Who’s the best? In the game of basketball, this is how wars begin. For the residents of the Barry Farm and Parkchester communities in Southeast Washington, DC, it was a simple conversation about basic basketball competition that spawned one of the greatest summer hoops leagues on the East Coast.
Founded in 1975 by three community recreation leaders—Ervin Brady, Carlton Reed and Morty Hammonds—The Goodman League began as the Barry Farms Community Basketball League. At its inception, the league pitted residents of the Barry Farms housing community versus residents from Parkchester, an adjoining housing community located a stone’s throw away. For many years, the Barry Farms Community Basketball League was only open to residents of either Barry Farms or Parkchester, giving way to intense battles between the talent-rich sections.
In the early 2000s, the league’s name was changed to the Goodman League, honoring George “Pap” Goodman, a lifetime resident and employee at the Barry Farms Recreational Center. Goodman was instrumental in providing opportunities for inner-city youth to keep them from the ills pervading their neighborhood.
In 1996, after serving 12 years in the Army, current League commissioner Miles Rawls came back to his beloved Southeast DC to get some summer run, but found that the league he remembered was no longer functioning. After failing to find someone to rejuvenate the defunct league, Miles decided to do it himself. There were obstacles, of course. Back then, Barry Farms was known as one of the most-dangerous neighborhoods in DC. Although plenty of good people lived there, poverty and crime ran rampant throughout the community. This cast a negative light on the league as many folks simply didn’t feel safe going to the Farms.
Rawls attacked this issue head on. As he continued to operate the league, he was able to foster relationships with local residents to help reduce crime without police presence. Whenever there was an issue of violence within the gates, Rawls would personally seek out the parties involved and tell them to keep the violence away from the league. The courts at Barry Farms Rec were once again hallowed ground.
“Back in those days, like I said, wasn’t nobody coming down to Barry Farms but the people who lived in Barry Farms,” Rawls says. “I was able to make it, you know, safe enough—without police, just street cred and respect—for outside entities to come inside those gates, fans and all, to watch that good basketball that was going on. Just building relationships with the street guys and all that, because we had a few violent days. But when I found out who caused that particular drama on that particular day, I told them to keep that stuff outside the gates.”
As time went on, the commissioner also noticed that the talent within Barry Farms and Parkchester began to dwindle, so he decided to allow outside hoopers—DC residents who were not from Barry Farms—to play within the gates.
Word spread like wildfire and ballers from every corner of the District began coming out to catch wreck. Once the floodgates opened, notable DC-bred players like former Boston Celtics guard Sherman Douglas, former Syracuse and Big East all-time leading scorer Lawrence Moten, streetball legend Curt “Trouble” Smith and a host of other local and semi-pro level players made their way to the Farms to test their mettle.
“Believe it or not, some of the greatest guys we’ve had were not pros,” Rawls says.
As top-notch players entered the Goodman, a younger generation of talent followed. Not only did the quickly growing league become a premier venue for DC-area basketball talent, it also served as a proving ground of sorts for emerging high school players in the DMV. OKC forward Kevin Durant, Houston Rockets forward Michael Beasley, Indiana Pacers guard Ty Lawson and former Duke standout Nolan Smith held their own against grown-man comp in the league while in high school.
An epic game of the Goodman League All Stars vs the AND 1 Mixtape Tour…appearances by Hall of Fame coach John Thompson and Shaquille O’Neal…former US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan playing in the league…these are just some of the highlights from the Goodman League’s rich history.
As DC native Arize Ifejika says: “Not only is it a give-back to the community, it’s a celebration of basketball from a cultural perspective. Just come out and bump. No agents, rankings or politics involved. If you can play, you can play. It takes it back to the essence of basketball.”
For more on the rest of the best summer streetball leagues around the country, check out our 2016 Summer Streetball Leagues Guide.
Photo: Michael Starghill