by Hermene D. Hartman
Maurice H. “Bo” Ellis is an American former professional basketball player. After graduating from Parker High School in Chicago, Ellis, a 6-9 forward, was a star basketball player at Marquette University (1973 to 1977) and won an NCAA Championship in 1977.
His wife, Cynthia, attended Loyola University of Chicago. They married in l979. Since graduating, Bo has maintained a working relationship with Marquette and has played in the NBA with the Washington Bullets and the Denver Nuggets. After his professional career, he returned to Marquette and was the assistant coach from 1988 to 1998. Then, he left Marquette to become the Head Coach at Chicago State University from 1998 to 2003.
Cynthia is a professional fundraiser and a business administrator. She has a group that she calls “Walking Therapy.” In addition, she administers high-end auctions that render thousands of dollars for charities. Some of the organizations she collaborates with are The March of Dimes, The Wood Family Foundation, The Skygen USA International Foundation (Africa), and The Cinespace Foundation.
Bo and Cynthia live in the South Suburbs with their daughter Christina.
N’DIGO: Bo did something quite significant in changing the player uniforms. What did he do?
Cynthia Ellis: In 1977, Bo was the captain of the Marquette men’s basketball team. During his time on the team, Coach Al McGuire and Bo had mutual respect for each other and became close.
Bo was an art major in college, and McGuire arranged for Bo to take a course in the Fashion Design Program at Mount Mary College in Milwaukee. Marquette didn’t offer fashion design classes, but Coach McGuire cared about his player’s futures and supported Bo and his passion for fashion design. In 1977, McGuire announced that it would be his last season before retiring, and Bo wanted to make sure his last season was a success. So coach McGuire allowed Bo to design the jerseys they would be wearing. Bo designed an iconic “untucked” jersey because he did not like his jersey tucked in. This attributed to the team winning the first and only Marquette men’s basketball National Championship! He returned to Marquette in 2003 for two more years as the Assistant Basketball Coach.
Why did you create a foundation for your daughter?
In July of 2003, our daughter Nicole Shawnte (a graduate from Marquette University in 2000 and received her master’s degree from Chicago State University in 2003) died suddenly as she was about to enter law school at Marquette. She developed Budd-Chari Syndrome, a very rare liver disorder that claimed her life. “Nikki” wanted to be a sports attorney.
Bo decided to return to Marquette to assist her while in school. Ironically, the day Bo accepted the contract as coach – Nicole died. Later we established the Nicole Ellis Scholarship Fund in her honor at the university in 2007 to assist students of color. That became a family passion and we host an annual golf outing fundraiser. Since that time, we have raised over a million dollars in fundraising for Marquette University in Nicole’s name.
This year you are being honored for The Award Recipient, the donors of the year. Additionally Shaka Smart, the first Black coach of Marquette University Basketball Team, did some research on the Ellis Family to learn of their contribution to the school. To date, they have given over 30 scholarships. He has initiated a new scholarship in February of 2022 in the name of Bo and Candy (Cynthia’s nickname) for Black students only. He says, “the scholarship fund will mirror the university’s Bridge to the Future Fund“ which has provided immediate support to hundreds of students experiencing financial strain.
Why did he start this scholarship?
He felt that kids needed money for unexpected expenses. These expenses will consist of unanticipated loss or travel emergencies as well a s food and safety needs. Marquette has a Black student population of 6.5%.
What are your connections presently to Marquette?
As we continue to support Marquette via the Nicole Ellis Foundation, we would like to invite everyone to join us for the 15th Annual Warrior Day Golf Outing on July 12, 2022. The event has been a huge success and Bo brings back retired players and current athletes from the Marquette team to the golf tournament. He partners them with the foursome. Players like Lloyd Walton, Danny Crawford, former NBA referee, and Emory Morehead, former Chicago Bears Team. He was on the Bear’s Superbowl team.
What advice do you have for current sportsmen?
One of the biggest things is never to forget where you came from and to always remember to give back and pay it forward.
How do you feel about the big salaries sports guys and gals are making?
Sports is a great opportunity for the players, but be mindful the owners make the most money. Players need to think about their investments, think about spending money wisely, and think about having money available after retirement because they live such a high lifestyle while playing. Their careers on the court or the field can be short-lived.
Who is your favorite team?
Marquette University and Loyola University.
Name three best basketball players of all time?
Bo Ellis, Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, and Alonzo Mourning.