Rucker Park: The Playground of Legends

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By Jason Leach

If you come visit Harlem, one of the places you have to visit is Rucker Park. Harlemities and people with a love of basketball know all about Rucker Park and its tradition.

Rucker Park was named after a Harlem teacher playground director Holcombe L. Rucker. Rucker started basketball tournaments back in the 1950’s to help less fortunate kids stay off the street, and pursue a better life. As the years went along Rucker Park would be the host to some of the greatest basketball players in New York and some of the greatest players to ever play in the NBA.

The list of NBA players who have played at Rucker Park reads like a roll call of the NBA Hall of Fame with legendary players such as Kareem Abdul- Jabbar, Nate “Tiny” Archibald, Wilt Chamberlain, Earl “The Pearl” Monroe and Julius “Dr. J” Erving. In fact Rucker Park is where Julius Erving earned the name the Dr. J.

Rucker Park has also been the launching pad for current NBA stars such as Lance Stephenson. Stephenson helped the Indian Pacers to the Eastern Conference Finals where they were defeated by the Miami Heat in 7 games. In addition to NBA players who have played at the Rucker prior to their pro careers, current NBA players will come to the Rucker during the offseason to be part of the Rucker Park legacy.

In the summer of 2011 Kevin Durant of the Oklahoma City Thunder came to the Rucker and put on a masterful shooting performance scoring 66 points. After one of Durant’s long 3 pointers, the crowd rushed the court in amazement of what they had witnessed.

The legacy of Rucker Park has also been captured on TV. Back in 2000 Rucker Park was featured in the TNT television film On Hallowed Ground: Streetball Champions of Rucker Park. The film would wind up winning a Sports Emmy Award.

In 1996 HBO did a television movie on Rucker Park legend Earl “The Goat” Manigault.  Don Cheadle played the role of Manigault and gave such a terrific performance that he was nominated for a NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Actor in a Television Movie. The movie featured stars such as James Earl Jones, Forest Whitaker, Clarence Williams III and Glynn Turman.

So, whether your basketball player or just a fan of the game, Rucker Park is something that you have to witness at least once in your life. I guarantee that it will be unlike any other playground you have ever seen.

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