In the spring of 2002, Rahim Thompson got away from the big city, and took a cruise.

Before leaving, Thompson had been planning on starting an outdoor basketball league for high school kids. He was going to call it the Chosen League. He placed phone calls during his vacation to solidify a playing location.

When he returned from the cruise, he found chaos. His apartment had been robbed, and his grandmother had passed away.

"It was double-trouble," Thompson said.

When Thompson attended the funeral, a number of family members came up to him. They reminded him how much his grandmother had hoped he would get involved in a leadership role in his community. It mattered a great deal to her.

"All that did was motivate me more to do the league," Thompson said. "I'd been robbed, and all of this, but I couldn't quit."

He had already put word out that the league would start that summer. He didn't want his personal issues to interfere with his plans.

Thompson wanted to get something going. The Chosen League was going to be that something.

He moved out of his house - he didn't want to be robbed again - and got to work.

Thompson, a Bronx, N.Y., native who moved to Warnock Street in Olney when he was 13 years old, grew up playing basketball outside. He first admired the storied Gauchos Program in the Bronx, and then the Sonny Hill League, in which he played, in Philadelphia.

He also played a year of varsity basketball at Olney High School, where he was a teammate of Jason Lawson, who would go on to play at Villanova and be drafted by the Nuggets.

Thompson was determined to forge a career in basketball. He loved the indoor Sonny Hill League, but often thought back to the Gauchos, who played outside, and the games that were played at the playground on Philadelphia's 16th & Susquehanna streets.

"It was like going to a family barbecue, with basketball as the centerpiece," Thompson said. "That inspired me right there."

So he set out to put the Chosen League together. He rented a few dozen chairs for people interested enough to watch the courts at 10th and Olney. The teams played four games each day, three times a week, from June until late August.

For the first year, Thompson was the league's sole source of funding. Every two weeks, he would take his paycheck from his Parking Authority job and turn it right back into the league. Still searching for a new home, he relied on his godmother and friends for couches to sleep on.

When he lost his job after the first season ended, Thompson threw himself into the league full-time, searching for connections and sponsors to help the league both survive and thrive.

He was convinced a sustainable, desirable outdoor league - something that has fallen by the wayside with the full-steam-ahead professional mentality of AAU teams - could attract top players interested in getting back to the basics of basketball: a backboard, a rim, a net, and fresh air.

He was right.

The league continued to grow, little by little, until Thompson had landed a sponsorship deal with Nike. In 2014, the Chosen League was highlighted as one of the best outdoor leagues in the country by ESPN.

After 15 years, the league's alumni roster is impressive and includes Toronto Raptors All-Star Kyle Lowry; the Morris twins, Markieff (Wizards) and Marcus (Pistons); Dante Cunningham (Pelicans) and Wayne Ellington (Nets).

"It was mainly trial by error," Thompson said, laughing. No one came to him and told him how to run a basketball league, or make it survive. Now, he said, people hoping to start their own leagues will ask him for the blueprint.

All he can point to is hard work, good timing, and a love for basketball.

On June 22, Thompson shared the stage with Villanova's Jay Wright and Kris Jenkins, and Mayor Jim Kenney at the John Wanamaker Athletic Award luncheon. Thompson was there to accept the City of Philadelphia Parks & Recreation Sports Volunteer of the Year Award.

He wore a white shirt and white pants. His two daughters, also dressed in all white, hugged his legs as they posed for a picture on stage. He grasped the award with his right hand and beamed.

"That award was just confirmation that everything I've said was true," Thompson said. "The biggest success you can show people is longevity."

The league has been around so long that former players are returning to the courts at 10th and Olney with children - sons and daughters, nieces and nephews - chomping at the bit to get their slice of the action.

It's everything he dreamed of, Thompson said.

He's just glad he stuck it out after those first few trying years.

"I knew if I quit, it would be detrimental to myself, personally, and to a lot of people who were looking for me to succeed," Thompson said. "And I wanted to prove to people who said I couldn't do it that they were wrong. If I quit, they would've been correct. I was like, 'Nah, I can't let that happen.' "

So he didn't. And now, because of Thompson, the Chosen League will live on in Philadelphia basketball lore.

@AdamWHermann