Sunday, August 5, 2012

Homegrown Basketball

Posted by Angie Luvara, HARLEM, NY -- Recently, I had the privilege of unknowingly wandering into some of the best basketball that has ever been played. I was in New York City for a conference, and found out that some musician friends of mine were performing at a park. In my head, I envisioned an outdoor concert at a park filled with green lawns. In hindsight, my assumption made absolutely no sense, as when I got directions to the park, the address was smack in the middle of Harlem, where there are very few large green spaces.

As soon as the conference wrapped for the day, I hopped on the subway in Brooklyn and rode all the way to Harlem's 155th street. As soon as I emerged from the catacombs of the subway I knew just how wrong my assumptions were. Directly behind me stood a large set of public housing buildings, and in front of me was THE Rucker Park. The park has very little green space, a playground for children, and a basketball court that is home to some of the best street ball you’ll ever see. I had heard of this park before, this amazing court in Harlem where anyone could just wander in, for free, and see some of the best basketball players in the world play against each other—I just never knew the name. But as soon as I stepped out from the subway, I knew exactly where I was.

I sat and watched these games for hours—both before and after my friends performed between games. And yes, the basketball was some of the best basketball I have ever seen in my life. But there was something happening there that was even more amazing to me. In a park that is known around the world for the shows that it puts on, with corporate sponsors and special guests who are some of the most famous rappers and NBA players around, everything seemed very local. The announcers were unabashedly Harlem, speaking to patrons on a first-name basis. The security guards also were from the neighborhood, knowing every child’s name and what parent they belonged to. Even the photographers and videographers were from the neighborhood, and had been doing this for years.

Despite all the amazing athleticism that surrounded me that evening, this sense of local spirit amazed me even more. In a place that easily could have been co-opted by corporations and turned into something of an outsourced spectacle, there was a solid sense of local community. Children from the housing projects directly across the street, and other areas of Harlem, could walk just a few feet and see ball games that are always exciting. Their parents, and other adults were looking out for those who came without their own parents, making sure they stayed out of the court while enjoying the games. A quick stroll through Harlem will show that it is changing. It is gentrifying, and a sense of community is being lost. But not in Rucker Park. Even with corporate sponsors, it’s still all Harlem!

Angie Luvara is a photographer and Managing Editor of Social Shutter. She is also a Doctoral Student at Georgia State University. To view more of her photography, go to her blog at

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