The thump of a ball meeting polished wooden floor, the squeak of athletic shoes and the strident ring of buzzers can be heard from the River Forest Community Center each Tuesday night as men of all ages come together to play basketball. The weekly game has resulted in decades-long friendships that go beyond the confines of the court.
“It’s a brotherhood,” said Kevin Trim, a long-time player on the Tuesday team.
Between 15 to 18 men show up every Tuesday, ranging in age from their 40s to 60s. They start playing basketball at about 7:30 p.m. After a few hours, the group heads over to O’Sullivan’s in Forest Park for beers. They stay there until after midnight talking about life.
“Amazingly enough 95% of the conversation is our families, our kids as they were growing up, suggestions for raising them and different things everybody’s going through,” said Preston Jones Jr.
The men take basketball seriously too. Not just shooting hoops, actual games are played with four 20-minute quarters. Sweat can be seen dripping from players’ faces, red from the physical exertion. They play hard.
And they play in style. Ian Friedman, who began playing with the Tuesday team in 1999, is in charge of ordering the “Tuesday night swag.” The word “TUESDAY” is visible on the back of the jerseys the men wear, marking them as players on the informal team. The different colored jerseys also serve to differentiate who is playing whom.
Trash talk is common among the group but make no mistake – this is a gentlemen’s game. Disputes between players, should any occur, are settled on the court. Conflict does not follow the Tuesday team to O’Sullivan’s, where the players quench their thirst with post-game beers.
“You hear some cursing, you know, but afterwards we go and have a beer and we’re best friends,” said Jones.
In fact, the Tuesday team formed out of founding member Reese Hutchinson’s desire to play basketball without arguments derailing the game. Hutchinson has been a part of the Tuesday team since 1979.
“It actually all started because I lived on the South Side and I was looking for a place to play where they weren’t arguing all the time,” Hutchinson said.
Playing basketball in parks, according to Hutchinson, always ends in arguments, so he told his brother, who lived in Oak Park, he was looking for somewhere else to play. Hutchinson’s brother told a couple friends, who in turn told a couple more friends.
“And after a while, we had a little group,” Hutchinson said.
The Tuesday team refers to themselves as the “You Paid Your Money League.” To be a part of the league, you have to belong to the community center, which charges for membership. The league’s name was born out of an in-game aside between Hutchinson and Neil Johnson, who at the time had just begun playing on Tuesdays.
“I was passing it around everywhere. Reese comes up and says, ‘Hey, you signed up for this league, right? You paid your money? Then shoot the ball,’” Johnson recalled.
Everyone who plays ends up with a nickname. Hutchinson’s, of course, is the godfather. Trim, who has been playing on Tuesdays for 26 years, is known as the mayor.
“Because I owe everybody money,” Trim said. “I’m kidding!”
The nickname Michael McDonald was given to a player who bears a resemblance to the Steely Dan musician. There is also a Doc and a Grumpy, neither of which are references to Snow White.
“Left Hand Tony because he was left-handed. Robo guard because he had braces on both knees,” Hutchinson said, pointing out different players on the court. “Liquor Store because he works as an IT professional for Binny’s [Beverage Depot].”
The lineup of regular players has shifted over the years. People have moved. Injuries have caused others to hang up their jerseys, but new players are also brought into the fold. Those new players become integral parts of the group’s dynamics, keeping the tradition of the Tuesday team alive. And it will always be the Tuesday team.
“The running joke is that I’ve been trying to convince these guys to switch the day to Thursday for 20 years,” said Tuesday team member Brad Wolter. “Tuesdays are the worst day of the week, but I come out here for these guys.”
The friendship is at the heart of the Tuesday team. Players socialize outside of basketball, getting to know each other’s families, even going on camping trips together. They even have their own fantasy football league, which is also called the “You Paid Your Money League.” On draft night, the men get together for tacos in one of their backyards and pick their players.
About seven years ago, after one of the regular players died of Lou Gehrig’s Disease, the group all got together to walk in the ALS Walk for Life in their friend’s honor.
During the height of COVID-19 lockdown, the team had a weekly Zoom call on Tuesdays.
“We have a text thread called the ‘Tuesday Night QuaranTEAM,’” Smith said.
Smith and Hutchinson don’t play as much as they used to. The two are 62 and 68, respectively. They call themselves semi-retired from the game, but they’re still active in the team.
After lockdown ended and gyms reopened, Hutchinson found his knees were failing. Injuries have slowed others down too. Tuesday team members have had torn Achilles tendons, even hips replaced over the years. Wolter, however, has a plan in place for the team’s future.
“We’re going to keep playing this until we all get hurt,” he said. “And then we’re going to play golf.”