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Small Market Franchise On The Rise Despite Limited Funds

Chicago Court Kingz newly designed uniforms. Photo

The Chicago Court Kingz is the name of a team that often goes unnoticed.

As one of the many teams in the American Basketball Association, growth and prosperity appears far-fetched in a league that seems to be neglected by your average “hoops” fan.

The Court Kingz are a determined group of achievers that were founded by the current co-owner of the team, Joseph Phillips. Built from the ground up with hard work and dedication, the blossoming franchise continues to fly under the radar. Their growth and success hasn’t come without obstacles, yet they continue to exceed every expectation without fear of failure. After all, they weren’t supposed to be here.

Phillips, 35, is a dedicated entrepreneur who works tirelessly in his efforts to promote the team, as well as sustain his media company in which he is a full-time CEO. His work ethic and determination has spread throughout the organization and his objective to build the team’s brand is evident.

“This team is community based,” Phillips said. “You don’t have to go through the red tape to meet the players. They are approachable and avalable. We aren’t making a ton of money off of this, but we are building our brand and raising capital and that’s what’s important.”

Although the Columbia College graduate still plays a huge role in the affluence of the franchise, the excessive amount of attention that both the team and media company demanded led him to hand over the position as full-time owner to his business partner and current CEO, Sonya Nichols.

Nichols, 36, had worked with Phillips in the past and has an exceptional basketball resume as well. While playing for Westinghouse high school, she broke the record for most rebounds in a game, season and career. Her knowledge and passion for the game made her the obvious choice to take control of all decision making for the team.

“It’s a welcomed challenge,” Nichols said. “I have to make sure we are getting sponsors and views, along with communicating with other teams and players. Every transaction that occurs for my team comes through me so I am very hands on.”

While Nichols seems to have her hands full with the basketball operations of the team, she also chips in when it comes to marketing.

“We have a marketing database with different companies, and we reach out to different local newspapers,” Nichols said.

The hard-charging efforts that are made by both Phillips and Nichols are energetic and the early success of the team makes it all the more impactful. Their organization seems to be on the fast track and is hell-bent on achieving their goals both short term and long. But aside from what they have been able to do behind the scenes, the team that is out on the court is worthy of significant praise as well.

Team photo (2)
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The Court Kingz play at the JLM Life Center on the west side of Chicago, and are fresh off of their inaugural season in which they went 6-11. While playing the underdog role all season long, they managed to upset a few teams, including their rivals, the Chicago Steam. Led by head coach Kirk Johnson, the Court Kingz worked to steadily improve as the season progressed, and were mentally prepared for each game.

“I’m kind of from that old school [mentality],” Johnson said. “As a player, I was around a lot of old school coaches. So, I honestly feel that it’s not about knowing what the other team is going to do; it’s about them worrying about stopping us and what we do. I like to focus on what my team is capable of doing.”

Johnson, 53, had previously held coaching positions at Crane, Farragut and Kelly high schools. However, this is his first gig as a head coach, so the initial job offer was gratefully accepted.

“I happened to be in the gym the day that Sonya Nichols and Joseph Phillips came over to present the organizations to some of the directors in the gym,” Johnson said. “They saw how I got along with a lot the young men that were at the open gym, and they asked me if I would be interested in coaching the team that year. I was at the right place at the right time.”

Once Johnson was named the head coach of the Court Kingz, he relished the opportunity to recruit for the team. While waiting for the franchise to be launched, Johnson reached out to his longtime friend and current combo guard, Marvin Sykes.

Sykes is a 23-year old, left-handed primary point guard out of San Diego City College. As one of the team’s best players, Sykes pushes himself to do whatever it takes to help his team win, whether it’s on the offensive or defensive end.

“My defense creates my offense,” Sykes said. “If they need me to score, that’s what I’m going to do. If I have to play defense, so be it. I can multi-task.

“I may be a small body but I play like I’m 6’4 or 6’5. I play with a big heart and I’ve always played like that,” he said.

The overall gameplay of the ABA is fairly different from most professional leagues as the rules seem to mirror those of international leagues. Players are allowed to touch the ball while it is still on the cylinder, and more than 4 points can be scored on a single possession. This is known as the 3-D rule.

The 3-D rule is activated if a defensive player steals the ball or forces a turnover in the backcourt. While the 3-D rule is in effect, all scoring is doubled. This allows every game to be high scoring and very entertaining.

“It’s a great opportunity for all of us to play a real up-tempo game,” Sykes said. “The rules are different but it’s still as organized as the NBA.”

As the Court Kingz organization continues to work toward gaining notoriety, the league in which they play is headed toward greater relevance as well. The ABA has worked to gain sponsorships, and to develop more of a following for the entire league. Their efforts to this point have even led them to an opportunity to have last season’s ABA finals aired on ESPN3. If Phillips and company can obtain a loyal and decent sized fan base, the sky is the limit for them.

“We’re using what we have without taking out loans and without big time sponsors,” Phillips said. “But it’s not about where we are. It’s about where we’re going.”

The true identity of this franchise goes far beyond the action on the court. Whether it’s providing free basketball camps, hosting free events or simply partnering with different churches, their resolute efforts represent what the, “City of broad shoulders” is all about.

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