Classroom

Rucker Park Rich in Basketball History

Rucker

NEW YORK -- The B train takes you to the 155th street stop on the north edge of Harlem. It's a run-down subway station, never too crowded, and a set of stairs will take you back above ground.

A basketball paradise is just a block away.

Underneath the 155th Street bridge is Rucker Park, quite possibly the most famous playground in basketball. Rucker sits in the shadows of the Polo Grounds Towers, a collection of 30-story apartment buildings on the former site of an old baseball stadium.

Rucker is more than a hoops heaven--it's also a city-maintained park that has a children's playground, a baseball field, handball courts and other perks. But let's be real: it's known around the world for the basketball court in the corner of the three-acre lot right off Frederick Douglass Boulevard.

And, more specifically, for the great players who have competed on that court.

The Names

NBA icons of yesteryear frequently played at Rucker, names like Wilt Chamberlain, Julius Erving and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

While big contracts have made players less willing to risk injury in the offseason, the mystique of Rucker is even recognized among basketball's current stars, guys who have played for NBA titles, in Olympic gold-medal games and any other big-time atmosphere you can imagine.

What's even more amazing, though, is that Rucker Park has its own list of legends. Players who never made it to the NBA. In the past, it's been stars like Joe Hammond, who scored 74 points in a game at Rucker in the 1970s.

Recently, it's players like Corey "Homicide" Williams, who made a huge name for himself during the early 2000s and later went on to play professionally overseas.

"Rucker Park, to me, is pretty much like Madison Square Garden to NBA players," Williams said. "That is THE place. It means even more to me because that's where everything began for me."

The History

Rucker Park was called the P.S. 156 Playground when it opened in 1956, and an influential Harlem teacher named Holcombe Rucker soon saw its potential.

Beginning in 1947, Rucker organized a tournament around Harlem for area players as a way to bond the community and give local kids an extracurricular activity. His motto was "Each one, teach one" and the tournament further played into his mission of promoting education. Often, Rucker would let grade cards influence who could play in the tournament.

The tournament eventually settled at P.S. 156, and it further gathered steam when a similar pro league was started for professional players to compete in the offseason. Some of the greatest talents in pro basketball--Chamberlain, Abdul-Jabbar and Erving were the biggest names--would play alongside incredible streetball talents out of Harlem. Those local players never received mainstream recognition as NBA talents, but they are still talked about in New York today.

Holcombe Rucker died of cancer in 1965 at the age of 38. His legacy was in place, though, and it was cemented when the city of New York renamed P.S. 156 to Holcombe Rucker Park in 1975.

Today

These days, Rucker Park is best known as the site of the famous Entertainers Basketball Classic summer league, which features the top streetball talents in New York along with occasional celebrity cameos. This is where Bryant and Anthony played, while recent appearances have included NFL stars Chad Ochocinco and Terrell Owens.

The EBC has a men's division which headlines the league, but it also has a high school league, and U15, U12 and U10 divisions.

Along with being home of a more flashy game of streetball, Rucker Park is also charmed by fast-talking MCs who call the action, make fun of bad play, and come up with nicknames for great players that often stick around forever. Hammond, the Harlem legend, was known as "The Destroyer" for his game-changing scoring outbursts.


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