Just about anyone of the age 20 and older has heard their parents or elders call the sport of baseball “America’s pastime.”
And if you dig back into history, you may agree with them. Baseball has always been a popular sport that has no game clock and many hours expire by either playing or watching it.
But in the Black community of the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area, you won’t find most folks passing time at the baseball park.
Instead, it’s a far greater chance of getting caught in a Suitland Parkway traffic jam as crowds of folks head for the gates of the Barry Farms community on a daily basis.
That’s where self -respect, comradery, skilled talent and entertainment combine to form one traditional and everlasting chain of events: the George Goodman Basketball League.
Sunday through Friday, hundreds of folks spend their summer afternoons surrounding the Barry Farms Dwelling basketball court located at Firth Sterling Avenue in Southeast, D.C.
On random nights where NBA stars such as P.G. County Maryland native Kevin Durant may suit up to play, the court becomes so packed that you have to bring your own lawn chair just to ensure you have a place to sit.
And although Barry Farms has been stereotyped as a “bad neighborhood” in the past, anyone who attends the Goodman League games on a regular basis will tell you that no nonsense is tolerated.
There’s no fighting, robbing or killing taking place down at “the gates.” The only action you’ll find there is good hoops and good conversation.
“It’s home for me,” said Tremaine Johnson, a 32-year-old former resident of Southeast D.C.
“They say we can’t have nothing on our end of town… that we can’t act civilized. But the best thing that happens in this city every summer is the Goodman games and it’s still underground.”
Johnson, who’s been regularly attending the Goodman League games for nine consecutive years, is just one of many who head directly from work to “the gates” every day to guarantee a good view of the court.
Of course, he changes out of his work clothes before he steps near the court.
“I keep a change of clothes,” Johnson joked, “Miles ain’t ‘frying’ me.”
The man Johnson speaks of is Miles Rawls, commissioner of the Goodman League.
And when you bring reason to why no one starts any trouble during the basketball games, it always comes down to the respect everyone has for Miles.
“Miles is the man,” said Khalid Naji-Allah, a local photographer who’s done work at many events Rawls has appeared at. “That man knows so many important people, it’s crazy.”
You tend to gain that kind of respect and admiration once you’ve spent more than 30 years involved with the best summer basketball league in the city, and nearly 17 years as its commissioner.
Yet, those who know Miles the best would say it’s his down-to-earth personality and ability to joke around with folks that makes him so respectable.
“He’s real and a lot of people just aren’t real,” said Dedrick Love, who worked closely with Rawls for five years.
“It’s like he uses humor to touch people…He’ll get to ‘joaning’ on you and the next thing you know, you love the guy.”
Some would think he uses his comedic charm to draw some of the super talent that comes down to play on any given day. But Miles insists otherwise.
“I don’t call stars up and ask them to come down…they come down on their own,” Rawls said. “Gilbert Arenas, Caron Butler, Shaquille O’Neal and all those guys…I never call them, they call me because they’ve heard how good the league was and just want to be apart of it.”
Miles says the star athletes come out because they’re actually interested in entertaining the community.
Because of them, folks hold lifetime memories of hometown star Kevin Durant scoring 60 points in a single game or the And-1 tour team coming to town.
Miles remembers when the And-1 tour first visited Barry Farms in 2002 and how special that was to the league.
“To see the basketball courts packed the way they were and how people were climbing on the fence just to get a view, it was amazing,” Rawls said. “It almost brought tears to my eyes to be honest with you.”
Miles also treasures more recent memories like when the Goodman League put together one of its best rosters and took on the legendary Drew League of L.A., California in an epic summer league basketball battle at Trinity College in Washington, D.C. in 2011. Durant led the Goodman League’s team with 40-plus points in a close victory.
The very next year, the Goodman League’s home in Barry Farms was renovated by Nike with a brand new state-of-the art court equipped with bigger, better stands for the fans to sit in. That summer of 2012, the Goodman League also participated in the Nike World Basketball Festival Tour which visited the D.C. Armory in Northeast.
“It’s a blessing to see how far we’ve come as a league,” Rawls said.
Besides memories like that, Miles says he’s motivated to keep the league running strong by remembering those who came before him that made it possible to have a positive community event to attend.
“I’m just picking up the torch and keeping the tradition going,” Rawls said.
“Guys before me like Ervin Brady, Carlton Reed and Morty Hammonds…them guys started the league back in the 70’s when I was a teenager. They created something special and I just want to keep it alive.”
*The Goodman League started its 36th season this summer on June 3 and featured hometown basketball favorites like Michael Beasley and Bobby Maze. Most of the games of the opening week, however, were canceled due to rain.
Historical note: The Goodman League was originally titled the Barry Farms Community Basketball League. It was renamed during the mid 1980’s in honor of George Goodman, a lifetime resident and community leader of Barry Farms.