2016: The Year NYC Basketball Was Resuscitated

Dead no longer.

Once a prideful city that seemingly produced top prospects on a regular basis, specifically at the guard positions, New York City became the subject of ‘what went wrong?’ articles in recent years as the number of top prospects it put out drastically decreased. Historically known for producing some of the grittiest and most talented hoopers, all of a sudden calling it the “Mecca of Basketball” seemed like an outdated term that more accurately referred to the an era from the previous century, particularly the ’60s through ’90s, when Bernard King, Nate “Tiny” Archibald, Connie Hawkins, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, among a long list of other accomplished ballers, put the Empire State in a lane of its own. The city was quite simply no longer producing the same batches of prospects, with the same kind of buzz at the same rate it once did.

But then 2016 happened.

SLAM readers may have noticed that NYC prospects have been profiled a lot more often in recent months than in years past. This past spring, Arizona freshman Rawle Alkins made a statement by heading off to college as a top-25 recruit after being unranked just two years earlier. NYC has two of their own ranked in the top-10 nationally for the Class of 2017 in Mohamed Bamba and Hamidou Diallo. Then there’s Jose Alvarado, who will be following in the footsteps of Kenny Anderson and Stephon Marbury, as the next city point guard that makes the move to Georgia Tech from NYC for college.

And it doesn’t stop with this class. The junior class features Moses Brown, a 6-10 center at Archbishop Molloy in Queens, who is ranked top-20 in the Class of 2018. And then there’s Cole Anthony, son of former NBAer Greg Anthony, who is ranked top-20 in the Class of 2019.

Yet, no one this year had the same impact culturally the way Minnesota-bound Isaiah Washington did. The 6-1 PG out of Harlem, famously known as Jellyfam Dimes, started a movement of his own, as he explains in the video above, when he and a group of local basketball players decided to form their own basketball fraternity—with a specific initiation process and requirements, a consistent hashtag and an impeccable social media strategy, that would school any MBA candidate on marketing and brand visibility.

The Jelly Fam movement, which Washington says actually started in 8th grade with friend Ja’Quaye James, currently a high school junior at Teaneck High in New Jersey, picked up steam as the AAU season went from spring to summer in 2016. Playing with the New Heights AAU program in the Under Armour Association grassroots circuit, he quickly became one of the premier prospects this summer as the weekend sessions went from New York to Indiana to Los Angeles and then on to Georgia. He finished top-3 in assists in the league with 5.1 dimes while averaging 12.9 ppg in a summer that saw him go from unranked to now being listed nationally as high as in the 60s.

But what made him a star in the NYC community wasn’t necessarily his performance at national tournaments. It was his constant appearances at Dyckman, Rucker, Kingdome and similar local playgrounds in summer tourneys throughout the city. It was similar to how it all started for playground legends of past generations, like Pee Wee Kirkland and Rafer “Skip to my Lou” Alston.

The crafty handles off the dribble, the smooth finish at the rim, it was these moves caught on tape that made their way through the social media sphere—and with “Jellyfam” clearly visible in his Twitter and Instagram handle, the hoops community began to take notice. Along with Washington’s growing notoriety was the growth in Jelly Fam members. Top-40 junior prospect Jahvon Quinerly, a 6-1 PG at Hudson Catholic in Jersey City, NJ, joined the movement. Washington’s former teammate at St. Raymond HS in the Bronx, Sidney Wilson, a 6-7 wing with offers from Indiana, Louisville, UConn and UNLV, among many others, is also Jelly Fam certified. Leondre Washington, a 6-foot guard at Roselle (NJ) Catholic, with offers from a few mid-major programs also gained membership.

In total, today there are now eight elite members of the exclusive Jelly Fam society spread across three states—all highly touted recruits with enough cumulative social media followers to spread the movement even further, constantly using the #jellyfam hashtag in postings and in shout outs.

How do you become eligible to join the crew? One must do three finger-rolls on someone in one game in order to earn an invitation. And of course, one of the members of Jelly Fam has to be in attendance or there has to be footage of it.

Scroll through social media and you’ll find an array of users (not official members of Jelly Fam but admirers and supporters alike) using the Jelly Fam name in their handles or in hashtags. The movement has even transcended the digital world and infiltrated the game of basketball itself.

Kids at every level are now looking to finish at the rim with a finger roll more than ever before, some even opting to do so over throwing down a dunk. The crowd at the Elite 24 Game in Brooklyn, for example, would go more nuts after a simple finger-roll from Washington than after a rim-rattling jam.

There’s Jelly Fam t-shirts now. Kyrie Irving, just yesterday, revealed a Jelly Fam-inspired Nike shoe. Once a cult-like following seems to have transformed into a basketball cultural phenomenon.

“I just gotta keep up the reputation that New York has of bringing out great guards,” says Washington of the expectations that have come from his newfound fame and the rise of what he refers to as a “basketball social group.”

“We just want to be role models to the kids and put them in the right path.”