Typically, the months of December and January would be full of high school basketball. Instead, the COVID-19 pandemic has taken away the basketball season and one of its central figures. Chicago basketball legend Donnie Kirksey has passed away after a two-week battle with the coronavirus.
“It just took him out,” Michele Clark Magnet High School Assistant Basketball Coach Donovan Robinson said.
“He seemed to be doing better recently though. Donnie is the godfather to my son. He spoke to people just last night and was on Facebook Live with a church service.”
Prior to his death, Kirksey made a profound impact on basketball within the Windy City. During his career, Kirksey coached at DePaul University, the University of Illinois at Chicago and Chicago State University. He also spent time at Percy L. Julian High School, Dunbar Vocational Career Academy and Hyde Park Academy. While at Hyde Park High School, he racked up a record of 71-18. Most recently, he worked as the dean of students and basketball coach at Chicago Vocational High School. Not to mention, he built relationships with NBA players like Juwan Howard and Eddy Curry. Regardless of where he coached or worked, Kirksey developed strong bonds with everyone he met.
"He had a Ph.D. in people," Tom Kleinschmidt of DePaul College Prep said.
“A lot of guys would pound their chest. He was the total opposite of that. He helped a million kids and wasn’t worried about how he got recognition, none of that crazy b.s. you see from a lot of guys. That’s why he is still close with guys 30 years later.”
Kirksey's impact extended far beyond the court. Over time, he developed relationships with broadcasters, reporters and other public figures across the city. Shortly after his passing, former Secretary of Education Arne Duncan took time to remember the late basketball coach.
"My heart breaks for Donnie’s family, and for our Chicago basketball family. Thanks for helping so many kids, including my son," Duncan tweeted.
Kirksey was just 57 years old at the time of his passing.
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