Playground vs. The Pros

Could New York's Summer League Legends Hang With The NBA Stars?

"Playing in Rucker Park was an ego thing because there were great players involved from both sides like Pee Wee, Hammond, Connie Hawkins, and Willis Reed," says Tiny. "In their hearts, and in their souls, the playground guys felt that they didn't have the same opportunities as guys like myself did to get to the pros, and they thought they were better than we were. So when I went out there, I had a lot to prove."

The big picture, according to Tiny, was in striving to be the best, no matter what neighborhood or team, or walk of life, a particular player was from.

"For me, it was more than just a guy from the Boston Celtics playing against a guy from Milbank," he says. "It was Tiny Archibald, who grew up in the city, playing against Pee Wee Kirkland and Joe Hammond, who also grew up in the city. They brought their fans, and I brought mine. And I had to prove I was a formidable challenger to those guys."

Pickup artist: Booger Smith (with ball) is the latest in a long line of New York asphalt gods.
photo: Pete Kuhns
Pickup artist: Booger Smith (with ball) is the latest in a long line of New York asphalt gods.

With the great debate tied at several valid points apiece, Brooklyn-born Bernard King, one of the greatest scorers in N.B.A. history— who led the league with 32.9 points per game in 1985— is asked to check in at the scorer's table to see if he can break the tie. He does. Sort of.

Well, Bernard, do you agree with Tiny or Clyde?

"I agree with them both to a certain extent," says King. "I agree with Tiny as the debate relates to the really great playground stars like Joe Hammond and Herman 'the Helicopter' Knowings. I mean, some of those guys had great athletic skills. When I was in the ninth grade, I saw the Helicopter, with my own two eyes, pick a quarter off the top of a backboard to win a bet, and I was in complete shock.

"As the debate relates to playground players in general, yes, I have to agree with Clyde," says King. "There were a lot of guys along the way who I competed with and against that had exceptional skills, but they couldn't fit their skills into a team concept. They were very individual type of players, and once they got into a framework where they were being coached and had to deal with a structured offense, they didn't succeed, and that's why some of the players made it and some didn't.

"No matter who you are or how talented you are," King concludes, "if you can't mesh your skills into the framework of a team, it just doesn't work."

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