For Kendrick Nunn — born and bred on the South Side of Chicago — there’s simply no place like home.
Even now, years removed from the time he says he fell in love with basketball in his backyard and at Simeon Career Academy, that rings true. As a member of the Miami Heat, he dropped 21 points on 8-for-14 shooting in his first NBA game at the United Center on Nov. 22. Tonight, back there again, he posted a cool 16 on 7-for-11 in Team USA’s 151-131 drubbing of Team World in the Rising Stars Challenge with a slew of close family in attendance.
“It’s very special,” Nunn said the morning of the game about the chance to represent his city. "Representing Chicago, the South Side, myself, my family. I'm representing a lot, and it feels good just to be here and represent those things and what I'm about."
That’s not just said for show. On Thursday, when Nunn first got into town, he paid a visit to Simeon and spoke to players and coaches, who he says are preparing for a championship game on All-Star Sunday. Ask those that came up in Chicago, and that community and commitment to legacy is unique to the city.
“Chicago basketball means a lot. Obviously you have the culture here, a lot of great guys coming from Chicago, a lot of players and things like that,” Nunn said. “Just a legacy that we like carrying on and we like playing with.
“I'm just putting on for the city and where I'm from.”
That legacy, Nunn said, is carried by playing “relentless.” On All-Star Saturday, Patrick Beverly — whose trash-talking Nunn lauded — will get a chance to showcase that. On Sunday, during the All-Star game itself, former Bull Jimmy Butler takes the stage for Team Giannis and Englewood native Anthony Davis for Team LeBron.
But on night one, Nunn shined alongside a Team USA starting lineup of all top five picks in Trae Young, Ja Morant, Zion Williamson and Jaren Jackson Jr. Admittedly, he didn’t receive the most raucous ovations of the night (that was reserved for such dazzling moments as Luka Doncic’s near-halftime-buzzer-beating half court shot and the pseudo-dunk contest that broke out in the game’s final minute), but the ones he got struck a chord.
“Everybody did,” Nunn said when asked if anyone nudged him to step up in his return home, though he shot down any talk of nervousness. “Coming back to my hometown, Chicago, playing in the Rising Stars game is big for me, everybody wanted me to show out.”
Of his 17 points, the two loudest came on a thunderous tomahawk slam in the third quarter.
“Going in the lane, getting some dunks,” Nunn said with a smile of his favorite moments from the night. And of the reception: “I definitely heard it. I don’t know how loud it was.”
There’s just something about being home.
“It’s everything. I dreamed of it. It’s a dream come true,” Nunn said. “Growing up in Chicago, I went to the United Center watching Bulls games, and I never really envisioned myself playing on the floor until years ago, when I realized I can do this.”