When fans think about their favorite basketball players, they imagine the pros performing in front of millions in America’s biggest arenas. But many of these same pros built their talents not in extravagant venues, but in the outdoor streetball courts found in playgrounds and parks across the U.S. Streetball is one of the most intense and pure sports an Adrenalist can take on. In streetball, there’s no referee. The only thing keeping players in check on the court is respect and honor.
Street basketball play is fast, free and unforgiving. Don’t expect to have a foul called for you, and be sure you know the local rules and customs before you step on the court. Mere pick-up games can be serious affairs, but you can still expect to see a fair share of showboating and theatrics from talented streetballers in these asphalt arenas. In the chain links and fences, overlooked by high rises, these courts are full of today’s ballers looking to make a name for themselves, and become tomorrow’s superstars.
Ready to DO:MORE and hit the concrete? Join us on an urban tour through 5 of the best streetball courts in America.
The Cage, New York City
This venue, whose name may make you think more of mixed martial arts than basketball, gets its name from its 20-foot-high fence, which boxes players into a sub-regulation space. The constraints only up the intensity, as The Cage, otherwise known as the West 4th Street Courts, is known for its tough, physical gameplay. With little breathing room on the court, play often extends into the sidelines. If you get time on the court, make it count; playing time is short and, if you lose, you won’t be hitting the pavement again. Seven subway routes snake through the West Village location, with competition coming from all the New York boroughs. The court’s official league lures massive crowds of over 100,000 in a summer, with spectators that plant themselves on folding chairs, court-side and on the sidewalk. This streetball court has been a stomping ground for some of basketball greats for decades, like Anthony Mason’s “Prime Time” squad who dominated the early 90s.
Jackson Park, Chicago
Also known as “the Cages,” the streetball complex at Chicago’s Jackson Park consists of two fenced-in courts. Jackson Park, however, has hidden texture and class. For starters, it was the arena for the Windy City’s 1893 world fair, and once reportedly lured local boy Barack Obama into playing pickup. Adding to its aura, the whole Jackson Park zone – courts and grass – takes up 500 acres and thrums to the hum of over two dozen species of birds. That, however, doesn’t mean Jackson Park ballers should be taken lightly. This Southside court is home to fearsome play and unbelievable drives one would be hard-pressed to find anywhere else in the Midwest.
Holcombe Rucker Memorial Park, New York City
Rucker Park stands in Harlem, NY, at 155th Street and Frederick Douglass Boulevard, across from the legendary Polo Grounds stadium of yesteryear. This court is a permanent fixture in every discussion about the best streetball courts. In photographs, Rucker Park may appear bleak or basic, but this park has maintained a stellar reputation since it was founded over 60 years ago. The gutsy street theatre stretches back to 1946, when junior high school teacher and city parks department recreational director, Holcombe Rucker, launched a summer basketball contest. His aim was to instill grit and direction in local teens. In the early days, slam dunks and crossover dribbles would astonish the crowds, as these feats were unseen in the pros. Again, some of basketball’s greats, like Nate “The Skate” Archibald, graced its hard surface and tussled with local wizards, including Earl “The Goat” Manigault, who failed to hit the big-time, but treated spectators to behind-the-back passes, crossover dribbles and towering dunks. In the 90s, Rafer “Skip To My Lou” Alston dominated the era with his insane moves. Today, Rucker Park is known for its more flashy brand of streetball. MC’s on the sidelines call the action with plenty of comments, jabs and nicknames to go around.
Venice Beach, Los Angeles
Not all streetball courts are set slap in the middle of the concrete jungle. Just look at the four streetball courts situated at Venice Beach, California. Instead of being hemmed in by high-rises, the courts give on to palm trees and the Pacific Ocean. “Sun, Surf & Streetball – LA has it made!” writes one Kangarooit.com blogger, who also notes that Venice Beach kids are capable of jet-powered hops and that the level of competition varies from zero experience to supreme expertise. The West Coast court’s close proximity to Tinsel Town helps them stay in the limelight, as this venue has been immortalized in many films. There’s also the summertime basketball league aptly named Venice Ball, which features everyone from pro draft picks to streetball’s most talented players. The league’s website names Venice Beach streetball characters withover-the-top nicknames, including The Bone Collector, the Beast and the Assassin.
Barry Farms Recreation Center, Washington, D.C.
Sometimes a streetball court can dramatically raise to fame even after years of existence. Witness the Washington streetball mecca, Barry Farms, which has gained a serious reputation. Last year, Barry Farms hosted the World Basketball Festival, and it is the regular venue for Goodman League games. The Goodman League, which launched in 1975, features current and former professional basketball players. The success is all the more impressive given that Barry Farms lies in one of Washington’s meanest neighborhoods. A casual truce is rigorously observed, the Washington Post reports, also quoting community leaders as saying that the league’s two-month schedule helps cut summer crime. The venue with a social purpose that Holcombe Rucker would endorse hosts names ranging from Shanghai Sharks player Gilbert Arenas to local streetball favorite Hugh “Baby Shaq” Jones and the “Grim Leaper.” One of the best things about streetball is that seeing games is free, and playing is no-cost. Fun fact: the commissioner of the Barry Farms’ Goodman League, Miles Rawls, once talked trash to President Barack Obama at a local pro game.
Share your stories from these courts in the comments below or @DegreeMen.
Cover Photo Credit: ryan_fung / Flickr.com