Bijan on the Basketball Capital by Danny Harris


Danny Harris is a DC-based photographer, DJ, and collector of stories. In September, he launched People’s District, a blog that tells a people’s history of DC by sharing the stories and images of its residents. Every day, People’s District presents a different Washingtonian sharing his or her insights on everything from Go Go music to homelessness to fashion to politics. You can read his previous columns here.

“I came to D.C. in the first grade. My family moved around Washington a couple of times, and we eventually settled in Brookland when I was 8. Moving to that neighborhood got me really interested in sports. One of my neighbors was McKinley Armstrong, the famous basketball coach from McKinley Tech High School. He had a son my age and a hoop in his yard. I always played sports in the neighborhood and eventually started playing on intramural and school teams as I got older. Where I grew up, if you didn’t follow sports, you were out of the lunch-room conversation. Sports became the all-consuming pastime in my life, whether it was playing them, following them, or watching them on TV.

“After high school, I was playing less, but I was following all of the sports in D.C. religiously, especially basketball, and got interested in writing about sports. Through that, I really learned about Washington’s amazing basketball history. Little did I know when I was a little kid that high-school basketball in D.C. is as popular and well-played because of something that happened in a century ago. There was a gentleman with a doctorate from Harvard named E.B. Henderson, who learned basketball from James Naismith, the inventor of the game. Dr. Henderson introduced basketball to schools in the D.C. area, especially the segregated schools, and to the first historic YMCA down on 12th Street, which won a colored national championship in 1910. While D.C. did not have the size, it became a hotbed of basketball. Because of that, by the 30’s, 40’s, and 50’s, D.C. had some very good teams. Great local players like Elgin Baylor, Dave Bing, Adrian Dantley, Danny Ferry, and Len Bias are largely an outcome of the growth of the game here, and of the great local high-school basketball programs like Armstrong High, McKinley Tech, Cardozo, De Matha Catholic, and St. Anthony’s. Recruiters started beating a path to D.C. to find the next great players. Continues after the jump.

“D.C., for its size, has produced more elite college basketball players than any other city. We have also had over 200 players drafted to the NBA from the D.C. area. When Street and Smith’s did its 100 greatest college players of all time, ten were from D.C. No other metropolitan area had even close to that many. The former Boston Celtics coach Red Auerbach once said that D.C. has the best schoolyard basketball in the country, and he is from Brooklyn. It was a lot of local talent that built some of the great D.C. collegiate basketball programs, like American and Georgetown. When John Thompson left St. Anthony’s High School to coach at Georgetown, he brought some players with him to build the nucleus of his first successful team.

“D.C. athletes, whether in the NBA, college, high school, military, prison, or community leagues, are always some of the most outstanding basketball players. As a writer, I am trying to draw attention to the fact that basketball is an important part of the history of this place, just like the music history, the civil rights history, and the home-rule history. D.C. is not only the capital of the United States, but the basketball capital of the United States.”

Read more about D.C. basketball’s past, present, and future on Bijan C. Bayne’s website and blog.