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Christopher Lawlor

THE MAYOR OF BASKETBALL: High School hoops giant John Rhodes of Beach Ball Classic passes suddenly after short illness; he leaves an indelible legacy in Myrtle Beach (SC), world

John Rhodes

BENSALEM, PA. – John Rhodes, who was involved with the Beach Ball Classic since its inception, died today due to complications of the COVID-19 coronavirus.

He was 77.

The Beach Ball Classic became a staple on the boys’ high school post-Christmas tournament schedule and was played at the Myrtle Beach (S.C.) Convention Center, drawing large crowds, nationally ranked teams and NBA-bound players. Mr. Rhodes started as a sponsor of the tournament in 1980 when he was a restaurant owner but was added to the tournament committee the following year and eventually rose to the top position of the event as executive director.

He also created the United Bank Classic (formerly Cresmon Bank Classic), a girls’ high school event held before Christmas. Both boys and girls events were conducted in December and Mr. Rhodes was seated courtside while gladhanding people in the convention center.

Patrick Massaroni, the head coach at nationally ranked Archbishop Stepinac High School in White Plains, New York, played in the 2018 Beach Ball Classic and fondly recalls the experience and Southern hospitality.

“John [Rhodes] was first class all the way. We [at Stepinac] were fortunate to play in the Beach Ball Classic and John treated everyone the right way. John was more than that tournament; he was known nationally throughout the basketball world. He will be missed—may he rest in peace,” Massaroni said.

On the global hoop stage, Mr. Rhodes was an organizer for the USA Team at the Albert Schweitzer Tournament, a biennial international event for Under-18 men’s national basketball teams, held in Mannheim, Germany.

Mr. Rhodes was indeed a man for the people and that would accompany him into his eventual dozen-year run in local politics.

Mr. Rhodes also served on the McDonald’s All-American Game committee for five decades and was a trusted friend of Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame inductee, Morgan Wootten, who chaired the game until his passing in 2020.

Mr. Rhodes was a friend to so many and eventually served as Myrtle Beach mayor for 12 years before losing an election in 2017. He once told me, “I loved every minute of it.”

The city of Myrtle Beach said in a prepared statement this morning: “Our hearts, prayers and thoughts are with his family and friends at this sad time. The former mayor passed away last night, battling COVID-19.”

Mr. Rhodes’ illness became public on Jan. 15 when wife, Terri Springs, posted on Facebook: “This morning as you pray this prayer would you please include my husband’s name … John is currently admitted to Grand Strand’s PCU Covid Unit. The next 24 hours are critical.”

As mayor, Mr. Rhodes’ beamed about his accomplishments such as the Myrtle Beach Boardwalk and SkyWheel, opening and development of The Market Common, Tourism Development Fee, which funded out-of-state marketing and tax breaks for residents, and the Myrtle Beach Sports Center.

His most proud achievements were always reserved for the youth, and is this case, those with special needs, he told me. Specifically, Savannah’s Playground, designed for children with special needs. He said, parents of the children, “were so moved that finally their children could go to a playground made specially for them,” Mr. Rhodes said to me with tears welling.

Mr. Rhodes, who graduated from Coastal Carolina University where he played baseball, owned and operated several restaurants in the Carolinas. He developed a sense of hospitality and by working together with his staff to create a special environment.

In December at CCU’s in-house fall commencement ceremony, Mr. Rhodes was awarded an honorary degree, Doctor of Public Service, which he said, “really means a lot to me.”

Which I responded, “Does that mean I have to call you Doctor?”

“No, just Your Lordship,” he shot back, continuing our running joke on nobility titles.

Personally, I relished our time together. I knew John since 1998, meeting at ABCD Basketball Camp. We maintained close ties through my professional career at USA TODAY, ESPN and Blue Star Media. We frequently spoke on the phone and mostly it did not involve basketball.

We enjoyed toasting good health over a bourbon whenever we met up. He was true gentleman, donning a blue blazer and dishing out his homey Southern vernacular. “Hi, darling,” he would address women off all ages that universally earned a warm smile.

Mike Flynn, the publisher of Blue Star Media and noted girls’ basketball analyst and owner of the Philadelphia Belles, paid homage to John this morning.

“John was the Mayor of Basketball. Whenever we met on the road at events such as McDonald’s All American Game or USA Basketball, he commanded a presence and had many friends wherever he went. His passing is a loss for all of basketball and the Myrtle Beach community. His wife, Terri, is a real gem and I remember when they married. He was so happy.

“Annually at the McDonald’s Game, we’d meet for dinner and just catchup on the doings in the world and the world of basketball. His acumen for business and reading people was uncanny. Just a no nonsense guy. As our friendship grew, it became apparent his love for God, family, country and basketball. Today there is a hole in the basketball universe. John’s legacy won’t soon be forgotten, it will endure time,” Flynn added.

Senior Writer and national analyst for Blue Media and compiles the Blue Star Elite 25 national boys and girls high school basketball and football rankings during the season. Lawlor, an award-winning writer, is a voting committee member and advisor for several national high school events, including the McDonald’s All-American Games. He previously wrote for USA TODAY and, where he was the national preps writer, while compiling the national rankings in four sports.


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