CHICAGO -- ON MADISON STREET just outside the United Center, during a summer day more than two months before the Chicago Bulls will play their first game of the 2023-24 season, Jevon Carter is about to get his first challenge as a Bull.
It's the weekend of Bulls Fest, the team's second annual fan festival, and Carter is swarmed as soon as he steps on the court by middle school kids eager to go 1-on-1 with the Bulls' newest guard.
"Step up," Carter says as he checks the ball to the first kid in line, who is eager to get into a defensive stance.
Amused, Carter pulls up for a jump shot at the free throw line, but he misses and his challenger grabs the rebound. For a moment, the opponent has the edge over Carter as he checks the ball ready for his opportunity to score. But Carter's hands are too quick. Before the youngster can even make a move, Carter steals the ball and cackles to himself as he heads to the rim for an easy layup.
"C'mon man, you ain't even let me get the ball," his opponent pleads in protest.
Afterwards, they all stop and take pictures with Carter, one of the team's two free agent additions this offseason. While new to the Bulls, Carter is no newcomer to Chicago. The sixth-year guard, who had previous NBA stops with the Phoenix Suns, Memphis Grizzlies, Brooklyn Nets, and Milwaukee Bucks, was born and grew up in nearby Maywood, Illinois, just outside of Chicago, where he helped lead Proviso East High School to a runner-up finish in the state championship in 2012. So when he signed with the Bulls in July, it served as a homecoming.
Carter is the latest Chicago-area player to play for the hometown Bulls in recent years, a trend that includes 2011 MVP Derrick Rose (born on the south side and a graduate of Simeon) and Hall of Famer Dwyane Wade (who grew up in Robbins, Illinois and went to high school at Richards in nearby Oak Lawn). In 2021, the Bulls jumped at the chance to draft Ayo Dosunmu, who played high school basketball on the south side of Chicago, when he fell to the second round of the draft. While shopping the buyout market last year, the team signed Patrick Beverley, who was born on the west side of Chicago.
Can't even explain how this makes me feel 🙏🏾 https://t.co/VTl6yZX7rQ— Jevon Carter (Bulldog) (@nextlevel_03) July 11, 2023
That the Bulls have found Chicago players to add to their roster in recent years is more than just a coincidence. The front office is looking for talent above all, but they see added value in carrying local players on their roster because of the honor they take in representing their hometown team.
"When we can go out and get kids who can check a lot of boxes on the court, it's definitely a bonus when they're from Chicago," Bulls general manager Marc Eversley told ESPN. "There's just a certain pride that I think those kids wear on their chest.
"Anytime you can have a Chicago kid playing for the Chicago Bulls, [it] is a really, really special thing."
WHEN DOSUNMU GOT the opportunity to make his first NBA start in December 2021, he knew right away how he wanted to be introduced.
Yes, he had led the University of Illinois to one of its best seasons in school history, including a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament, but Dosunmu wanted to mirror the iconic introduction that started when Rose was with the Bulls.
"I like to be proud to say I'm from Chicago because I know the ups and downs of the city," Dosunmu said that December night when he finished with 11 points, 8 assists and 6 rebounds in a 12-point win over the Denver Nuggets. "I've been here my whole life. I've seen so many things, so much tragedy. For me, to be in this position, doing what I love at the highest level, anytime I get an opportunity to show love to where I came from, I love to do that."
That tradition has continued whenever new homegrown players have joined the team. Beverley heard the same introduction before each of his 22 starts with the Bulls last season.
Even if the Bulls are not going out of their way to intentionally recruit Chicago players, according to Eversley, the organization plays up the connection once that player joins the team. It helps that Rose became the No. 1 overall pick in the draft and then the youngest MVP in NBA history, but his introduction has continued on years after he played his last game with the team.
"He was basically the son of Chicago," former Bulls player Randy Brown told ESPN. Brown, who is also from Chicago, won three championships with the team in the late 1990s before serving as an assistant coach and front office executive with the team through 2018.
"There's always conversations about who produces the better players: Chicago, New York, LA, Houston... Chicago is different, man," Brown added. "We're the city of big shoulders. We work hard. We're grimy. We're tough. We come back from tough situations. We prove our worth when our backs are against the wall. So yeah, putting on that Bulls uniform when you're from here is added pride."
THE BULLS ARE happy to target players from Chicago because the city produces a talent pool rich in NBA players.
Last season featured eight NBA players born in Chicago, and that doesn't even include players like Carter who were born in the greater Chicago area. From Anthony Davis to Talen Horton-Tucker to John Konchar, players from Chicago are scattered across the league. Because the city has produced such a deep talent pool, the Bulls are happy to draw from it when given the opportunity.
"You're paying attention to it because you know you're going to find someone with talent," one team source said. "If the stars align and you can do it, most teams would go ahead and make that decision."
And for players who already have a connection to the city, they are more likely to get involved in the community.
Dosunmu hosted his second block party earlier this summer in the city's Little Village neighborhood, providing a safe haven for kids to play basketball as a way to honor his late friend Darius Brown, who was killed by gun violence while playing basketball at the age of 13. He was proud to witness the growth of the event, which doubled in size from 60 to 120 kids in its second year, and he hopes will continue growing as he continues his Bulls career.
"I still am going to always try to give back to my city," said Dosunmu, who signed a three-year deal to stay with the Bulls this offseason. "This is the city that raised me, that made me.
"Being involved in the neighborhood, helping the kids grow, trying my best to provide knowledge and doing my best to be hands on with them, that's my main focus."
And, as Randy Brown said, simply by being on the court, Dosunmu can provide an example for the kids of Chicago.
"Chicago as a community, we're going through some tough times right now with violence and all that stuff, but I think it's important for kids from the inner city," said the former Bull. "Kids that are growing up with difficult obstacles, I think it's important for them to see a Chicago kid make it to the NBA, wearing the uniform because they're seeing if Jevon Carter or Ayo can make it wearing that Bulls uniform, maybe I can too."