A major part of NBA LIVE 18 is getting to play on The Streets and connecting to the overall culture of basketball, rather than just the professional aspect of it. In this series, we’ll take a look at each of the seven courts featured in The Streets where you can build your own legacy. In our first installment, we’re talking about the history and legends around the world’s most famous streetball court, Rucker Park. You’ll uncover its legends, as well as learn how you can play on it.
Frederick Douglass Blvd. and West 155th Street is the home of Holcombe Rucker Park. Harlem residents know it by the bus stops and bodegas, NYC natives know all you need is the B or D train. So, what’s made Rucker Park so famous after all these years? Well, that’s a deep question.
Rucker Park has been one of the oldest and most influential homes for hoops in the game’s history. Rucker is where basketball extended to be bigger than just a ball and a court or a chance for people to make some money – at Rucker, basketball is part of a serious lifestyle. It’s almost a religion. Players have flocked to its proving grounds for decades now to challenge New York City’s most prolific ballers. While Madison Square Garden is the Mecca, Rucker Park is the ancient city of Medina.
When you walk into Rucker in real life, or walk your player onto it in NBA LIVE 18, it might not look like much. Just a blacktop surface, chain link fences, and a few bleachers. There may be a few logos here and there but, make no mistake, you’re stepping onto a court full of history. Whether it’s dead silent or there are hordes of people waiting to see who’s up next, Rucker is a place where stars are born.
Rucker Park is often dressed up based on the tournament (Photo by Jerritt Clark/WireImage)
You can take a look at the old-school NBA legends like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Wilt Chamberlain, or Earl “The Pearl” Monroe who have all played at Rucker, but the true culture of Rucker comes from the unsung heroes and tortured souls whose stories now serve as age-old myths and hold as much reverence in the hoops community as Homer’s tales in the literary world. When NBA legends talk about Rucker, they don’t talk about their dealings with other league-wide stars, they talk about guys like Pee Wee Kirkland, Earl Manigualt, and Joe Hammond.
Pee Wee Kirkland
If you haven’t heard the stories of Pee Wee Kirkland, for example, you’re missing out on a true gem. Pee Wee was more than just a basketball player – he embodied the background and mentality of so many natives to Rucker during the 70’s. He was a standout player at both the high school and college level and was drafted to the NBA but turned down his NBA contract. Even though he was recruited to be a first-year starter under John Wooden at UCLA, he had different priorities.
To build on that, he carried a swagger that the Miami Hurricanes in the 80’s couldn’t even touch. He would often pull up to the Rucker courts in the Rolls Royce he bought before he was old enough to get a driver’s license, drop thousands of dollars onto the court, and challenge anybody to try their hand against him. By his own recollection, he never lost a game that he put down a thousand or more. While life treated him a little different then his friend and almost-college teammate Abdul-Jabbar, he’s locked in as a New York City icon for hoops’ culture.
Speaking of the NBA’s all-time leading scorer Abdul-Jabbar, do you know who he named as the greatest player he ever faced? The original G.O.A.T., Earl Manigualt. He was Jordan before Jordan, predating the NBA’s highflying era. The story of Earl is one of the most heartbreaking you’ll ever hear but it’s one worth remembering. Manigualt was rumored to be able to dunk the ball twice in one jump and gained his legend by retrieving quarter from the top of the backboard by simply jumping off one leg – oh yeah, he was only six-foot-one.
Aside from the ridiculous athleticism, he practiced his jump shot to perfection at Rucker, and had NBA scouts salivating at the thought of him joining. Unfortunately, he fell victim to drugs after falling in with the wrong crowd in his teenage years. As his health deteriorated, so did his potential NBA career. Manigualt was frail and sickly by the age of 50 but was still balling out on Rucker Park with his “Walk Away from Drugs Goat Tournament” where he taught kids about the dangers of drug use and addiction.
The above are just the beginning of the Rucker legends. Check out some more players who graced Rucker’s court.
Kobe Bryant coaching a group of young basketball players (Photo by Marc Lecureuil/Getty Images for Nike)
Even some of today’s biggest stars like Isaiah Thomas still play at Rucker (Photo by Jerritt Clark/Getty Images)
Imagine if the courts could talk – what would Rucker’s say? When you get to Frederick Douglass and 155th, in the city or in NBA LIVE, all that matters is your game. The court forgets about if you’re wearing Nikes or Chuck Taylors, the players could care less about your name or accolades. While it may not bring the same exposure, or be as lucrative as other venues, the competitive aspect is second-to-none. Players compete for pride, something deeper than money, and it shows. When passion and hunger fuel your game, incredible things can happen. The legend of New York ballers began on these courts.
In NBA LIVE 18, you can build your own legacy at Rucker Park. While it’s only one of seven legendary courts, it has the most history and respect behind it. Some of the most meaningful moments have happened on this court, and you can launch your player’s career by going up against some of the best ballers of today’s era in LIVE. Do what the legends did and build your reputation from the ground up and prove that you deserve to play in the heart of NYC.