This new column by Mike Jensen is intended to offer Philadelphia sports tales away from the press boxes and news conferences. It will feature a variety of sports, and our definition of Philly crosses the city borders, so we’re calling it City Line.
Teenage basketball players competing at the Chosen League, in its 13th season using the outdoor courts at 10th and Olney, understand that their deficiencies won't just be exposed. They're practically celebrated.
"He just shot an air ball!" Chosen League PA announcer Donald "Reds" Kenner told the crowd and the rest of the neighborhood. "We need a sub at the line!"
Before the game, Kenner served notice that he would be involved in the action. Before Reds took the microphone, he pulled his folding chair in front of the scorer's table, one shoe on the court.
Kenner also celebrated smart plays, strong post-ups, heady defense. He likes to point out: "This is the Chosen League. Go hard or go home." Onlookers are fair game.
"Did you come to play or did you come to watch?" Kenner asked a player in the crowd. "I got a chicken cheesesteak in the car."
The Chosen League is an interesting place to talk about the 76ers because its recent past is right here. One team is called Andre Iguodala, another Jrue Holiday. Another Chosen League team, Thaddeus Young, is hanging on as far as having a current Sixer as sponsor.
Those players all wrote checks to help the league. Holiday and Iguodala continue to do it after leaving the Sixers, said league founder and honcho Rahim Thompson. "They took a real interest in the league," he said, adding that he asked Iguodala's representative for his money this year and the check arrived two weeks later.
Ask Kenner what he thinks of the 76ers' draft strategy and he'll preface his remarks by saying, "I stopped being a Sixers fan when they got rid of Iverson.''
He's all right with drafting Joel Embiid, though. Trying to get something worth watching long-term has to be the goal, Kenner said.
Keith "Showtime" Saunders, ready to referee the game, wasn't buying in. He wanted Jabari Parker, and when Parker wasn't available, Showtime wanted Julius Randle and then Doug McDermott with the 10th pick. Forget about Together We Build for Sometime Way Down the Road.
"After [Andrew] Bynum, I don't like it," Saunders said of the decision to draft the injured Embiid. "And I don't want to talk about five-year futures."
He did add: "I'm still a Sixers fan."
In this age of AAU and air-conditioning, the Chosen League, featuring most of the city's top high school talent, is a throwback. The court is up against the back of rowhouses, a SEPTA track to the north, an Amtrak line to the east. A couple of cracks on the court surface don't take away from the experience, they add to it.
Thompson will tell you he's a huge Sixers fan but it's time for a championship run. All the truly elite teams have been through this stage of rebuilding, Thompson said, pointing out that even the Charles Barkley and Allen Iverson teams were not consistent contenders.
Talk to a few Chosen League players and it becomes clear that the Sixers aren't risking losing them. They didn't have them to begin with.
"Most of these guys are Heat fans," someone mentioned at courtside.
Denzel Turbeville from Frankford High said he's a Lakers fan.
"I don't like a team," said Devin Mitchell from Martin Luther King High. "I just like LeBron James."
So if the Sixers had a different draft strategy, it wasn't going to change that. Even for a lot of the adults, patience clearly has its limits. No 10-year plan, one coach said.
"When they lost 20 in a row, I stopped watching," said Frank Clark, sitting courtside as he helped out the DJ, Black Star.
This evening, the game between the Hunting Park Warriors and the Broad Street Bullies went with a running clock since a storm was coming in. There weren't set plays - this is the summer - but more solid fundamentals than you might think. Otherwise, Kenner would let them hear it. A bounce pass leading to a turnover led Reds to shout, "Never throw it to a big man like that!"
"It's going to rain on your head!" Reds soon announced to the crowd as the winds shifted into higher gear and thunder rumbled not too distantly. "Some of you need to run to the store and get a bar of soap."
A gust tried to pick up the folding tent over the scorer's table. With just over two minutes left and Hunting Park up, 42-38, Showtime saw a lightning bolt almost overhead.
"NCAA rules, you've got to stop," the ref said.
Someone pointed out that the NCAA doesn't play outdoors. As soon as he handed over the ball, Showtime told them, the rain would start. And so it did, hard.
"I'll let you play the last two minutes, but not today," Thompson told the coaches.
"It was our ball - we're down four," said the Broad Street Bullies coach.
At 10th and Olney, they certainly don't need a scoreboard to know the score.