Early Monday evening, Charles Monroe - known throughout Philadelphia basketball as "Shoob" - had opened the doors at Imhotep Charter before the championship game of his Queen of the Court. Asked about the tournament's origins, Monroe said it was designed to give girls high school basketball players around here "something similar" to what the boys have at the fabled Donofrio Classic in Conshohocken.
"Give me one second," Monroe said, about a half hour before tipoff.
Earliest arrivals had made it through the door before Monroe had begun charging admission. He walked over to two girls sitting along a baseline wall.
"It's five dollars," Monroe told the girls.
The girls handed it over. They couldn't know: You can't get in the gym early enough to get past this man. Monroe has been at it too long. Go back to Smith Playground, 24th and Snyder, early in the morning, Monroe working out a young kid before school. That kid, Rasual Butler, went on to play at Roman Catholic High and La Salle and 13 seasons in the NBA.
"He gave me my mindset," Butler said.
Go back to when Monroe was a key figure in the rise of St. John Neumann hoops, pre-Neumann-Goretti merger, working as an assistant coach, convincing a point guard (and future St. Joseph's star) named Rashid Bey to stay in the neighborhood for high school ball, and more South Philly kids in the years after.
Don't go back quite as far, to when Monroe had one of the first travel-team arrangements with a shoe company in the city, with Adidas.
Or the time he brought a couple of his players from that Philly USA travel team to La Salle to watch Kareem Townes play ball, how Donnie Carr from Roman Catholic and Terrell Stokes from Simon Gratz argued all game about which ball was better, Catholic League or Public League.
"I'm laughing as they go at it with each other," Monroe said. "They're actually saying, who is going to stop this person, that person?"
It gave Monroe an idea. Why not an all-star game to settle things? At the time, Kobe Bryant and Richard Hamilton were high school players so it couldn't just be the city, had to include the suburbs. How to do it? Publics vs. Privates, he decided. The All-City Classic was born.
"One thing about me, when it comes to this ball stuff, I don't play," Monroe said. "I immediately started working on it."
He decided to have separate games for different game levels, for juniors, sophomores, and freshmen. The fifth annual girls' All-City Classic is May 31 at Imhotep, the sixth annual junior All-City Classic for junior high players May 30 at Imhotep, the 23rd annual boys' All-City Classic for the high school guys June 2 at Girard College.
From that initial debate, Monroe had another thought, how exposure matters, that getting recruiting experts, the media and coaches to his games is almost as important as having a rim and a net.
"I would be heavy into Street and Smith," Monroe said, referring to the basketball yearbook that was one of the longtime bibles of the sport. "I realized these guys they were pumping in the magazine, our guys were just as good or better."
"You're talking about a guy who has been involved in this stuff for three decades," said Carr, who resisted joining Monroe at Neumann - like Butler, he chose Roman - but he played in the first All-City Classic, went on to be a star at La Salle, now is an assistant at the University of Hartford.
Where Carr really gives Monroe credit is for recognizing early on that even though Carr had grown almost to his present height when he was in middle school, 6-foot-2 didn't mean he should play inside. Monroe had him work on his shot, pushing him outside. It would have happened eventually, but Carr gives Monroe credit for recognizing it early when he was still one of the taller guys. That jump shot was worth 2,067 points to La Salle.
Monroe had been an early-growth guy himself, a big scorer at Greenfield Elementary, playing with future Division I stars Dozie Mbonu (Lehigh) and Mik Kilgore (Temple).
"He lit the place up," Mbonu said of his friend to this day. "He could shoot. He didn't grow, that's all."
"My ball-handling skills weren't that great," Monroe said, remembering how he was probably 5-7 in seventh grade, a few inches shorter than he is now. "I was a scorer or shooter type."
Even then, he was Shoob.
"My mom and dad called me Shooby-do," Monroe said.
He also was known at Greenfield as the guy who showed up with autographed sneakers from Sixers star guard Andrew Toney.
"My godmother lived down the street from him," Monroe said. "I wound up meeting him, he and his wife took a liking to me, sixth or seventh grade. Andrew would give me [sneakers], tickets to games. His wife would take me shopping, I'd help with the groceries. He lived at 86th and Lindbergh."
Connect more dots? Mbonu told Monroe about this all-sports summer camp at Temple he went to and Monroe went too. That camp led to Monroe becoming a Temple ball boy. He also first got to know Littel Vaughn, another pillar of Philadelphia basketball.
Fast forward a decade or more, to Vaughn calling Monroe, telling him he was starting a summer league, Monroe should put together a South Philly team. Monroe did it, and at that summer league, Mike Doyle, just hired at St. John Neumann, was told Monroe was a guy to talk to, to get neighborhood guys going to the neighborhood school. (Doyle also hired Carl Arrigale, who later took the ball as Neumann-Goretti's head coach).
Doyle, now coach at Penncrest High, said Monroe "was like a pied piper, in a really positive sense."
At one time, Monroe wanted to be a college assistant but those stars never quite aligned. His events may turn out to be his legacy, but he doesn't want to be known as just an events guy. The thing he's proudest of, he said, are the phone calls to help kids get into junior colleges and Division II and III schools.
"You don't have to help the Division I kids," Monroe said. "They already have the talent."
Butler never forgot the guy who would call to tell him - tomorrow, get to Smith Playground, 24th and Snyder. Might be 6:15 in the morning, before school. Butler might have to pass two perfectly good playgrounds to get there, but that was the point.
How bad do you want this?
The fact that Butler always got the message - this was before cell phones - and always made it to the playground helps explain how, in addition to that shooting touch that never left him, Butler played those 13 seasons in the NBA. It may say also something about the guy calling him that Butler continues to be a primary sponsor of the boys' All-City Classic. (WNBA player Kahleah Copper, a Prep Charter graduate, is a sponsor of the girls' games).
Monroe, 47, works full-time as a social worker, but even on the job, he said, "I talk about basketball so much, people tell me, 'Can you talk about something else?' "
He's not sure Philly basketball is as healthy as it was when he was a youngster growing up at 24th and Tasker trying to emulate South Philly legends, moving from playground to rec center to playground all day long. "Now everybody's got a trainer and nobody plays," Monroe said.
He wonders about the shoe companies and their spring and summer leagues, replacing the tournaments he used to put in teams in where if you lost in pool play, you weren't winning anything. That drove his guys, he said.
"I just wish, instead of pointing out the problems, I had the answer," Monroe said.
If he's got an idea, it tends to reach fruition. The crowd at Imhotep Monday didn't fill the place. It was friends and family. Except the family was Philadelphia basketball, with girls' and boys' stars in the stands, not just on the court. Neumann-Goretti senior star Quade Green, headed for Kentucky, walked in right after the tipoff and grabbed a seat in the front row.
Monroe kept busy. Afterward, he pulled out some cash to pay the referees their $35 each, then brought out the trophies he had in his car for the winning players. Once Monroe handed those out, he walked away and said, "Now it's the All-City Classic."
There's always the next thing. Monroe worked with Doyle for just one year before Doyle moved on but he'll call Doyle and suggest meeting for lunch. Doyle said he couldn't, he's teaching. Doesn't stop Monroe. The conversation is usually the same, "about basketball ideas, ways to get more people involved," Doyle said. "He'll bring sandwiches and come to the school."