It was no doubt a bummer for the players, but it was actually kind of a kick to return to the UIC Pavilion for the Public League boys’ basketball title game last weekend. In recent years the city championship has taken place on the big stage of the Bulls’ floor at the United Center, but scheduling conflicts pushed it back to the Pavilion this year (though really, on aesthetic value if not popularity, Josh Groban should have been the one playing the Pavilion while the kids played the UC).
Over the years I saw some terrific games involving King, Simeon, and the late, lamented Westinghouse at the Pavilion, as well as Kevin Garnett completing his title run at Farragut–a game I took my older daughter to see, just so she could later tell people she saw Garnett in high school. So it was that I took my younger daughter to the Pavilion last Saturday to see Derrick Rose and Simeon take their second straight Public League title. Yet for all that, it wasn’t the same. The Public League championship used to draw the city’s true basketball aficionados, who’d fill the Pavilion right up to the top of the upper deck, but a threatened blizzard combined with the game’s being broadcast on local TV kept attendance down. The lower bowl was filled, but only a few handfuls of fans spilled into the balcony. There just wasn’t the same intensity there was before, when the King band used to rattle the rafters with its horn blasts and drum team.
Don’t get me wrong, it was a thrill to see the game from the close confines of the second row in the corner off the west basket (we’d gotten there in time for the freshman-sophomore championship, the undercard for the varsity, with PA announcer Jimmy Smith reminding fans, “Following this ballgame, showtime, showtime, following this ballgame, here we go”), but even so my 11-year-old daughter spent much of the evening playing cat’s cradle with a spare necklace she’d brought. There was one grand new addition, however: a Robinson’s Ribs concession stand selling rib tips, Cajun fries, and a first-class pulled-pork sandwich. It put to shame anything at the UC, and Wrigley Field might want to consider adding Robinson’s to its anemic offerings in the bleachers. It made it seem a shame they don’t sell beer at high-school basketball games.