This series starts on a Sunday, in a high-rise apartment, overlooking Lake Michigan. You can almost spit from the balcony and hit Soldier Field, where the Bears just eked out a one-point win against the Vikings. But, if the game was on earlier, no one in this apartment was paying attention.
This isn't a "football" home.
The Coupet's are a basketball family and you can tell without even asking.
Ben Coupet Sr. stands roughly seven feet. Two decades ago, basketball took him out of the Altgeld Gardens housing projects on the Far South Side and tossed him around the world. Before settling back down in Chicago, he played professionally in Europe and Latin America, after playing collegiately at Bradley University in Peoria, Illinois and University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
In addition, and, to some basketball nuts, most importantly, Ben Coupet Sr. played high school ball at South Side powerhouse, Simeon Career Academy.
This past spring, Simeon (known as Neal F. Simeon Vocational High School when Ben Sr. attended) won their fourth-straight State Championship, an unheard of achievement in the hyper-competitive world of Illinois basketball.
Their team's star player, Jabari Parker, now plays at Duke and, last year, graced the cover of Sports Illustrated with the headline touting him as "The Best High School Basketball Player Since LeBron James."
Before Parker, there was Derrick Rose, the only player not named LeBron James to win the NBA MVP in the last five seasons. Rose won two State Championships at Simeon.
At the beginning, in the early '80's, back when Ben Sr. was still a towering middle schooler, there was Ben Wilson. As a junior, Wilson led Simeon to its first-ever State Championship. He was the first Chicagoan ranked as the best basketball player in the country. Then, in the fall of '84, before his highly anticipated senior season, Wilson was shot and killed blocks away from school.
The legacy of violence in the neighborhoods surrounding Simeon, much like the basketball legacy, is still thriving.
Each year they win. And each year the violent chaos outside the gym.
Over the past three months, more than 700 violent crimes have occurred in the neighborhoods around Simeon. The coaching staff shelters the players and keeps them focused on basketball. It is not a coincidence that the best Simeon players from this century, Rose and Park, are soft-spoken and reserved off the court.
This year, there's Ben Coupet Jr. Hovering around 6' 7" and a sophomore, Ben Jr. is the heir apparent, the next one up. He can handle the ball, pass, shoot, and drive. Major programs are courting him. He could stretch to 6'11", like his dad. He won city championships as a 6th-grader, 8th-grader, and freshman. (He shrugs his shoulders and smiles when asked, "What the hell happened in 7th grade?"). He's expected to play a significant role in Simeon's quest for a fifth-straight State Championship.
He's shy, mumbles, listens to Drake, and plays video games when he's not playing basketball. He didn't play AAU basketball this summer because he believes the school season is most important. Traveling the country with his friends and teammates, playing in front of college coaches and scouts, was less appealing than lifting weights, adding muscle to his still growing frame, and putting up a thousand shots a day.
Winning another State tournament for Simeon comes before everything. But State is far away.
First, it's almost 5:30 and Ben Jr. has a Fall League game to play. In the short car ride over to Whitney Young Magnet School, the Fall League host and one team that could challenge Simeon for State supremacy, Ben Jr. is quiet.
Earlier, in front of a muted T.V. and with his 2-year-old stepbrother beside him, Ben Jr. talked about pressure. How he's starting to feel it, how people are starting to expect things. How bad games aren't just bad games any more, they're let downs.
The silence in the car, except for the occasional one-word response, could be the pressure. It's unclear. What is clear is this: Ben Jr. is a teenager with adult responsibilities. He has a city to represent, plagued communities to uplift. Little kids look up to him now.
The game doesn't go well.
Simeon loses to Uplift Community High School by 1 point. Ben Jr. couldn't seem to find the hoop, missing a number of easy shots close to the basket. Simeon is a young team, with only a couple seniors, and it showed. They got out-hustled and out-muscled. But this is only Fall League ball and it's a long season.
Ben Sr. predicts the team will hit their stride in January, after a few more reps in the weight room and a couple thousand more shots.
This series, however, isn't about hitting strides and winning State Championships. This series is about sons like Ben Jr. and dads like Ben Sr. This series is about pressure and legacies. It's about the Chicago people live for, not die for.