Chicago still Mac Irvin’s town

Story Image (left to right) Kobe Irvin, Nick Irvin, Cam Irvin, Mike Irvin, Little Mac Irvin, Mac Irvin Sr., Mac Irvin Jr.

Updated: September 20, 2011 1:51PM

‘This is still my town—it’s still my town.”

That’s what Mac Irvin was yelling back in January at Bogan, as security tried to calm a situation that had gotten a little out of control at the Morgan Park vs. Bogan basketball game.

Not a lot of people noticed Irvin in all the commotion, as the soft-spoken man wasn’t actually making much noise. Irvin was angry that Morgan Park’s team, coached by his son Nick, was being forced to leave the court. While most people were gathering their things and looking for the quickest exit, Irvin strode to center court and tried to establish his dominance.

That’s why he’s known as The Godfather.

Irvin is 74 years old, a former Tilden basketball player and Xerox executive. He started working in South Side basketball programs in the early 1970’s and eventually built his club basketball program, the Mac Irvin Fire, into the most dominant in the city.

“I’m not sure when they started calling him The Godfather,” said Sonny Parker, a former NBA player who played for and coached with Irvin. “It’s been at least 20 years now.”

Wherever it started, the nickname stuck because it fit. Irvin’s influence on the Chicago basketball scene over the past 30 years is unrivaled. He’s mentored two generations of Chicago basketball players, literally inventing summer basketball and as a result, often serving as the gatekeeper to the richest talent pool in the country.

Irvin has been dealing with some serious health problems this summer, but has managed to keep tabs on the club basketball dynasty he created.

“I know he was keeping up with everything by phone,” Parker said. “He’s known Jabari [Parker’s son, the top ranked junior in the country] since he was born, so I’m sure he’s enjoyed hearing about how well the summer went.”

Irvin retired from Xerox in 1992 and was hired by Sonny Vaccaro and Adidas as a consultant. From then on his influence and reputation grew. The Mac Irvin Fire is now sponsored by Nike, which gives the team access to all the top-tier summer tournaments.

Irvin has handed the program over to his son Mike, and it’s experiencing a massive resurgence. Nearly every high-major talent in the city is in the program, from Jabari Parker to Tommy Hamilton Jr. (his father played for Irvin as well).

“I wouldn’t be where I am right now without [Irvin] and my kids wouldn’t be either,” said Sonny Parker. “As a young man he made such a difference in my life. He’s just been a positive person. He always encouraged me. A lot of things I’ve done are a reflection of that.”

Irvin’s foot starting bothering him back in July—a serious worry for a diabetic.

“It just started with the back of my heel,” Irvin said. “I went into the doctor right away and they said it didn’t look good.”

Things never improved with Irvin’s leg, and last week the doctors amputated the left leg at the calf. He’ll be getting a prosthetic leg next week. He’s currently at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago.

“I haven’t been lacking for company,” Irvin said. “I have to give it to them. This is when you find out who your friends are.”

The stream of visitors has been constant and star-studded, including dozens of college basketball coaches and NBA players, from Marquette coach Buzz Williams to Dallas Mavericks star Shawn Marion.

“He’s been taking care of kids for so long, I think now it’s time for us to take care of him,” said Mike Irvin.

Irvin and his wife Louise have seven children, all in some way involved with basketball or education. Their daughter Cindy works for the Board of Education, Lance is an assistant college basketball coach, Byron is an NBA agent, Nick is the coach at Morgan Park, Mac Jr. runs the Lady Fire and Mike runs the Mac Irvin Fire and is a major presence in the city’s social scene.

“I’m pretty much retired now,” said Mac Irvin. “I know that Mike is going to do the right thing so I don’t have anything to worry about. My sons have made the program better. That’s what I always wanted, for them to be able to carry it on and to do things better than I did.”

Irvin is hoping to be up and around by January, which will give him plenty of time to get into the gym and watch some basketball.

“That’s my goal,” Irvin said. “I just want to get back out and be able to watch the game.”

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