The not-quite Sixers

OK, not even close, but the Philly Cannons are a blast

Philly Cannons Akil Anderson
The Cannons’ Akil Anderson looks for an opening during a recent game. Check out the local ABA squad at the Lucien E. Blackwell Community Center. | Image courtesy: Philly Cannons

You won’t see Ben Simmons or Joel Embiid – at least not on the court. 

What you will see are a bunch of guys playing basketball to hopefully catch the eye of a professional league scout or ballin’ simply for the love of the game.

Meet the Philly Cannons of the semi-pro American Basketball Association – a modern-day version of the league that launched the careers of legends like Dr. J – but with more than 150 teams around the world.  The Cannons take the court at the Lucien E. Blackwell Community Center. 

So, no, it’s not the Sixers vs. the Celtics in the NBA playoffs. It’s the Cannons vs. the Steel City Yellowjackets for territorial bragging rights. But, when PW caught up with Roger Beckwith, owner, general manager and former coach of the Cannons in early December, he said his brand produces an awfully exciting brand of hoops and nobody has ever left the gym not feeling that sentiment. 

When did you purchase the Philly Cannons and why did you decide to jump into the ABA as an owner, general manager and coach?

The Cannons were founded by me in 2016 as an expansion team in the ABA. I was involved with the West Virginia ABA franchise in 2015, and, through my connections there, I was able to secure an ABA team in the Philly market. Initially, I was just going to be the GM, but the person who committed to being the head coach backed out on me right before we started open tryouts in 2016, so I was left to pick up the pieces and that’s how I became owner, GM and head coach.

Where do you find your players and what inspires them to play in the ABA?

Players will find us because they are motivated to pursue professional careers overseas primarily and need the post-collegiate film to pursue those professional FIBA opportunities. Others just love the game and want to be a part of something with great potential. Also, players who might not have been able to go to college get an opportunity to get back on the career path by playing in the ABA. I also have an extensive network of coaches, basketball enthusiasts, etc., who will make recommendations to me, and I’ve gotten a few quality players that way. Players also refer other players as well. 

How is the ABA game different from the NBA in terms of rules, scoring, etc?

The ABA’s primary difference from the NBA is our red light. When a turnover is earned in the backcourt, the red light will come on and that signifies that all baskets are increased by one point. 

A two-point basket becomes a three-point basket and a three-point basket becomes a four-point basket. If you are fouled shooting a two-point field goal, you will receive three free throws while the red light is on. This allows for higher scoring games than you will see in the NBA. 

Will Brown of the Cannons drives to the hoop during a recent game. When you attend one of their games, keep an eye out for the red light, which adds a point to any ensuing basket. | Image courtesy: Philly Cannons

So how is the Cannons’ season going so far? Can you list some highlights?

The Cannons are currently 2-2 but on a two-game losing streak. We have had a lot of moving parts – turnover with our players, but nearly all ABA teams are dealing with that.  It’s kind of difficult to highlight anything with such a mediocre record right now, but I believe the team is starting to gel and learn from mistakes. Hopefully, this will translate to more wins in the second half of the season. We would like to be playing our best basketball toward the end of the regular season and hit the floor running in the playoffs. 

Make your best pitch to fans. Why should they come out to see the Cannons play?

I say this with the utmost sincerity: The ABA game is the best pro game around and the ABA is the best professional league in the world. Definitely the largest with over 150 teams nationally and expansion into Mexico, Australia, and now the Far East, I believe, is next.  But it’s grassroots basketball, so when the Philly Cannons take on the Steel City Yellowjackets out of Pittsburgh or the Baltimore Hawks, those games are primarily Philly players versus Pittsburgh players and Philly players versus Baltimore players, so it becomes territorial in terms of which urban area has the best talent. 

But the talent is the best non-NBA talent you will find. And with more local teams coming on board (Camden Monarchs, West Chester Wildcats, Pottstown Flames, and the Philly Raiders) the rivalries are getting more intense. To top it off, we have the best entertainment value for $12 that you can find anywhere. No one has attended an ABA game and left not thinking, “that was so much fun.” Furthermore, we have the most diverse ownership group you will find for a professional sports league. ABA owners are minorities, women, physically disabled and come from all walks of life. The ABA brand is growing and local hoop fans will want to see what all the hoopla is about.  

Philly Cannons basketball | Now-through Feb. 29. $12. (VIP, $20) phillycannons.com