By Rob Breymaier, executive director of the Oak Park Regional Housing Center
Like many Oak Parkers, my family and I had a blast watching last spring’s NBA playoffs and championships. Knowing that Cavaliers guard Iman Shumpert was from Oak Park made the series even more fun to watch than usual.
When I arrived for this interview with Shumpert, it became clear that our hometown hero is now in another world. This wasn’t a one-on-one interview—it was a “press opportunity” with reporters from many local television stations, newspapers, and other media outlets. This was my first time doing an interview with handlers, but Shumpert’s PR person understood the nature of The Oak Parker’s interest in him. To us, Iman Shumpert isn’t just an NBA star—he’s an alumnus of Brooks Middle School and Oak Park-River Forest High School. He may be a star, but he’s also one of us.
The other reporters mostly asked questions about Shumpert’s new (and lucrative) contract and how he’ll prepare to get back to the finals again next season. There were obligatory questions about playing with Lebron James and beating the Chicago Bulls.
Shumpert also talked about his basketball camp that he holds in Oak Park every summer, and why it’s important to him to come to the camp in person. He said wants the kids in the area to know that it is possible to make it coming from Oak Park or places nearby. He wanted to give back a little because Oak Park was a good place for him to grow up.
“I’m getting a lot of support from my hometown,” Shumpert said. “To see these kids’ faces light up, it makes my day better, it makes my week better. I’m going to continue to do it every year.”
He also noted that even with natural ability, he still had work hard to get to where he is today. His father told him, “Only you care enough to prove you can make it.”
Of course, he was also asked about his hair. While his tall high-top is usually his signature, Shumpert was sporting twists, tied up on top of his head in a ponytail.
“It’s just a simple as me being lazy,” Shumpert chuckled. “I didn’t want to have to wake up and pick it every day. I leave it in a ponytail on Monday and it’s the same way on Saturday. I kind of like it. It’s easy…It’s just something for the summer. The high-top’s not going anywhere.”
When the group interview session was over, I got to ask him my questions about growing up in Oak Park. On hearing my first question, a smile beamed across his face and he became a little more animated—a little less guarded, knowing I wasn’t going to ask him something that would be posted in another team’s locker room for motivation.
TOP: Growing up in Oak Park, did you enjoy it? What was it like? Did it prepare you at all for going out into the rest of the world?
IS: I think the diversity [prepared me]–how diverse it is… [Also,] with the schooling, with just walking around, going to play basketball at a random court. Me and my friends, we used to dribble down alleys until we found a game and we’d just start playing. Probably played so many people’s courts in Oak Park, don’t even know ‘em, just start shooting on their rim, and sometimes their mother comes out and says [laughing] “You can’t shoot on this rim!” I was that guy until my dad put one in our backyard.
I definitely think [Oak Park] prepared me for life in general because, you know, nothing surprises me. I appreciate simple things… I think my head’s in the right place.
TOP: There aren’t a lot of middle school teams that have two guys who end up in the NBA. [Evan Turner of the Boston Celtics also played for Brooks with Shumpert.] Did you guys feel like you were in a different world than the rest of the team you were playing?
IS: Me and Evan’s conversations were always, always, always about the NBA. Everything we did was for the NBA. It’s nice to look back and know that you got where you were going, but of course there were times where it was like, “Man, we just lost a game! We’re not going to get to the NBA playing like this!” [laughs]
But it’s a dream come true for both of us. Every time I’m with Evan, every time we are on the phone together, we laugh about, just times with me, him, and just hanging out with all the old teammates, it’s always a good time.
IS: Johnnie’s [Beef, in Elmwood Park]. I always go to Johnny’s to eat and get an Italian ice. I usually go to Tasty Dog but I haven’t been back there yet [on this visit]. Yeah, I love Tasty Dog. Geppetto’s [Pizza and Pasta], and it’s not Oak Park, but Uncle Remus’ [in Chicago] too.
Shumpert closed the press session by telling us some of the primary messages he tries to get across to the children in his camp.
“We encourage fire,” he said. “We build competition as a skill… We make them run to each station. We’re constantly trying to get them to make more noise, who can lead, who can get everyone quiet at one time… Competition will set your foundation for life—it will make you work harder at everything you do. We want to teach them to compete in life.”
And of course, Shumpert also wants to make sure the campers understand the importance of keeping up with their studies.
“I want them all to make sure they work hard at school, because that’s another thing that helped me out,” Shumpert said. “I never had to worry about problems with grades and not being able to play. As long as your grades are good, you stay out of trouble, and you keep working hard, you can get anywhere you want to go.”
When the interviews were over, Shumpert zoomed off to rejoin the young basketball players on the court, where he’s most at home.
Game photos courtesy of NBA Photos