By Carol McFadden
Earl “The Goat” Manigault was a 6”1′ guard who grew up playing on the streets of New York, most famously Rucker Park. His nickname as “The Goat” is believed to originate from either the habitually mispronunciation of this last name, or from the acronym of “Greatest of All Time.” The latter is quite possible considering that Manigault is considered by many to be the greatest basketball player to ever live. For example; when Kareem Abdul-Jabbar had his number retired for the Lakers he was asked who the best player he’s ever played against washis answer was Earl Manigault. Manigault was known for his incredible shooting, and his amazing jumping ability which was a result of him wearing strength building ankle weights throughout his early playing years. He is said to have had over a 52 inch vertical leap with the ability to grab dollars off the top of a backboard and leave change, literally. Earl was recruited by over 75 major universities including Duke, Indiana & North Carolina, but ended up attending Johnson C. Smith University. Earl lasted only one semester due to poor grades and subsequently limited playing time. After leaving college Earl got caught up in drugs and spent two years in prison. Upon his release, Earl stopped using drugs and started the “Walk Away from Drugs” basketball tournament where he continued to work until 1998 when he tragically died of heart failure. It’s safe to say that when you’re talking about the greatest basketball players of all time, streetball or not, Earl Manigault’s name can be mentioned with no hesitation.
Demetrius “Hook” Mitchell
Demetrius “Hook” Mitchell is a 5 foot 7 streetball legend from Oakland, California. Also known as Waliy Abdur Rahim, Hook Mitchell is best known for his incredible leaping ability; performing backboard shattering ally-oops, 12 foot rim dunks, and car jumping 360 dunks. NBA all-stars like Gary Payton and Jason Kidd have been quoted as saying Hook was a better skilled player than they, and that he is the best basketball player to never make the NBA. Hook never made it as a professional because of his problems with drug addiction and crime. He served a 51 month prison sentence ending in April 2004 for armed robbery, and upon his release tried out for the Golden State Warriors at the age of 39. Unfortunately for Hook he was cut after training camp, it was just too late for him to get his start. Hook Mitchell was the focus of a recent independent film entitled “Hooked” which was featured at the Tribeca Film Festival and has been the winner of various documentary awards.
Pee Wee Kirkland
Richard “Pee Wee” Kirkland is a streetball legend from Harlem, New York. Pee Wee made his name playing at Rucker Park in New York and with his storied rivalry with Tiny Archibald. Pee Wee was drafted by the Chicago Bulls in the fourth round of the 1969 draft but ultimately turned down the Bulls offer due to the fact that he was making more money with his involvement in illegal street activities. These activities eventually caught up with Kirkland and landed him in jail for an extended period. Kirkland didn’t stop playing ball however, and wound up scoring 100 points & 135 points in two separate ABL games. Now a reformed man, Pee Wee Kirkland travels the country for his “School of Skillz” program (sponsored by Nike) which helps children with good decision making and self-esteem. Kirkland has also been successful as a high school basketball coach, winning championships with Trevor Day High School.
Joe “The Destroyer” Hammond was a scorer, plain and simple. Joe did most of his scoring at Rucker Park in New York, on one occasion dropping 50 points in one half on Dr. J Julius Irving. He also set a Rucker Park single game scoring record with 82 points. Joe was offered an NBA contract from the Lakers after being tipped off by Wilt Chamberlain, but Joe turned it down because the contract did not include a no-cut clause. Despite never playing a single minute in college or as a pro, some consider Joe “The Destroyer” Hammond to be the best offensive threat to ever play the game.
James “Fly” Williams of Brooklyn was a 6 foot 5 inch Guard who came up playing on the playgrounds of New York City. Fly Williams got his nickname due to his “fly” wardrobes and flamboyant playing style. He was known as a prolific scorer who once scored 63 points on NBA hall of famer Moses Malone in a Dapper Dan Classic game. Fly took his playground skills to the collegiate level in 1972 when he was recruited to play at Austin Peay University in Tennessee. While at Austin Peay, Fly averaged 28.5 points per game in two years of play before leaving due to off the court hardships. Fans used to line up five hours before the game for a chance to see Fly play, and for a chance to catch one of Fly’s legendary antics such as dribbling the ball of the court during play for a water break, or joining the fans in the stands when he disagreed with how the coach was managing the game. The crowds grew to love Fly Williams and even came up with clever chants for him such as “Fly is open, let’s go Peay!” Fly spent time in the ABA, CBA and overseas but ultimately fell short of the NBA mainly due to his unprofessional attitude. Fly’s career was definitively dashed when he was injured by a shotgun blast during a failed robbery attempt. Fly has since turned his ship around and now spends most of his time working with disadvantaged youths.
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