Elite 24: Rucker Park legends

Legends of the most famous outdoor court in the world

Updated: June 21, 2012, 7:09 PM ET
By Ronnie Flores | ESPNHS

Naming the 24 best players famed Rucker Park ever produced will stir plenty of debate. Basketball junkies would have beef if we ranked the 124 best players to come through the famed park in Harlem.

Still, we're putting it out there.

In order to limit the Rucker ruckus, we left the players unranked. On this list, you'll find NBA icons, streetball legends and -- in some cases -- both. What you won't find are big-name ballers who came to Rucker once or twice, never to return. The one thing everybody on this list has in common is that they regularly thrived on the most famous outdoor court in the world.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Power Memorial (New York, N.Y.) '65
Probably the greatest high school player of all-time (sorry, LeBron), Abdul-Jabbar, then known as Lew Alcindor, led Power on a 71-game winning streak. He also killed cats at the Rucker when he wasn't at UCLA winning three NCAA titles. He's also the NBA's all-time leading scorer.

Rafer "Skip To My Lou" Alston
Cardozo (Queens, N.Y.) '94
Alson is the most famous playground player of the modern era, bar none. Sure, Skip has California connections, helping Ventura College win a state chip in '95 before moving on to Fresno City College and Fresno State, where he played for noted playground recruiter Jerry Tarkanian. But only true basketball heads know he ran with the J.W. North (Riverside, Calif.) summer league team in 1993 before returning to New York and creating history at the Rucker.

Nate "The Skate" Archibald
DeWitt Clinton (Bronx, N.Y.) '66
In the NBA, Archibald was known as "Tiny," the man who ran the point for the 1981 NBA champ Celtics and the only player to lead the league in points and assists in the same season. But on the playgrounds, Archibald was known as "The Skate," the man who returned to Rucker every summer even after he made it to the big-time. Archibald almost never made it to the big-time, as academic troubles nearly derailed his prep career. He straightened things out by his senior season, when he was named all-city for a 21-0 team that won a mythical national championship. Archibald went the JUCO route and kept improving his game to the point where he was named one of the NBA's 50 Greatest Players in 1996.


Wilt Chamberlain

Overbrook (Philadelphia, Pa.) '55

Most fans know "The Dipper" averaged 50.4 points per game in an NBA season and once scored 100. But did you know Wilt also averaged 47.2 ppg his senior season at Overbrook? He also had a 90-point game Roxborough and was simply the most dominant force on all levels of the game  including streetball.

Julius "The Claw" Erving

Roosevelt (Roosevelt, N.Y.) '68
Most know him as Dr. J, ABA and NBA ambassador of the 1970s and '80s. But it's at Rucker where Erving turned 155th into his own personal playground. Nobody drew a crowd like the Doctor and he was the player all playground legends were judged against. All it took was a good game, or one nice move, against "The Claw," and anybody was instantly somebody at the Rucker.

Joe "The Destroyer" Hammond
Taft (Bronx, N.Y.)
Hammond never really got into the high school game; he was already deep into the street game. Some legends have a big reputation, but there is no doubt Hammond's game was legit. He turned down a $50,000 offer from the Lakers and a three-year deal with the ABA. Although probably bad moves, he didn't make any bad moves when he dropped 50 on Dr. J in a double-overtime loss in what veteran observers call the greatest streetball game ever played in 1970.

Connie "The Hawk" Hawkins
Boys (Brooklyn, N.Y.) '60
When you talk about the greatest forwards in high school history, you begin with The Hawk. The 1960 ESPNHS Mr. Basketball USA would have been a cinch All-American at the University of Iowa, but a gambling scandal cost the Hawk eight years of his prime. It was the NBA's loss, however, as the Hawk soared with the Globetrotters, the ABL, the ABA and, of course, on the playground. He eventually was a NBA Hall of Famer, but some of his most memorable games were played at the Rucker.

"Jumpin" Jackie Jackson
Boys (Brooklyn, N.Y.) '58
A star at Boys when a frail 10th-grader named Connie Hawkins toiled on the bench, Jackson went on to success at Virginia Union and with the Harlem Globetrotters. At a shade under 6-foot-5, Jackson was one of the game's first great leapers. In fact, Earl Manigault followed in his footsteps as a forward that could sky near the top of the backboard. Slam Magazine even named Jackson the No. 5 dunker of all-time, behind guys named Doc, Dominique, Jordan and Vince Carter. That's how much his game was revered and he did most of his serious work teaming up with Hawkins and floor leader Ed "Czar" Simmons in legendary schoolyard battles with names such as Satch Sanders, Cal Ramsey, Tony Jackson, Oscar Robertson, Wilt Chamberlain and countless others.

Richard "Pee Wee" Kirkland
Charles Evan Hughes (New York, N.Y.) '64
Few streetball players have the style and substance of Kirkland. He would pull up to the Rucker and double-park his Rolls Royce then go put in work. In the late 1960s and early '70s, his playground rivalry with "Tiny" Archibald was legendary. A prolific scorer, Kirkland had a legit high school and college rep, teaming with future NBA all-star Bob Dandridge at Norfolk State before being drafted by the Bulls in 1969.

Herman "Helicopter" Knowlings
Ben Franklin (Harlem, N.Y.)
One of many streetball stars who attended Ben Franklin, 'Cop was better known for putting in work up at the Rucker. At one time, only Earl Manigault was a bigger name. At 6-foot-5, he could sky, and legend has it he once swatted the shots on three pros on a single possession. He's best known for hanging in the air. "When I was in 9th grade, I saw the Helicopter, with my own two eyes, pick a quarter off the top of the backboard to win a bet, and I was in complete shock," said former NBA all-star Bernard King.

Earl "The Goat" Manigault
Ben Franklin (Harlem, N.Y.) '64
There is a reason one of the squads for the Boost Mobile Elite 24 is named in his honor: "The Goat" is arguably the most well known streetball legend of all-time. There is some question how much pro potential the 6-foot-1 jumping jack had, but he was all-city at Franklin before moving on to Laurinburg Institute in North Carolina. Manigault had offers from all over the country, but it never worked out for him. He's so revered the playground at 99th and Amsterdam in New York is named Goat Park.

Conrad "McNasty" McCrae
Brooklyn Tech (Brooklyn, N.Y.) '89
A McDonald's All-American at Brooklyn Tech, McCrae was the No. 28 pick of the 1993 NBA Draft. He didn't play in the League, but earned his nickname at the Entertainer's Basketball Classic up at Rucker. McCrae had a history of arrythmia and died while running wind sprints on the first day of practice for the Orlando Magic's summer league team in 2000 at age 29.

Earl "The Pearl" Monroe
Bartram (Philadelphia, Pa.) '62
Monroe was a late-bloomer to the high school game; he started at center his final year at Bartram and averaged 21.7 ppg. No matter, Monroe developed into one of the game's greatest guards under the tutelage of Clarence "Big House" Gaines at Winston-Salem State and at Philly's famed Baker League. He would sometimes roll through Rucker to rep the City of Brotherly Love, often with spectacular results. Many of the game's future pros tried to emulate the moves of "Black Jesus" -- the hesitation fakes and the famous 360-degree finger-rolls -- but few, if any, performed like him.

Calvin Ramsey
Commerce (New York, N.Y.) '55
A fierce rebounder, Ramsey has impeccable credentials as a Rucker legend -- he is the only player to ever win Rucker MVP honors at the high school, college and pro level. At NYU, Ramsey earned All-American honors and teamed up with future Boston Celtics legend Thomas "Satch" Sanders to form one of the greatest playground frontcourts in history. Ramsey even spent some time in the League with the hometown Knicks and the Syracuse Nationals, but he's perhaps best remembered for legendary schoolyard battles against Connie Hawkins.

Kareem "Best Kept Secret" Reid
St. Raymond's (Bronx, N.Y.) '94
A McDonald's All-American out of St. Ray's, Reid might be best remembered for the ridiculously extra-long shorts he wore at the University of Arkansas. Back home, however, the lefty point is better known for leading rapper Fat Joe's Terror Squad to three consecutive EBC titles in 2002-04, including the final one in which he led his team past a group featuring Cali standouts Baron Davis and Gilbert Arenas.

Pablo Robertson
DeWitt Clinton (Bronx, N.Y.) '61
A 5-foot-7 showman with a wicked handle, Robertson helped Loyola of Chicago win the 1963 NCAA title. He did a lot more than that, however, also serving as a mentor to a young streetball prodigy named Nate "The Skate" Archibald and playing for the Harlem Globetrotters. He even had a regular spot on the Globetrotters' 1970s cartoon show.

Charlie Scott
Laurinburg Institute (Laurinberg, N.C.) '66
Scott is one of the most accomplished players ever to roll through the Rucker. Scott won a NBA title with the Boston Celtics and an Olympic Gold Medal in '68, but some of his most memorable battles took place against playground legends such as Joe Hammond. Like Earl Manigault before him, Scott finished his high school days at Laurinburg Institute in North Carolina before Dean Smith recruited him as UNC's first African-American scholarship athlete.

Frank "Shake N' Bake" Streety
Eastern District (Brooklyn, N.Y.) '65
Streety has an appropriate last name for a streetball legend and he's another who put in work with the Harlem Globetrotters. After high school, Streety went upstate to play at Broome Community College and was selected to the NJCAA Hall of Fame in 1992. Streety also played for Murray State and is regarded as one of the most underappreciated streetball talents ever.

Corey "Homicide" Williams
Rice (New York, N.Y.) '95
Williams took the hard road to streetball stardom. He was an overlooked contributor at powerhouse Rice, but earned NJCAA All-American honors at Penn Valley Community College in Missouri. He then moved on to Alabama State, and even though his Div. I career didn't go exactly as planned, Homicide still drew the interest of NBA scouts. He's also been putting in work at the Rucker ever since, earning the moniker as the most dangerous player in the EBC.

James "Fly" Williams
Glen Springs Academy (Lakemont, N.Y.) '72
In early 2009, Fly's famous No. 35 was retired by Austin Peay State University -- a long overdue gesture after twice leading APSU to the NCAA tournament and putting Clarksville, Tenn., on the map. As a freshman, Fly pumped in 29.4 ppg his first season and 27.5 in his second season before turning pro. Fly was so good offensively it was frightening -- both literally and figuratively. He had all the right moves on the court, and even though he didn't make all the right ones off it, he played a season in the ABA. For those who saw him play with the St. Louis Spirits, it was a memorable experience -- just like those that saw him at Rucker, the Hole in Brownsville or any other street court.

James "Speedy" Williams
Morris (Bronx, N.Y.) '87
Although he didn't play high school basketball, Williams did earn his keep at Medgar Evans College in Brooklyn. The Bronx native is a one-on-one specialist and can defend players of all sizes. He spent some time in the CBA, and with the Globetrotters, before adding to his legend by winning Last Man Standing -- a street ball competition for charity -- at MSG in 2007. You do the math to figure out how old he was beating guys half his age.

Larry "Bone Collector" Williams
Pasadena (Pasadena, Calif.)
The Texas native didn't play high school ball growing up in SoCal, but he was always practicing his craft. He made an impact at Chaffey Junior College in the late 1990s and spent some time at Globe Institute of Technology in Manhattan, another JUCO. He made his name and became famous, however, at the Rucker. Williams earned his nickname at his first EBC game and copped MVP honors in 2002. Even more than his handle, Williams' biggest asset is confidence.

James "Pookie" Wilson
Far Rockaway (Queens, N.Y.)
He didn't play big-time college ball, but Wilson was a big-time scorer and playmaker at John Jay College in the early 1980s. During the Rucker Pro League in 1985, he averaged nearly 35 points per game. He once scored 100 points in a Police Athletic League game where his team scored 102. Wilson held the EBC single-game scoring record for 21 years. The rail-thin, 5-foot-10 point guard had a 63-point outburst in 1986, a mark that was finally surpassed by Steve "The Saga Continues" Burtt Jr. in 2007 with a 68-point performance.

Sam Worthen
Franklin K. Lane (Brooklyn, N.Y.) '76
Worthen earned preseason All-American acclaim from Street & Smith's at Lane, was named a JUCO All-American in Texas and earned All-American acclaim at Marquette. Worthen even played two years in the NBA, but his real calling was on the playgrounds. An elite ball-handler at 6-foot-5, Worthen was a poor-man's Magic Johnson, but those types of players weren't hyped until after Magic made his mark with the Showtime Lakers. His lasting legacy is actually coaching kids throughout New York through his work with the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation.