Walking into Rucker Park in Harlem you might not think much of it. It looks like a fairly normal outdoor court in a New York Neighborhood. Painted lines, glass backboards, and metal bleachers. But hidden in plain site is one of the most storied basketball courts in the world and the home of Pick-Up Basketball.
In the 50’s Harlem playground director Holcombe Rucker founded the Rucker League. This league would become a summer pro league where NBA players would face off against New York Street Ball legends. Rucker became a place for you to make yourself known in the basketball world. Rucker players would become New York folk-law, their names known on every street corner throughout the boroughs.
Rucker park had its own set of legends that never even made the NBA There was nowhere else in the world you could go and watch Wilt Chamberlain or Julius Erving face off against local neighborhood guys. Rucker Park is the MSG of pick-up basketball. In the 80’s Rucker legends such as God Shammgod rose up and made a name for themselves on the court while hip-hop began to become more prevalent at Rucker. With famous artists such as Fat Joe of Jay-Z sponsoring teams to play ar the court. The court would see the likes of Allen Iverson and Stephen Marbury pair up to win tournaments and advance the fame of the court.
Players would earn themselves nicknames such as “the bone collector” or “the answer” cementing their legacy in history. Shammgod, who I mentioned earlier, was known for having one of the most aggressive crossovers in history that would be imitated by the likes of Kyrie Irving in the NBA. This move is used by younger players across the world as is simply known as the “Shammgod.” These streetball moves would provide the inspiration for players like Kyrie, Curry, and Paul as they showed off their handles on the court. A small court in Harlem, New York changed the way the game was played — that’s pretty impressive to me.
Today the court plays host to NBA players coming to prove their metal against some of street balls finest. Kobe, KD, and Iverson have played at the court since going pro. There is something special about Rucker Park. When Pro players come to play there is no money involved, they’re out there for the love of the game. Shammgod himself put it best “When you go to 155th street, its no status, money mean nothing, the only thing that mean anything is gravitation and how you play.”