For some of us, basketball is like a religion. Our love for the game is on a deeper level.
For us, basketball is our escape from the realities of the day-to-day grind. Whether we’re playing or watching, we immerse ourselves in the action and we have a deep understanding and appreciation for the history of the game.
A large part of that history has taken place at a park on 155th Street in Harlem, Holcombe Rucker Park.
Rucker Park has hosted a summer basketball tournament since the 1950’s. Some of the greatest NBA and streetball players have grace the court with their presence.
For years, streetball legends like Joe “The Destroyer” Hammond, PeeWee Kirkland, Bone Collector and Rafer “Skip to my Lou” Alston have crossed paths with NBA legends such as Julius “Dr J” Erving, Earl “The Pearl” Monroe, , and Kevin Durant.
Its hallowed ground in basketball circles. Some of the best to have EVER done it, have laced them up and played in this park.
The Entertainers Basketball Classic (The EBC) has called Rucker Park home for the last 30 years. They’ve done an excellent job of merging entertainment, hip-hop, and basketball.
When you go to an EBC game, you’re going to be entertained whether the game is good or not. When I had the opportunity to catch a game, I didn’t hesitate to head from Manhattan over to Harlem to see if Rucker could live up to the hype.
Imagine my giddiness, as I hopped in the yellow cab. Cabby asked in his African accent “Where to sir?” and I proudly say “Rucker Park!”. The cabby looks at me through the rear-view mirror and says “Where?!?!? What is that???”. Thank goodness for Google Maps.
After almost driving into the Bronx and asking a kind stranger for directions, we finally get near the park. I see the scoreboard in the distance and I know I’m in the right place. I’ve made it to the Mecca of Streetball.
While paying for my ride, I see a kid flying down the street on a 4-wheeler, doing a wheelie. For a second I thought I was in a Ruff Ryders video. I looked around to see if DMX and Drag-On were going to come out, but neither made an appearance. Nonetheless, it further confirmed I was in the right spot.
The 1st thing you notice when walking up to the park, is the strong police presence. There will be no acting of the fool out here. The EBC has their own security out there as well, so after being patted down nightclub style and having my bookbag checked, I went inside.
Once in, I see that the 1st game just ended and legendary announcer Hannibal the Electrifying One was entertaining the crowd with a freestyle verse. He was wearing his signature championship belt and holding his diamond encrusted microphone.
I didn’t want to sit down right away. I wanted to take in the atmosphere, see all the comings and goings, so I stood near the court and just observed.
Popular streetball player Randy “White Chocolate” Gill had just finished playing. His team had won and the park was buzzing about his performance. His team was victorious and he was dapping up all of the security guards, who were congratulating him on a great game.
Hannibal was giving the details on the nightcap game, Team Ohh Way vs The Xmen. The teams came out for warm-ups. Ohh Way were led by former NBA player Kenny Satterfield and former St John’s product Dwight Hardy.
The Xmen were led by former Syracuse star Paul Harris and Eain Davis aka Mr. Electrifying.
The game was nothing special early on, but the crowd was in full go mode. Exactly what I expected from an NYC crowd, the heckling was Grade A. Eain Davis received the brunt of it. With his 90’s haircut, the crowd went in on him a few minutes after the tip.
“Yo son, who cut your hair yo??? Yo stop letting your aunt cut your hair B! You look like Booby Brown son! Yo Bobby, where you get those raggedy ass shoes from son?”. It was relentless and hilarious. The laughter from the crowd seemed to encourage the heckler even more.
Davis looked over, but didn’t say anything. He let his game talk for him. He dribbled down and made a spectacular crossover, followed by a scoop layup over the defender. He instantly stared at the group of trash talkers and the battle was on. It seemed as if every time they said something to him, he came down and made a play. Each time glaring at them.
I figured these guys were rooting for a particular team since all of their venom was directed at the Xmen…wrong!
One of the guards caught the ball on the block. Hit his defender with a jab-step, took one dribble towards the paint, elevated, and 2-hand slammed one with contact. The crowd erupted with “ooooh’s” and “daaammn’s”. E-Jay, the co-announcer with Hannibal, screamed out “that was so disrespectful right there!”. I’m high-fiving strangers in the stands because as Mark Jackson would say, that was a “grown-man move”. After the chatter dissipates, we hear the voice that has now become familiar to us all…
“Yo…you a baby, son! You need to eat your Wheaties, fam! Yo, don’t even play no more B, go home yo!”
The game action really heated up in the 3rd qtr. Hardy was having a really good night. His jumpshot is flawless, nailing 3’s from all over. He also showed his strength taking it inside to finish in traffic. You wonder why he isn’t in the league.
Between the 3rd and 4th qtrs, with the action heating up and the DJ going hard, all of a sudden a dance battle breaks out
Only at Rucker Park….
Back to the action. With Hardy balling, Paul Harris also picked up his play, showing why he was once a 2nd team All-Big East selection. Xmen fought back from 11 down to take the lead in the 4th. With 4 minutes to go, the back and forth action was amazing. With every basket, the crowd seem to get more into it. Everyone realized we were watching a great game and we all were hoping for a memorable finish.
Down by 1 with less than a minute to go, Hardy had the rock. Guarded by Davis aka Bobby Brown, the crowd was on their feet, screaming “ooooohhhhh” continuously. This was the match-up we all wanted.
Hardy takes one dribble and pulls up from some 3-4 ft behind the 3-point line….SWISH….crowd goes bananas! I turn to the dude next to me making the Stephon Marbury face because that was just stank and nasty…
Xmen turn the ball over a couple of times and now they’re down 93-88. After a missed FT, Harris gets the rock and he races up the floor. He goes behind the back to allude one defender, then crosses between his legs to shake free from another. He gets to the top of the key and pulls up for 3…SPLASH…93-91 with 4 seconds to play! Crowd is hysterical at this point, wondering if we’re going to see a miracle win.
After a timeout, Team Ohh Way has to go the full length of the court. Hardy breaks long and they throw it to him. He catches it in stride, takes one dribble and ices the game with his 39th point on the layup. I couldn’t believe he was able to get behind the defense, but that’s basketball for you. Great game!
The EBC at Rucker Park definitely lived up to the hype. It was an incredible atmosphere and the comp was serious. Current D-1 college players, lots of guys who are currently overseas, and some D-league guys. The games are legit. If you’re ever in the city, you need to go check it out. I will definitely be back in the future. Hopefully, they’ll give me a jersey and let me get some minutes…
I want to thank Director of Media Relations, Tasha Stoute, for coming out to meet me and introducing me to the commissioner Greg Marius. I also want to thank her for not leaving me in Harlem to fend for myself at 10:30pm, thanks for getting that cab!
If you want to see my pics and video from my pilgrimage, follow us on Instagram “Tragic Johnson Blog”. For more info on the teams and players from the EBC, check out their website ebcsports.com
– N.D. Face