GARY EDWARDS: Training can never replace playing
I think the McLeod Health and Fitness Center is one of the best things about Florence. You’ll find me there most mornings, getting a little exercise, getting ready to face the day.
I received an e-mail the other day informing me, and all the other “valued members and patrons”, that they were going to transform the very nice basketball court there into a new athletic performance facility. Another basketball court bites the dust.
It’s just a sign of the times, though, as young athletes move away from actually playing the game to constantly training to play the game. There’s an important difference, you know.
Dribbling around cones and shooting stationary jumpers may make your parents smile, and expand your trainer’s pockets, but many of those skills don’t translate to success in an actual game. Cones don’t have arms.
Many of the great players in the history of the game honed their craft by first playing and competing on outdoor courts, mostly in the inner city neighborhoods of this country. The most famous of all these courts is Rucker Park in Harlem, New York.
As a young assistant coach at Hofstra University, I would make the short trip from Long Island to 155th and Harlem River Drive to watch some of the best basketball on the planet. Julius “Dr. J” Erving was a regular, although his nickname then was “The Claw” because of his enormous hands.
Lew “The Big Fella” Alcindor, later known as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, developed his sky hook there. Wilt the Stilt, Kobe, Kevin Durant − all made appearances at The Rucker on summer evenings.
But there were guys you probably never heard of who were legends at The Rucker. When Kareem’s Laker jersey was retired, he said the best player he ever played against was Earl “The Goat” Manigault, a 6-foot-1 high flyer with a silky jumper.
Wilt Chamberlain convinced the Lakers to draft Joe “The Destroyer” Hammond in 1971. Joe dropped out of school in the ninth grade, but he also dropped 50 on the Doctor in one half. He holds The Rucker scoring record by blistering the nets for 82 one muggy night.
Unfortunately, like too many playground legends, “The Destroyer” let the city drug trade destroy him. Several months after being drafted by the Lakers he began an 11-year incarceration in prison.
Earl “The Pearl” Monroe did not get his moves from dancing around orange cones. Bernard King didn’t become a prolific scorer by shooting on a shooting machine.
Today’s players are bigger and stronger, probably because they utilize athletic performance facilities like the one coming to McLeod. But you’ll never convince me today’s players are better basketball players.
Away from the television lights, in front of adoring neighborhood crowds, the old guys were maestros on a basketball court.
As for my team, we are very good outside shooters. It’s just that we play all our games indoors…
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