NEW YORK CITY — The blacktop of Rucker Park has long been considered the holiest ground of playground basketball.
Decades ago, fans stood on rooftops and climbed trees to watch NBA legends Julius "Dr. J" Erving and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar lace up against playground superstars like Pee Wee Kirkland and Joe “The Destroyer” Hammond. More recently, NBA stars Kevin Durant and Brandon Jennings have hit the asphalt to take on current playground studs like Jeremy “Cab Driver” Hazell and Adris “2 Hard 2 Guard” DeLeon.
But this summer, for the first time in the history of the Entertainers Basketball Classic, the famed asphalt on West 155th Street and Frederick Douglass Boulevard has been replaced by a wooden floor in hopes of drawing more pros and celebrities to the park.
“We just felt it was a better look,” said EBC Commissioner Greg Marius, who has run the tournament for all 31 years of its existence. “It makes us stand out. On the wood, a player knows he can play harder. The likelihood of getting hurt diminishes when you play on wood as opposed to concrete or asphalt.”
While the EBC was certainly a pioneer in providing top-level basketball for fans who might not be able to afford a prime seat at Madison Square Garden, recently, other leagues like Dyckman and Nike Pro City at Baruch College have also drawn pro-level talent and capacity crowds, sparking debate about which city tournament reigns supreme.
But Marius said a new partnership with Reebok, the wooden floor and the recent addition of a 20-by-12 video scoreboard should have Rucker buzzing again.
“The goal is to get the attention of the world. We’re getting calls from celebrities who want to come. We’re even trying to get President Obama here,” said Marius, whose league received a visit from President Bill Clinton several years ago.
The EBC is also sanctioned now, Marius added, meaning NBA and NCAA players are free to suit up whenever. While he said he couldn’t disclose which current pros will be hitting the court this summer, he did say some “big names” should be getting buckets on 155th in July and August.
The league has also added “Throwback Thursdays” this year, Marius said, where Reebok legends like Allen Iverson, Shaquille O’Neal and Shaun Kemp are expected to appear and possibly suit up, and old-school music artists, like hip-hop legend Pete Rock, are slated to perform.