"Flint is the Mecca of basketball"

FLINT, Michigan -- The Flint United, Flint’s new professional basketball team, won their first game in franchise history in front of a sellout crowd at Dort Financial Event Center on April 17. Those are two important accomplishments, but they’re far from the most important thing the team accomplished in its inaugural home weekend.

Their simple existence, as a proud monument to Flint’s legendary basketball past, was a far greater symbol for the city.

“This is great, Cory Hightower and I were up there (in the stands) talking about it, but this is a great look for the city,” said Greg Burks, a Flint Northern graduate who played in college at Prairie View A&M and professionally in Europe. “Our town is rich in the history of basketball. People grow up here watching games. When you’re seven years old, watching varsity games, you’re dreaming of being a varsity player and college and professional player, so having a pro team here is great.”

Burks has also given back to the youth basketball community in Flint since retiring as a professional player. He has been a fixture at youth camps in the city for years, and recently wrapped up a 7-year stint as the varsity basketball coach at Powers Catholic High School. One of his counterparts from his days as a high school player in Flint, Charlie Bell, is on the sidelines as the coach of Flint United. Burks was proud, but not surprised, to see Bell in that role.

“Giving back, that’s a part of the history here,” Burks said. “At one point in time, somebody did that for us -- the older guys like Jeff Grayer and those guys gave back to us, so we’re doing the same thing. People from Flint care about Flint a lot, it’s tattooed on our arms. The history of Flint is so rich that you’re gonna always have guys from here who want to do good stuff when we’re back here.”

Linnell Jones-McKenney knows something about being a trailblazer. She was the first woman from Flint to play professional basketball, and was succinct when she described what basketball means to the city: “Flint is the Mecca of basketball,” she said.

As the program director at the Sylvester Broome Empowerment Village (SBEV), she has also seen up close the work done behind the scenes to get the Flint United franchise up and running this season. The team practices at SBEV and has been a fixture at food giveaways and other events for youth and families at the facility.

“They’re (the United players) not just basketball players, they’re mentors,” she said. “They’re going to bring back excitement about sports to the community. I’m a dreamer, so anybody that has a dream -- let’s go! To see all of that happening in the background, then to see it all come to fruition is seeing a dream come true, it’s amazing.”

Flint United has home games remaining this season on May 7, 8, 14, 15, 21, 22, and 30 and June 11, 12, and 27. Games are played at Dort Financial Event Center and tickets are available online.

Read more articles by Patrick Hayes.

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