Legendary Simon Gratz coach Bill Ellerbee reflects on how special the Rumph is

There may be very few people who have been to as many Danny Rumph Classics as Bill Ellerbee.

His attendance is not surprising, given the fact that he coached Danny Rumph’s father and has been known to be in the gyms where high quality hoops is being played.

The legendary Simon Gratz High School basketball coach has likely forgotten more about Philadelphia basketball than many could hope to absorb over multiple lifetimes. 

Knowing all of that, he still remains in awe of the Danny Rumph Classic nearly two decades later.

“It’s something you can’t go to the drug store and buy it,” Ellerbee said of the atmosphere. “All the Philly guys, they want to come back … It’s a draw, they make sure they fill their calendar with the Rumph Classic every year.”

Looking back on his years at the tournament, Ellerbee fondly recollects on what those early days at the Mallery Rec Center were like. Watching in real time as the gym filled beyond expectation and the event became a summer staple.

The growth of everything brings a smile to his face, even as he leans back and reaches back in time to think about stories of tournaments gone by.

“I thought the greatest thing was, at Mallery Recreation Center, packing two thousand people into a gym that only held two hundred people,” Ellerbee said with a hearty laugh. “You still miss that atmosphere, it’s hard to recreate the atmosphere of everyone standing on each other’s shoulders.”

As for what Ellerbee enjoys today?

There’s great basketball, the sense of community and the chatter.

But really, he loves the chatter.

“First of all, the commentator,” Ellerbee said, eyes lighting up. “He keeps it way live, as they used to say. He keeps it really live.”

And it’s not just the jokes that Ghee Funny is throwing around.

“This guy right here,” Ellerbee said as he gestured to a fan a few rows in front of him. “He’s been giving out great commentary too. He’s been yelling things out too and it’s been very comical, but he’s also very knowledgeable and that’s the thing about Philly basketball. Everybody’s very knowledgeable, you have a lot of basketball purists.”

The comedic stylings of Ghee Funny and the engaged crowd underscore a bigger theme for Ellerbee. 

Philadelphia basketball fans just get it.

The jokes and jeers all come from a place of basketball IQ. It’s not just yelling to yell, Ellerbee sees it all as an extension of what makes this city the perfect environment for something like this.

“Philadelphia is a unique big city,” Ellerbee said. “The iconic sport has been basketball for a long time, that’s not going to change. It’s always going to be there. If you tried to destroy it, you wouldn’t be able to.”

Ellerbee was seated at center court, a few rows off the bottom of the bleachers. 

The perfect perch to share some memories of past generations of hoopers and soak in the stories of the latest generation. 

All while doing so, Ellerbee keeps the event’s bigger picture in mind.

“The heart equipment, giving it to the rec centers, it’s a tremendous foundation,” Ellerbee said. “Keeping his memory alive, it means a lot to me.”