NYC RECREATION – BY MICHAEL RAPAPORT
The parks that give New York street ball soul.
With the season of the Air Jordan 4 in full swing, legendary actor, director and New Yorker Michael Rapaport looks back on the late 1980s and the neighborhood parks and playgrounds where he first fell in love with the game.
‘There’s a misconception that I grew up in Brooklyn; I grew up in Manhattan. Then I started playin’ ball in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn, and Harlem.
John Jay park is in the neighborhood I grew up in. It’s a little park on the east side. There’s now full courts, three-on-three, shoot-around drills, you know, hoop dreams. I’m talkin’ about six, seven, eight, nine [years old]. And then 10, 11, I started goin’ to other places.
Each borough has its own identity, each borough has its own sort of reputation, its own pride. There’s a little bit of difference in each borough. Brooklyn was like, you know, ‘no blood, no foul.’ Queens dudes were more flashy. Harlem’s a little bit more pretty, more fly. That’s their thing. They’re pretty. ‘Cause it’s Harlem. It’s like — a village amongst itself. Bronx is rough and rugged.”
“I could play ball good and I could talk a lotta s***. Talkin’ a lotta s*** keeps people at arm’s distance ’cause you size ’em up like, ‘Oh, word. What’s up with your shirt?’ I was one of those dudes. I’d say, ‘What’s up with your shirt?’ ‘What do you mean?’ Like, ‘Yo, your shirt’s lookin’ young.’ You know. It keeps people off you.
I think ’89 still was short shorts. It wasn’t full basketball uniforms. In New York, the basketball uniforms were Riverside Church, Gauchos. If you played for Riverside Church, Madison Square Boys’ Club, Brownsville Jets.
If you had a Riverside Church jacket, that was like the freshest, freshest basketball. Sort of like, ‘Yo, I play ball,’ thing you could have. Riverside Church and Gauchos where everybody played in New York City if you were somebody. At some point, you came through.
John Jay is where I fell in love with basketball. Anybody comes to this court, we play one on one. Win, lose or draw, you’re not gonna walk outta here talking s*** about me. I’m not sayin’ I’m gonna win every game, but I’m sayin’ you gonna remember playin’ me here at this park, especially because of the rims.
I have an advantage with those rims. Every backboard in New York City has different nuances. And this is my court. So, the rims on this court are traditional street basketball park rims, New York City Recreation — this whole street ball thing. I don’t like that term – you play in the park. But that was all I saw in the ’70s, ’80s, ’90s.”
“Then they started refurbishing parks, which is good, but they started changing the rims. And those rims are really good, especially when you’re playin’ by yourself, because the little ridge on the bottom acts as a net. So when you have those rims with — net-less rims in New York City that are just rims, I don’t know what you call ’em, even the double rims. You’re gonna be chasin’ the ball out.
If you ask anybody who grew up in New York, they grew up playin’ on those rims. There was no fiberglass. They got ’em now; it’s dope. There was no fiberglass backboards in the parks. Rucker didn’t have a fiberglass backboard, you know, the Hole didn’t have a fiberglass backboard. They got ’em now; it’s cool. The kids like it.
But, you know, New York street ball, Jay Z says it – cross over and clap boards. Clappin’ boards, especially on metal. When you score on somebody, you get a lay-up and clap boards. Clapping boards was the precursor to being able to dunk. That’s so New York.”