Choose Wisely

Now in its 14th year, the Chosen League has become the center of Philadelphia’s thriving streetball scene.
by July 01, 2016

Philadelphia basketball coach and man about town Rahim Thompson had modest plans when he founded the Chosen League in 2002. Its inception was meant to create a platform for the top high school players in the region. Thompson’s decision to start the league was based on the fact that there were no activities taking place out of his neighborhood park, Cherashore Park, which is located at 10th Street and Olney Avenue in the Olney section of Philadelphia. The neighborhood is primarily a working-class, blue-collar community. The area surrounding the park wasn’t overrun with criminal activity, but Thompson wanted to build a positive atmosphere and keep the local teenagers involved before they strayed.

Thompson’s early basketball inspirations came from two of the most dynamic leagues in Philly: The Sonny Hill League and an outdoor league taking place at 16th Street and Susquehanna Ave. At the time, Sonny Hill League games were played at Temple University’s McGonigle Hall. Once the games there ended, Philly basketball heads would walk a few blocks to 16th and Susquehanna, where some of the city’s greatest players were battling it out.

“Sixteenth Street really inspired me, because 16th Street was outside, and it was in the community,” Thompson says. “As soon as the Sonny Hill League games were over, you could walk around the corner to 16th Street, and the games would be going on. You would see some of the top players in the city. It was a whole different atmosphere. It was like going to a family reunion or family barbeque with basketball as the centerpiece. So when I was young—I’m talking about 18, 19 years old—I used 16th Street as my blueprint, because the community was involved. You had the Muslim brothers selling fish sandwiches; you had the mom over there selling pies. It was a whole community event centered around basketball, and I thought that was so dope.”

The start of every Chosen League season begins with what Thompson calls the Chosen Game. In the contest, Thompson takes the top graduating seniors who played in the league before and matches them up against the next crop of emerging underclassmen.

What separates the Chosen League from your average run of the mill rec league? The answer lies in that it was designed as a player’s league. Not only was it a forum for top high school athletes to showcase their talents, but it also served as a venue for the top players in the region to go at it. Conversely, it’s common to stumble across a kid who can play but is only known in his section of the city. Some good players may attend high schools that aren’t competitive, so they aren’t afforded the opportunity to go at some of the city’s top competition. A strong showing at 10th and Olney could change a young baller’s life; it could increase a player’s profile, and has even allowed some to receive collegiate scholarship offers.

“You might not get that matchup versus the top dude at your high school or whatever, but when you get down at Chosen League, trust me, you’re gon’ get that matchup that you’re looking for,” Thompson adds. “That’s how you’re going to measure who you are.”

Aside from competitive gameplay and great matchups, the Chosen League gets so much love because it represents the underdog. Thompson says that he rode the bench for his high school team at Olney High School, and even describes himself as a “human victory cigar.” A constant phenomenon that occurs almost every year in the league is the emergence of a virtual unknown. Thompson recalls players such as Sankofa Charter’s Anthony Downing, the Germantown High School duo Ivan Green and Corey Bethea, former La Salle guard Ramon Galloway and even current Samford signee Josh Sharkey as guys who were underrated but performed under the lights at 10th and Olney.

The Chosen League’s alumni list has grown exponentially since 2002. Pros who’ve gotten their start there include Toronto Raptors guard Kyle Lowry, Washington Wizards forward Markieff Morris, Portland Trail Blazers guard Gerald Henderson and Brooklyn Nets guard Wayne Ellington. Current collegiate players who have made their mark there include Creighton floor general Maurice Watson, Hofstra point guard Juan’ya Green and Duke forward Amile Jefferson. The games at 10th and Olney have become annual rites of passage for Philadelphia area high school ballplayers.

These great alumni have paired with Thompson’s vision and hustle to build on some truths of Philly hoops: Guys with names cannot hide behind the reps; players who can’t cut it will be easily exposed.

For more on the rest of the best summer streetball leagues around the country, check out our 2016 Summer Streetball Leagues Guide.

Photo: Steven Counts/Nike