Tom Gola Arena at La Salle University is sure to be filled to the brim with excitement surrounding the 16th annual Danny Rumph Classic.
The five-day affair, which was canceled last year due to the pandemic, tips off on Aug. 5 and is best known as one of the premier basketball events in the country. It’s also the trademark event for the Daniel E. Rumph II Foundation, honoring its namesake while bringing awareness to Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy (HCM), the leading cause of Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA) for today’s youth.
Since its inception in 2006, the Rumph Classic has brought out a myriad of stars from all corners of the basketball world. Local legends like Brandon Austin, Mike Green, Dionte Christmas, Mark Tyndale, Aaron Owens and the Morris twins, Marcus and Markieff, have each participated in the annual tournament. Among those who have represented the NBA in Rumph’s honor include Jayson Tatum, James Harden, Lou Williams, John Wall and Bobby Portis.
This year, eight teams retake the floor for the grand return of the Rumph Classic.
“For me, it’s important to keep Danny’s name alive and to get everybody together,” Mike Morak, one of the tournament’s lead organizers and Rumph’s childhood friend said. “It’s about making sure that Philly basketball is put on the national platform of one of the better events around the country. Just getting more guys an opportunity to compete and play in a big gym so more people can experience a Philly basketball atmosphere as well as bring their kids, families and friends out to all enjoy together. That was all really important to us.”
Absent a basketball tournament this time last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, 2020 was anything but a lost year for the Rumph.
The DERII Foundation’s driving mission is to bring together a community with a commitment to health and safety. With that in mind, it wouldn’t have been right to pack a crowd into a gym during the height of a global pandemic. Instead, the group found an alternative way to bolster their pursuit of bringing together the community through an expansive social media campaign.
Over the course of two days, nearly 200 players were invited to safely take photos and capture interviews about the impact of Philadelphia basketball on the community. Each participant had their own personalized digital playing card to share on social media back in late September.
The cards included a picture of the participant with either a “Save the Next Bright Star” or “Next Bright Star” T-shirt. Also included on the cards were graphics with the number of years played, number of championships, 15 stars representing the then-age of the foundation and a social justice message of their choice.
Messages chosen for the digital cards resembled that of what NBA players chose for the back of their jerseys last season including “Black Lives Matter,” “Say Their Names,” “Vote,” “I Can’t Breathe,” “Justice,” and many more as a way to champion local voices uplifting and unifying the Philadelphia basketball community.
“Last year with everything that was going on, both racially and with COVID,” Morak said, “we wanted to provide the players with another opportunity to speak about saving the next bright star and what was important to them.”
He emphasized that last year’s social media campaign was about giving more legs to the foundation’s motto beyond the health aspect of it, reaching into addressing social issues to “create a better path for the next generation.”
And the engagement was astounding.
The campaign reached 2.6 million total followers across 125-plus Instagram posts and 300-plus Instagram story shares while amassing 25,000 likes and 1,200 comments.
“Last year I think we focused more on the actual mission, not the basketball because we couldn’t play basketball,” Sharif Hanford, another lead organizer for the tournament and Rumph’s childhood friend said. “It was more about getting people to understand — and for the people that didn’t know — being more aware of what happened to Danny and how to prevent it from happening to another kid.”
Non-basketball ventures for the DERII Foundation didn’t stop there.
The group has had a hand in improving voter registration, Thanksgiving coat and food drives, a Christmas giveaway and establishing the Rumph Youth Program mentoring kids in the area.
Over the last 16 years, the tournament has come a long way with tremendous growth and even better basketball.
Back in 2006 was the first time Rumph’s close friends organized a game in his honor. It was played at what was then Mallery Recreation Center, one year after Rumph’s passing, and was predominantly a chance to get his friends and family together along with anybody that spent time playing around him growing up. The following year was the first semblance of a tournament. Morak looks back fondly on that first year calling it, “a real Philly barbecue of basketball” considering the stretch across generations of talent from around the city.
Local legends like Mustafa Shakur, a McDonald’s All-American who played at Arizona and later went undrafted to the NBA; Sean Singletary, a four-year starter at Virginia who got drafted by the Sacramento Kings in 2008; Antoine Brockington who had a successful career at Coppin State ranked 10th in the nation in scoring his senior season; and Michael Jordan, who played at UPenn before enjoying a lengthy 12-year professional career overseas all showed out for the inaugural event.
Morak remembers the first guy to play with no affiliation to the city was an NBA veteran and a first-round pick from St. Petersburg, Florida.
“I remember [Marreese Speights] coming in to play. He played against a kid from Temple named Wayne Marshall,” Morak said. “That battle between the two of them really showed you can’t come in here and not be ready to play because there’s a guy from Philly that’s ready to meet that challenge and play against you at any level.”
From there, the goal was to keep the spirit of the competition alive to continue to honor Rumph and his story while growing a platform for the Philadelphia basketball community.
St. Joe’s assistant basketball coach Justin Scott, who grew up with Rumph and helps organize a lot of the logistical aspects that make the tournament possible, believes the best part of it all is that it brings the community together for a week in the summer.
Kids can come to watch local stars and pro basketball players take the floor; players get the chance to see all their old buddies; fans have the opportunity to sit in a gym to watch high-level talent.
Every year the excitement is palpable, according to Sharif Bray, another childhood friend of Rumph’s and assistant director for the tournament. He said that he’ll get endless questions from people all around the basketball community eager for details about the first weekend in August.
“Every time people see me they’re like, what’s up with the Rumph?” Bray said. “When’s the start? When’s this? When’s that? Who we got playing this year? Who you calling? Who’s Mike calling?…. Whenever anybody sees me, or sees the other Sharif, or sees Justin or Mike, people are always asking about it.”
Those questions can all be put to rest now that the Rumph Classic is back.