‘Basketball’ Jones speaks to kids
Jim "Basketball" Jones spins basketballs while speaking to students Jan. 10 at North School in Franklin Park. | Dan Luedert~Sun-Times Media
Updated: February 19, 2013 12:08PM
FRANKLIN PARK — It’s only 9 a.m. on Jan. 10, but the music in the gym at North Elementary is loud enough to dance to.
As students sit down on the wood floor, a man wearing a track suit stands in front and alternates between giving high-fives to students and spinning basketballs on his fingers.
Jim “Basketball” Jones is part entertainer and part motivational speaker. Born in Melrose Park, he was raised in Cleveland, Ohio. In first grade he was diagnosed with dyslexia. Dyslexia is a reading disorder that occurs when the brain does not properly recognize and process letters and words.
“Even today, within a certain range of sounds and symbols, I’m good,” Jones said. “Outside that range, it’s challenging.”
Jones struggled with reading for years. He had tutors, his mother would read textbooks out loud and he was in special education courses throughout elementary school.
In sixth grade he began spinning basketballs in preparation for a school talent show.
“After the talent show, I really wanted to be in front of people,” Jones said. “It was my way to fit in.”
The Cleveland Cavaliers basketball team invited him to spin basketballs before and during breaks at games. “It helped me endure what I was going though in school,” he said.
By his senior year in high school, Jones was reading at a second-grade level. He had, however, gained learning techniques. He used those when he was accepted at Bowling Green State University.
“I would read the questions and review the chapter,” Jones said. Then I would read it again and highlight. Then I would reread the highlights over and over again.”
He earned a bachelor’s degree and later began doing presentations at schools on topics including anti-bullying, state test motivation, three pointers for life, the importance of reading and positive life choices. In 16 years he’s presented at more than 5,000 schools.
On Jan. 10, Jones performed a number of tricks with basketballs. He spun one on top of a pen, which he used to sign another basketball, and transferred spinning balls to the hands of students. He even spun a basketball on top of a glass while a student drank from the glass.
Between tricks games, Jones had students repeat many of his statements.
“Be a buddy, not a bully,” he says. “Use kind, friendly, encouraging words. I’m not giving up my dreams. I’m not giving up my goals.”