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Here's what ten years of the Prahran Summer Jam means
'Melbourne's Rucker Park' is about more than just basketball. It's about community.
Rucker Park, located in New York City, is a court integral to basketball culture in the United States. Over multiple generations, the humble outdoor locale proved a pillar to the local Harlem community, providing opportunities for less fortunate youth, helping establish the streetball culture that permeated the early 2000s, and enticing established NBA athletes like Julius Erving, Allen Iverson, Kobe Bryant and Kevin Durant to compete in an unparalleled atmosphere and environment.
For many, this environment cuts to the essence of basketball and its impact on the majority; sans the politics, commercialism and commodification of the professional game. For those that come to play at Rucker Park, it is for the love of the game and a deep sense of community.
Much like how New York City is considered the mecca for basketball in North America, Melbourne lays its claim as the sporting capital of the world. With more number one NBA draft picks than any other state worldwide, basketball’s grassroots influence runs deep.
Just like Rucker Park, Prahran Skate Park has impacted many lives as a home for streetball in Australia, and was chosen by founders Eamon Larman-Ripon and Daniel Ella to host the now decade-long running Prahran Summer Jam event. Inspired by Rucker Park, Dyckman Park, and the entire US streetball scene, Prahran Summer Jam (PSJ) stands as an integral component to basketball’s life in Victoria, bringing together not only great talent on the court, but musicians, artists, and food. Most importantly, it brings together a community.
“It’s so much more than basketball and it always has been. It’s family, it’s community, it’s music, arts, food… it’s all built on culture,” Larman-Ripon said in a recent chat.
“I think Melbourne has shown time and time again that every sort of sport, whether it be the Grand Prix, the Australian Open, whether it’s the footy, there’s so much here, so why couldn’t we?
“Back in 2003, AND1 was hot, streetball was hot. The NBA was cool but it was barely broadcast over here in Australia. ESPN was showing us the AND1 mixtapes.”
The event had its first year in 2012 with humble beginnings. Larman-Ripon describes those early days, when he had to run everything through one power point in the corner, with three mics - two wireless, one corded, and a lone marquee.
“I pitched this idea to [Daniel]”, Larmon-Ripon described to Good Sport Magazine.
“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.”
In stark contrast, this year’s event —now backed by sponsors Nike, House of Hoops and Foot Locker— boasted a stage, screens, seating, food vans, artists, and a vibrantly painted court. The dunk contest was judged by an all-star cast including Collingwood Magpie Mason Cox, Olympic medalist Peter Bol, and Melbourne United players Shea Ili and Jo Lual-Acuil. The ultimate winners, Team Prahran, walked away with a cheque for $20,000.***
A more fully fleshed out realisation of its founders’ initial dreams for the event, with thousands of spectators rolling in throughout the three days of competition, required pause for reflection and appreciation.
“Every year, we sort of have that —we’ll call it ‘the moment’— and I know we’re playing on it a lot… where you look around and you’re transported anywhere else in the world.. but you’re definitely not in Melbourne. Here’s this sick event! We always have that moment. That’s the one thing we know we can look forward to, and we try to make it better every year. Just that moment of ‘damn’, we reached a pinnacle, and it keeps repeating, and we want it to keep repeating.
“My favourite moment is setup [time] with my dad and the rest of the crew. [Watching] this thing just build and begin, it’s a cool feeling. You get these butterflies when you see all those months of preparation and hard work coming together. The joy from the winners… —you never see joy from the losers by the way, you never see the winning team [and] still be happy— but the joy from the winners definitely compensates for that, and just the joy and the looks on people’s faces, whether participating or just joining in, there’s so many moments, I could go on all night.”
Therein lies the core of the Summer Jam experience. Even though the event is now filled with photographers and media, the majority of content on socials isn’t focused on the winners, or at times even the basketball itself at all, but rather the many faces that make the event what it is. From volunteers, to fans, to players and their friends and family. Set upon the back drop of Prahran’s commission flats, it is a coming together of people from all walks of life.
"The mix that this park brings together is incredible," Larman-Ripon told ESPN in 2019. "You have your rich, and you have your poor. You have some people that are really talented at basketball and others that just love the sport. It's really wonderful to see everyone come together.
"On any given Sunday afternoon, you might have a young kid playing with a 50 year old, and they're getting along through a common interest, and that common interest is basketball."
In the words of Arise Asham, who posted on Instagram following the event last week.
“For those of you who know the culture of Prahran, know the people of Prahran, know the struggles of Prahran… last night was a way to show Australia and the world something we knew all along… the beauty of Prahran. That beauty lies in our community, its diversity, its passion, its grit, and its pride.”
Such has been the events success that this year the first interstate Summer Jam played out in Perth.
“Shoutout to the team that did it over there. Perth for us was the smartest choice, because they love basketball, just as much as Victoria, they’ve been locked down, isolated, it just seemed like they needed it. We just knew it would pop.”
In a story that perfectly encapsulates the spirit of the Summer Jam, Perth’s five on five competition was won by a group of Indigenous Australians representing Binar Sports - a non-profit organisation that provides life opportunities and pathways for primarily Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander youth through basketball, education classes, employment assistance, cultural workshops and individual mentoring.
Going up against more established teams with NBL1 talent, Binar would go unbeaten throughout the weekend.
“These kids don’t play NBL1, maybe one or two of them had, I’m not sure, but they didn’t seem to fit into the system. It’s something Daniel and I recognised about ourselves as basketballers. It was very much a [great] story. It was incredible.”
Unfortunately, due to COVID-19 restrictions, Binar was unable to make the trip down to Melbourne to compete in the Prahran event following their win.
“We wish we could’ve had them over here. Hopefully they win it again next year. We want to continue to try and build the Melbourne event and have the guys come from all over.. it would be so nice. Damn COVID.”
And yet despite COVID-19’s inevitable hiccups, the Summer Jam seems destined to continue to grow from strength to strength going forward.
“I feel like we’re only at the beginning. It’s crazy. We’ve got plans in place to turn it into a national championship. Who knows. When we conquer Australia, there’s the whole Asia-Pacific, there’s a whole lot of ballers there in the world, so who knows, let’s see what we can do.”
Ten years in, and it still sounds like the Jam is barely getting started.