Friday , Jun , 20 , 2003 C.Y. Ellis

Cary Clack: There’s another basketball saga going on in New York area

Web Posted : 06/14/2003 12:00 AM

NEW YORK – On Thursday afternoon, at 155th Street and Frederick Douglass Boulevard in Harlem, young acolytes played on the green asphalt of Holcombe Rucker Park, the cathedral of street basketball.

While the elementary school boys shot basketballs into the red, white and blue nets, workers replaced and repaired weathered bleacher seats.

A young man wandered across the street from the Polo Grounds Towers and said, “They setting up for the Rucker? That’s right, it’s after Father’s Day. That will work.”

The last NBA game of the season in the New York/New Jersey area was played Friday night when the San Antonio Spurs defeated the New Jersey Nets in Game 5 of the Finals.

But there is much more basketball to be played this summer, a dazzling, high-flying and rim-rattling brand that’s left its mark on the NBA.

Cary Clack: There's another basketball saga going on in New York area

For decades, Rucker Park’s nine-week summer league, the Entertainment Basketball Classic, has been the premier showcase for streetball.

From Wilt Chamberlain and Julius Erving to Kobe Bryant and Allen Iverson, NBA stars have matched their games with those of streetball legends.

Friday, on the other side of Manhattan, hundreds of players and actors showed up at Basketball City in Chelsea’s Pier to audition for parts in a movie about the league.

“Rucker” is being made by writer-director Malcolm Lee.

“People claim it (Rucker) to be the mecca of basketball,” said Lee, cousin of Spike Lee. “You played in the pros, you played at Rucker. You played streetball, you played at Rucker.”

Two of the consultants for the film are Rucker legend Pee Wee Kirkland and Kenny Smith, the ex-NBA star and Emmy Award winner as a basketball analyst.

“Basketball would not be as popular and marketable today had it not been for Rucker Park,” said Kirkland. “It was the only place in the world where NBA Hall of Famers could go against street basketball players, and street basketball players excelled to a degree that we understand now that it all came from street basketball.”

Smith played in the Rucker League and every other basketball tournament in New York City.

“I never had an undershirt growing up,” said Smith. “I had basketball shirts.”

For the auditions, Lee said he’s putting a premium on basketball skills.

“Basketball talent first. That’s what it’s for. Then we see if he can act.”

One of the youngest auditioning was 17-year-old Jamaal Womack, who has played at Rucker and is becoming an actor.

“It’s legendary,” he says of Rucker. “It’s like if you want to be musician, you go to Carnegie Hall. If you want to play basketball, you go to Rucker.”

Womack, who used to sing with the Boys Choir of Harlem, also admitted liking the Spurs.

“But I’d like to see someone from the East finally win,” he says. “But honestly, the best-coached and most-talented team is the Spurs.”

Another tryout was 26-year-old John “Mookie” Thomas, who also speaks with reverence of Rucker.

“It’s like Madison Square Garden,” said Thomas. “Everybody has to play there.”

Smith, who trades barbs on television with Charles Barkley, was asked to compare filming a basketball movie with an action movie.

“The best action movie is an NBA game,” he said. “Give me the Lakers-Celtics. I’ll take that over the ‘Terminator’ any day. It’s real live drama. Everything you want.”

I asked him if the Nets-Spurs series would be considered an action movie.

“That’s a drama, a little slow,” he laughed. “Dramedy. Some comedy in there, too.”

To leave a message for Cary Clack, call (210) 250-3546 or e-mail [email protected] His column appears on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays.