CHICAGO (CBS) –– When it comes to Chicago basketball, before Derrick Rose and Michael Jordan, there was Charlie Brown. Nope, not that Charlie Brown.
On many nights at the Washington Park fieldhouse, the 50-and-over crowd gets together to hit the hardwood.
It’s the Windy City Senior Basketball League, a collection of once-great players who still have the moves, even if they move a little more slowly. Seventy-five-year-old “Sweet” Charlie Brown is its founder.
“We started with a team of guys and now we have a family, a huge family,” he tells CBS 2’s Rob Johnson.
Charlie was a high school legend at DuSable High School back in the 1950s, winning the 1954 city championship against Fred Rosen’s all-white Roosevelt High squad.
“To play against Charlie Brown was like playing against the greatest high school player in America,” Rosen says.
But Charlie’s team would lose the state championship in controversial fashion, at a time when race relations were virtually non-existent. Despite that huge disappointment, he says he learned a lot about life in that single game.
Charlie went on to star at Seattle University with Elgin Baylor, served in the U.S. Army and then returned home to Chicago to marry his high school sweetheart. For years, he was considered one of the top basketball referees in the city.
But it’s his senior basketball league that is now his passion.
“The best relationships that i have ever had,” he says.
And it is those relationships that bring the other senior players out, not just to play here, but games all around the country as well.
“He is like an institution in Chicago. He’s almost like the basketball version of Ernie Banks when you see him, he’s like an ambassador for the city,” Jeff Doman says.
It is the journey, not the destination, that Charlie has appreciated most.
“You understand that during the time our country was going through a social change in 1954 I was in the middle of it,” he says. “So I know what the difference is before during and after that. And right now I am enjoying the residuals of what the struggle has been for our country.”
Charlie has also spent years mentoring young people, teaching them the lessons he’s learned. And he gives lots of credit to his daughter Roxanne, who helps him run the Windy City Senior Basketball League.