The origin of Tyrone Garland's 'Southwest Philly Floater'

The origin of Tyrone Garland's 'Southwest Philly Floater'

March 26, 2013, 1:30 pm
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Before he became known around the country simply as “Cousin Bern” and before the “Southwest Philly Floater” became an unlikely addition to March Madness lore, Bernard Tyler put a basketball in a two-year-old’s hands. His mission: to help his young cousin become the next in a long line of fearless Philadelphia guards.

One day on the playground, as Tyrone Garland grew from a precocious toddler trying to wrestle the ball away from his older cousin to a hoops-obsessed kid figuring out different ways to make a basket, the words “Southwest Philly Floater” came out of Tyler’s mouth. Tyler explained what that meant to Garland – now a standout junior guard at La Salle – in a simple way, easy for a young kid to understand.

“Just get it over the big man and leave it in God’s hands,” Tyler said by phone Monday afternoon with a laugh. “Being a guard, playing in Southwest Philly, I always told him he would need that in his game. Just having fun with him, I said, 'that’s the Southwest Philly Floater.'

“Nobody ever named the shot. I just told him that playing around. That’s what stuck in his mind.” Turns out, it stuck in his mind for many years – before flowing out of his mouth in a burst of excitement Sunday night on national television.

Shortly after slicing through the Ole Miss defense, cutting to his right and floating a tough, banking layup over the Rebels’ 6-foot-9 center Reginald Buckner to continue the Explorers’ magical run into the Sweet 16 (see story), Garland was asked in a TV interview about the game-winning basket.

“That’s the Southwest Philly Floater, man!” Garland exclaimed. “Shoutout to my Cousin Bern, shoutout to my Mom … ”

Back in Southwest Philly, Bernard Tyler (aka Cousin Bern), Garland’s mother, Audrey Tyler, and other family members gathered at Garland’s great-grandmother’s house to watch the game went as wild as you might expect when they heard that.

“It’s unbelievable,” Bernard said. “We’ve been calling it that between me and friends and former teammates for years. And Tyrone says it out of his mouth and it’s the hottest thing since sliced bread.”

Bernard compared the celebration in the Southwest Philly house to the La Salle basketball team’s – lots of “love and hugging anybody you see.” But one person wasn’t with everyone else when Garland’s soon-to-be-famous shot dipped through the bottom of the net.

Audrey Tyler, the proud mother, went to sit by herself in the bathroom, too nervous to watch the game’s final seconds. Then, she heard the screaming.

“Bern came to the bathroom door, knocked on the door and was like, ‘Your boy did it,’” Audrey said. “Then they showed the replay and I was like, ‘OK, I’m good now.’”

The next morning, she called Garland and said, “Hi baby, you did a great job.” He replied, “Thanks, mom,” and then told her he ordered her the new hottest T-shirt – the one that says “Southwest Philly Floater” on it.

She plans on wearing that shirt for the Explorers’ next NCAA tournament game – a Sweet 16 showdown against Wichita State at the Staples Center on Thursday night (10:17 p.m., TBS). And, she said with a laugh, she won’t lock herself in the bathroom when the family gathers again in the same Southwest Philly home.

“This is the best feeling in the world,” she said, choking up. “My baby.”

Making the story even sweeter is the journey Garland took to get to this stage. After scoring 2,198 career points for Southwest Philly’s John Bartram High -– the third highest total in Philadelphia Public League history -– Garland went to Virginia Tech. But after failing to get much playing time there, he decided to return to his hometown and join the program that recruited him the most out of high school.

His decision to attend La Salle paid off beautifully. After sitting out the first seven games of this season because of transfer rules, Garland quickly regained the confidence he lost in Blacksburg, Virginia and became the type of dynamic scoring threat off the bench few teams in the country can match. And, we all now know, he’s not afraid of the big stage.

“The biggest thing beyond the shot is knowing what Ty had been through at Virginia Tech and him not having an opportunity,” Bernard said. “For him to come back home and what’s happening with this La Salle team, it’s a big thing for him and that’s why it’s such a big thing for us.”

Garland’s TV shoutout to his mom and cousin Sunday wasn’t the first time he did that. Following his team-high 22-point effort in La Salle’s First Four win over Boise State last Wednesday, Garland mugged for the cameras and did the same. His family isn’t traveling for the games but he knows they’re watching in his hometown. And he wants to acknowledge them every chance he gets, especially the cousin who first put a basketball in his hands.

“He’s been a mentor in my life,” Garland said in an interview with CSNPhilly.com in December about the now well-known Cousin Bern. “He taught me how to play basketball. He’s been in my corner the whole way. Growing up in Southwest Philly, I just used to follow him around.”

Cousin Bern, who played at Overbrook High and now calls himself the “president of the Tyrone Garland fan club,” has been enjoying the ride. Seeing his shot –- and his old neighborhood -– blow up on the Internet (The "Southwest Philly Floater" was trending worldwide on Twitter on Sunday night) was just the icing on the cake.

“You know all the negative things and the publicity that it gets,” Bernard said of Southwest Philly. “Any time it’s put in a positive light, it’s always great.”

Bernard said that he’ll never take the "Southwest Philly Floater" again because that shot now belongs to Garland. And in Thursday’s Sweet 16 game, he expects his cousin to shoot it “at least three more times now since he put his stamp on it.”

Beyond that, he hopes the legacy of the shot lives on, being called out by young kids floating basketballs toward rusty hoops in gritty neighborhoods across the country.

“Every time someone shoots a floater,” Bernard said, “I think that’s going to be the name of it from now on.”