Harlem’s renowned Rucker Park is an integral part of basketball history and a group of NBA players are on a mission to ensure the storied court is around for generations to come. According to Patch, the National Basketball Players Association is leading a project to revitalize and reimagine Rucker Park.
The park was founded over seven decades ago by educator Holcombe Rucker. Rucker—a pillar in the Harlem community who worked as a Playground Director for NYC Parks—was dedicated to merging sports and education to teach neighborhood youth life skills. He started hosting summer basketball tournaments in the 50s and—keeping education at the core of his efforts—would grade the players’ homework and use their report cards to determine who could participate in his tournaments. Through cultivating this platform to give youth in his community opportunities to showcase their talents, over 700 athletic college scholarships were secured. His summer tournaments quickly emerged into an epicenter for the game of streetball.
From global basketball icons to neighborhood legends, several notable stars have graced the Rucker court including Julius Erving, Tiny Archibald, Pee Wee Kirkland, Earl Manigault, Allen Iverson, the late legendary Kobe Bryant and countless others. WNBA stars including Kia Vaughn, Epiphanny Prince, retired player-turned-coach Teresa Weatherspoon and other powerhouses have made their presence felt on the famed court too. It has been the backdrop for historic leagues like the Rucker Pro League, the Each One Teach One summer league and the famed Entertainers Basketball Classic which merged hoops and hip-hop.
In recent years, the park has been deteriorating. The bleachers have been damaged due to rough weather conditions, the pavement is decaying and the gates are broken. After concerns surrounding the park were shared at a Harlem Community Board meeting this month, the National Basketball Players Association stepped up and announced it would donate $360,000 to renovate the park. The revitalization project is slated to kick off this summer. As part of the project, new bleachers, hoops, scoreboards, gates and park benches will be installed. Embracing the Harlem community’s rich artistic history, the new court will feature a mural created by a local artist. “You can’t talk about New York basketball without talking about the Rucker,” National Basketball Players Association Executive Director Michele A. Roberts said in a statement, according to the news outlet. “At a very young age, [I] learned to appreciate how the Rucker is essentially holy ground.”
Whether it be a community-focused project or a social justice initiative, the NBPA is leading several impactful efforts. The association recently teamed up with Black Players for Change (BPC) to advocate for pushing the George Floyd Justice In Policing Act forward.