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Indeed, no one caught Arnold "A-Train" Bernard, formerly of the Harlem Globetrotters, during a basketball game at Rucker Park recently, in which Bernard's Warner Bros. squad (3-1) defeated Boston's Biv 10 Balla's (0-3), who are led by a hairy but oh-so-talented forward affectionately known as "Somebody Skipped the Barber."
At the fabled courts on 155th Street and Eighth Avenue, the A-Train and company are just a handful of players who've been taking the fast track to playground fame in the Entertainers Basketball Classic.
On Wednesday night, Iowa State guard and Brooklyn native Jamaal Tinsley, a/k/a "Mel Mel the Abuser," carved his name into that windswept patch of hallowed blacktop by wowing the crowd with 24 points and an assortment of slick moves to lead the Ruff Ryders (2-1) to a 68-65 victory over Kenny Kings (1-3).
"Across the board, the talent this year is better than it has been, maybe ever," said the legendary coach known as Mousy, who guided the Bad Boys to a championship in 1998.
Mousywho gained recent fame on the streets as the man who traded cars with Erick Barkley, the former St. John's guard who was suspended by the NCAA for that incidentruns Bad Boys for owner "Puffy" Combs, and the talent the two men have put together is, well, "Like, whoa!"
The Bad Boys (3-0) are led by former Arkansas star and Bronx native Kareem Reid, who was leading all EBC scorers through Week 3 with 27 points per game.
In addition to Reid, the Bad Boys feature former Providence stud Shamgod Wells and former St. John's star Ron Artest, who now runs with the Bulls in Chicago.
"As great as we are," says Mousy, "I still think that Stephon's team is the team to beat."
Stephon, of course, is Stephon Marbury of the New Jersey Nets, a/k/a "the Handler," who plays for Terror Squad (2-0) and teams up in the same backcourt with ex-Florida State guard Kerry Thompson. Two weeks ago, Marbury and company terrorized Karl Kani (1-2), 78-62, as the Handler racked up 28 points against the likes of former Long Island University star Richie Parker and playground wizard Wali Dixon, a/k/a "the Main Event."
Terror Squad did not play last Monday, however, as all games were canceled to honor the memory of Conrad McRae, the former Brooklyn Tech, Syracuse, and EBC star who died suddenly two weeks ago after collapsing at an NBA summer league practice. "McNasty," as the Harlem faithful came to know him, had played at Rucker earlier this season.
As well as Terror Squad has been playing, the Ruff Ryders (2-1), led by St. John's forward Anthony Glover, playground phenom Ed "Booger" Smith, former UMass star Dana "the Show" Dingle, and former Sullivan County standout Courtney "Puddah" Miles, have been drawing huge crowds all summer.
At a recent Ruff Ryders game, St. John's coach Mike Jarvis took in the action from the stone bleachers surrounding the tiny court and watched in horror as Glover did his best Chris Dudley impersonation at the foul line, tossing up enough bricks to build a dream house.
"Coach Jarvis wasn't exactly smiling," observed EBC statistician "Choo Choo" Yates. "It seemed like Coach J was scrutinizing every one of those missed free throws."
"Hey, Glover's got that same problem at St. John's," Yates added. "But this is the best place in the world to help him and all these other guys straighten out their games. And in the process, they're having a ball."