Miles Rawls announcing during a Howard University men's basketball game Credit: Kelyn Soong

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Nearly 2,000 fans inside Howard University’s Burr Gymnasium begin to settle into their seats on a late February afternoon when Miles Rawls decides it’s time to raise the arena’s energy level. The Howard men’s basketball team is warming up on the court for its Senior Day matchup against North Carolina Central University. Only two regular season home games remain on the schedule ahead of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference tournament.

“The next two games are crucial for the MEAC seeding, so don’t sit on your hands,” Rawls shouts into his microphone. He surveys the crowd from his perch at the scorer’s table. “H! U!” Rawls booms. “You know!” the fans respond. Rawls chuckles. “Oh, I love it,” he says.

Anyone familiar with the basketball scene in Southeast D.C., and more specifically the Goodman League—the summer league hosted in the Barry Farm neighborhood that features high school, streetball, and professional talent—recognizes this animated and demanding voice. It’s vintage Rawls, the commissioner and play-by-play voice of the league since 1996. The Goodman League is ingrained in the Barry Farm community and has drawn NBA superstars like Kevin Durant to its games. Rawls has been a charismatic fixture of the celebrated annual event, which runs from May through August.

Now, the 59-year-old Southeast native is bringing some of that same flair to Howard University as the public address announcer of its men’s basketball games. “My style is just off-the-cuff. I don’t mimic anybody,” Rawls says. Rawls joined the program before the season, as part of third-year head coach Kenneth Blakeney’s mission to “connect Howard with fibers of the DMV.” His presence coincides with the team’s success and improvement under Blakeney—the Bison are 16-11 overall and 9-4 in the MEAC—and the increasing spotlight on historically Black colleges and universities. The position opened up when Tony Lee, the “official voice of Bison Athletics” since 2018, died in January of 2021 due to COVID-19 complications. Rawls was the only person Blakeney, a D.C. native, reached out to and recommended for the job. Howard’s athletic director hired Rawls prior to the 2021-22 basketball season.

“Miles is D.C.,” Blakeney says. “What he’s established, what he’s done over at the Farms is really special. … So it was only natural for me to reach out to Miles and say, ‘Miles, I’d love for you to be a part of what we’re trying to build and establish here to continue to connect the dots with the DMV.’”

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Rawls proudly tells people he was born and raised in Barry Farm. Irving Brady, one of the co-founders of the Goodman League, remembers meeting Rawls when he was only 10 years old. Brady’s family lived in the same neighborhood as Rawls, and Brady, 73, worked as a youth leader at the Barry Farm Recreation Center.

The league started off as a bet in 1975 between Brady, Morty Hammonds, Carlton Reed, and George Goodman over who could coach the best softball team. Two years later, the friends decided to change it up and focus on basketball.

“I think we got mad ’cause Morty won, and we said, ‘OK, [Morty] can’t coach basketball,’’’ Brady says. “And we went into basketball, and the rest is history.”

It was around this time that Rawls, then in middle school, started announcing games. All he had was one microphone hooked into a record player, but Rawls would be there all night, every night, in his words, “just talking shit.” Later, as he got more established, Rawls started doling out nicknames. 

“I was amazed because of his attitude and his ability to do it, and at the same time, he would jone on people and give them names,” Brady says. “And today, people have nicknames that Miles gave them.” Brady’s is “Body Move” or “B-Move.” The D.C. go-go band Rare Essence have a song called “Body Moves” and Brady is a manager for the band.

Rawls left Barry Farm to join the U.S. Army in 1983 before returning to his hometown in 1995 after being honorably discharged. At that time, Barry Farm’s summer league had stagnated, so that summer he asked the co-founders if he could take over the event the following year. During his time in charge, the league was renamed in 2000 to the George Goodman League in honor of Goodman, who worked at the Barry Farm Recreation Center as a counselor. Goodman was killed in 1984 at age 31

In addition to Durant, NBA players Michael Beasley, Victor Oladipo, Gilbert Arenas, John Wall, and Bradley Beal have all played in the Goodman League. Even though the league hasn’t attracted as many big names in recent years, and the neighborhood is dealing with gun violence and gentrification amid plans to redevelop Barry Farm, the Goodman League remains a linchpin in the community. Opening day for this year is May 31, Rawls says.

“I hope he continues to thrive and give back to his community,” Brady says of Rawls. “Unfortunately the Farms have been torn down, but I’m quite sure the league will continue to go on with his leadership.”

Before he came to Howard, where he is considered a contractor and is paid per game, Rawls never worked as a formal public address announcer. He says he’s turned down requests from other schools, but the prestige of Howard University and Blakeney’s personal request convinced him to join. 

“Howard is home and it’s historic and a lot of light was shining on HBCU schools,” Rawls says. “So I couldn’t tell him no.”

But he knew there would be some adjustment. This is the same guy who once talked trash to President Barack Obama in 2009 while sitting courtside when the Chicago Bulls were in town to play the Wizards. Rawls calls his persona at Howard his “corporate version,” but that doesn’t mean he completely sheds his authentic Goodman League style. 

As a PA announcer, Rawls announces the lineups, fouls, time-outs, and reads off the scripted sponsor ads. He also announces the names of players who score a basket. The job isn’t a play-by-play gig like at Barry Farm, but Rawls occasionally reverts back to what he knows. “Sometimes referees come over to me and say, ‘Hey, hey, hey, you can’t announce games,’” Rawls says. “I plead ignorance on them and say, ‘Oh, OK. I didn’t know.’” In January, in a home matchup against Notre Dame at the MLK Day Classic, Rawls was told to lower his voice because he was louder than the announcers on the TV broadcast. And before tip-off against North Carolina Central, Rawls said into the microphone, “North Carolina Central is gonna get this whippin’.” (At a Barry Farm game, he would have included the word “ass” before “whippin’,” Rawls explains.) A Howard staff member ran over and told Rawls he couldn’t say that.

At Howard, Rawls has to play by someone else’s rules. But he’s still enjoying the new challenge. People recognize him at games, and Rawls wants to contribute to Blakeney’s goal of making Howard men’s basketball culturally relevant in the college basketball landscape.

“I’ve been having a good time with it,” Rawls says. “The fans, they enjoy it more than I thought.”

Early in the second half against North Carolina Central, Howard guard Kyle Foster gets a steal and hits a long-range three-pointer on the fastbreak. “Way down town!” Rawls shouts in the microphone. “Kyle Foster from Georgia Avenue with the three!” 

He’s only given out one nickname this season—Rawls calls redshirt sophomore forward Steve Settle III “Silky Smooth”—but he finds other ways to add his own flavor. Rawls punctuates each player’s name like he would at a Goodman League game. Randall Brumant becomes “Bru! Mant!” and Tai Bibbs is “B-b-b-bibbs!” During time-outs and at halftime, he banters with the DJ and the cheerleaders. 

As the final buzzer sounds against NCCU, Rawls shouts “H! U!” for one final time, eliciting a loud, “You know!” from the crowd, before turning to another one of his Goodman League lines: “Please leave carefully,” he tells the crowd, “when you leave.” Howard won 77-67. 

Rawls then heads out the doors of Burr Gymnasium for the final time this season—he would miss the following game due to a flare-up of a foot injury—but he plans to be back next season. Rawls will retire in June from his day job as a federal officer for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, where he’s worked since 1997.

“I’m gonna need something to do,” Rawls says. “So it looks like that’ll be a go again for next year. If that’s what Coach Blakeney wants to do, then I’m going to ride with him.”

That’s an understatement for Blakeney. “I want Miles at my hip,” the coach says. “Because he’s a huge part of what we’re building here. He’s a huge part of the story. He’s a huge part of the success that hopefully we’ll have as we continue to take steps and build our culture here. We want Miles here. If we can lock Miles up on a five-year deal, I’d like to do it. I’m going to tie Miles’ contract into mine.”