I’ve written about street basketball played in The Cage down on Sixth Avenue in the Village. That’s entry level; for top drawer — Manhattan Street Theater Basketball — it’s Rucker Park up in Harlem, at 155th Street and 8th Avenue across the street from the Projects built on the site of baseball’s former Polo Grounds, walking distance from Yankee stadium, just across the river.
The scene can be a triumph of Afro-American resilience, accomplishment, pride, culture and showmanship.
Holcombe Rucker started the first basketball tournament in 1950 to help unfortunate kids stay off the streets, aim for college careers. Players in those Rucker Tournaments employed slam dunks, crossover dribbles, and bravado, a style then foreign to the NBA.
Now it’s where big men and children come to strut, defy, dominate, trash-talk, make a name for themselves, maintain a name — or lose it.
As entertainment, Rucker is analogous to Minton’s or The Apollo. Too famous, too proud, too significant for words. You just have to go to see with your own eyes, and feel with your own heart.
This court has seen some huge names in its time — Julius Irving, Kreem Abdul-Jabar and Wilt Chamberlain among them — and still showcases big-time talent during the Entertainers Basketball Classic.
A regular ‘season’ begins mid June with an all-star game mid July.
C Train to 155th Street; walk east 2 blocks.