Rucker Park is a legendary basketball Mecca. Located at 155th Street and Frederick Douglass Boulevard in Harlem, not too far from the old Polo Grounds, it has attracted the greats for generations. Wilt Chamberlain has played there. So has Dr. J., Nate Archibald, Kenny Anderson and Kobe Bryant all played there.
So did the Goat, PeeWee and the Helicopter, legends of the game in New York who never made it to the NBA.
Playing in Rucker is sort of a rite of passage, sort of like the old Sinatra song: if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere.
So it was a big deal when Cooper Flagg showed up.
Flagg has been a sensation in high school and just crushed it at Peach Jam earlier this summer. He’s seen as a potentially great player. So what happened when he came to Rucker?
Well, he killed it - again - hitting a step-back three to put the game into overtime.
As you’ll see on the scoreboard, he tied the score at 142, so clearly, defense wasn't much of a priority.
Even so, he was mobbed when he hit that shot and clearly the fans in attendance were impressed.
We compared Rucker to Frank Sinatra’s New York, New York, but you could also compare it to the Apollo. If you’re good enough to win the crowd at the Apollo, then you’re going places. Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald and James Brown, among many others, got huge career boosts at the Apollo.
But it’s a bit unusual for a 16-year-old white kid to win over Rucker, much less a 16-year-old white kid from Maine. Maine has a population of 1,372,000, roughly, and basketball wise it’s probably behind Alaska, which has produced Trajan Langdon, Carlos Boozer and Mario Chalmers, among others to go on to the NBA.
Maine has sent Duncan Robinson to the NBA and, earlier, Jeff Turner. It’s a big state with a small population and the game has never been as popular there as it has been in other places.
People are comparing Flagg to Larry Bird, but that’s wildly premature. He’s got a very long way to go to get into that conversation, as would any 16-year-old.
Still, for a kid to come out of Newport, Maine, population 3,133, and be acclaimed at Rucker is really saying something.