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On the streets of New York City respect and pride can be earned on the basketball court. For many athletes it is a way to stand above the crowd and make a name for themselves. Basketball legends are treated like Gods. And in Harlem, a patch of asphalt called Rucker Park is the place to make it happen.
TNT captured a portion of the frenzy generated by one of the most competitive streetball tournaments on earth, the Entertainers Basketball Classic, with its production of On Hallowed Ground: Streetball Champions of Rucker Park.
"These guys are living their dreams on the playgrounds. That's what New York City basketball is all about," said Mark Jackson, a professional basketball player for the Indiana Pacers. "It's poetry. It is something that should be bottled and shipped all around the country."
The program is a must see for any basketball fanatic. The park has been a launching pad for some of the greatest players of all-times. Players such as: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Wilt Chamberlain, Julius Erving, Allen Iverson and Vince Carter.
"When someone mentions the name Rucker Park to me," Erving says. "It reminds me of a time in my life when I felt a very special type of freedom as a basketball player.
But for all the big name players that have competed in the park some of the most intriguing stories are about players relatively unknown outside of Harlem.
Like Pee Wee Kirkland, a forward, who led the Rucker League in scoring in 1970 and 1971. He signed a one-year contract with the Chicago Bulls in excess of $40,000, but never played. He found a more lucrative way to make money. And that was a problem.
Despite all his skills on the court Kirkland ended up in court for conspiracy to commit drug trafficking. He spent the prime-years of his life shooting jump shots in prison.
Kirkland, who is considered the original master of the crossover dribble, called his 11 years of incarceration the best thing to happen to his life. He returned to the neighborhood, upon his release, to help others avoid similar mistakes.
But even behind bars Kirkland's basketball talents could not be contained. In a semi-pro game he scored 135 points and averaged 70 points a game for a season.
On Hollowed Ground details the drive of one year's champions, Bad Boy to repeat. That story is interwoven with a candid look at some of the individual legends of the park.
"A streetball legend is like a 'Wild West gunslinger.' Every time he steps on the court someone is looking to take him down," says Andre Braughter, the narrator of the 90-minute special.
In the park it seems that everyone has a nickname. The collection of talent on the Bad Boy team is no exception. Shane Drisdom, a center, is nicknamed Nappy. Malloy Nesmith, a guard, is known as Future. And Anthony Biz Heyward, Jr., a forward, is called Half-Man Half-Amazing.
All three have considerable talent. But we don't get to find out enough about their backgrounds. For instance, an area high school coach says that when Nappy was in high school his skill was equal to that of another player who is a veteran in the NBA for the Miami Heat. We are not told who that player is, but he seems to be a reference to Alonzo Mourning.
Did Nappy ever play college basketball? How far did his talents take him? Does he have any regrets? And what does he do for a job?
Bad boy is sponsored by a record company with the same name, One summer current NBA players Stephon Marbury, Elton Brand, Ron Artest and Charles Jones were apart of that team.
This is big business. The program should have spent a little less time glorifying the athletes and addressed the financial aspects behind the tournament.
It would have been interesting to know how these companies compete for talent. What is the finical impact of the tournament? And who is seeing the money?
Although this is considered an amateur tournament it seems likely that some of the athletes are getting paid. One of the players makes overtones to that nature, but never expands on it.
But for the purity of streetball with all of its dancing, showboating, shucking and jiving, On Hallowed Grounds is a swish.
It captures the passion of the game and the enormous talent that makes New York City basketball special.
"As far as basketball, in terms of the Ruckers, the NBA ain't got nothing on us accept money and that comes and goes," Nappy says. "But the glory of the Ruckers last forever."