Earl "The Goat" Manigault - Known as the greatest player who never played in the NBA. Had great leaping ability and school the likes of Wilt, Connie, and Kareem on the Rucker playgrounds. The Goat held court against countless NBA pros and Hall-of-Famers. This sleek 6-2 court-acrobat ran like a gazelle and seemed to defy gravity when he took flight. The only thing that could bring The Goat down to earth were his own personal vices on the street. Earl will always be remembered as a playground legend of his day. He is perhaps the best basketball player ever to have played the game. A shade over 6 feet tall, he could dunk effortlessly with both hands. With a vertical leap of 52 inches, he had the ability to jump up and grab quarters off of the top of a basketball backboard. He played during the renaissance of New York City basketball in the 1960s, against other playground legends like Connie Hawkins, Lew Alcindor, Earl "The Pearl" Monroe, Herman "The Helicopter" Knowings and Jackie Jackson. Earl played in the famous Rucker League where the best playground players played with the pros every summer. The league showcased some of the best basketball players of all time. It was wide open, uncontrolled, showtime basketball where the beauty of a dunk or the speed of a pass was rewarded by the gasps of the packed sidelines. Manigault was a man-child on the blacktop, virtually unstoppable from the time he entered high school. At seventeen he had mastered the game and had been credited with creating several new dunks, the most famous of which was the double dunk. He was courted by hundreds of colleges. Instead, he started using heroin and his life quickly spun out of control. He wound up in prison for robbery, served his time, and in the most remarkable part of his story, he stayed clean, never returned to drugs or prison, and dedicated himself to helping kids stay in school and stay clean through his "walk away from drugs" tournaments. A park and tournament is named after him on the lower Eastside in Manhattan. Kareem Abdul Jabbar was asked on the day of his retirement as a Laker at the Forum in LA, who was the greatest player he had ever played against in his career. Kareem answered after a long silence, "It would have to be Goat, Earl 'the Goat' Manigault."
Curtis Jones - Curtis Jones (CJ) was a 5'10" guard out of Detroit. During the 1960's, CJ dominated courts in the Detroit area. He attended Detroit Northwestern High School, where he led his team in points and assists his senior year. In 1967, he hit a game winner over 6'9", future NBA great, Spencer Haywood to win the state championhsip. With an IQ of 73, CJ didn't stand a chance of making it to a major college, and stayed on the streets of Detroit, getting into crack. However, he promised his mother that he would come clean. When he died at the age of 50 in 1999, there wasn't a trace of drugs in his system. He had kept his promise. NBA Hall-of-Famer George Gervin, said this of CJ in an interview: The best player Ive ever seen was Curtis Jones."
Joe "The Destroyer" Hammond- Coming out of New York City and standing 6'1", The Destroyer could score with anyone. During the late 1960's to the 1970's, Hammond embarassed opponents everywhere. He scored 50 points in one half against Julius Erving at the Rucker. In 1977 he returned to the Rucker Tournament after a four year absence to set a league single-game record with 73 points. The Destroyer had his chances at the NBA. The Lakers offered him a contract, but he turned it down because there wasn't a no-cut-clause. Another time, a pro scout came to see him, but Hammond told him to wait because he was busy shooting craps. "Pound-for-pound, Joe Hammond was the greatest player ever to come out of Harlem." says Don Adams, Taft High School coach. However, Hammond turned to drugs, and ended up serving time in a prison in New York City.
Lewis "Black Magic" Lloyd - In the 1970's, Black Magic could be seen dominating the courts of Philadelphia. According to Sonny Hill League scorekeepers, Lloyd's points usually equaled his rebounds. Since both of those were usually in the twenties, his blocks could usually be found by dividing that number by 3. In a high-school all-star game in Ohio, Black Magic got the ball in the foul circle. He flashed his characteristic smile (his fans insist it's not cocky, just a sign that he knows what he's going to do) then proceeded to dunk so fiercely on 6'10" DeWayne Scales, that he nearly broke his hand. Lloyd played briefly for the Houston Rockets before being banned for two years from the NBA for drug violations.
James "Fly" Williams - In the late 1970's, Fly tore up New York City playgrounds with his dazzling moves and scoring abilities. In a Dapper Dan Classic, he dropped 63 points on NBA legend Moses Malone. As a freshman at Austin Peay University, Fly led the nation in scoring with a 29.4 average. "He had all of the Jordan moves before Jordan. It was like he had to score to keep breathing, to stay alive. I once asked Vinnie Johnson, who was from the same neighborhood as Fly, was it just me or was he that good? Vinnie said easily he was just that good," states Rick Telander, author of Heaven is a Playground. Fly's career was cut short by an ill-fated robbery attempt. A shotgun blast left him with half his lungs, and a massive scar on the left side of his back.
Herman "Helicopter" Knowings - "When I was in 9th grade, I saw the Helicopter, with my own two eyes, pick a quarter off the top of the backboard to win a bet, and I was in complete shock," stated NBA great Bernard King. King wasn't the only person shocked by the 6'4" Helicopter during the 1960's and mid-1970's. In a Rucker League game, he went for a ball fake in the lane, and as the man waited for him to come down, witnesses swear he treaded air until the referee called three-seconds. In another Rucker game, this one against a team of professionals including Willis Reed, Bob McCollough remembers that, "...there was one play where the pros brought the ball down, and Copter blocked a shot. Whap! The guy passed the ball to a teammate who tried to shoot. Whap! Blocked again. The next guy passed the ball to a third pro. Whap! Blocked again. Get the picture? Copter blocked three shots in a row by professionals." Copter died at the young age of 37, when in April of 1980, the cab he was in was hit by another car.
Richard "Pee Wee" Kirkland - Had fierce rivalries with Tiny Archibald. He rejected a contract that the Chicago Bulls offer him and said "Hey I could make more money in a couple of days on the street".
Lloyd "Sweet Pea" Daniels - He is a legendary basketball player, one of the most celebrated ever to come off the storied playgrounds of New York City. Better than Kareem, they say. Better than Connie Hawkins, they say. Former NBA reserve player Sam Worthen says, "When Lloyd was 16, he had the knowledge of the game to play in the NBA." Expand the comparisons. Just like Magic Johnson, they say, only with a better jump shot. Yeah, Larry Bird's. Daniels rarely went to school, and never graduated from high school. He was a one-man gang on his team. He could do it all score, rebound, and had a lot of versatility. His arrest for drug possession prevented him from playing at UNLV. After recovering from gunshot wounds, he had a few brief stints in the NBA with San Antonio, LA Lakers, and Philadelphia.