Let’s Talk About The Rucker
As long as there have been inner city ghettoes, there has been street ball. Poor Black/Latino kids are kids nonetheless. Children need recreation. Kids in the projects found a thick stick, bought a ball, used bottles to symbolize bases and played “stick ball”. They pulled dilapidated mattresses out of the trash to create wrestling rings. Kids tied a thin string around a pole and extended the string to a fence or a front gate to create a “finish line” for racing. As long as there was a playground, there was a basketball court. Every public school had a gymnasium. There was a basketball court at the center of the gym. Men knew how to cut out the bottom of a milk crate, get a ladder and some rope, to tie that crate 8 feet off of the ground in effort to create a makeshift half court for the
boys to play on. Just think: boy’s homes for delinquents had basketball courts. It’s only right to assume that street ball was always a hood phenomenon. There is no street ball tournament in American history as prestigious as the Rucker.
Who was Holcombe Rucker?
“The Rucker” refers to the Rucker Park basketball tournament named after it’s founder Holcombe Rucker. Holcombe Rucker was born on March 2,1926. Mr Rucker was a die-hard New Yorker from the old Harlem. Mr Rucker worked at St Phillips church on 134 street. He started a basketball tournament for boys there. Mr Rucker worked for the New York Park Department from 1948 – 1964. In the summer of 1950, Mr Rucker started a basketball tournament for teenage boys in the playground on 7th avenue and 128th
street. Mr Rucker refurbished the ball court, purchased the uniforms, and managed the tournament himself. The tournament drew the slickest and fastest ball handlers in Harlem. The NBA, ABA, and NCAA are heavily regulated. These organizations consider street ball “handles” to be carrying or palming (fouls). They also consider a lot of the crowd- pleasing screens to be “illegal screens” by professional standards.
This is a key technical difference that distinguishes street ball from other organized basketball. This BS did nothing to taint the explosion of the Ruckers. High school basketball stars who wanted to get busy while the school year came to a close played in the Rucker tournament. Believe it or not there were only 2 African-Americans in the NBA in 1950. Naturally, the Rucker tournament was filled with African-American players. The tournament was an instant sensation. The crowds were insane. This was truly “black basketball” at its best. The tournament was the home of future NBA legends – Kareem Abdul Jabbar, Wilt Chamberlain, Julius “Dr J” Irving, Connie Hawkins, Earl “the Pearl” Monroe, Stephen Marbury, Kevin Durant, and Chris Mullins. In many respects, the Rucker Park tournament was to basketball what the Golden Gloves were to professional boxing. The Rucker tournament helped 698 kids secure college scholarships. How cool is that?
Hip Hop brings the NBA to The Rucker
There was a ton of fanfare and excitement around this streetball tournament. Basketball is a huge part of urban culture. There are
several Black pro-athletes, Hip-Hop artist and R&B artist that knows how to handle the rock on a ball court. Yes, I said R&B artist. New Edition, for example, loved to get on the court and play street ball. The Entertainers Basketball Classic tournament was
started by a man named Greg Marius in 1982. By 1986 the Rucker tournament was combined with the Entertainers
Basketball Classic. Eventually, NCAA players, pros, and Hip- Hop record labels got in on the fun. Terror Squad, Def Jam, Roc-a- Fella,
Ruff Ryders, and Bad Boy all had teams who competed in the EBC tournament at Rucker Park. Entertainers, playboys, hustlers, and hotties were coming out in abundance to see the magic. NBA all-stars often came on to Rucker Park for the fun of good old street ball. Major sponsors got involved and the tournaments were aired on ESPN. Street ball legend Edward “Booger” Smith played in the
Ruckers. Booger appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated.
Some Of The Greats
The Rucker is 100% Hip-Hop. People of all races and all walks of life go to NBA games. New York City slickers love a Knicks game just as much as folks from rural Utah love to catch a Jazz game. The Rucker games are uniquely Hip Hop. The style of play, the nicknames of the players, the MC commentating the event, the location, and the crowd all scream Hip-Hop. The Rucker is thee most major minor league. French Montana bringing Khloe Kardashian to the Ruckers is legendary. Fat Joe had thee hottest team ever. His Terror Squad team consisted of Kareem Reid, Zech “Lil Bro Marbury”, BJ the Beast, DP, and Richie Parker. They won the
tournament for four years straight. The Rucker was lit.
Incidentally, the Rucker games have no history of being a death ground. People haven’t been shot in the crowd, murdered for jewelry, or slashed in gang war at the EBC. People generally come to enjoy the hottest street ball tournament in the world. There are other noteworthy ball tournaments in New York City – The Dyckman Games, or the Kingdome tournaments – but none have the notoriety of the original.