Ayo Dosunmu didn’t need a new contract from the Bulls to continue his commitment to Chicago.
When the third-year guard hosted a block party and basketball clinic for 120 youth at the intersection of one of the most violent blocks in the city’s Little Village neighborhood Saturday, he did so not because of who employs him. But rather because his heart will never leave his hometown.
“No matter if I re-signed with the Bulls or not, me being from Chicago my main focus was still the same,” Dosunmu said. “I still was going to always try to give back to my city. This is the city that raised me. This is the city that made me. But of course, re-signing back with the Bulls now, it gives me more flexibility to be more on-hand.”
Dosunmu signed a three-year, $21 million extension this week to continue his career in Chicago, with the franchise that selected him 38th overall in 2021. He said the unpredictable nature of free agency left him unsure at times whether he would return to the Bulls. He charged that to the business of the NBA. But Dosunmu can’t detach himself from this city — his city.
“Being in that small percentile of NBA players who get to get drafted to their hometown, I think that’s a huge blessing for me and I think it comes with a lot of responsibilities,” Dosunmu said. “And one of them, I think, is just giving back. I always love to give back. That was always a dream of mine. And now that I have the chance and the platform and the opportunity, I’m going to try to do as much as I can.”
In the block party’s first year last summer, 60 youths participated. Dosunmu was proud to see the number of participants double this year, but he isn’t satisfied.
“Hopefully next year we can double that, triple that,” he said. “And just try to keep (bringing) positivity into the neighborhoods in Chicago.”
Wearing red Bulls warm-up pants with the Chicago script printed across the front, Dosunmu strolled from one station to the next engaging with hopeful hoopers who someday want to walk in his shoes. He played one-on-one with some, oversaw drills, got in a game of knockout and presented a grant. He labeled hands-on tutelage his favorite part.
“For a young guy like Ayo coming from Chicago and looking out for his city, that’s important,” said Rob Castaneda, co-founder and executive director of partner organization Beyond the Ball. “That’s good to see. Being a professional athlete can be a very me-centered lifestyle. And so it’s very refreshing to see a young person, especially a person from Chicago, coming out and showing love to the neighborhood and giving back to the community and setting an example for young people too.”
Castaneda’s organization aims to build relationships with young people, their families and the community through sport and play to make the neighborhood safer. Beyond the Ball has been in operation for 23 years and provides programming for 3,000 individuals annually. Its headquarters at Gary Elementary School on the city’s southwest side sits on the dividing line between rival gangs. Dosunmu’s presence Saturday provided the community’s young people with a positive role model in a safe environment.
“When you’re looking at communities that struggle with histories of public violence, the issue isn’t tthere areno good people in those neighborhoods,” Castaneda said. “There’s a lack of resources. So I think these experiences with professional athletes are really important. They have the ability to be rowerful.”
Dosunmu might be the Bulls’ starting point guard on opening night. With Lonzo Ball lost for the season, the job likely will be an open competition. Dosunmu has the most starting experience among the trio of candidates. He believes he belongs.
“You know I always want to come out here and compete,” Dosunmu said. “Anybody who says they don’t want to start, they would be not telling the truth. But that’s something that will be taken care of in training camp.”
Dosunmu was concise when asked about his biggest competition. The Bulls re-signed Coby White to a three-year contract worth approximately $33 million, and they added Jevon Carter on a three-year, $20 million contract. Asked how he views his fit moving forward, Dosunmu didn’t flinch.
“I’m going to make a way. That’s all I can say,” he said. “I’ve always found a way. I’m going to continue to find a way.”
Dosunmu also is looking to bounce back from a bumpy second season. Between his offseason training and his history of success as a third-year performer, he sees the best version of himself emerging next season.
“Just trying to learn from my mistakes,” he said. “Understand the success I had my rookie year and then the stagnant play or the tough road I had a little bit in my sophomore season. My junior year in all of my basketball career has been my best season from high school to college. It’s always been the season where I took the next step. So I’m excited. I know the work that I put in and what I will show. I’m just ready for it.”
September will start to reveal Dosunmu’s growth. But on Saturday on Chicago’s southwest side, it was all about Dosunmu helping to develop dreamers coming up in his city.
“My biggest message to them is whatever dream you have, go for it,” Dosunmu said. “I was telling them in the drills, ‘You can’t be shy.’ Anything you do in life there’s always going to be somebody that says you can’t do it or says it’s not possible. But if you have energy, if you have positivity, if you have that swag, it could take you a long way. It could put you in those rooms. It could put you in positions to be successful.
“But for me only being with them for four to five hours, I’m trying to teach them life lessons, life qualities, that can take them (far) in any profession.”
(Top photo: Courtesy of Chicago Bulls)