NBA Retired Players Mentor Youth at Rucker Park (PHOTOS)

Rucker Park is hallowed ground for every basketball historian. When the opportunity arose to step into this sphere for the latest installment of the Full Court Press: Prep for Success program, I was charged to seize the moment. The National Basketball Retired Players Association initiates the Prep for Success sessions in cities nationwide as a mechanism to introduce teens and pre-teens to professional mentors and fundamental skills training.

Full Court Press combines on-court development with off-court workshops in life and career readiness, all delivered by former pros. Much was special about this iteration at Rucker Park, including the presence of NBA Hall of Famer and Bronx representer Nate “Tiny” Archibald.

As one of seven, Tiny remembers growing up starving in the projects, which blessed him with gratitude and humility. He stumbled academically in high school, but was surrounded by sage mentors stressed the value of higher education. Without that guidance, and being influenced by the 1960s, New York City and poverty, surely Archibald could have been another could have been.

But he dug deep into his well of potential and turned out a historic career with a 1981 NBA Championship cherry on top as a member of the Boston Celtics. On this day in Harlem, that’s not really the gig. Tiny is just one of the men who care—along with former pros Tony Campbell, Albert King, Sleepy Floyd and Johnny Newman—to embrace the righteous task of cultivating young minds.

Rucker and basketball go hand in hand like Jesus and Lala on the way to Lincoln. During our chat, I introduced Tiny to Jordan Barber, as he had not heard of the man or his story. On June 29, after attending an Entertainer’s Basketball Classic game at Rucker Park, Barber was murdered across the street, outside of his home at the Polo Grounds. He lived 18 years and pursued dreams of culinary greatness, but was stripped of his life while playing the role of peacemaker between two crews.

“Right here?” Tiny asked for reiteration after hearing the tale. The Polo Grounds Towers directly overlooks Rucker Park and the serendipity of the Full Court Press clinic being present on this scorching Saturday lies in the fact that mentorship, funding and basketball are three vital keys to help solve the pandemic of gun violence among our youth.

Here lies a tremendous thank you to the associations and people who make this progressive endeavor possible: The National Basketball Retired Players Association, NBA Cares, Leadership Foundations, Jobsy Wobsy, and the Rucker Park family tree. Tiny Archibald advises that communities need to re-establish connectivity between the elders and the youth. Full Court Press is an swift first step in that direction.

Chris Wise is a shooter from Crown Heights, Brooklyn. Learn more about his work on the community here.