Why Rucker Park Is Important For Basketball


Earlier in August, Kevin Durant, as many NBA players have done before him, made his way up to North Harlem and walked through the gates of one of basketball’s most hallowed grounds: Holcombe Rucker Park. Weeks later, his performance is already the stuff of legends. He dropped 66 points on stiff competition, including several heavy dunks, some unheard of fadeaway jumpers, and an astounding run of four straight three pointers that forced security to clear the court of euphoric spectators.

Even by Rucker’s unparalleled standards, Durant put on one hell of a show. Already, it has become a sensation far beyond Harlem and New York City. The highlight packages that have been uploaded to Youtube have racked up millions of views. Basketball message boards the world over are being flooded with comments and hysterical conversation. Television sportscasters are discussing KD’s exploits, and speculating over which NBA players hold the most streetball cred.

Rucker Park has invaded the sporting mainstream, blurring the line between streetball and the professional game. It’s a line which some basketball purists cling to, liking to think that the street game, with it’s hazy officiating, it’s spur-of-the-moment one-on-one showdowns, and it’s heavy focus on showmanship has very little to do with the NBA’s polished version of basketball. But Durant’s and other NBA stars’ blacktop heroics prove otherwise. When you consider the talent that has come from the playgrounds, and the talent that continues to go back to them, it’s clear that the connection between the game’s two incarnations is unwavering.

Kevin Durant is, after all, hardly the first NBA player to test his talents at the Rucker. Before big, modern day names were swinging through to up their credibility and keep fit during the off-season, several NBA megastars from years past had already crafted a reputation at Rucker Park.

Kareem played there when he was still known as Lou Alcindor, balling alongside fallen legend Earl The Goat. Nate Archibald would cross the river from his South Bronx home, earning the nickname “The Skate” long before he became known as Tiny. Dr J came through before entering the league, and may be best known for having 50 points scored on him in a single half by Joe “The Destroyer” Hammond, one of streetball’s most tragic figures. Connie Hawkins played at the Rucker when he was still in high school, and Earl “Black Jesus” Monroe would come all the way from Philadelphia to get a game. Years later, Rafer Alston was hanging with professionals while he was just a teenager, balling under the famous monicker Skip To My Lou.

In more recent days, Rucker Park has played host to some of the league’s contemporary stars. Kobe Bryant dazzled the crowd in the off-season following the Lakers’ third consecutive championship. Vince Carter famously threw down one of the first windmill alley-oops that anyone had seen in game, causing the audience to mob the court. Allen Iverson, Steve Francis, Baron Davis, and Stephon Marbury have all brought their electric point guard stylings to the scene, to name only a few. Rucker Park is not only a breeding ground for basketball success, but a spot for pros to prove that they can compete without the benefit of lenient foul calls and sophisticated offensive sets.

Each of Rucker Park’s many pro visitors, some of them among the greatest players in NBA history, is an example of the inescapable relationship between streetball and organized, refined basketball. Rucker has spread its influence deep into the culture of the sport, while the NBA’s super-elite, players like Kevin Durant, flock there to gain a reputation beyond their international stardom. The world’s best players hold Rucker, and the style of play it represents, in high esteem.

And Rucker, in return, will continue to be a shrine to the dazzling, gritty, no-blood-no-foul type of game that has produced so many of the NBA’s best.
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