Houston youth from George Floyd’s alma mater played hoops Tuesday, December 28, 2021, against Minneapolis North High School in a downtown Minneapolis basketball tournament intended to remember Floyd while nodding to the Texas city where he grew up.
The George Floyd Jr. Memorial Holiday Classic focused on happier days for Floyd, whose death in May 2020 at the hands of Minneapolis police launched a worldwide protest movement for racial equity.
The 6-foot-6 Floyd, a high school star in basketball and football, was a natural athlete and earned a Division 1 scholarship, according to Larry McKenzie, North High’s basketball coach and president of the Minnesota Black Basketball Coaches Association.
“Everybody is focused on the nine minutes and 26 seconds of what happened on May 25, 2020,” McKenzie said. “Somebody suggested the idea of doing a more joyful, holiday classic to celebrate the positives of [Floyd’s] life.”
Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was convicted of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter in Floyd’s death, and sentenced to 22½ years in prison. An online video showed Chauvin with his knee on Floyd’s neck for the time period mentioned by McKenzie. A federal civil rights trial for Chauvin and three other officers is slated to begin in January.
The basketball tournament — played at North Central University, where Floyd’s funeral was held — featured four teams, including Jack Yates Senior High School where Floyd played basketball. Besides North High, the other teams participating were Park Center Senior High School in Brooklyn Park and Orr Academy High School from Chicago.
On Tuesday, Minneapolis North beat Jack Yates 95-49 and will play in the tournament championship game at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday against the winner of Tuesday’s match between Park Center and Orr Academy.
But the trip to Minneapolis for the players from Houston was bigger than the outcome of the tournament, said coach Greg Wise. Tuesday’s game was a good opportunity for Jack Yates students to represent their school and see a new city, along with some of their fans who traveled all the way from Houston for the game.
The Jack Yates squad was planning to visit George Floyd Square, at 38th Street and Chicago Avenue in south Minneapolis, to see where Floyd died and reflect on the impact of his death. “The kids want to know who he was,” Wise said.
Wise, who knew Floyd, described him as a “gentle giant” off the court who could often be seen cheering on his nephews and nieces during their high school basketball games.
Basketball ran in the Floyd family’s blood, Wise said. Floyd’s nephew, Robert “Woo” Williams, was on the team in 2010 when Jack Yates won a national basketball championship.
Floyd’s “demeanor was soft-spoken and he would do whatever he could to help,” Wise said.