Mike Morak likes to refer to the Danny Rumph Classic as a real Philadelphia barbecue of basketball.
The annual tournament, which is the signature event for the Daniel E. Rumph II Foundation, raising awareness for heart disease, has become one of the most prominent summer pro-am events in the country — and for good reason.
“I think what makes it so special is the atmosphere created by so many players and fans that are made up of Philadelphia basketball people,” said Morak, the tournament’s lead organizer. “I think that’s what people see, is this one, big unified basketball community.”
Saturday’s game between reigning champion Team Rumph Center and Team Rex 6 embodied everything the Rumph Classic has to offer. It showcased every facet that makes Philadelphia basketball special.
With fans lined up around the Tom Gola Arena court at La Salle University, Maurice Watson and Samme Givens failed to defend their title going toe-to-toe with Quade Green, Scoop Jardine and Nazeer Bostick.
Every big dunk led to a mean-mugging smirk, every crossover or jump shot warranted oohs and ahhs, and every big defensive stop elicited a response from the crowd about who doesn’t belong. And everyone had something to say.
On his head! He can’t guard you! Talk to ‘em!
“The thing about basketball in Philly is everyone knows what they’re talking about,” former 76er and Philly native Marc Jackson said. “No matter if they played or not.”
Each year the stands fill and the stars come out to watch high-level basketball for five days in early August in support of a worthy cause. This year, NBA Hall of Famer Allen Iverson made an appearance on the first night and shared a halftime embrace with former Villanova guard and national champion Jalen Brunson, who made a guest appearance playing for Team 8Eye Media.
Danny Rumph, the tournament’s namesake, died on Mother’s Day in 2005 from hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a heart disorder associated with sudden cardiac arrest. He collapsed late that Saturday evening while playing pickup at Mallery Recreation Center, now named in his honor, alongside some of the best basketball players in the city at the time.
Former Temple standout Dionte Christmas, who has been playing in the Rumph Classic since 2010, met Rumph for the first time the day he passed.
“I was actually in the gym when Danny Rumph passed, like I was right next to him,” Christmas said. “I’m real close with all the guys who run the Rumph so I told them anything you have that’s going to represent him, I’m all for it.”
Soon after, his closest kin started a grassroots foundation and basketball tournament to honor his memory. The Rumph Classic has since grown to become a staple in the Philadelphia basketball community.
When Philly streetball legend Aaron Owens met Rumph, he had a hunch he was from North Philly because of the hunger in his game. He said there’s a stark difference in basketball players from North and South Philly. So he was surprised to hear Rumph was from Germantown.
“South Philly is more cocky,” Owens said. “North Philly is just like we always got something to prove.”
In recent years, the Rumph Classic has brought out NBA stars like James Harden, Jayson Tatum, John Wall, Lou Williams, Montrezl Harrell and Brunson.
Many people involved with the tournament, from players to coaches to fans, have a signature memory of their own about local players standing up to the challenge of facing any superstar who walks through that door, of which there have been many.
The 16th edition of the tournament saw Harrell flush home a highlight reel poster dunk on Skylar Scrivano, which didn’t stop the St. Joseph’s alum from waging war in the post at the other end.
In that same contest, Bartram High School and Coppin State grad Tywain McKee buried 10 threes doing everything in his power to keep his team alive against Team Chuck Ellis, a star-studded group led by Williams, Harrell, Christmas and Marcus Thomas.
After Sunday’s lone semifinal game, players, family and friends of the Rumph Classic made their way to Cliveden Park in the Germantown section of the city, right around the corner from the rec center where Rumph passed. Rumph’s mother, Viola “Ms. Candy” Owens, hosts a cookout each year on the Sunday of the tournament ahead of Monday’s championship game.
With full plates of chicken, potato salad and green beans, the Philly basketball community spent the evening sitting together, reminiscing under the shade.
Players went over details from their games and shared old stories while their kids played together on an inflatable slip-and-slide.
The competitive intensity of the tournament stays between the four lines at Tom Gola Arena. Off the court, the Rumph Classic is all about bringing everybody together for five days in early August for a real Philadelphia barbecue of basketball.