The real basketball deal–the inside story of Harlem’s legendary tournament and the pros and playground legends who have made it world famous.
Earl “The Goat” Manigault. Herman “Helicopter” Knowings. Joe “The Destroyer” Hammond. Richard “Pee Wee” Kirkland. These and dozens of other colorfully nicknamed men are the “Asphalt Gods,” whose astounding exploits in the Rucker Tournament, often against multimillionaire NBA superstars, have made them playground divinity. First established in the 1950s by Holcombe Rucker, a New York City Parks Department employee, the tournament has grown to become a Harlem institution, an annual summer event of major proportions. On that fabled patch of concrete, unknown players have been lighting it up for decades as they express basketball as a freestyle art among their peers and against such pro immortals as Julius Erving and Wilt Chamberlain. X’s and O’s are exchanged for oohs and aahs in one of the great examples of street theater to be found in urban America.
Asphalt Gods is a streetwise, supremely entertaining oral history of a tournament that has influenced everything from NBA playing style to hip-hop culture. Now, legends transmitted by word of mouth find a home and the achievements of basketball’s greatest unknowns a permanent place in the game’s record.
From the Hardcover edition.
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|Title of Religion eBook: Asphalt Gods|
|Release Date: 06-17-2003|
|Allowed Countries (hover)|
|Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group|
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THE PIED PIPER
On March 2, 1926, Holcombe Rucker came into a hard life. He was raised in poverty by his grandmother, Rosa Deniston, who struggled to make the rent at 141st Street and Bradhurst Avenue. He was a star guard at Benjamin Franklin High School in East Harlem, but dropped out to go off to serve in the United States Army during World War II. By the time Uncle Sam sent him home in 1946, he was a mature and extremely focused young man.
That year, Rucker came back to Harlem and earned a general equivalency high school diploma, then enrolled at CCNY, where he took night classes and needed just three years to complete a four-year bachelor of arts degree. He landed a job as a recreational director with the New York City Department of Parks; taught English at Harlem's Junior High School 139, and worked at St. Phillips, a local parish church and community center at 134th Street between Seventh and Eighth Avenues, where he served as a basketball coach and created a basketball tournament that featured divisions made up of various age groups. The purpose of the tournament was to keep neighborhood kids off the streets and out of trouble. Through lessons learned in the discipline and dedication it took to become a winning basketball team, Rucker was able to teach his players a lot about life. Most of these players were living in poverty as well, and Rucker wanted them to make something of themselves so that they could avoid the kind of hard life he had known as a child.
Charles Turner, a Rucker disciple, played for Holcombe Rucker at St. Phillips. "I played for the Mites," Turner said, "before I graduated to the Midgets."