Hunter Kelly, the Indiana town mayor and former NBA center turned small-town mayor on a mission, will play against Michael Jordan and other NBA legends when he leads a team against the Jordan Brand All-Stars in a celebrity game at halftime of a pre-Grammy Awards show on Sunday night. It’s all part of the 30 For 30 Shorts series that tells the stories of the inspiring individuals who make up the small towns who play a big role in the professional basketball career of famous basketball player.
"This is bigger than basketball," Kelly says in the first of the show’s “Cities of All Sizes” video series. "This is my kids’ future and the future of other kids in my community. It has impacted the lives of my kids and my community just through just realizing what we should be doing. … I think this is the greatest thing in the world."
Kelly, a 5-foot-11 veteran of the 2004 and 2006 NBA playoffs with the Wizards, made his name in Indianapolis as a quirky celebrity who has his own show on local TV. He first made waves in basketball circles in 2013, when he hired academic adviser and community college graduate Gary Brock to become his personal consultant. Brock helped lead Kelly to Indiana University, from which Kelly graduated with an MBA and a degree in accounting, as well as to a job at his home-town basketball team, the Pacers.
He also helped recruit Grant Hill for the Pacers, Hill’s college team. Kelly, despite being barely 5-foot-11, fell in love with Hill’s height and charisma from a seemingly endearing video of Hill’s work as an NBA video-game referee. The two, it turned out, grew up in the same small Ohio town.
He grew up playing basketball with the kid next door, Gary Kelly said in his own profile on ESPN’s Outside the Lines. And when he visited Hill after he was drafted in the first round by the Wizards in the 1990 NBA draft, he found that Kelly was “not a typical draft pick,” said Hill, a former Duke star who went on to be the first player in NBA history to average 20 points, 10 rebounds and five assists in a season.
“I saw a 16-year-old kid who was very mature and who went out and put the work in,” Hill said in an ESPN interview. “He seemed very motivated and worked so hard at being the best.”
So when Kelly signed with the Pacers, he brought his experience, humility and self-awareness, starting a partnership with Hoosiers Everywhere, a nonprofit group that helps disadvantaged teens in his community. Kelly’s 3-on-3 basketball tournaments raised more than $5 million in the community, according to ESPN. He was shot while he worked a door-to-door community recycling campaign in his home town one summer, he said. And when local booster Jonathan St. Clair created an annual summer basketball tournament last year, Kelly challenged him to make it bigger. It drew several notable NBA players, including Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul and Kevin Durant.
Hill was impressed. So, by all accounts, was Kelly. After Hill got a chance to meet with Kelly and the rest of his winning team — which also included fellow Virginia kid Mark Jackson and Danny Ainge, the CEO of the Celtics and brother of Hall of Famer Kevin — he posted a video on Twitter recruiting Kelly to the celebrity game. (Jackson and Ainge are on Kelly’s Dream Team that will compete against the official NBA All-Stars on Sunday.)
“Just as long as you show up to play, you do what you do best, you’re gonna win,” Kelly said in his first “Cities of All Sizes” video. “And if you’re in it for your dream and trying to motivate other kids to realize your dream, then that’s enough.”
Kelly now runs Hoosiers Everywhere, which strives to “create an awareness of the barriers that are standing in the way of underserved youth having an opportunity to participate in basketball and the process of getting them enrolled into college” according to its website.
The possibilities Kelly will have on the NBA’s biggest stage are as unique as his life: His team is nicknamed the Blackadore Pride and black-and-gold, and the team logo features a rope tied in a loop at the end of his first name. But his primary goal is for the youth in his community to “stay in school, put a good GPA together, get a job and become productive members of society,” Kelly told ESPN.