Why Jelly Fam Is More Than Just a Finger Roll

This is bigger than just some kids balling for the hell of it—it’s a movement. This is what authenticity with finesse looks like. Part of the B/R POWER 50 Glow Up list.
photo of Khalid SalaamKhalid SalaamFeatured Columnist IJuly 23, 2018

Jelly Fam is the answer to the question, What ever happened to NYC hoops?

First thing you should know about Jelly Fam is what it means. "Jelly" refers to extra creativity you put into finishing a layup. You gotta hit those angles, man. Switch hands, double-clutch it, go through your legs backward if necessary. Whatever it is, you need to kill it. We're talking about that extra-layer degree-of-difficulty stuff. To Jelly is to harness the full expression of creativity, the thing that is the essence of why we love basketball in the first place.

Second thing you gotta know is Jelly Fam's founders—including University of Minnesota rising sophomore Isaiah Washington—are from Harlem, and gentrification be damned, that still means something. Flashy is a code of conduct here in NYC. Big colors, big personalities and big dreams. Lay it up softly off the glass if you want to, but you might get booed.

The New York City hoops scene has always been known for highly skilled players who hit it big nationally. But for a few years now, that's waned. Even as guys like Kemba Walker and Kyrie Irving tried to hold down the regional mantle, Jelly Fam might be enough to take it back. And it might be setting the template for how to show off the full power of ballers with that finesse.

Since Washington and his friend Ja'Quaye James started the movement in 2015, they've added several more NYC-area kids to the mix. The roster includes well-known players such as Villanova commit Jahvon Quinerly and UConn's Sid Wilson. Each kid's game is different, of course, but they all employ an urge to showcase.

This is bigger than just some kids balling for the hell of it. This ain't no hashtag. The people involved in and with Jelly Fam understand how to use social to their advantage—they make you jealous about the Jelly, all damn day, from IG Stories to Snap and all over YouTube. Washington and Quinerly have over a million combined Instagram followers and showed the power of that influence by convincing Markelle Fultz to accept membership in the fam.

Jelly Fam sits comfortably in the middle ground between orchestrated buzz and for-real-we-just-do-it-big authenticity. People shy away when stuff is too structured; nobody wants to feel like they're being played. This fam does the opposite. That's a big deal. That's finesse. That's power. 

Khalid Salaam is a longtime writer and editor focusing on sports, food and travel. His bylines include Food52, SLAM and Esquire. Follow him on Twitter: @MrKhalidS.

Check out more rising stars on the B/R POWER 50 Glow Up list: 

1. Donovan Mitchell
2. JuJu Smith-Schuster
3. Mo Salah
4. Jelly Fam
5. Victor Oladipo
6. Arike Ogunbowale
7. Kylian Mbappe
8. Quavo
9. Naomi Osaka
10. Bubba Wallace

Explore the B/R POWER 50, a list of the most influential people in sports culture right now >>