According to Bleacher Report, there is one basketball court, and one alone, that is “without a doubt the most famous basketball court on the planet.” The outdoor, two-hoop court of Rucker Park, complete with five rows of bleachers, may not look so famous from the outside. But over time it has been touched by the shoes of some of the NBA’s greats, and witnessed some of the most intense street games of all time.
Rucker Park, in northeastern Harlem, was first built in 1950 by Holcombe Rucker, the playground director of Harlem’s parks. Rucker opened the court in order to start up a legendary basketball tournament amongst Harlem’s greatest street ballers, nicknamed the “Rucker League”, with a generous mission of providing both basketball skills and educational opportunity to the low-income youth of the neighborhood.
To encourage academic growth, Rucker gave playing priority to students with higher scores on their report cards, and his generous educational efforts eventually granted college scholarships to 700 Harlem youth. With the motto of “each one, teach one”, Rucker donated most of his spare time to help with homework and teach reading to the kids.
But Rucker’s legacy wasn’t limited to education: Rucker Park soon became the one-stop shop for emerging basketball players to gain their street cred and boost their playing ability to the NBA level. In over six decades of existence, the Rucker League’s tournaments have been competed in by greats such as Wilt Chamberlain, Dr. J, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and, most recently, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant.
Over the years, Rucker Park has not only hosted some of basketball’s greatest players, but also some of its greatest moves. At a time before the NBA was filled with slam dunks and crossover dribbles, Rucker Park was the international epicenter of jams and jukes.
As of today, Rucker Park is open to the public and is often occupied throughout the day with a match of street ball. Since the fifties, the Rucker League has held onto its educational initiative and currently offers mentoring, tutoring, and career planning to Harlem’s economically disadvantaged children. In fact, the late Holcombe Rucker has created so much positive change in the community that his grandson is currently asking the NBA to admit his granddad into the Basketball Hall of Fame.