For your favourite NBA players, before the endorsement deals, the endless days on the road and even the draft, there was the playground. To this day, you’ll see the pros making pilgrimage to the concrete courts of their youth to a face off against the newest up-and-comers trying to make a name for themselves. Indeed, particularly legendary local players often have their names mentioned in the same breath as their homegrown NBA counterparts out on the blacktop, creating explosive rivalries. Whether you’re about the fundamentals of the NBA or the flash of the And-1 Mixtapes, we explore some of North America’s most storied proving grounds. Winner’s ball.
Court: Rucker Park
Location: Harlem, NY
Court: Venice Beach
Location: Venice, CA
We take you back to Cali for another playground haven. Sunny, breezy and beautiful scenery are all adjectives that are opposite of the level of competition at Venice. Some of the best amateur players around the world travel to Venice to test out their skills. Every now then, however, you may get some familiar faces to participate in some major events. Back in 2008, an epic battle of “Horse” between LeBron James and trick-shot artist David Kalb took place.
Court: Goodman League & Barry Farms Housing Community
Location: Washington, D.C.
We take you to America’s capital for this one. The Goodman League takes place in this housing project of Washington, and is one of the most renowned pickup leagues of today. It’s usually an off-season destination for NBA players to compete and its design resembles that of the Rucker. Many players such as Michael Beasley, Gilbert Arenas, rookie sensation Victor Oladipo and MVP candidate Kevin Durant (also a Washington native) have made names for themselves on this playground.
Court: The Cage
Location: New York, NY
No, this isn’t a wrestling pay-per-view match—it’s the name of one of the most historic playgrounds in NYC. Although it’s actually called the West 4th Street Courts, the original name has been struck from the local lexicon in favour of a moniker derived from the large cage that surrounds the multiple courts located on West Fourth Street in the Washington Square section of Greenwich Village. NBA vets such as Anthony Mason and Smush Parker have battled in the physically-intense leagues the court has hosted.
Court: Hoop Dome
Location: Toronto, ON
The difference between this court and the rest (besides the fact that it bleeds Canadian maple syrup) is the fact that its very existence was brought upon by NBA officials. Former Toronto Raptors GM Glen Grunwald and voice of the Raptors Paul Jones founded the Hoop Dome, which has since attracted many players from all walks of life hoping to test their game. Some of Canada’s future talents such as Andrew Wiggins, Tristan Thompson and Kevin Pangos have laced up their sneakers here.
Court: Harbourfront Community Centre
Location: Toronto, ON
Another great spot in the Great White North, this court has been cited as the most popular in the city. The level of competition here is just as stiff as any other court south of the border and, just like the Hoop Dome, it counts among its standouts Andrew Wiggins, Corey Joseph and other Canadian talents.
Court: DeMatha Catholic High School
Location: Hyattsville, Md
Possibly the most under-the-radar court on this list, its level of competition is still comparable to that of its more storied counterparts. Like Goodman and Drew, many of the game’s best (both pro and collegiate) have appeared on a weekly basis during the off-season, including OKC’s Kevin Durant.
Court: Clark Park
Location: Philadelphia, PA
Never count out the city of Philly when it comes to a good old fashioned game of blacktop. Known for its grittiness and “no blood, no foul” style of gameplay, this is no easy go-around for any baller, so proceed with caution once you step on. This court’s most famous for its matchups between the “older heads” and the “young bloods” (old versus young). Veterans such as Joe “Jelly Bean” Bryant (Kobe’s papa) still play there to this day defending their turf.
Court: Clark’s Pond Courts
Location: Bloomfield, NJ
If this court wasn’t famous after last season, it sure is now. Why you ask? You have your favorite Uncle Drew to thank! Cleveland Cavs’ Kyrie Irving gave this court some press by taking on the form of his alter ego, “Uncle Drew” (Irving dressed up as an old man), for a Pepsi campaign. Then, Irving proceeds to do what he did to Brandon Knight at the 2013 rookie/sophomore game, but to unsuspecting players.