When it comes to the history of basketball, no place is more influential than New York City. But it’s on the blacktop, not the hardwood that the true legacy of New York basketball was written. Kareem Abdul Jabbar, Julius Erving, Bernard King, and dozens more hail from the Five Boroughs and grew into NBA stars. Others found local acclaim. Jumpin’ Jackie Jackson, Pee Wee Kirkland, Joe the Destroyer Hammond, and Earl the Goat Manigault are all streetball icons who never reached the pros.
For decades, the courts of New York have served as the breeding ground for some of the most influential talent in the game. Streetball has always been the forum to prove yourself and grow as a player. Runs allow for freedom and creativity, but know this — they’re not for the faint of heart. You’d better come with your jumper on point and your confidence set to ten.
If you consider yourself a baller, you need to get a game in New York. No matter how basketball evolves, true hoops heads still show the city’s parks huge love. Crowds still line the most famous courts, too — cheering the stars of tomorrow.
To take us on a tour of the best court in the Five Boroughs, we connected with founder and head coach of CST Elite (an AAU team and training academy) Rob Sargeant. Coming up, Sargeant would take the train in from Jersey, seeking out the best runs of New York in the mid-’90s. After playing professionally in Europe for over a decade, he came back to re-connect to the region that made him. Sargeant has made it his mission to revitalize the game in the tri-state area — bringing back the toughness and hustle that used to be the city’s calling card.
WHERE TO PLAY IN NEW YORK
As Sargeant sees it, the place where the game is still played with toughness and attitude is in Brooklyn. Gersh Park to be specific. So grab your outdoor kicks and your outdoor ball and hop the Q train to the Pennsylvania Ave station. We’re going to BK!
Every city is a little different — Brooklyn is different from the Bronx, etc — if you’re gonna go for a run, I would say go to Brooklyn. Because in Brooklyn you’re gonna get a better run than anywhere else. Guys playing the right way and better competition. You’ll get a better run at Gersh.
KNOW BEFORE YOU GO
Wherever you come from, New York is where you can make a statement for yourself. Traditionally, streetball is an uptempo style of play, where one-on-one moves and iso breakdowns are how your game is measured. When tested, will you back down or do you have the guts to step up? Oh, and you better be ready to take some trash talk. It all comes together at Gersh.
Everyone has their flavor. Somebody is trying to embarrass somebody. They still do that. You gotta be ready to put on a show at Gersh — you gotta be able to dribble, you gotta be able to score. You gotta be a player, pretty much.
If you get embarrassed you’ll hear about it. That’s for sure.
IS STREETBALL STILL PART OF NYC’S DNA?
Historically, New York ballers have been tremendously gifted, freakishly athletic, blindingly quick and sheer magicians with their handles. Taking the best playground players and transitioning them to an organized game hasn’t always equated to success.
For players to make it off the streets and find big league stardom, they needed structure. Lots of talented players abandoned the blacktop in favor of AAU and travel teams. So is there still game in NYC?
[Laughs] New York streetball is definitely not what it used to be. That same feeling is not there. Rucker Park in the summertime, that was the main thing. Everyone wanted to be at Rucker Park. That intensity and the fire…you don’t see guys traveling from Jersey or Philadelphia. Now it’s just the local guys. It’s still good, but it’s not the same.
There’s more resources for the kids to work out, but to me, they’re not as tough. There’s a select few, but for the most part, they’re not as tough. A lot of kids now, they have trainers and there’s online stuff, so they’re more skilled. They’re more prepared but the toughness isn’t there.
WHY NEW YORK WILL ALWAYS BE THE PLACE TO MEASURE YOUR GAME
What the New York courts were is what they always will be: the pockets of hoopers all other players will look to for a challenge. While the game has evolved, there is no other place as proud or with a greater sense of tradition. Wherever you were introduced to basketball, you owe it to yourself to play it on the New York playgrounds. If you’re really up for a test, make your way to Gersh.
For me, I would travel from Jersey to come to New York to play and that put a toughness in me. I thought I would good but traveling to and playing in New York that put a toughness in me. I tell everyone this, if you can play can play basketball in New York city, you can play anywhere.