Rucker Park - The Springboard for Basketball Players

If there is anything that a Baller must see in the US it is the famous Rucker Park which is hidden between high rise buildings in New York City. This park is humming with activity and is the springboard for many of them to launch into great basketball careers. This is a venue for summer tournaments which has given birth to stars- LeBron Kames, GKobe Bryant, Jamal Crawford.

At most parts the park is thronging with basketball players from their teens to their twenties. Spectators watch from the stands while MCs continue with their commentary. This park has seen the rise of the game that was introduced in its basic form by James Naismith and the new style brought forward by teams like the Harlem Globetrotters.

Rucker Park – a setting for movies and documentaries:
Rucker Park is located at Harlem neighbourhood in New York city- at the 155th street and in the corner of a lot next to Fredrick Douglass Boulevard. It is famous for its players who have made their mark in the NBA. Rucker Park has been made famous for the Sports Emmy award winning TV film- On the Hallowed Ground: Streetball champions of Rucker Park.

A documentary was made in 2006 called The Real: Rucker Park Legends which highlighted the history and the legends of the game. In 2006, another documentary called Gunning for that #1 Spot, was based on the 2006 Elite 24 Hops Classic and was directed by Adam Yauch.

The famous Rucker Park players:
The park is not only for basketball players to unleash their energies, it includes a playground for children, a baseball field, courts for handball and other sports amenities.

The Rucker Park has earned its glory for the famous basketball players it has introduced- Wilt Chamberlain, Julius Erving and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Rucker Park has been given its due by NBA stars and those representing the country at the Olympics. It has produced its own share of famous basketball names who haven’t made an entry into the NBA- Joe Hammond is one such star who has made 70 points in a game in the 1970s. Corey “Homicide” Williams, a player who has made his foray in the international arena, gives credit to this park from where he says “everything began for me”.

Holcombe Rucker- the man behind the Rucker Park tournament:
Rucker Park was known as P.S. 156 Playground in 1956, before Holcombe Rucker, decided to use it to organise activities for the local communities to connect. Rucker organised a tournament with the aim of propagating education. He began a campaign with a motto “each one teach one” and the tournament proved worthy in dissipating his message.

Holcombe Rucker was born in a poor family in Harlem in 1926. He played basketball in High school before he joined the army during the World War II. On his return in 1946, he found a job as a playground supervisor with the City Parks Department.

Rucker was also a coach for basketball players at St. Phillips, an Episcopal church. It was in 1947 when he decided to have a tournament for the local kids who had nothing to be occupied with in summer and to instil discipline and keep them off trouble.

Rucker would attend all the early tournaments, mentor kids and help them with their studies. He was responsible for many of them getting scholarships to attend college. He began these tournaments when the people of Harlem were struggling after the war. There was a sense of defeat while the rest of the country was experiencing an economic boom.

It is at this point, that Holcombe Rucker’s tournament had an important lesson to teach- all important things in life have to be fought for. Through these games the kids learnt the virtues of patience, hardwork and discipline. These games were a means for kids to momentarily fly away from the dreariness of Harlem.

Holcombe Rucker was not dissuaded when the City Parks Department could not fund the initial tournaments. He tried at another source- John “Twenty Grand” Hunter who was a ports gambler. John gave him the cash need for the equipment and the transportation. This was really a life lesson that a righteous man like Rucker would use unlikely means to fulfil his aims.

Holcombe had the distinction of mentoring young players some of whom found fame in later years. On the other side, there were great players who went no further than the tournaments played at Rucker Park.

During off season, professional players were encouraged to participate in a pro- league formed especially for them. It was then that some of the basket ball legends- Chamberlain, Abdul-Jabbar, Iverson, Bryant and Erving played with streetballs in Rucker Park.

Holcombe Rucker was only 38 when he lost his life to cancer. In tribute, in 1975, the park was named Holcombe Rucker Park.

The fall of ‘the Goat’:
One revered name is of the 6’1” “The Goat” Manigault who was under Holcombe Rucker’s care. Manigault was instrumental in introducing the Tomahawk Dunk- placing the ball behind the head before throwing it into the basket.

Manigault had the chance to play with likes of stars like Kareem Abdul Jabbar who was known for his exceptional discipline. Abdul Jabbar had praises for Manigault calling him “the best basketball player his size in the history of New York City”. ‘The Goat’ would leap above other players and jam the ball into the basket; actions like these would have the crowds erupt so that the game would have to be stopped for five minutes. Unfortunately, Manigault had neither the ambition nor the go to reach the top.

Manigualt had an eventful life- he was caught on charges of smoking marijuana in the dressing room. He decided to continue with his studies in a small college for blacks in North Carolina but dropped out after a year.

Goat spent another 16 months in jail on drug charges. When he turned 25, he got another chance to play with the ABA’s Utah Stars but it seemed that he could not keep up with the team.
He tried his hand at starting a tournament for kids but found himself in prison for a robbery attempt. On release he moved away to North Carolina but made a comeback to organise kids programs and mentor them. He died at the age of 53 of heart failure.

Manigualt probably did understand the wasted talent and potential when he said, “For every Michael Jordan there is an Earl Manigault. We all cannot make it. Somebody has to fail. I was the one.”
There was regret too-“ I let thousands down. But I’m nothing phony. And there was a time when I gave the people what they wanted.”

Leagues and events at Rucker Park:
Rucker Park hosts a huge number of events and leagues where the legends of the game participate. These events include the Entertainers Basketball Classic and the Elite 24 High School all star game. A number of star players- Kevin Love, Michael Beasley and Brandon Jennings, feature when the McDonald’s All American Mobile Elite play against Mobile Elite 24.

Entertainers Basketball Classic:
Over a period of time the tournament and the summer pro league at Rucker Park, began losing their appeal. This was slowly giving way to games that were being played with rap groups with special celebrity appearance.

It was in 1982, when a hip hop group on its way to the radio station for an interview with Mr. Magic, challenged each other to a basketball game. The news leaked and there were hundreds who turned up to see the match the next day. This match became a yearly affair which soon made the Rucker park the venue.

Bryant and Anthony have played here while Chad Ochocinco and Terrell Owens, the NFL stars have made their appearance. This Entertainers Basketball Classic has turned into the biggest streetball tournament. It has brought in huge of amount of competition to the Rucker park which has been called the “the birth of streetball”. This event gets its share of media coverage and has players sporting nicknames.

The EBC has a men’s division, a high school league, the U15, U12 and U10 division.

The MCs at this summer league add all the excitement to the game. They make fun of poor play and come up with nicknames that the players are identified with long after.

A player earns his nickname by playing well. The EBC gave Kobe Bryant the nickname ‘Lord of the Rings’ once he won the NBA title. Kareem Reid of Arkansas was given the name ‘Best Kept Secret’ while Rafer Alston, the Houston Rockets star, was called ‘Skip to my Lou’. Hammond, another legend was named ‘The Destroyer’ thanks to his successful attempts at scoring.

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