Free Street Hoops in NYC
by Jonathan Zeller, 05/15/2012
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[Schedules updated, 6/5/2014]
All summer long, incredible athletes—including pros, future pros and NCAA standouts—hit the asphalt throughout the City for the fast-paced, hard-nosed, inimitable variation of hoops known as "streetball." These courts have seen the likes of Anthony Mason, Julius Erving and Kemba Walker—NYC streetball legend Ed "Booger" Smith even once appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated, though he sadly never did reach the NBA. And if your budget can't sustain the cost of courtside seats for the Knicks, Nets or Liberty, you're in luck—the four leagues listed below all cost nothing to watch.
We also chatted with Bobbito Garcia—whose documentary, Doin’ It in the Park, chronicles NYC’s asphalt-based game—about his favorite places to watch pickup basketball, the completely informal games that spontaneously spring up on courts citywide. "Pickup is the truest sense of the sport," says Garcia. "Dr. James Naismith is quoted decades after he invented [the game] saying ‘I didn’t invent basketball to be coached—I invented it to be played.'" At the bottom of this page, you’ll find Garcia's picks for the best pickup court in each borough.
Top Streetball Leagues:
West 4th Street Courts (Greenwich Village)
The basketball court at West 4th Street Courts is known as "The Cage," because its trademark high fence boxes players into much-smaller-than-regulation dimensions. The league here draws huge crowds, who take up the few folding chairs by the court and line the surrounding sidewalks to watch. Anthony Mason and Mario Elie plied their trade here before hitting it big in the NBA (and it was Ed "Booger" Smith's home court, too).
Schedule (regular season begins on May 27 and runs through July 25):
Monday–Friday (except July 4): 6pm
Saturday–Sunday: 3pm, 4:30pm & 6pm
All-star games and slam-dunk contest: July 26
Holcombe Rucker Park (Harlem)
Named for Holcombe Rucker, the Harlem teacher who first started a basketball tournament here in 1950, this court has seen some huge names in its time—Julius Irving and Wilt Chamberlain among them—and still showcases big-time talent during the Entertainers Basketball Classic.
Schedule (regular season begins on June 16; details available at ebcruckerpark.com):
Monday–Thursday: 6pm & 8pm
Monsignor Kett Playground, Dyckman Park (Washington Heights)
College stars who've recently played at Dyckman Park include Jordan Theodore of Seton Hall and the unstoppable Kemba Walker of UConn. In past seasons, Kevin Durant and Michael Beasley have even turned up.
Schedule (season starts June 9; details available at dyckmanpark.ning.com):
Monday–Friday: 7:15pm & 8:30pm
Orchard Beach (Bronx)
The courts at Orchard Beach, in Pelham Bay Park, have hosted Tracy McGrady, Ron Artest and some of NYC's best local stars during the Hoops in the Sun tournament.
Schedule (season starts June 7 and runs through August 10; details available at hoopsinthesun.net):
Saturday–Sunday: either noon, 2pm & 4pm or 1pm & 3pm
Bobbito Garcia's Top Pickup Courts, by Borough:
The Bronx: Macombs Dam Park (Right behind Yankee Stadium.)
Brooklyn: Marine Park (All halfcourt, all three-on-three.)
Manhattan: West Fourth Street Courts (See above—the legendary “Cage.”)
Queens: LeFrak City (This one’s mostly for youth players.)
Staten Island: Clove Lakes Park (Says Garcia: “Probably one of the most picturesque courts I’ve ever seen.”)