls vs. Knicks again.

Anyways, this basket is located in Lakeview and just seems like a perfect spot for some high-stakes family ball. Take your cousins from Miami here and drain your jumpers like Bill Wennington. More importantly, make some memories. Years down the line, maybe you’ll chat about that one epic game you had in a Lakeview back-alley.