Rucker Park - New York City's Basketball Breeding Ground
If you're a fan of basketball, then Rucker Park is your Mecca. However, despite its continuing importance as a breeding ground for unbelievable athletic talent and historical basketball moments, the cultural significance of Rucker Park has, up until the 21st century, been overlooked by the average sports fan. Whether it was the raw conditions of Rucker (it's simply a green painted court on the corner of 155th Street and 8th Avenue with a few bleachers for spectators) or its disconnection from the mainstream (that is, until the And 1 mixed tape craze), there's no denying that this court certainly hasn't received the full recognition it deserves for its place in basketball history.
Rucker's claim to significance had meager beginnings in 1965 when Holcombe Rucker began holding a semi-professional basketball tournament at the park. In the 80's the Entertainer's Basketball Classic began to be held at Rucker, and eventually began to attract minimal media coverage with the all-star list of athletes that routinely played at the park during the tournaments in the early to mid 90s. Stephon Marbury, Allen Iverson, Shawn Marion, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett, Ron Artest and Elton Brand is just a small list of professional players that have frequented Rucker in the past.
After the sports public-at-large caught on to the basketball brilliance that was taking place at Rucker, it was eventually uncovered that this is nothing new. Before the Stephon Marburys and Ron Artests were honing their skills at Rucker, young athletes such as Lew Alcindor (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar), Wilt Chamberlain, Julius Erving and Nate Archibald were building a lasting legacy for Rucker that would eventually be explored.
Of course, the heart and soul of Rucker is far from the hardwood courts of the NBA. In fact, it is in the more tragic tales of Rucker that it is at its best. Players such as Earl 'The Goat' Manigault and Pee Wee Kirkland played side-by-side with the likes of Kareem and Connie Hawkins, with the pros uttering tales of basketball dominance by these men who, through drugs and poor decisions, simply lost their way in the world.
And just as the "street" players of past eras have turned out to be Rucker's most celebrated figures, it is in the same vein that Rucker finally gained the mainstream attention it had deserved all along. In the early-mid 90's tales began to circulate of a player named Skip-to-my-Lou. Skip's exploits, while rarely seen by the nation, were nonetheless spread by word of mouth. Fantastical stories of a man who could decimate opponents with an onslaught of ball handling skills, including all sorts of between-the-legs, off-the-head acrobatics, began to build a frenzy around Rucker and "street ball" in general. Slam Magazine made a daring move, releasing issue #22 with then Fresno State point-guard Rafer Alston (aka: Skip-to-my-Lou) on the cover. Slam gave Skip and "street ball" exposure on a national level, although it wouldn't be until the 2000 release of the And 1 Mixed Tape Vol. 5, with footage taken from Rucker Park, that Rucker, through Skip and his "street ball" style of play, would finally become a household name in the athletic community.
Today, Skip has managed to play for a number of pro teams such as the Milwaukee Bucks, Toronto Raptors and Houston Rockets, breaking the trend of talented "street ball" players not being able to crossover into the NBA. As for Rucker Park, it is finally beginning to enjoy its star status with the Entertainer's Basketball Classic going stronger than ever, and constant appearances in popular video games such as NBA 2K6, NBA Street Vol. 3 and Street Hoops.