This is our path… The Prahran Summer Jam
Words: Good Sport
Images: Ben Clement
We’re standing inside BrotherWolf, a Melbourne barber shop, about two blocks from the basketball court that hosts the Prahran Summer Jam (PSJ ) every February. The BrotherWolf team are reigning Summer Jam champs. Having not lost a final in years, they’re the team to beat. This year, more teams than ever have been formed to take them on. We take a walk towards the park. It’s a bright, hot summer day, but some haze lingers from the devastating bushfires that have been burning throughout Australia for the last few months. Eamon Rippon announces, “We’re walking to the park right now without a basketball. This goes against everything, right?”
“Growing up, you didn’t leave the house without a ball in your hand. You were just, ‘Okay cool. Go to the park. Go and play. The whole day’. And now we are coming down to the park to check out the site. You know what I mean? The difference is like, “What the hell?”
Eamon and Daniel Ella, the two founders of PSJ, mention they played a game together the night before. As we continue to stroll, they explain that the important thing is to remain playing – at any level – even with the increasing demands on their time. “We created this tournament that we want to play in. And then ended up not playing in it. We’ve never even played in one. I think for the ten year anniversary we might give it a go.” Both agree, stressing that you’ve got to ground yourself and return to the origin. It’s a personal reminder – this is why they started PSJ. Otherwise, it becomes a job.
We’re standing in the middle of the courts now. An older man is doing Tai Chi nearby, a couple of kids are shooting hoops and some locals are yelling some banter at each other. They look around and say, “This area is unique, man. Prahran was where street basketball blossomed for Melbourne”. Eamon compares it to New York, much like a lot of others who have been around the courts for a while do. “It has a New York-esque backdrop. The hustle and bustle on Chapel Street. You’ve got the projects here. You’ve got the fucking park with junkies in it. It just fits.”
Looking around the park, you notice the court is on a slight slope. Daniel confirms the bottom end hoop is lower. That end also has an overhanging tree. Players camp out there when the sun is too much and just try to make easy three’s.
Sunday is the main day down here. “You can’t come on Sunday without someone bringing their music down and someone bringing their esky full of drinks for people playing or just hanging out. That’s why it was and still is the spot. This is our version of Rucker Park”.
Reminiscing, Daniel thinks back to his first day here, when the And1 team came down. This was in 2012. “Eamon and I, we wagged school to see the And1 team play a game against the locals”. Without realising at the time, this is where the seed for Summer Jam was planted.
Eamon fills in the detail, “MSF Sports bought the And1 crew down here. You had The Boss, Escalade was off the chain, The Professor was out here doing his thing, AO was talking trash – it was the most amazing day of our lives. We thought Herman Helicopter was going to go through the legs on the low end. Turns out he did it reverse… It was like a reverse two hand windmill. He did it in all the mixtapes and we were sitting down there on that baseline, supposed to be in school, voice breaking, having the best day of our lives. When they weren’t playing, we were just shooting around on the ring, playing on the court and from then on, every weekend, we were down here. If we couldn’t get a game, it didn’t matter. We’d sit on the sideline just waiting. ‘All right, cool. In between games, bam, bam, start putting up a couple of jumpers’. ‘Who these kids? Man. Fuck. They can actually shoot. They can actually play’. Next you know, 13-14 years old playing with adults and just running the park, you know? And from there on it was just…”
…Daniel jumps in, “Every school holidays, you’d come down every day, bring some tunes, and then just play against the adults”.
Eamon laughing, “On a diet of KFC and Hungry Jack’s. That was it. We’d just hoop all afternoon. Oh them times when we were free.”
There’s a pause and Daniel looks around, “We come here now and we see the young kids playing, and it just reminds us of what our passion was, and still is. These kids, they love it just as much as us. So, it’s a good thing to be able to keep coming back to this park and just playing ball, man. Keeping it simple. Play ball with your friends and it’s all good.”
We’re sitting on the sideline, where the PSJ team benches are to be set up in a couple of weeks time.
The court shares its concrete with the local skate park and its massive half-pipe, one that not too many people are brave enough to drop in on.
Although, it’s a good vantage point, if you can get a spot at the top.
Daniel says to Eamon, “You start from the beginning and then I’ll finish at the end”.
“Okay,” Eamon says as he dives right in.
“It was me that came up with the idea. I was doing my usual Monday thing with Jackson Hughes, who has been a resident DJ of PSJ. Just hanging in his house on a Monday night. [I’m] 21, heavily into ball, loving street culture, talking about Rucker Park in New York. While Jackson’s sitting there just spinning records. He always used to play me new records that he’d get every week. I’d just lie on his bed and listen to him. I had this basketball and was shooting up in the air while lying down. I let my mind wander, ‘Man, what if we had a tournament here? Like what New York has?’”
That belief, you know. I asked myself the question, ‘Why not?’”
“After that night I pitched it to a couple of guys? Like, ‘Hey, I got this idea. Why don’t we run this?’ Everyone looked at me and asked the same question, ‘Why not?’
“Next thing you know that was when Daniel was coming back from college and I was like…” Seamlessly, Daniel carries on, “Eamon and I, we’ve known each other since we were three-years-old. We went to kindergarten, primary school and high school [together]. I then went over to Caulfield high school and played – we won Nationals. And then that helped me get the opportunity to play at Dominican [University] in San Francisco. I guess when I came back from college, Eamon said, ‘Let’s…
“I pitched this idea to him. I just got this feeling that Daniel had come back, and didn’t really want to play ‘cause he was burnt out from college. A lot of guys go through that. But you know basketball still runs in our veins. I mean, I had hoop dreams and didn’t make college. So this is just something that felt right. It was that next step. ‘Oh, you didn’t make it. Oh, don’t worry. You still go out there and play’.
“I still have fun doing it. I was like, ‘Man I need some help on this idea I’ve got. Do you want to help me?’ Lo and behold I found the perfect guy – my best mate. We both love ball, both with some ball skill. ‘Let’s organise this tournament. We’re still in the community. We are still in the circle’.”
“Daniel’s instant thoughts were, ‘This is a no-brainer. Let’s do a tournament with our friends’. With streetball, you don’t have a coach and you don’t have offences called. You can run your own plays and you’re playing a lot more instinctively together. It’s a different game, but the same goal.
“I pitched it to a friend of mine who was working at the local council at that time. He ran upstairs, told his boss, within two minutes he’s back down like, ‘Yo, let’s do it’. And it was like, ‘Damn, let’s go’.”
The boys figured out how to run a tournament of this scale all on the fly, with the help of family and friends to build the community around them. Everything they ‘learnt’ at university went out the window. At the same time, their faces screw up thinking about things like council requirements and report writing, something they’d never done before. But the two kids who just wanted to play ball made it work and in 2012 the inaugural PSJ came around and the guys welcomed about 600 people to their home court.
“That’s the best day of my life to date,” remarks Eamon, while looking at Daniel, who is animated in agreement. Now, it’s a full two-day tournament, almost a mini-festival, showcasing events like the women’s three on- three competition, men’s final and the highlight-filled dunk comp. PSJ has attracted some of the best dunkers in the world; this year seeing Isiah Rivera, Guy Dupuy and Jordan Kilganon all heading out from North America to throw down their skills.
“It’s a collaboration of everything basketball; one that celebrates every aspect of the culture”, says Eamon.
The Prahran Summer Jam is a winner-takes-all event. There’s no second place. And with it being an invitational, the standard is really high, putting both credibility and pride on the line.
Initially, attracting the best talent was important, so putting up prize money was the most effective lure. But now it’s more about the glory of winning, rather than just the cash. Originally, the teams put up the cash prize, but now, thanks to the support of generous sponsors, the victorious team takes home $10,000 for winning the men’s final and $3,000 for the women’s final.
“We want to continue to grow those things too, so. Daniel throws out a figure of ‘$50k’ for the future prize purse. Eamon quickly escalates, “Could be a mil”.
“Oh damn!” shouts Daniel.
They’re nearly falling over each other. Laughing, Eamon blurts out, “Oh man, I’m gonna choke on my sandwich!”.
Walking back towards the barber shop, there’s a pause in the conversation. The bustle of Chapel Street is loud and distracting.
The boys say ‘What’s up!’ to a few people they know passing by.
Eamon says to Daniel, “It’s weird to think we pioneered this, man”.
And Daniel agrees, saying, “The funny thing is, especially us growing up on these courts and being involved with the culture from a young age, this was something that we were meant to do”.
Eamon goes to speak, but hesitates. You can tell he’s thinking of the less romantic side of running an event.
Finally adding, “Summer Jam gives you every emotion possible”. They both burst out laughing.
Daniel adds, “Eamon and I have have definitely strangled each other and we’ve celebrated together. It’s been a roller coaster, but at the end of the day, it’s the best feeling. Coming to the end of an event… and you see people enjoying themselves, playing hoops…”
“The feeling you’re given is huge,” says Eamon. “It’s because basketball’s given us so much. The way I feel about Summer Jam… what it gives me is like… sometimes certain people are meant to wear certain shoes. This is our path… I feel I can speak for Daniel, we want to continue this journey”.
This article is proudly supported by Converse and the original performance basketball sneaker’s return to the game in 2019; making and breaking style rules – on and off the court. While looking back and celebrating a rich history of firsts – first signature shoe, first dunk, first 100 point game; Converse is shining a light on those who are pushing the game forward by not trying to be the next, but to be their own First.
The Prahran Summer Jam is a collaboration of everything basketball and there’s no better way to hear about than from those who have been a part of the journey.
Eamon Rippon and Daniel Ella: “The way we feel about Summer Jam… what it gives us is like… sometimes certain people are meant to wear certain shoes. This is our path…”
Eamon wears the Converse OG Pro Leather and Daniel wears the Converse G4 High Top.
Pedro Faria: For Australia, it’s the first of its kind. Prahran Summer Jam has such a rich culture from the local community. Everyone’s getting behind it. It has this organic feel where it’s just pure. I think out of all the basketball tournaments that are held in Australia, it feels completely different to everything else. I’m very proud of the way the boys have put that together. I find that the best part of Prahran Summer Jam is when you’re actually playing and you have other teams supporting you. That is magical. A player will be sitting on the sideline and they want me to do my best because they know we battle it out on the court. We want to see everyone succeed. We want the best of basketball for that tournament.
Pedro wears the Converse G4 High Top.
Chuck Long: We (BrotherWolf) know every time we go to a tournament there’s a target on our backs, as people don’t like us because we win so much. It’s not so much we are better than everybody else, it’s just that we have better chemistry than most teams. We all get around each other’s families when there’s things going on. We actually are friends and we all enjoy the game of basketball as well. And it’s a chance to talk crap. I love to trash talk. Whenever there’s a chance to talk trash, I’m all about it. So as soon as anybody says anything, I let everybody know, ‘We’re here. That’s who we are’.
Chuck and his daughter wear the Converse G4 High Top.
Darryl McDonald: When I think of Prahran Summer Jam, I want to say ‘community’, but I’m going to say ‘hood’. Going from how it started to where it is now, Summer Jam is literally that hood coming together to do something positive. And it’s going so far beyond where we thought it would go at the start. It’s all like family. Everybody that I know that is involved, we were all there at the start. And like I said, these are people, 10-plus years… we’ve all been good for over a decade. That’s family, you know? You don’t need blood to make you family and, for me, that’s what Summer Jam is. It’s a family.
Darryl wears the Converse OG Pro Leather.
Sophia Chowdhury: No other city has this, and it makes Melbourne special. And, as we’re the first to do it, Prahran Summer Jam has become our bragging right. The dunk comp is a big showcase every year because we’ve got players coming from North America, and especially with Guy and Jordan being rivals as well. That’s going to be really exciting. Because I look after the socials, I saw Guy was shit-talking on there. I’m like, ‘Do we delete these? Do we keep these?’ But it’s cool, it’s a part of the hype.
Soph wears the Converse E260 OG.