Philly basketball community runs deep at the Rumph Classic

The Danny Rumph Classic is really a community event.


There just happens to be an uber competitive basketball game in the middle of the gym featuring some of the greatest players to pass through the city of Philadelphia playing alongside numerous household names.


A sold out Tom Gola Arena at La Salle University was packed to the brim for the 16th annual Rumph Classic championship between unbeaten Team Rex 6 from South Philly and Team Chuck Ellis Workouts with North Philly ties. 


Monday’s championship surely didn’t disappoint. 


Ultimately, Rex 6 pulled off the double-overtime thriller thanks to Wali Hepburn’s MVP performance aided by a Quade Green offensive tear and a few ferocious dunks from Jamir Hanner that put the nail in the coffin. By a final score of 128-119, they were crowned 2021 champions, securing a spot in Philly basketball lore.


An end of regulation putback from Chinanu Onuaku that officials waived off, citing offensive interference, sent the gym into a frenzy and the game’s first overtime. Hepburn then had a chance to close out the game in the waning seconds fading into the right corner with two defenders draped over him but couldn’t find the bottom of the net.


Rex 6 controlled the pace of the game in double overtime, eventually wrapping up the night with a colony from South Philly storming the court, holding cameras up as they swarmed the trophy celebration at half court.


Prior to tip-off, Mike Morak, the tournament’s lead organizer, and Marcus Owens, Danny Rumph’s uncle, took a moment to address the masses both thanking them for their support and reminding them what the tournament is all about. 


Rumph tragically passed away on Mother’s Day in 2005 from hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, an inflammation of the heart. He was playing pickup late that evening at Mallery recreation center in Germantown, now named in his honor, when he buried a game-winner then collapsed to the ground soon after. The 21-year-old died later that evening. 


His childhood friends, Morak, Justin Scottt, Sharif Bray and Sharif Hanford took it upon themselves to organize the tournament, keeping Rumph’s legacy alive while raising awareness for the importance of a healthy heart.


This year’s tournament brought out the likes of Allen Iverson, Brad Wanamaker and Tierra Whack all sitting courtside for the action. Lou Williams, Montrezl Harrell and Sindarius Thornwell made appearances for Team Chuck Ellis Workouts while Jalen Brunson showed up for night one representing Team 8Eye Media. 


Eric “GheeFunny” Lawton is in charge of bringing the energy while keeping the crowd and players engaged the whole way with colorful commentary and an abundance of nicknames. The Philly native, who played basketball growing up with Rumph, has been the tournament’s emcee since 2017.


“The Rumph is the best at bringing everyone together,” Lawton said. “It gives guys who aren’t in the league or streetball guys a chance to play against pros. It’s just a great event.”


And he plays a major role in elevating the experience.


When Williams began to flirt with the Rumph Classic record of 71 points in a single game set by Rasheim Wright in 2008, Lawton spent Friday evening counting down every bucket he got, helping the players and fans keep track of his record pace, which was capped at 53. 


Marcus “50” Thomas put on a show throughout the weekend for Ellis’ crew including a 30-point performance on eight threes Sunday afternoon. His flamethrower jump shot from three steps beyond the arc was dubbed the shot from “NBA Africa” in reference to Thomas’ time playing for FAP from Cameroon in the league’s inaugural season. 


Lawton’s ability to use his commentary to engage the crowd and the players gives the Rumph Classic an even stronger sense of community. The people in attendance feel the connection through nicknames and banter bridging the gap between player and fan. 


Brunson put on a show in his only appearance from night one but the Philly crowd held him accountable for every mistake, heckling him for all 40 minutes. Despite enduring the hostility, Brunson said coming back to play in the tournament was “a no brainer.”


Saturday afternoon’s matchup between Rex 6 and Team Rumph Center was arguably the most electrifying game of the weekend with both teams trading highlight-reel baskets down the stretch led by Samme Givens and Maurice Watson. 


“I’ve been a part of this community since the beginning of my career,” said Williams, a 3-time NBA Sixth Man of the Year award recipient. “I’ve been embraced here. To come back and play in the tournament in honor of Rumph, it’s such a good feeling and something I enjoy doing.”


Rumph’s mother, Viola “Ms. Candy” Owens, walks into the gym and can’t help but smile looking around at how much the tournament has grown and how many people come together for such an important cause.


“[Danny] would be so proud and so elated,” Owens said. “So when I go in there, the first thing I see is his face. I just know he’s loving this.”


The tournament was born at the Rumph Center before transitioning to Arcadia and eventually La Salle with the demand for a bigger space. But the environment hasn’t changed.


For five days in early August the city still gets together to pack a hot gym, lined up along the baseline, right on top of the action. It’s just like the early days of the tournament. 


“I tell everyone, wherever we are,” Morak said, “it turns into the Rumph Center.”