I've been covering basketball for the Philadelphia Inquirer since 1988. In 2017, I'm taking it to another level.
Philadelphia is a basketball town like no other.
Wilt Chamberlain was born here, learned the game just blocks west of the legendary Palestra over at Overbrook High, then went on to become a legend. Another generational talent, Kobe Bryant, grew up a little further west. The gym at Lower Merion High is now named for him.
Keep going out Lancaster Avenue and you get to Villanova, winner of last year's NCAA title after two of the great Final Four performances in history.
Philadelphia basketball is also about devotion, of fans who talked about seeing Wilt play Russell for the first time and can also tell you about seeing the latest high school sensation, Quade Green, down at Neumann-Goretti High at 10th and Moore Streets.
There are things we all want to romanticize about Philly hoops: Playground bragging rights, Palestra doubleheaders, everyone playing in the Sonny Hill League in the summer. But the game has evolved and modernized over the years, and even if we don't always want to admit it, we all know it.
The threads still intersect in Philadelphia, though. Your youth coach may have learned the game from someone who learned the game from Hall of Famer Jack Ramsay at St. Joe's. NBA refs started here working CYO and other youth games.
The fierce competition once on the playground is mostly indoors now, but that fierceness is still handed down like a blueprint.
That goes for the women's game as well. Some of the top coaches in the college game grew up in or around Philadelphia, and you've seen them in recent Final Fours. You don't have to be a devotee to know names like Connecticut's Geno Auriemma, South Carolina's Dawn Staley and Notre Dame's Muffet McGraw.