Former Austin Spur’s basketball journey detailed in ‘Chi-Town’


Fans of the Austin Spurs recall Keifer Sykes, one of the team’s top players during the 2015-16 season. After all, everyone in the stands always remembers the player they could look at eye to eye but who can still soar above the crowd for a dunk.

And that’s Sykes, a graduate of Chicago’s Marshall High School who developed from an undersized and overlooked point guard into an NBA prospect during a stellar four-year career at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay.

But who is Sykes besides a 6-foot playmaker with explosive athleticism and an inherent feel for the game? And how did he emerge from the streets of Chicago’s South Side, where dreams die young and mortality becomes as much a part of a child’s life as homework and a hall pass?

“Chi-Town,” the first feature-length documentary by veteran television director Nick Budabin, follows Sykes from when he was a 17-year-old battling for playing time on his high school team to being a 24-year-old professional basketball player who has already cashed checks in South Korea and Turkey while chasing his hoop dreams.

And one can’t help but recall “Hoop Dreams,” the seminal 1994 documentary by filmmaker Steve James that tracked a pair of South Side basketball players from their high school days through college. Like Arthur Agee and William Gates of “Hoop Dreams,” Sykes follows a path with familiar but no less imposing hurdles such as a culture of rampant incarceration, teenage parenthood and random violence.

But aren’t similarities with “Hoop Dreams” part of the narrative? A generation later, not much has changed on Chicago’s South Side, based on the experiences of Sykes and his coaches and teammates, including two who were partially paralyzed after random shootings. The primary difference between the early 1990s and the 2010s? Kids who once idolized former Detroit Piston Isiah Thomas now hang posters of LeBron James on the wall.

“I’m going to play with LeBron,” Sykes says in disbelief after his agent calls to inform him about a free-agent tryout with the Cleveland Cavaliers after he goes undrafted by the NBA in 2015.

But the odds aren’t ever in an athlete’s favor when it comes to making NBA money, a fact that the levelheaded Sykes understands from an early age. But that still doesn’t stop Sykes from chasing the dream.

After the second screening of “Chi-Town” on Monday at the Alamo Drafthouse on South Lamar Boulevard during the South by Southwest Film Festival, Sykes said he has plans to compete again in the NBA Summer League and try to secure a domestic contract.

Regardless, Sykes said he will keep pursuing his love while helping support his two young children in Chicago.

“I’ve enjoyed every part of my journey,” he said while standing with his children and his mother, Lisa Sykes, after the screening. “I’m appreciative and grateful that I get to keep doing what I love.”

And isn’t that a dream enough for any of us?



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Sports

Guess which school just made big impression on Nigerian tackle Danielson Ike?
Guess which school just made big impression on Nigerian tackle Danielson Ike?

Kansas City (Mo.) Rockhurst 2019 4-star tackle Danielson Ike picked up an offer from Michigan on May 16 and made his way to Ann Arbor for the first time Friday. He was coming off visits to Louisville on June 7 and Nebraska on June 14. The post Guess which school just made big impression on Nigerian tackle Danielson Ike? appeared...
Alberto’s single leads Round Rock over Nashville in 10 innings

Hanser Alberto hit an RBI single in the top of the 10th inning to lead the Round Rock Express to a 2-1 win over the Nashville Sounds on Saturday night in Tenn. Hunter Cole scored the go-ahead run on the single after he started the inning on second. R.J. Alvarez got Brett Vertigan to ground out with runners on second and third to end the game for his...
Oregon State advances to College World Series finals, beats Mississippi State 5-2
Oregon State advances to College World Series finals, beats Mississippi State 5-2

Ohio State QB Dwayne Haskins trains with Deshaun Watson
Ohio State QB Dwayne Haskins trains with Deshaun Watson

Projected 2018 Ohio State starting quarterback Dwayne Haskins trained Saturday with Houston Texans QB Deshaun Watson. Quarterback trainer Quincy Avery facilitated the workout and posted the training session on social media, along with incoming Georgia freshman quarterback Justin Fields. Haskins has worked with Avery and NFL players before...
Mexico’s 2-1 victory over South Korea silences critics
Mexico’s 2-1 victory over South Korea silences critics

The criticism of Mexico’s national team heading into the World Cup was loud and scathing. The answer has been emphatic. Mexico won its second straight match at the tournament Saturday, beating South Korea 2-1 to move ever closer to a spot in the round of 16. “We didn’t listen to the criticism,” said Javier Hernandez, one of...
More Stories