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Brixton Topcats founder Jimmy Rogers passed away on Monday morning at the age of 78 after a six-month battle with cancer.
One of the founding fathers of the club in 1984, Rogers is responsible for an extensive list of British basketball talents including two-time NBA All-Star Luol Deng, former WNBA player Andrea Congreaves, current BBL MVP Justin Robinson, Matthew Bryan-Amaning, Eric Boateng, Ogo Adegboye, the Baker twins, Andrew Bailey and many more, but most importantly provided an outlet for thousands of inner-city youth with a club that became a cornerstone of the local community in South London.
A legend in the truest sense of the word, Rogers was not only responsible for producing great basketball players with the Topcats, but numerous other professionals who beat the odds; doctors, lawyers, academics, journalists, teachers and more, who all credit the club for their success.
The basketball club is arguably the most famous in England, with a trophy cabinet and alumni list to rival any team in the country.
A statement on the Brixton Topcats’ instagram page said:
“It is with a heavy heart that we announce the loss of Coach Jimmy Rogers. Jimmy passed away this morning surrounded by a friend and family members, after a 6 month battle with cancer.
“Jimmy’s work and commitment to his community is unmatched. A father figure, coach, mentor and guide to innumerable people, Jimmy had the purest heart of gold. Jimmy was a man that sacrificed, served, gave in immeasurable ways to his community in and outside of Brixton Topcats where he created a home away from home for hundreds and hundreds players. 👑
“Jimmy’s legacy, influence and work will live on forever. He will be sorely missed and our thoughts, prayers, love and support are with his family and his friends at this difficult time.
“Rest in perfect peace 🌹❤️”
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It is with a heavy heart that we announce the loss of Coach Jimmy Rogers. Jimmy passed away this morning surrounded by a friend and family members, after a 6 month battle with cancer. ——————————————————— Jimmy’s work and commitment to his community is unmatched. A father figure, coach, mentor and guide to innumerable people, Jimmy had the purest heart of gold. Jimmy was a man that sacrificed, served, gave in immeasurable ways to his community in and outside of Brixton Topcats where he created a home away from home for hundreds and hundreds players. 👑 ——————————————————— Jimmy’s legacy, influence and work will live on forever. He will be sorely missed and our thoughts, prayers, love and support are with his family and his friends at this difficult time. ——————————————————— Rest in perfect peace 🌹❤️
Rogers was born on 17th December 1939 in Wales but grew up in an orphanage in Newcastle upon Tyne. The only black child in the area, his first introduction to basketball was in 1952 at school in Newcastle, and he fell in love with it immediately.
Rebellious in nature, Rogers was forced to join the boy’s army at 15 years old. He was eventually stationed in Germany, where he played for the British Army team – who became the first British team to compete in Europe – and professional side VFL Osnabruck. Stationed in Germany for 7 years, he was a Physical Training Instructor for the regiment, allowing him to spend hours every day honing his game. In Germany was the first time he was exposed to proper coaching of the game, under the tutelage of a Turk.
By his late teens Jimmy had discovered Liverpool whilst on leave and felt a natural affinity with its predominantly indigenous black community
On his return to the UK in 1966 at 27 years old he moved to Liverpool, played for the Liverpool YMCA, where he got into coaching. Along with being player-coach of the Liverpool Police (where he led them to a National Championship in 1970/71), he began with the youth in Toxteth, a rough, predominantly black area – known by its postcode of Liverpool 8 – which was his first foray into teaching the game to others, whilst working at Ford Motor Company.
Rogers quickly built up a reputation, soon receiving visits from the government’s Community Relations Office for his work – ultimately being offered a job.
Not only was he getting youths off the street but also experiencing success on the court; by 1969 beating the police side which were previously the top squad in the area. It was not long before his group of Toxteth youths – known as Liverpool ATAC – became known as the best team in Liverpool.
Frustrated by a lack of coaching expertise in the UK, but also seeing a number of talented basketball minds exit the game for a variety of reasons, Jimmy refused to quit on it, saying it added to his stubbornness to remain involved.
After a period of unemployment, Rogers saw a position advertised with the Brixton Young Families Housing Association in 1980. He applied, and got the job, moving to Shannon Grove in Brixton, where he lived until his passing.
At the point of his relocation to the Capital, to his surprise, he says there were no inner city kids playing basketball at any type of level anywhere in London.
Approached by Crystal Palace when he arrived, he joined the coaching staff as Assistant Coach but says he immediately questioned why there were no young black players. Whilst at Crystal Palace, he began coaching a group of young players from the surrounding areas, such as Brixton, Deptford and Lewisham. Eventually getting access to a gym at Dick Sheppard School on Tulse Hill Road in 1981, it would become the early formations of a Brixton basketball programme.
After he claims almost 2 years of chasing at Crystal Palace, the club began to recruit black players; the likes of Steve Bucknall, Joel Moore and Joe White were a part of the team, but Jimmy was shocked by what he felt were racist attitudes he saw towards the players.*
*NOTE: With regards to the racism accusations above, this was Jimmy’s opinion (taken from more than one interview over the years) and is not being stated as fact. We have since spoken to multiple people close to the Crystal Palace programme at the time, who refute there was racism within the club.
Unpleased with management, and with his own programme flourishing, Jimmy soon broke off to formally do his own thing in 1984. Along with Courtnay Griffiths – at the time a young barrister, commencing his successful career where he became a prominent QC, the New Educational and Recreation Association, known as New Era, was formed with the objective of using basketball to “advance the education of young persons resident in Brixton (and surrounding areas) through providing programmes for physical recreation, so as to develop their physical, mental and spiritual capacity, that they may grow to full maturity as individuals, and as members of society, and that their lives may be improved”.
Aiming to have teams in Brixton playing at the highest level and wanting to challenge the negative myths and attitudes that existed toward Brixton, New Era was officially constituted and came into existence.
Brixton basketball club, named the Topcats after a cartoon about a group of mischievous alley cats that would have regular runs in with the local policeman, was officially born in 1984, and in 1985 on completion of Brixton Recreation Centre moved into a new home, where it remains to this day.
By the late ’80s, the club had become a pillar of the Brixton community, with hundreds showing up just to watch practice and even more for games. With the Baker twins – Ronnie and Stedroy – along with Andrew Bailey, the club soon got a notoriety as a powerhouse with local talent.
But it was about far more than basketball. Jimmy’s philosophy was ‘winning the game of life, not the game of basketball’. Discipline, work ethic and respect were all instilled; for the first five seasons of the club, anybody who got a technical would be suspended for six games.
A hoops purist, Rogers has attended the NCAA Final Four in the US every year since 1984.
Asked what he wants his legacy to be by Hoopsfix in an interview from last year, he said:
“That this clubs maintains and sustains going forward some kids coming in here knowing that they’ve got an opportunity to learn something about basketball and the game of life.
“Having a winning attitude. It’s not about winning the game of basketball, it’s about winning the game of life,” Rogers added, paying tribute to two of his coaching idols in John Chaney and John Thompson.
“That is our philosophy, that is our philosophy,” he reiterated.
Jimmy Rogers was a regular supporter of Hoopsfix and of the Hoopsfix All-Star Classic that happened in Brixton, helping us out on numerous occasions whenever we needed it, we remain forever grateful. He will be greatly missed and we send our thoughts and condolences to his friends and family.
Tributes from across the basketball community have been flooding in for Jimmy; former players, opponents, and colleagues alike, as clubs across London this weekend at all levels are being asked to honour Rogers with a one-minute applause or silence before the start of each game.
Here are a selection of tributes:
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When i was 11, you told me that i should play basketball instead of football. At the time all i wanted to do was to be a professional football player, but you kept telling me that i could be pretty good at basketball and here i am today, going into my 15th season in the NBA. Today has been a really tough day and i kept most of it to myself thinking about you nonstop. At practice today, you kept crossing my mind but instead of feeling sad, I just kept smiling thinking of how much you use to push me and how much you believed in me. Man what i would do to go back in time, back in the recreation center in Brixton. In life, we are so lucky if we find someone who believes in you and is willing to give everything to see you reach the top. Jimmy, you lived such a beautiful blessed life: you were strong, confident, you knew how to be tough and how to love, and you knew how to be a leader. I’m so thankful that God gave me a chance to be a part of your life. You left me with so much to be thankful for, most of my close friends i met because of you, and we will continue your legacy. You will forever be a part of us. I can only picture you sitting back resting and laughing from being so blessed. I know when we meet again we will do it all over. #DriveTheBody Rest In Peace, Jimmy. I love you with all my heart. ♥️
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I’ve been prolonging this post all day as I didn’t want to be all emotional when having big meetings today but as it happened this morning I think it’s time to get it out…. Anyone that knows me knows how much basketball is enrolled in my life… this man right here put that ball in my life at the age of 4… what’s crazy is 26yrs later that same love is still there… he used it not only to help shape myself but other young men just like me… taught us the importance of drive, discipline, determination, responsibility and commitment. The impact he’s had on soooooo many different souls and the community is priceless. I’ve watched the posts go up one by one about from different lives he’s touched and how they 1st met him, but me personally he’s been in my life for so long I can’t even remember our 1st encounter… we’ve had our ups and downs, our fights our love, but as I’ve grown into the man I am today I came to realise it was all out of love, for me to be the best player and person I could ever be. There’s very few ppl that are not blood relatives that can be in someone’s life for so long that u can’t remember when they entered but through all the wars we went thru I shed many tears when I found out it was coming to this day… the last 2 weeks have been very painful for me personally and I promise to help preserve his legacy to the best of my ability… I remember days when I hated u but now realise I hated u because u wanted me to be a better me and couldn’t see it at the time… u will always be loved and missed… I love you JIMMY ROGERS and THANK YOU for everything you did for me and my family!!! 💔 RIP🌹
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I was saddened to hear that Jimmy Rogers, a British basketball legend, passed away! Although he coached a rival team I always considered him family, getting his approval as a player only pushed me to do greater things. I remember taking the train to the other side of London with my brother @bonsupics to watch his team practice. Those experiences allowed my love for the sport to grow. I know full well what the Brixton community is feeling right now as I felt the same when we lost Joe White. Let’s keep Jimmy’s legacy going. Jimmy Rogers you will be missed! RIP 🙏🏿😢
You will always be EVERYTHING to us! Love you Jimmy, missing you already 💔 #Brokenheart
— Justin Robinson (@JJRob_LDN) October 1, 2018
Thank you Jimmy Rogers. For your love, guidance and belief, I felt it and feel it like so many of us, brought up and inspired by you, from Atac to Brixton Topcats when you guided me, & onwards on my own, I am always humble and appreciative. Wow! You were one of a kind. RIP JR pic.twitter.com/7rziEZQAsc
— Vincent Macaulay (@Vincemacaulay) October 1, 2018
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My heart and prayers go out to the family of legendary coach Jimmy Rogers. Some of the best times of my life were playing for Towers against the Brixton Top Cats. It didn't matter how fierce the games were or what the outcome was there was always a huge amount of respect between the two teams. And that was down to Joe and Jimmy. Rest well now coach, you will be missed 🙏🏾 #respect
We have lost a legend and a true gentleman today in Jimmy Rogers May his soul rest in perfect peace He gave me the focus, opportunity and developed a life long love for Basketball. Thank U for all the encouragement, time and hard sessions I am Me because of U pic.twitter.com/hI9kfS8wY7
— Paul Mundy-Castle (@paulmundycastle) October 1, 2018
So sorry to hear the very sad news of the death of the wonderful Jimmy Rogers. A true Brixtonian and the bst basketball coach in the world @LuolDeng9 @LDengF
Thousands of young people in Lambeth will remember his dedication,discipline and love #neverforgotten
— Kate Hoey (@KateHoeyMP) October 1, 2018
So, so sad to learn that the legendary Brixton basketball coach, Jimmy Rogers died from cancer this morning.
— Matthew Ryder (@rydermc) October 1, 2018
RIP Jimmy Rogers. I remember when you first coached me 10 years ago at those Burlington Danes sessions and you told me I could really have a career if I applied myself in the right way . I’ll forever remember those words. Your legacy lives on forever. THANK YOU JIMMY❤️🙏🏾
— Rell🚫🧢 (@rellglonl95) October 1, 2018
Basketball lost a legend today, Jimmy Rogers of the Brixton Topcats… #RIP coach
— Orlan Jackman (@N4OrlanJ) October 1, 2018
So sad to learn of the passing of Jimmy Rogers
Helped so many young people realise their potential and fulfill their dreams.
A great coach an inspiration and leader of his community.
Will be sadly missed but remembered with so much joy.
— mark clark (@clarkabbey) October 1, 2018
— Russell Levenston (@RidersMD) October 1, 2018
People may not remember exactly what you did, or what you said, but they will always remember how you made them feel. #JimmyRogers was one of my inspirations for creating @Pulse_Netball @brixtontopcats we’re more than a team they were a #family everyone had a place. #RIEP 💗🖤
— natalie seaton (@SeatonNatalie) October 1, 2018
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I remember getting on the 196 Bus to train at @brixtontopcats .Jimmy was my first proper high level basketball trainer. He ALWAYS had time to bring the youth in from the street and away from trouble and give them discipline through basketball . Instead of turning his back on people who weren’t ‘perfect’ he’d try to guide and uplift them and direct them to a better path. Always giving back to the community. He’s the main one to inspire me to visit youth centres and talk to young Certi’s. I hope one day to follow his lead. RIP JIMMY. Never forgotten. Always loved and remembered ❤️ #ripjimmy #brixtontopcats #brixton #jimmy #basketball
Mr Jimmy Rogers. My best description of you is, you are the ‘Mr Miyagi’ of Basketball. A True Eternal Legend.
Thank you for giving us a chance, believing in… https://t.co/bUWvXZffLj
— Marvin Addy (@marvinaddy) October 3, 2018
The world is a poorer place without Jimmy – I feel so lucky to have known him and I'll remain forever in awe of his work at @brixtontopcats. Thinking of his family and friends who must be missing him greatly – he was one of a kind https://t.co/84sEL8fIPc
— Zoë J (@Zoe_Jewell) October 3, 2018
This is the saddest news. Jimmy had the most profound impact on me during my time at the club and he will be incredibly missed. A wonderful coach, role model, mentor and friend. #JimmyRogers https://t.co/IveLSTfjIZ
— Dantonio (@danjhill) October 1, 2018
He was the last word in the definition of a #Coach!
— 💕The Diva Of LDN 💕 (@ChereenaMiller) October 1, 2018
The word legend is heavily used but Jimmy is a true legend, leaving a great legacy in the community. Personally he was the closest thing I had to a father. There are many men and women who have just lost their their dad. RIP JR. https://t.co/mQruHzThEX
— Power Forward Basketball (@ballcoachpro) October 2, 2018
RIP Jimmy, thank you for believing in me even though I was a ‘small white girl from Kingston’. A basketball legend 🙏🏀🧡 https://t.co/xNQZINmylM
— IonaCEAllan (@ionaallan) October 2, 2018
Jimmy got my media career started and I thank him so much for that. He is a true hero to the poor working class & ethnic minorities. He lured kids off the streets to basketball & got them to make a career for themselves. I'll always be grateful to Jimmy. Thanks you sir. RIP ☹
— Ziad Roving-Reporter (@ZiRovinReporter) October 1, 2018
Jimmy was genuinely an amazing person, a hero within the Brixton community and true gentleman. His impact is far and wide, and I know many lives he saved and affected simply through caring. I still can’t get my head round this. Jimmy was family. RIP. https://t.co/bTYp5olRfj
— Byrd (@ByrdSuperb) October 1, 2018
Rest in peace jimmy!! Been a family friend for as long as I can remember. Gave basketball opportunities to my dad way back when!! My family Probably wouldn’t have even lived in London with out him. Will never be forgotten!! 🏀🏀🏀🏀🏀🏀🏀🏀🏀🏀🏀🏀🏀🏀
— Jenea okuefuna (@Jenea_ok) October 1, 2018
Jimmy was more than a Coach, he was and is an ICON. He has helped so many to become great basketball players but most importantly great people. There should be a statue in Brixton Rec honouring him. Let’s make it happen. #rip #jimmyrogers #drivethebody
— Fit In 5 (@fitfreakstv) October 1, 2018
Rest well jimmy. Thanks for all the words of wisdom in my playing days. A skinny white boy venturing into brixton to find some runs and perhaps a little nervous you always where friendly and willing to offer advice to an outsider of the brixton bball family. You will be missed https://t.co/Ys1JkxaBtK
— Duncan Ogilvie (@dotraining) October 1, 2018
Sad sad sad, British Basketball has lost one of its greatest influencers. To my mind what this man did for our game will always be UNDER estimated. Them that know…know. Thoughts and prayers to Jimmy’s family #RIP https://t.co/id8vJgm3ND
— FunkyTown (@funkytownlondon) October 1, 2018