Tribute To Founder Of Brixton Basketball Club: Jimmy Rogers

Sunrise 17th December 1939 – Sunset 1st Ocbober 2018

Jimmy Rogers, a legend of the sport in this country, sometimes known as “The Bishop of Brixton”. With his deep, very deep, as soon as he speaks everyone in the whole sports hall will hear it. He can’t whisper … couldn’t whisper to save his life. We remember Jimmy, coach and founder of Brixton Topcats Basketball Club, who sadly passed on 1 October 2018.

It was announced that the 78-year-old Rogers, the long-time coach of the Brixton Topcats basketball team, had died, six months after being diagnosed with lung cancer “His voice, both literally and physically, was a clarion call to all young men and women who wanted to participate and learn about discipline, life, bettering yourself and progression.”

But what does “Drive the body!” even mean? “Oh, that saying rings in every Brixton player’s head,” “If you’re at the gym you’ll push one more time; if you’re running lengths you’ll go another length; if you’re going through hard times in life you just get up. So I think that’s what he’s done for everyone.”

So far we’ve only touched on basketball, but Rogers’s reach went far beyond sport. He started working in Brixton in 1981, a few months after the April riots. Buffered by a small grant from Lambeth council, which soon ran out, the goal of the basketball programme was in part to make the local teenagers less “riot-prone”, in the words of Courtenay Griffiths, a barrister who was Rogers’s partner in the endeavour. To provide them with an activity, a distraction from life in an area where unemployment among black youths was estimated to be more then 50%. Playing sport, Rogers hoped, could make a meaningful improvement to their self-worth. The “Topcat” tag came from the cartoon character, forever on the run from the police. Although in jest, Brixton Topcats remain committed to working with all local partners agencies to combat youth violence in relevant troubled times, via positive activities in sport.

“Drive the body! “

Rogers’s favoured invocation was: “Drive the body!” Those words were recalled this week by Luol Deng, the most famous alumnus of the Brixton Topcats. Deng met Rogers when he was 11, not long after his family arrived in south London from Sudan, having been granted political asylum from the civil war there. Deng was obsessed with football, fancied himself as the next Faustino Asprilla, but Rogers convinced him not to give up on basketball just yet. He was right: Deng is now entering his 15th season in the NBA, a two-time All-Star who has represented the Chicago Bulls, LA Lakers and presently the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Rogers’s beliefs stemmed from his own background. His mother was from the Caribbean, his father an American merchant seaman, but he was born in Wales in 1939. His early years were spent in an orphanage in Newcastle upon Tyne, where a teacher introduced him to basketball. He became serious about the sport when he joined the army aged 15; he became a fitness trainer for his regiment and later played professionally in West Germany and made the British Olympic team in 1968.

As a coach – first in Liverpool, where he worked with kids in Toxteth, and then London – Rogers leant heavily on his military experience. His sessions were legendarily grueling. Deng has said that he’s never run as much as he did in Brixton. Others remember Rogers chasing them down the court and throwing his hat at them in frustration.

Following Jimmy’s Passing on social media, national press and TV there have been countless testimonies from individuals describing the life-changing work ethic that training with Rogers instilled. Many come from professional basketball players, but others grew up in Brixton and went on to become lawyers, teachers, journalists or musicians. “There are many men and women who have just lost their dad,” reads one. No one sugarcoats the fact that Rogers could be hard, even uncompromising. He insisted on humility, grace in victory or defeat. No one at all can replicate Jimmy’s determination to better Lambeth’s youth.

If you’ve never heard of Rogers that says something for the profile of basketball in Britain. He himself complained that we were basically a “third world” country in the sport, mainly because we spent too little on developing coaches and players and too much on administrators.

Despite challenges, Rogers often used to insist that he was “rich”.  Despite severe funding challenges to make a difference to youth through basketball. Jimmy found a way to sustain the club which remains a challenge post Jimmy’s death to this day. To make a difference to our youth please click here.

Jimmy Rogers Interview

When he was asked to sum up his coaching philosophy, Rogers once said: “Having a winning attitude. It’s not about winning the game of basketball, it’s about winning the game of life.”

Jimmy Rogers will never be forgotten. He will remain in all our hearts forever.

© Brixton Topcats Basketball Club 1981-2019. All Rights Reserved.