Passion to give back to basketball community drives Flint United coach Charlie Bell

FLINT, Michigan -- The Flint United basketball team’s roster is full of young players hoping to use their experience with the team to launch lengthy professional careers. They played for a coach this season who has achieved what they’re dreaming about.

Charlie Bell, a legendary Flint Southwestern player who helped Michigan State win a national championship in 2000, didn’t stick in the NBA immediately after his college career ended. Instead, Bell made himself into a better player in U.S. and foreign professional leagues before earning another shot in the NBA and carved out a solid career as a versatile guard with the Milwaukee Bucks and Golden State Warriors.

Bell and the Flint United wrap up their season at home on Sunday, June 27, against the Detroit Hustle. Game time is 3 p.m. at the Dort Financial Event Center and tickets are available online

Bell has enjoyed coaching the team this season, although he still feels the urge and competitiveness to be on the court.
Flint United coach Charlie Bell was impressed by the talent level in the TBL this season.
“It’s been a learning process,” Bell said. “It's different being on this side of the basketball, so to speak, and being on the coaching side. As a player, you have control to know what you need to do, the work that you gotta put in. And you can tell guys what to do (as a coach), but they have to go out and do it. We’ve just kind of been helping these guys reach their potential. All the knowledge and all the experiences that I've lived throughout my basketball career, I can give that back to these guys.”

Bell has experience as an assistant coach in the NBA G-League, but he said stepping into a head coaching role this season has been an adjustment and, just like when he was a player, he identifies and works on areas to improve his craft as a coach.

“It’s really different when you’re sitting in that head chair,” Bell said. “When you’re the assistant, that pressure’s not on you as much. I learned a lot about myself and, just like the players, there are things I can work on and get better at. But the league has been great.”

The United play in The Basketball League (TBL), which launched in 2018 with eight teams and has quickly expanded to 30 teams as of the 2021 season. This is Flint’s first season with a professional team, which is owned by Kevin Mays. Bell said that he has been impressed with the talent-level of players league-wide, not just in Flint.

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused some opportunities to play in foreign leagues to dwindle compared to previous years, so domestic leagues like the TBL have had an influx of talent.

“We’ve seen a lot of really great players in this league and a lot of great teams,” Bell said. “I just definitely love being a part of it, and I look forward to being a part of it in the future.”

What hasn’t been a surprise, though, is the way the Flint community has shown up to support the team. One player, Tone Davis, even ranked third in the entire league in jersey sales this season. 

“Here, it’s all about basketball,” Bell said.

That legacy has inspired Bell and players in generations before and after his to constantly try and give back to the community through coaching. Before the opportunity with the United materialized, Bell had envisioned possibly looking for high school coaching jobs. He also has done training for young players and done camps. 

“As we (former Flint players) got older and can’t get out there and play anymore, we still want to give back because we had great coaches who did that for us,” Bell said. “We had people like Reggie Manville at Flint Southwestern and David Munerlyn from Flint Affiliation, we just had so many great coaches and role models in our lives. So now we want to do the same. Somebody invested in us and now it’s our time to do it. The game has given us so much, so it’s time for us to take our knowledge and try and invest it back.”

Bell, who also works full-time for United Wholesale Mortgage, plans to continue coaching and looks forward to what Flint United can do next season. 

“I just love the game,” he said.

Read more articles by Patrick Hayes.