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Rucker Park: A Video History

By 08.06.14

There’s no court more legendary in the nation than Rucker Park, which is why BACARDI ® Flavored Rums is holding Flavor at the Rucker, inviting us all to rep our flavor.

But celebrities are nothing new to this seemingly modest park. The Rucker is one of the most important cultural touchstones in basketball, one of the places where the game was refined into the mix of athleticism and showmanship that makes it a beloved sport today. But how did a humble court in Harlem become the center of the basketball world?

Building The Rucker

Rucker Park is named after Holcombe Rucker. In 1947, Rucker founded a pro-am basketball tournament with a focus on education: “Each one, teach one” was his motto. It began on 7th Avenue between 128th and 129th, but when Rucker passed away of cancer in 1965, a court was dedicated to him on 155th and Frederick Douglass. The Rucker Pro-Am has been in the family ever since.

Where To Find Street Ball

The Rucker first came to prominence regionally: It was where the best players in the Northeast came to prove themselves. But the Rucker became more than that rapidly; it was a training ground for some of the best in the game, such as Julius Erving, the inimitable Dr. J:

Most notable about the Rucker was the fact that you didn’t just have to sink the shot, you had to wow the crowd while doing it. It wasn’t enough to be good at the game; you had to know the game so well you could change it around you. It was the source of legends like “Helicopter” Knowings, a man who was once timed to be in the air for three seconds, or Earl “The Goat” Manigault, considered by some the single best player of all time.

What athletes learned at the Rucker began to bleed into the game. Take, for example, a player named Lou Alcindor, better known as Kareen Abdul-Jabbar:

Alcindor’s style was something the NCAA had never seen before, and the reaction would bring chuckles today: The “Lou Alcindor” rule specifically banned dunking.

A Legend Grows

Part of the Rucker’s appeal, for many professional players, was and remains simply that it’s another type of play. To the point where it can bring legends of all sorts to the court. Jordan, for example:

The Rucker is so important, so central to New York City in so many ways that, in fact, you can see far more than just basketball players. For example, the 2003 blackout lingers in the city’s memory not least because Jay-Z and Fat Joe each brought a team of players that, thanks to the disaster, never had a chance to go up against each other:

Where You Go To Show You Can Play

What remains a major appeal of the Rucker is the fact that you can see pros deliver their best work, like Kevin Durant catching on fire:

But what’s most important is its role as a center, a beating heart of New York where not just a game, but an entire culture can be explored, refined, and redefined. The promise of the Rucker is ultimately not in seeing a great game, but in seeing the future of New York City.


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