By Gloria Dulan-Wilson

Hello All:

One thing about it, when they come together to celebrate you in New York City, they leave nothing to half meastures.  And this was certainly the case at the 50th Anniversary of the famed Rucker Games of Harlem.

The Celebration of Rucker Pro Legends Fiftieth Anniversary was awesome.  New Yorkers, and former New Yorkers, came together from all over the globe to celebrate the efforts of one lone Black man, who, in the 1940's, after returning from World War II, saw a need for Black youth to have something of meaning to be involved in, and made it happen.  It eventually became known as the Rucker Tournament, or the Rucker Games, or just "the Rucker."  But, whether you lived in Harlem, the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island, Westchester - or DC, or Philly, you knew about the Rucker games.

Holcombe and Mary Rucker
The Rucker Leagues was founded, Black in the day, in the 40's by a young Black man who saw a need to help the youth in his community stay out of the streets, and began putting together basketball teams and tournaments as a means of giving them something positive to do.  Than was over 70 years ago.  The Rucker Tournament, and Each One Teach One evolved from his dedicated efforts.  There are very few photos of Holcombe Rucker.  The one below is of him and his lovely wife, Mary - taken in the early 40's.  Harlem youth and adults owe him a lifetime of gratitude for his efforts. 

Whether you played basketball, or just sat on the sidelines and cheered, you felt the energy and benefited from the camaraderie of being in the vicinity when the games were being played at 148th Street and Eighth Ave (also known as Frederick Douglass Boulevard).

{Now, I want you to just imagine for a moment, what it was like during this reunion, me - being a mere 5'4" tall, around guys who were 6'4" and up - some as tall as 7'1" - it was like being around a bunch of giant walking trees - the most you see are waistlines - you can actually get neck strain trying to interview these guys, let alone take pictures of them.  There's a lot to take in - that's for sure - especially when they're standing, towering over you.  Well, that was me for the entire week.  A couple of times I felt the need to wave a flag and say "yoohoo, I'm down here - can I ask you a question?"}

But seriously, it was a pleasure and a joy to see these brothers come together and relive a major portion of their youth - talk about the legends among them, some of whom are no longer with us; some who have suffered illnesses; and some who just could not be able to return because of prior commitments, but who were as sentimental and supportive as the ones who did return.

Bob McCullough is to be commended for bringing this whole thing together.  As a youth, he was part of the Rucker League.  He left to play professional basketball, and then returned shortly after Rucker's untimely death at age 39 from cancer, to keep the whole thing going.  He has done a fantastic job.  His work must have been inspiring and contagious, because his son and a partner put together one of the most fantastic documents on the Rucker League ever - suitable for PBS,  definitely award worthy, riveting, informative, inspiring, and heartwarming.  You can't see that and have a dry eye; or a feel of awe, respect and gratitude for Holcombe Rucker and what he did to change so many lives of so many youth.  

L-R Bob McCullough, Sr., Dr. Dick Barnett, Bobby Hunter

Highlights of the week long celebration included

Dr. Dick Barnett, formerly of the New York Knicks giving a talk and signing his book, Athlete Negro: The Awakening at the Neiman Art Gallery; he spoke of the fact that when they retired his jersey, Neiman had done a portrait of him.  Barnett used to travel up to Harlem for pick up games at Rucker part, or to watch the other locals play.  His philosophy, now that he is champion emeritus of the famed NY Knicks - Jersey #12 - is that it is wonderful to find that so many of the Rucker team are still active; it would be great going forward to come up with means of ensuring their financial viability once their career on the basketball courts have come to an end.  This is the premise of his book, which uses a combination of allegory and constructive instructions, and a lot of humor and intrigue, to get the point across.

Dr. Richard "Dick" Barnett at the Press Conference/Reception at Clyde Frazier's Wine and Dine

Though he was absent for the festivities, Walt Clyde Frazier lent the site of Clyde Frazier's Wine and Dine for the kick off gathering of the Rucker League - and what a gathering that was!!

Bobby Hunter who played in the Rucker Pro Tournaments getting ready to celebrate Harlem Globetrotters 90th Anniversary in 2016

Bob McCullough, who served as host, tried to keep the decorum to one of professionalism, but they were so overjoyed at being together, most of the announcements went over everyone's heads.

Bob "Mack" McCullough who kept the Rucker Tournament alive (with mic) at Press Conference at Clyde Frazier's Wine and Dine

Zach Husser at Press Conference and Reception at Clyde Frazier's Wine and Dine

 Cal Ramsay, Walter Scerbiak, Pee Wee Kirkland, Bill Willoughby, Bobby Hunter, Sleepy Floyd, Bill Purcels, Joe Hammond, Bernard Harding, Elnardo Webster, Santos Negron, Bob McCullough, Jr., Fred Crawford, Jr., Bob McCullough, Sr., Fred Crawford, Sr., Hawthorne Wingo, Kenny Charles, Steve Burt, Artie Green, Rod Ivey, Jennifer Ivey, Carl Campbell, Hosea Givan,  Reggie Gardner,George Ball, Carl Petties, Emmett Bryant, Bonnie Bryant, Sam Stith,  Ivan Donovan, Tony Romain,Tony Greer, Dr. Dick Barnett, Zach Husser, Darryl T. Downing, Dean Memminger, Jr.  - among  so many others.  Those who were not physically there, but definitely not forgotten included Sonny Hill, Julius "Dr. Jay" Irving, Nate "Tiny" Archibald; and the late Dean "The Dream" Memminger, Sr.

Reception at the Harlem Hospital Pavilion
 The following evening a reception was held at Harlem Hospital's auditorium, with Signature Rucker and Each One Teach One Tees being sold, along with Dick Barnett signing books, musical entertainment and great refreshments. 

Darryl T. Downing Former Rucker Pro Tournament player

It was made even more memorable by the Documentary written, produced and directed by Robert McCullough, Jr. - it was a documentary worthy of an Emmy, Golden Globe and all other awards that can be attributed to the quality and volume of work he put into it.  It was clearly a labor of love - and it definitely showed in the production values, intercuts between the various interviewees, the scenes - there is no way to adequately convey the magnitude of his work except to say if you haven't seen it, or if you, like myself, have seen it and want to see it again, get in touch with this brother and purchase a copy:  

Rucker 50th Anniversary Documentary, contact Mr. Bob McCullough, Jr. at Mccullough40@yahoo.com

Image from documentary on Rucker Tournament
I can't say enough about how fantastic this documentary was; it should be aired on BET, PBS, and shown in the schools throughout the US.  In fact, I definitely think, if this is an example of Bob McCullough, Jr.'s  work, this brother has a great future in film, TV, and media - hopefully he will continue to tell our story - we need so many more like him to catch the adults and our misguided youth up on our history and the contributions of those who have gone before us, as well as our contemporaries.

On Saturday, August 15, a gala luncheon was held in their honor at the Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., State Office Building, at 125th and Malcolm X Boulevard (125th Street and 7th Ave for outsiders).  Hosted by Bob McCullough, Sr., the catered event was attended by five generations of Rucker Tournament players, their spouses, children, grand children, and even great grand children!  All had come together to share in the festivities and honor bestowed upon those key pro players who had become legends in their lifetimes, thus carrying forth and far exceeding the dreams Holcombe Rucker had for them.

Rucker's grandson, now the principle of the school named in his grandfather's honor, was awarded a Gold Watch and a plaque - with one also being dedicated and designated for Holcombe Rucker's widow, Mary, now aged 83.  Each pro ball awardee received a gold watch as well.


Peewee Kirkland, one of the recipients of the gold watch, brought his lovely wife of 27 years, and daughter, Princess, up to the podium.  He declared that he would marry his wife all over again; and dedicated his Gold Watch to his daughter.

The Great Cal Ramsey, who received a Gold Watch for playing in the Rucker League   

Former NY Knick, Cal Ramsey, after receiving his Gold Watch at the Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. State Office Building, spoke briefly:

Cal Ramsey stated, upon receiving his Gold Watch, "I'm so old now that y'all forgot that my team from the Harlem Y won the championship and I won the MVP.  The team from Mt. Morris Park - me and Sach Sanders - won the championship and I won the MVP.  My team in the Pro Tournament - I didn't win MVP or I don't remember it - but I do recall we had a great team:  Walter ______, Freddy Crawford, Sach Sanders, Al Barton, Myself and Wilt Chamberlin.  The Brooklyn team was our nemesis - they had Jackie Jackson, Connie Hawkins, The Tzar, Walt Bellamy, Bruce Brandeis.  Let me tell you how durable Wilt Chamberlin was - besides being a great player, and holding all the records; did  you know that he liked New York and Harlem so much that when he played with the 76'ers, he lived in Park West Village, he got up and drove every morning to practice in Philadelphia from Park West Village for a whole year, because he wanted to be in New York. He played with my team because we were both  All Americans, so I got him to play in the Rucker Tournament.  Then he bought a restaurant called  Big Wilt's Small Paradise - y'all remember that, right?  So I got Wilt to have jerseys made up; he wanted to play for us, play in Harlem and play in New York.  And he did just that, and he just absolutely loved it!  I want to thank these guys here - the legends - great basketball players, all!  I watched all of them play - I guess I am that old (LOL) You guys did a great job, man." 

Dean Memminger, who spoke in behalf of his late father, shared how he was always about the youth, education and scholarship. He related how proud he was to have played in the Rucker Tournaments.  

Many of the recipients spoke of having moved as children to Harlem with their families, and having never played basketball in their lives, but were recruited by Bob McCullough, who was keeping the spirit and energy of the Rucker Tournament alive.  

Sunday, August 16, Mayor Bill DiBlasio dedicated Rucker Park in Harlem at 148th and Frederick 
Douglass Boulevard (8th Ave for outsiders), culminating a week-long celebration of the 50 plus years of the Rucker Tournament.
As Wingo Hawkins stated, everybody has a favorite story about playing in the Rucker Tournament; everybody has fond memories of their youthful days on the basketball court, where the parents always knew where they were and what they were doing.  Rucker himself made it possible for 700 youth to get scholarships before he died of cancer at the age of 39. 
Bob McCullough Sr., picked up the mantel and has continued the legend and the legacy - even starting a women's league, which likewise set sterling records, on and off the courts.  Parents you have youngsters coming up would do well to get them involved in the Tournaments, as well as becoming supporters themselves.  It has more than proven its value and will continue to do so for the next fifty year.  
Congratulations to all the members of the Rucker League - this is truly a gift that keeps on giving, benefiting not only the players, but the communities, the families, and People of African Heritage across the Globe.
Stay Blessed &

Image result for Mayor Bill De Blasio
Mayor Bill deBlasio
Image result for Rucker Park
Rucker Park
Holcombe Rucker   


Image result for Rucker Park
Rucker Park 148th & 8th Ave., HARLEM , USA

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