A History of Rucker Park: The True Mecca of Basketball


“Walk into Harlem’s Rucker Park, located on 155th Street and Frederick Douglass Boulevard in New York City—right across the street from where the Polo Grounds used to stand—on an ordinary afternoon, and you might not understand. Not right away at least. Sure, there are bleachers, both metal and concrete, surrounding the single court, and there’s a scoreboard above the seats by midcourt. Other than that though, it’s just one more blacktop in a city that has thousands of them. Right? Wrong. Don’t believe me? Take it from Fat Joe. The Bronx-born rapper started coming to the park in ‘91, before he was spitting, before he was famous. He eventually led a team of his own, Terror Squad, to multiple Entertainers Basketball Classic (EBC) chips on 155th. ‘You know the basketball culture in New York City is everything,’ Joe says. ‘Every summer, all attention goes there and everybody comes out to the Rucker. You get a feeling and a vibe like nowhere else. Everybody knows this. All five boroughs know summertime, Harlem, the Rucker. It’s lit.’  … The first years of the Rucker Tournament weren’t held at the place known as Rucker Park today. And it wasn’t dedicated, as such, until years after Holcombe Rucker passed away in 1969. But the competition was intense from the jump. The Rucker represented a platform for players not only from New York City, but all over the tri-state area and beyond, to flex their blacktop skills. Players from Philadelphia, like a young, gargantuan Wilt Chamberlain, made regular pilgrimages. As a pro in the early ‘60s, he learned quickly what the game was like in New York, as he was repeatedly challenged by high-flying ‘Jumpin’ Jackie’ Jackson, a 6’2” guard who could snatch quarters from the top of backboards, dunk with the best of them, and pin Wilt’s shot to the backboard. Jackson wasn’t the only local talent. There was Earl Manigault, ‘The Goat,’ master of the double dunk, where he dunked a ball with his right hand, caught it with his left, and dunked it again. …”
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W – Rucker Park
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