Black History 19' | Long Live Holcombe Rucker / by Hussein Abdullahi

Throughout African-American history Harlem has become synonymous to the American culture. Over several generations some of the world’s leading activists, athletes, and historians were all a by-product of the Harlem movement. During the 1940’s Harlem became the cultural hub of America. The large representation of African-Americans became very imperative to Harlem’s culture because it fostered a strong sense of community. During Harlem’s culture-crazed phenomenon the emergence of basketball had a profound impact on America’s divine sports culture. For African-Americans sports played an imperative role in their lives because it carved a unique pathway that provided endless opportunities. During Black History Month we will commemorate influential African-American figures. This first figure that we’ll talk about was the prodigal son of Harlem, known for his big heart and selfless acts toward the community. I will like to introduce you to Holcombe Rucker.

Photo by: Complex

Photo by: Complex

Born in 1926, Holcombe Rucker grew up in Harlem’s 141st Street neighbourhood. After dropping out of Benjamin Franklin HS, Rucker joined the army and serve during World War II. Around the mid 40’s, Holcombe returned back home to Harlem, where he started his mission to uplift his community. This mission started inside the legendary St. Philips Community Centre; here Holcombe developed several basketball teams that competed across New York’s five boroughs. Holcombe became responsible for flourishing top-tier players and getting them collegiate scholarships, under his guidance over 400 kids ended up receiving scholarships to colleges. Holcombe wanted to create a platform that would keep the youth off the streets and get them to tap into their higher purpose.

NYC legends Ernie Morris, Robert McCullough, and Connie Hawkins also flourished as basketball stars under Rucker’s wing. Holcombe Rucker had a strong educational component within his philosophy that he shared with several of the youths he fostered. He strongly emphasized the importance of acquiring an education and pursing a higher learning. During his journey Rucker instilled the fundamental tools for the youth to utilize in their respective journeys. His famous motto “Each One, Teach One” has catapulted into a non-profit organization committed to make a profound impact within Harlem’s community. What once was a mere idea, went on to become one of the greatest contributions made towards Harlem’s affluent culture.

Rucker was my surrogate father. He changed my life. I went to college and was drafted in the NBA because I was a product of his guidence
— Bob McCullogh
Photo by: ESPN

Photo by: ESPN

In 1950 Holcombe Rucker started the world famous “Rucker Pro Basketball Tournament” that featured top teams throughout the Northeast region. (New York, New Jersey, Philadelphia). Harlem’s Rucker league was home to NYC legends Pee Wee Kirkland, Connie Hawkins, Tyrone “Alimoe” Evans, and Bob McCullough. The early years of the tournament was run out of the St. Nicholas Playgrounds on 128th Street and 7th Avenue. The Rucker Tournament created a unique buzz in the streetball scene because nobody had witnessed a league of that magnitude. The Rucker Tournament help reinvigorate New York City’s basketball culture by connecting the community as well. Through basketball African-Americans in Harlem felt a strong sense of security that unified the people.

The Rucker Tournament began to grow in popularity and attracted NBA stars such as Julius Erving, Wilt Chamberlain, Earl Monroe, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Willis Reed. Unfortunately, in 1965 Holcombe Rucker passed away from lung career at the age of 38. The lost of Holcombe Rucker left a hole within the Harlem community, but with the help of Bob McCullough and Fred Crawford, they continued to keep Rucker’s legacy alive. In honorary of his communal efforts and historic contributions, the city renamed playground 156 as “Holcombe Rucker Playground”, located at 155th Street and Fredrick Douglas Blvd. So in 1965 we witnessed the beginning of a new era, 155th Street became the new home for the storied tournament. By 1970 Rucker’s Basketball Tournament catapulted into a global phenomenon.


This new-age basketball tournament injected a source of entertainment for African-Americans and also provided a place of socialization. Several young African-Americans would congregate at the Rucker. Rucker Park helped submerge the African-American culture during the midst of tragedy; Harlem also becomes a magical place for people of different ethnic decent. If you came to Rucker Park you were a fan of the unique African-American culture. Throughout the test of time Rucker’s tournament became very imperative to African-American culture because of what is represented: Community, Integrity, and Culture.

Rucker is a place of special moments, a place of a lot of history. Rest in peace to Holcombe Rucker. The park was a place of refuge, a place of connection, it was a place where the community connected through the sport of basketball.
— Kyrie Irving

Under the tutelage of Holcombe Rucker, hundreds of African-American youths went on the college, graduated and become productive citizens. It was his platform that allowed a whole community to flourish. Harlem greatly influenced the America’s sport culture by providing a platform that allowed noble citizen to make a difference. Even until this day, Rucker Park is still labelled as one of the world’s famous basketball venue and the tournament has garnished the attention of several high profile celebrities. NYC will forever be the True Mecca Of Basketball.

Currently, Rucker Park has gained national notoriety for the development of the Entertainers Basketball Classic. Harlem native Greg Marius created the EBC in hopes to rejuvenate the NYC basketball culture. The tournament features a unique display of high-level basketball. Some of Hip-Hop’s biggest artists enter their teams that will compete for ultimate bragging rights. Fat Joe and Jay-z staged the greatest basketball game never to be played. In August 2003, Terror Squad and S. Carter was set to face off in Rucker’s EBC. Teams included Shaquille O’Neal, LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Allen Iverson, Mike Bibby, and Jamal Crawford. Wow that game would of been epic!!


One of the greatest moments in Rucker history was when Warriors Kevin Durant erupted for 66 points. The energy in the park that day was unmatched; Kevin Durant caught fire during the 4th quarter hitting 4 straight threes. In a matter of minutes the game highlights went viral. On global scale, Rucker Park has been recognized as a world’s famous venue and with the high level of sustainability, one day we will see Rucker Park enshrined at the Basketball Hall Of Fame. “The True Mecca Of Basketball” will always reside in New York City.

The trash talk is on a whole other level, so when you’re a pro you can’t just play well, You got to dominate. Out there you got to find an edge somehow.
— Kevin Durant

Thanks: ESPN,Bleacher Report, Complex

Figure: Holcombe Rucker (March 2 1926- March 20 1965)