The 10 Greatest Streetball Players of All Time July 28 2016, 14 Comments
In honor of the summertime, we bring you the 10 greatest playground legends of all time. These players were never able to realize their dream of playing in the NBA. Most of these guys share many parallels such as drug abuse, academic trouble and attitude problems. Streetball players built reputations largely on word of mouth. And they will forever be immortalized in their cities basketball history.
10. Ed “Booger” Smith - The subject of the famous documentary “Soul in the Hole”, The documentary follows a Brooklyn team called Kenny's Kings, as it competes in the summer tournament at the Hole in Bedford-Stuy. He was featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated Magazine the same year as “Soul in the Hole” came out. The documentary and article both emphasized Booger’s unpredictable and street like mentality. His famous quote “If I don't make the NBA, ill be a drug dealer” shook the media establishment. Those who saw Booger in his prime claim he was an NBA level playmaker. At 5’8 148 pounds Booger’s frame was slight but the got to the basket against any defender. The Brooklyn native had unparalleled ball handling and passing ability. Booger played JUCO ball for only half a season, where he dominated averaging 21 points and 12 assists. He grew up playing against top NBA point guards like Rod Strickland, Rafter Alston and Kenny Anderson. Booger dominated at a variety of tournaments throughout the years, including EBC and Dyckman. In the mid 90s Booger would attract massive crowds wherever he showed up to play. The closest Booger came to playing pro ball came in 2001, when he relocated to Chicago to flee drug charges. Booger made his way to super trainer Tim Grover’s gym where he played in a pick up game with Michael Jordan. Grover was overly impressed with Booger and invited him to a pro tryout camp. When he arrived at the camp to register the next day, he was told he would not be allowed to participate. Eventually he went back to New York where he would be incarcerated from 2004 to 2008. You can check out his ball handling and passing exploits here.
9. Curtis Jones - CJ was a 5'10" passing point guard out of Detroit. Many people swear he could take the ball the length of the court in only three dribbles. A great floor general, many believe he was the best passer they've ever seen play. Eye popping triple doubles or games of 2 points & 25 assists were regular for Curtis in high school. He attended Detroit Powerhouse 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 city championship, the opposing team also featured future pro Ralph Simpson. With an IQ of 73, CJ didn't stand a chance of making it to a major college. He attended North Idaho junior college and excelled on the basketball court. In his final season classmates and teacher began to notice that Jones was illiterate. Faced with massive embarrassment Jones returned home to Detroit. Jones was a fixture at legendary saint Cecilia’s dominating the courts for over 15 years. NBA Hall-of-Famer George Gervin, said this of CJ in an interview: “The best player I’ve ever seen was Curtis Jones.” Detroit natives Derrick Coleman, Jalen Rose and Dave Bing have all given tremendous praise to CJ’s game.
8. Brian “Sad Eye” Watson - Sad Eye is not your typical streetball player. His bite overshadows his bark, something not found very often. The forward dominated opponents on the offensive end, displaying a complete scoring arsenal. He had handle, a post up game, multitude of 1-on-1 moves, pure jump shot and athleticism. “He’s just a 6-5, do everything type of dude,” offers Philly native ex-pro Alvin Williams. “He could shoot, penetrate, jump, just everything. He owned all the playgrounds down here. He’s definitely one of the top, if not the top playground legend out here.” By the time Sad Eye was 14, he was the best player in the city, as he helped his junior high school (Strawberry Mansion) beat the undefeated varsity at Ben Franklin HS. Watson went on to star at Ben Franklin averaging over 20 points and 14 rebounds as a junior. The beginning of Sad’s senior season UNLV was in heavy pursuit of the forward. Then a few months into the season, Watson quit the team. Looking back, he says “I just was bored with it,” He admits he had no interest in playing at school, no dreams of the NBA. Ex-pro Cuttino Mobley used to invite “Sad Eye” to fly out to Houston and play pickup with the Rockets players in the early 2000’s. 90% of the time Watson turned down the invitation. “I’m just anti-social,” says Sad Eye,Watson quit playing because he lost interest and the game wasn’t fun. He never thought of himself as a good defender, for that reason he refuses to take credit for his talents. If you still don't believe he's that good heres a clip from Watson in the 35 and over league.
7. Curt “Trouble” Smith - Trouble was a standout high school star that averaged over 25 points and 8 assists at Coolidge high as a senior. He was chosen to play in the 1989 Capital Classic All-American game with players like Kenny Anderson. The 5-9 Smith matched up head-to-head with Kenny Anderson, outplaying Anderson it was Smith who took home the MVP trophy. Initially he committed to Temple but he failed to qualify academically for a division one school. He ended up on the west coast at Compton community college where he dominated opponents for two years. He spent his final two seasons at Division 1 Drake University, where he was named Missouri Valley conference player of the year as a junior (92-93). During that season the guard averaged 21 points, 5 assists and 3 steals. Once his college career was over Smith played in a bevy of professional leagues including France, Italy, Israel,Finland, the IBA, the IBL and the USB. In 1997–98, Smith was named the Most Valuable Player of the USBL. Aside from his accomplishments in organized basketball Smith has been a legend on the DMV playground circuit. In 2003 Steve Francis brought a team full of pros down to Goodman league to take on Curt Smith’s team. Trouble came out on top putting up 62 points to Francis 59 and winning the game 121-120. A no nonsense player who always played to win, he never lost a game in Annapolis’ summer league. He would electrify the crowds with his variety of moves and long jumpers raining out of the sky. By far the most dominating playground scorer to ever come out of the nation’s capital. could shoot from anywhere and was unstoppable in the post, he was smart and was as tough as they come. Heres a clip of him destroying the And1 team.
6. Richard “Pee Wee” Kirkland - He is something of NYC drug and basketball Legend. Days were spent embarrassing foes on the hardwood and nights were spent wheeling & dealing in his Bentley. Kirkland was called by Sports Illustrated "the fastest man in college basketball”. He grew up as rivals with future All-NBA performer Nate “Tiny” Archibald, their rivalry continued well into their 30’s. Kirkland was the constant point guard while on the floor. He was said to be a typical New York guard with flashy handle, vision and the ability to score around the basket. Some Harlem natives compared his playing style to that of Walt “Clyde” Frazier. He attended Charles Evans Hughes High School in Manhattan, and was an All-City guard. Next he attended Kittrell community college in North Carolina, and averaged 41 points per game. After community college he attended Norfolk State University and played with future NBA star Bob Dandridge. Norfolk’s coach would later admit that John Wooden was sending scouts to Norfolk to try and get Kirkland to transfer to UCLA. In 1969 he was drafted by the Chicago Bulls with the fourth pick in the thirteenth round. The Bulls offered Pee Wee 40k for a one year contract to which Pee-Wee replied “Thanks, but no thanks. I had over 200k in my apartment what was I going to do with the Bulls 40k?”. He received a telegram after his 28th birthday from Knicks coach Red Holzman pleading for him to tryout.
5. Demetrius “Hook” Mitchell - Mitchell was the biggest playground legend the bay area has ever produced. At 5’9 with pogo stick legs, Hook Mitchell ran the bay area for well over a decade. His game has often been compared to that of Steve Francis or Nate Robinson. Known for his insane speed and jumping ability, he had an all around game that included deep range on his shot. Mitchell first teamed up with Antonio Davis to star at McClymonds high in Oakland. The tandem had great success as Davis signed a scholarship at UTEP. The two battled Skyline High where future NBA players Gary Payton and Greg Foster teamed up. Hook showcased his talent at the JUCO level but the classroom kept him out of division one ball. Urban legend has it “Hook” could dunk at the age of 13 when he was a mere 5’2. Mitchell is the first man to make jumping over cars a realistic idea. Crowds would gather at parks like Mosswood or Bushrod to watch Hook’s air show. Often people would challenge him to do dunks they didn’t think humanly possible, betting for serious cash in the process. He was notorious for winning amateur dunk contests around California. Just before the 2000 ASG Hook was arrested for robbery and spent the better part of a decade behind bars. Jason Kidd and Gary Payton both agreed that he was the best player to come out of Oakland. Drew Gooden claims he saw Hook jump over a car with a 10 speed bike on top, yes you read that right. Check out a few of his high flying dunks.
4. Billy “The Kid” Harris - Standing at only 6’2 Harris was a prolific long range shooter. An all city selection in high school at Dunbar, he played college ball at Northern Illinois. At NIU he averaged over 24 points as a senior including a 38 point game in Madison Square Garden. Billy was drafted and cut by the Chicago Bulls. He played on year for San Diego of the ABA averaging 8 points per game. But his game was never made for organized ball. Scoop Jackson of the magazine SLAM later dubbed him the best playground basketball player ever. "No one has ever claimed to have seen, heard about or witnessed Billy having a bad game. Not one story, not one game," wrote Jackson. Harris was a star on Chicago’s playground typically holding court for an entire day. Grew up playing with Jabari Parkers dad Sonny on the Chicago playgrounds. A regular at Chicago Summer tournaments his team won the summer league tournament 7 years in a row. At the age of 35 he challenged Michael Jordan to a game of one-on-one, to which Jordan replied “no thanks”. A Great passer he was also blessed with good speed and bounce. His best skill was his shooting as many have called him the best shooter Chicago has ever produced. Teammates and contemporaries swear he had range on his jump shot out to 40 feet.
3. Joe “The Destroyer” Hammond - Legend has it 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 record with 73 points in a game. The 6’2 guard was a thin and athletic wing who possessed big time shooting ability. Virtually unguardable one-on-one, Hammond gave pros like Tiny Archibald, Julius Erving, Ron Boone a serious run for their money. The Destroyer had his chances to play in the NBA. His reputation was so great, the Lakers team traveled to Harlem to watch him play in the summer. The Lakers took him in the fifth round of the 1971 Draft because Wilt Chamberlain wanted him. They offered him a contract, but he turned it down because there wasn't a no-cut-clause. Other reports say he was too busy making money in the drug game. A couple years later, a pro scout came to see Joe play. Instead of showcasing his ability he chose to ride his hot streak in dice instead. Eventually, Hammond turned to drugs, and ended up serving time in a prison in New York City. The Destroyer set a variety of Rucker scoring records including single game record 82 points in a game. "Pound-for-pound, Joe Hammond was the greatest player ever to come out of Harlem." Says Don Adams, Taft High School coach.
2. Earl “The Goat” Magnigut - Kareem Abdul Jabbar was asked on the day of his retirement, who was the greatest player he had ever played against? Kareem answered, "It would have to be Goat, Earl 'the Goat' Manigault." The Goat played during the basketball revolution of New York City in the 1960s. “The Goat” had a tough time with drugs starting with his expulsion from high school for smoking marijuana. He finished high school at Laurinburg Institute in North Carolina, averaging 31 points and 13 rebounds per game. Magnigut received recruiting letters from North Carolina, Duke, Indiana and hundreds of other college basketball programs. He ended up choosing a historically black college where he only lasted one semester. At 6’1 Magnigut had ridiculous leaping ability, he dunked on some of the NBA’s best shot blockers including Jabbar, Connie Hawkins and Willis Reed. “He reminded me a lot of David Thompson,” says Jabbar. He could really explode above the rim.” Of course he had a signature dunk, the double dunk. He allegedly would dunk the ball, catch it with his left hand, switch it to the right hand, and jam it back through. He showcased his leaping ability by pulling dollar bills off the top of the backboard to win bets around New York. Devoted much of his jumping ability to the fact that he wore ankle weights for much of his youth. Manigault started the Goat Tournament, a summer tourney that would feature NBA stars such as Bernard King and Mario Elie. Eventually he developed a herion addiction and faced jail time. He died in 1998 in his hometown of New York City.
1. Raymond Lewis - Jerry Tarkanian once remarked "Raymond Lewis was the greatest basketball player I ever saw”. Considered the best high school guard in Southern California over the past 40 years. The 6’1 guard had a superb handle for his time and was an intense competitor. He was an elite shooter and could finish amongst the trees around the basket. Lewis won three consecutive California State titles in 1969, 1970 and 1971. During that time he led the Verbum Dei Eagles to an 84-4 record and was named CIF Player of the Year in '70 and ’71. He famously torched a group of LA Lakers for 52 points in a summer league game while still in high school. Lewis chose to attended Cal-State LA, where he scored 73 points against UC Santa Barbara as a college freshman. Lewis left Cal-St. LA after his sophomore season and was drafted in the first round (18th overall). He went to summer league and then training camp with the Philadelphia Sixers. Then a legendary scrimmage in Philadelphia saw Lewis drop 60 points on number one pick Doug Collins. After the scrimmage Lewis demanded a bigger contract to which the Sixers replied he needed to mature for another year. Lewis became a fixture in summer and street ball leagues across southern California. In the 1983 summer pro league he faced off with NBA defensive player of the year Michael Cooper, Lewis gave him 56. Raymond Lewis was one of the greatest players I've ever seen ... nobody can change my mind about that," said basketball pioneer Sonny Vaccaro. For more on Lewis check out this short video.
Honorable Mention: Marques Haynes, "Jumpin" Jackie Jackson, Herman "Helicopter" Knowings, James "Fly" williams, Jack "Black Jack" Ryan, Larry "Bone collector" Williams, Freeway Williams, Raymond "Circus" King, John Staggers, Tyrone "Alimoe" Evans, Malloy "The Future" Nesmith, Sam Worthen, Antoine Joubert, Richie Adams, Arthur Sivels, Dwayne "Legend" Rogers, God Shammgod, Pookie Wilson