Rucker Park

Courts: 1 Full Court
Hoops: 2 Hoops
Location: Urban
Indoor/Outdoor: Outdoor
Outdoor Lighting: Yes
Physical Play: Yes
Dangerous Area: No
League Play: Yes
Pay to Play: No
*Explanation of Ratings
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Court Quality
Rating: 3.0/5 (4 votes cast)
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Play Quality
Rating: 5.0/5 (4 votes cast)
Foursquare Mayor: Rucker Park
Notes: Primarily league play. Very few pickup games. Some notable players at Rucker Park include: Kobe Bryant, Baron Davis, JR Smith, Connie Hawkins, Wilt Chamberlain, Earl “The Goat” Manigault, Julius Erving, Joe Smith, Allen Iverson, Kevin Garnett, Jamal Mashburn, Mark Jackson, Chris Mullin, Pee Wee Kirkland.

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Location: 2930 8th Ave, New York City, NY 10039

Description: “In 1946, a motivated young teacher named Holcomebe Rucker started the Rucker Tournament (originally held at 130th Street and Seventh Avenue), a league intended to keep kids off the street and provide an organized forum for pickup ball. From these humble beginnings, “the Rucker” grew into the biggest street sports spectacle in New York. Thousands of spectators would line the streets and climb the trees that surrounded the court to watch street legends like Connie Hawkins and Earl “The Goat” Manigault face off against pros like Wilt Chamberlain and Julies Erving. Hawkins was so revered that he once failed to show for any of the league games but was still named the MVP.

The play of these legends inspired countless young players to dream of playing at Rucker. “Growing up I got to see the Earl Manigaults, the Pee Wee Kirklands,” says “Master Rob” Hokett, a Rucker legend himself in the late eighties. “Those were the best guys I ever got to see for free. Guys like Joe Hammond, they called him the Destroyer. He could come out drunk and hit twenty jump shots off the backboard.”

The Rucker Tournament of old is now defunct, but a new incarnation, the Entertainers Basketball Classic, still runs here in north Harlem, across from the towering Polo Grounds projects, and occasionally indoors at Dunlevy Milbank Center at West 118th Street and Five Avenue. Teams with names like Dogs of War and Flavor Unit face off as rap music blasts, the p.a. provides commentary, and college coaches like Jerry Tarkanian sit conspicuously in the bleachers. The best street players, now sporting nicknames like “Black Widow,” “The Undertaker,” and “Predator,” still play, as do college starts and even future pros. Recently, Joe Smith, Allen Iverson, and Kevin Garnett all stopped by before taking their games to the NBA (as Jamal Mashburn, Mark Jackson, and Chris Mullin did before them in the eighties). How did they fare?

“Kevin Garnett looked like he’d been in New York his whole life,” Hokett said. “He got on the court, and smiled and was, like, ‘Yo, this is my park. I been hearing about this park since I was young.’ He was throwing guys’ shots out of the park, dunking on people backward. Joe Smith loved it and Allen Iverson was throwing the ball between people’s legs, throwing behind his back. It just amazes me when I see guys that are about to get all this money, and they don’t really have to be here. But the came out and, by showing up, they made the park better.”

Such is the pull of Rucker that even money and contracts can’t keep players from balling. And alhtough there isn’t much in the way of pickup play – it’s primarily league action at the park – summer games at Rucker are still one of the best free shows in New York.”Hoops Nation: A Guide to America’s Best Pickup Basketball

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