Takin' it to the Street - Summer Streetball 2023
by Warren Rosenberg and Patrick J. Cherilus
The Encyclopedia of New York City notes that the New York metro region became the “spiritual hub” of basketball shortly after the games invention in Springfield Mass in 1891. By 1900 it notes, basketball was played throughout the metropolitan area at YMCA courts, in settlement houses, school gyms, armories and, of course as we now know, outdoor urban basketball courts.
The New York region is known for its particular brand of fast-paced and sometimes aggressive style of play. Taking place largely on paved outdoor urban basketball courts throughout the five boroughs and surrounding towns, the sport is commonly referred to as “streetball”. In November of last year, RedBull listed five or NYC’s urban courts as among its “Ten Famous Streetball Courts in the United States” including Harlem’s Rucker Park (#1), Brooklyn’s Hole (#2), West 4th Street’s Cage (#3), Inwood’s Dyckman Park (#7), Harlem’s Kingdome (#8), and the upper west side’s Goat Park (#10).
Above: NYC Streetball fans gathered to watch a game at the W4th Street 'Cage'. Photo credit - Warren Rosenberg
Anyone who knows anything about New York City streetball knows Rucker Park and the Entertainers Basketball Classic (EBC) tournament hosted there. Officially known as the Holcombe Rucker Basketball Courts, this hallowed ground at 155th Street and Frederick Douglass Boulevard in NYC’s East Harlem has served as playground for such basketball royalty as Wilt Chamberlain, Julius Erving, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Earl Monroe, Michael Jordan, Allen Iverson, Kevin Durant, Kobe Bryan and Stephon Marbury to name just a few. Along with Madison Square Garden, Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Yankee Stadium, ESPN has designated Rucker Park as one of its “Top 100” sports arenas in the world. Rucker Park stands at #31 on the list, ahead of such notable sports arenas as Dodger Stadium (#40), the Cotton Bowl (#81), and the Staples Center (#98).
The EBC was started in 1982 by Greg Marius, a local Rap artist known as Greg G with the rap group “Disco 4”. During an on-air interview with members of a competing rap group, "The Crash Crew”, the Crew started “talkin’ smack” about their basketball exploits. Marius challenged them to a game at Mt. Morris Park on 120th Street. As word got out, over 1,000 people showed up to watch the contest including other celebrity rap groups such as The Sugar Hill Gang, Furious Five, and Grandmaster Flash each of which offered its own challenge to the Disco 4 team. When the games reconvened the next year, the event was named The Entertainers Basketball Classic, partly because all the teams had to be involved in the rap music entertainment business. Over time, players and teams in the EBC migrated from rap musicians to basketball players drawn from the pros, from college teams, and from City streetball leagues. The EBC moved to its current home at Rucker Park in 1987.
Above (from left) Streetball "agent" Willie Negron with EBC founder, Greg Marius at Rucker Park celebrating the work of legendary Streetball photographer Robert "Surrob" Negron (below). All have unfortunately passed, R.I.P. Photo credit - MetroSports Magazine June/July 2015 issue.
One of the traditions that EBC has become famous for is having the game the announcers assign nicknames to the players, such as “Lord of the Rings”, the name assigned to Kobe Bryant during his 2002 appearance at the EBC. When a young Julius Erving first came to play in the EBC in 1971, before ever being drafted into the NBA, one announcer gave him the name of “Black Moses”. Erving didn’t like the name and told the announcer he wanted to be called “The Doctor”. The name stuck and “Dr. J.” was born.
While the Entertainers Basketball Classic founded by the late Greg Marius and held at Harlem’s historic Rucker Park (and featured in MetroSports Magazine’s Sept-Oct 2016 issue) is perhaps most familiar, there are other well-known tournaments throughout the area which include Dyckman, Hoops In The Sun, Kenny Graham’s West 4th Street, KEYZ To the City, Riverdale Summer League, More Than A Game, Uptown Challenge, LL Cool J’s Jump & Ball, and inter-league tournaments such as Nike’s NY vs NY.
In nearby White Plains, NY, the Ferris World Ball summer basketball league tipped off its 40th year on the front court at Gardella Field on Ferris Avenue in White Plains. Judging by the tremendous crowds cheering on the teams at Ferris World’s league games and August tournament, it is one of the premier summer leagues in the region. Admission is free, the competition is strong, viewing lines from around the court are clear, and entertainment is provided by a live DJ and MC.
Above: Ferris World Ball Summer League Tournament. Photo credit - Warren Rosenberg www.nyspg.com
As stated by Ferris World’s league co-director, Gerard “Oopie” Seward, “Ferris World Ball is a high school boys’ and men’s summer basketball tournament, the brainchild of the late Jerome “Bump” Robinson, a hometown hero and the leader of the White Plains Community Action Partnership (CAP), which assisted largely ignored low-income and Black communities throughout the city. Notable alumni of the Ferris World Ball league include NBA player Donavon Mitchell of the Utah Jazz, Sean Kilpatrick who played with the Brooklyn Nets, Milwaukee Bucks, and Chicago Bulls, and collegiate standouts A.J. Griffin of Duke and R.J. Davis of North Carolina State.
Moving down to the Bronx, Hoops in The Sun is a community based basketball program held on the asphalt courts at Orchard Beach on the east side of the Bronx. Started in 2000, Hoops in The Sun has secured a spot as one of the premiere Pro-Am runs on the east coast bringing together players from some of the nation’s top high school, college and professional teams. One of the notable alumni of Hoops in the Sun is a man we covered in MetroSports Magazine back in August of last year, Mike Glover. He stands as the player with the most championships in Hoops in the Sun history, Mike Glover. The tournament has built strong relationships with some of the best known brand, such as HP, Coors Light, Adidas, Nike, Powerade, Mountain Dew, New York Yankees, Toyota, Boost Mobile, Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream, Jimmy Jazz, Mission Athlete Care, US Army, and WellCare.
This summer, Hoops in The Sun invited the Ferris World League down to the Bronx for an inter-league tournament at Orchard Beach. Perhaps to the surprise of many – but not those in White Plains – the Ferris World all-star team defeated the Hoops in the Sun all-stars by the NBA-like score of 130-114.
Moving across to the west side of the Bronx, the Riverdale Summer League and Tournament sponsored by the Riverdale Elite Basketball League. As told to us by Riverdale’s founders and now coordinators, Turk Gumusdere and Arthur Cox, the league was started in 2021 with its focus on Boys High School basketball teams from the Tri-State area and is currently exploring the addition of a girls division as well. Since our basketball league serves predominantly underprivileged inner city youth, the league’s mission is to provide young athletes in the New York City metropolitan area an opportunity to work with top coaching staff, compete at the highest level and improve their athletic skills to prepare them to play both high school and college level basketball. “Our league also provides a rare platform where teams from PSAL and CHSAA are able to compete against each other where they would normally not do during season play” according to the founders.
Above: Riverdale Summer League. Photo credit - Martin Murphy, courtesy of the Riverdale Summer League
The Riverdale Summer Basketball League is a volunteer run, non-profit grassroots organization that currently operates during the summer months, specifically June through August. We provide a structured platform for inner city youth to compete and enjoy the spirit of sports while showcasing their basketball abilities to prospective college and university coaches. All games are played at the Spuyten Duyvil Playground in the Riverdale section of the Bronx. Our motto is ” Quality over quantity”, therefore we limit the number of teams to 16 to ensure a well balanced and highly competitive league. Teams like Mt. Vernon, Christ The King, Gill St. Bernard NJ, St. Raymonds, Scanlan HS, Wings Academy, Fordham Prep, Earl Monroe Academy, Nyack HS, Stevenson, McClancy HS, Brooklyn Law&Tech HS among others are some of our participants. This season Scanlan HS won the championship over Fordham Prep. Together with the Long Island Lightning (the largest AAU program in the country operating over 300 teams in five states, NY,NJ,CT,MA,NH,&FL) our aim is to develop and maintain long-term relationships with CYO, High School, AAU and College Coaches throughout the nation to help players achieve their goals and play at the next level.
Twenty-five blocks south of Rucker Park and located on 5th Avenue between 130th and 131st Street is the Courtney Calendar playground, site of the Uptown Challenge Women’s Summer League and Tournament started by Marian Moorer to fill a gap for a premier league for young women. As posted on the league’s website, “The UPTOWN CHALLEGE is a family-oriented tournament whose goal is to provide an arena for the best basketball competition in the NYC metro area that helps women to hone their basketball skills. We want their participation in the tournament to be a memorable experience for them, their families and the community." Assisting Marian with operations of the Uptown Challenge Women's Summer League is a former high school and college basketball standout, NYC Basketball Hall of Famer Jim Couch who helped launch the Dyckman Tournament, and Assistant Commissioners Lisa Fredricks and Claudette Jackson.
Above: Harlem's Uptown Challenge Womens Summer League. Photo Credit: Uptown Challenge Womens Summer League
Teams include, in the high school division, the Castle, Lady Palladins, New Heights, Level Up, Hoopers, Mika, Franchise, and Lady Bulls. In the college division, teams include Westchester, Lady Celtics, Lady X-Men, Team 718, Lady Lightning, Mika, Young Mika, and Lady Bulls. So talented are the Uptown Challenge ladies that, in the Nike NY vs NY summer tournament, they secured the following victories Uptown Challenge (55) defeats Watson (42), Uptown Challenge (52) defeats Dyckman (40), and Uptown Challenge (60) defeats West 4th Street (57). In week 5 of the Nike NY vs NY tournament, Uptown Challenge’s Zahra King was named Tournament Player of the week as was Upton Challenge’s Faith Wylder in week 6. Unfortunately, after a tough battle, the Uptown Challenge team went down to the girls from Gersh Park in the Nike NY vs NY championship final.
Downtown in the West Village is Kenny Graham’s West 4th Street tournament. Founded in 1977 by Kenny Graham, the West 4th Street Tournament features men’s, women’s, high school boys, high school girls and pro-am contests as it winds its way through the summer months. What makes this NYC streetball tournament so special is its court, better known as The Cage. The Cage, the preferred name for the NY City Parks Department West 4th Street basketball court, is unique in many ways and well-suited for the sharp-elbowed style of NYC streetball it has become known for.
Above: Kenny Graham's West 4th Street Tournament. Photo Credit Patrick J. Cherilus
Surrounded on all sides by a 20 foot high chain-link fence and measuring only half the size of a regulation basketball court, The Cage facilitates a high-contact style of basketball. With only very limited seating inside, which by the way, is free for spectators, most of the fans watch from outside the fence, lining up on the sidewalk of Sixth Avenue, and watching the action through the fence. Stationed only feet from the action, the vocal fans are intimately involved in the game. So well known is The Cage that it is featured as one of the 12 basketball courts from around the world that gamers can play on in Volume 3 of the Electronic Arts video game, NBA Street. Featured as one of NYC’s premier urban basketball tournaments along with the Entertainers Basketball Classic (see MetroSports Magazine’s Jul/Aug 2015 issue), Hoops in the Sun, Dyckman and others, Kenny Graham’s West 4th Street tournament has attracted its share of prominent visitors including the NY Knicks #1 fan, Spike Lee, Mt. Vernon’s Denzel Washington and NBA stars such as Stephon Marbury, Rod Strickland and Jayson Williams. According the NYC based sports photographer, Patrick Cherilus, "Ken Graham has created an oasis where friend and family from all over the world can meet and enjoy a common passion called basketball".
About 15 city blocks to the east of The Cage, on the corner of Avenue B and East 10th Street, is the asphalt basketball court of Tompkins Square Park, site of the NYC JC Pro Classic Summer Basket Ball League and Tournament. Founded in 2019 and headed by league commissioner Janice Carter, the NYC JC Pro Classic is an all women’s league and tournament with divisions for Elementary School, Middle School, High School, and College/Pro athletes. Teams include, in the Elementary School Division, the Exodus and N.Y. Fury, in the Middle School Division the Exodus 7th grade and Exodus 8th grade teams, in the High School Division the Hoopers and Game Time 4 Life, and in the College/Pro Division the Mika and No Limit, all six of the above teams making it to the Championship Finals. The Championship winners were the N.Y. Fury, Exodus 7th Grade, Hoopers, and No Limit in their respective divisions.
Above: NYC JC Pro Classic Summer League, Exodus 7th vs Exodus 8th Grade Championship Game. Photo Credit - Patrick J. Cherilus
If we hop on the J or Z line and head across the Williamsburg Bridge to Brooklyn we find KEYZ To The City, started in during the height of the Covid pandemic and played on the court of P.S. 309 on the corner of Madison Street between Patchen and Ralph Avenues. KEYZ To The City is a high school level boys tournament featuring eight teams, Zone 6, Life Empowered, Williamsburg RoundBall, MaineEvent, Dunkers Delight, Loyal To The Game (LTG), Brevoort Basketball League, and Deuce Trey RoundBall. Life Empowered won the Championship under the efforts of Conner Sprattley (Thomas Jefferson High School), Scottie Lee (Boys & Girls High School), and Jamel “Peanut” Cephas ( Metro BDA High School) and coached by coached by Lawanda Greene who is the Head Boys Varsity Basketball Coach, Dean, and Math teacher at BCAM high school.
Above: KEYZ To The City Tournament. Photo credit - Patrick J. Cherilus and KEYS To The City
As tournament founder and director Keya Leary told us, New York City is the Mecca of basketball, particularly summer streetball. These environments are an integral aspect of our culture and community. As a result, basketball and competitions consumed the majority of my childhood. As a hooper, you want to check off many boxes: play Division 1 basketball, play professionally, win championships, take care of your family, coach, develop a business, and start your own tournament, to name a few. Beginning a tournament was always a goal of mine, but I was still playing the sport, so it wasn't my primary focus at the time. When COVID-19 emerged, and we were forced to stay indoors, numerous ideas began to develop. One of them was launching a basketball competition. However, I understood that the tournament must be unique because New York City is saturated with summer tournaments. Otherwise, I'd simply be another tournament in New York. I wanted to maintain the NYC summer basketball culture while distinguishing myself from other tournaments. As a result, I elected to challenge champions from other tournaments to compete against one another. Things began to thrive, and we are now in our third season of KEYZ TO THE CITY.
Truly committed to the tournament, Keya told us that, “Right now we do not have any sponsors; however, myself and my parents financially supports this event. We cover all the trophies, bags, hoodies, shirts, free food, and beverage (after every game that is played). I would like to give special thanks to Nicole Briggs and Kashaun Mclaughlin for supporting me from day one. They allowed me use the location for this event as well as equipment that is needed to make this event successful. Nicole has been the anchor when it comes to hosting this event. Kashaun formerly known as “Kay” has been a great host and protector as well. He is also the MC for KEYZ TO THE CITY. I also want to give another special thanks to Roudy “Movez” St Fleur for creating the amazing logo that represents KEYZ TO THE CITY as well as his creativity, networking, and curating this event.” Taking place in the borough of Queens this summer was the More Than A Game league and tournament. Centered at Archie Spigner Park on Merrick Blvd in the Jamaica section of the borough, the league and tournament features high school athletes from around the borough. Their tag line for this summer was “Showcasing Hot Summer Basketball for Over a Decade”. Claiming the More Than A Game high school summer league tournament championships was the NYC Finest team, going undefeated in the tournament and defeating rival ABU Elite, 62-59 in the final. Jayden James won the Most Outstanding Player Award after leading his team with 20 points, 10 rebounds and 2 blocks! NYC Finest coach Roberto Diaz has been named the Charles Granby COACH OF THE SUMMER. And what a summer the NYC Finest team had, winning not only the Championship at More Than A Game but also taking home the Championship Trophy at this summer’s LL Cool J Jump and Ball Summer Classic tournament.
Above: More Than A Game Summer League and Tournament. Photo credit - Patrick J. Cherilus
While many regard the EBC as the place to find a mix of basketball, hip hop, and rap, acknowledgement must be given to recording artist LL Cool J and his LL Cool J’s Jump & Ball tournament, also located in the borough of Queens and providing weekend play for kids ages 8-17 in the St. Albans section. Started in 2005, LL Cool J Jump & Ball provides a free weekend camp experience during the month of August for young athletes from southeast Queens and focuses not only on the game of basketball but on the development of team building, leadership, and other life skills. Himself a native of Queens, NY, LL Cool J has long been committed to supporting literacy, music, art, and recreational programs for youth. Cementing their dominance in the borough of Queens the NYC Finest team captured the 2023 LL Cool J Jump & Ball Championship, their second of the 2023 summer season.
Taking its show on the road and bringing inter-tournament play throughout the city, Nike’s NY vs. NY basketball tournament has hosted inter-league rivalries between teams from the W 4th Street, Rucker, Dyckman, Lincoln Park, Gersh Park, Watson, Uptown Challenge, and Tri State summer tournament. Brooklyn’s Gersh Park captured the women’s championship with a 46-40 win over Harlem’s Uptown Challenge.
Look for follow-up with added detail and more photos in the upcoming Summer 2023 issue of MetroSports Magazine