Hope Dreamsâ€”Beyond Basketball
â€œEarl was unbelievable. The thing that made Earl so great was that he made everything look so easy. He would go up and down the court and dunk whenever he wanted too.â€
It’s the opening ceremony of the 38th Annual Reggie Carter and Earl Manigault Basketball Classic Tournament, held at 99th Street and Amsterdam Avenue, also known as “The Goat Park.”
“The Goat,” was the legendary Manigault’s nickname--he died in 1998 at age 54.
Players, young and old, some living in other states and other parts of the borough, come each year to join in the festivities with friends and family members. “I used to play with him,” recalled Joe Rivas, a Harlem resident. “Earl was unbelievable. The thing that made Earl so great was that he made everything look so easy. He would go up and down the court and dunk whenever he wanted too.”
Rivas is now 63 years old. He has a limp but he’s still sprightly. He grabs the ball from the throng of youths with lanky bodies and wide shoulders. He dribbles the ball beyond the three-point line. He aims and fires. Swish! He shoots three more times with the same results.
Rivas never played college basketball, but he did play professionally in Germany and France.
“I wish I could play; but after three knee operations, I can’t do it any more,” he complains. “There’s no cartilage in one knee. Still, I get the urge whenever I see a basketball.”
Manigault, who was 6’-1” awed teammates, opponents and fans by his jumping abilities. Legend has it that Manigault could pick a quarter off the top of the backboard. He played in the playgrounds with such greats as Earl “The Pearl” Monroe, Connie Hawkins and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who claimed that Manigault was “the best basketball player his size in the history of New York City.”
“I remember him jumping up and touching the top of the backboard,” said Powell Burns, a graphic designer who grew up in the Frederick Douglass houses on Amsterdam Avenue. “He came from New York City. He played ball in the street. He could have been a pro, but you know, things happened.”
Manigault was raised in the Upper Westside and Harlem. He grew up playing basketball and scored 57 points in a game, his junior year at Benjamin Franklin High School. He was touted as a star on the rise and 75 colleges offered him scholarships, including North Carolina, Duke and Indiana. Instead of going to a major Division I college basketball program, he selected Johnson C. Smith University, an all Black college in the South where he lasted one semester because of grades and problems with the coach.
Afterward, he became addicted to heroin, served prison time for drug possession in 1969 for a year. In 1977, he served two more years for a botched robbery attempt so he could buy heroin - a HBO movie was made about his life, starring Don Cheadle. After his last prison term, he quit heroin and created his “Walk Away from Drugs” basketball tournament. It was his way of giving something back to the community that he lived and cherished and to prevent others from going down the same tragic path.
“That’s why I’m out here, trying to make sure that other kids don’t make the same mistakes that Earl made,” said Rodney Carter, executive director of the Reggie Carter Foundation and younger brother. “I played high school basketball and I had the opportunity to go to college, but I didn’t go to school. I got caught up in the drug world. But he saved my life by being an example, by being someone I could talk too, by helping me to believe that if he could accomplish the things he had done - then it’s possible for me to succeed. So I was able to get off drugs and go to college with his help.”
The difference between someone living in the projects, failing and succeeding is a thin line. Reggie Carter straddled that line very carefully. He knew drug dealers. He hung out with stick-up kids. He knew pimps and number runners. But he knew he had talent and others noticed.
“Reggie was given an opportunity to leave Manhattan in the seventh grade. He used to play for Riverside Church and a man named Ernie Lorch who ran the basketball program helped him get into a private school,” said Carter. “But this is the opening ceremony of the Reggie Carter and Earl Mannigault basketball tournament, and the reason why they added Reggie Carter, is because we’re working together, as a combined unit to save lives.”
Carter was recruited by a young assistant of the University of Hawaii, Rick Pitino, who has now become a legendary coach in his own right. Carter was suspended from the NCAA for one year for taking gifts. He transferred to St. John’s University. In the 1979 NCAA tournament, in the regional semi-final game, he scored the winning basket to beat Duke University. However, St. John’s lost a two-point game to the University of Pennsylvania - one basket away from the Final Four.
Carter was drafted by the Knicks in the second round, but only played two years in the NBA. But Carter bounced back and earned a master’s degree in Education at City College.
He worked as a counselor, mentor and an elementary school teacher in the New York City educational system. He taught social studies and was a basketball coach for underprivileged kids in Brooklyn. He became an Assistant Principal at Mineola High School in Long Island. In 1999, Carter succumbed to sarcoidosis, a rare blood disease.
Now, on any given day, Carter’s younger brother, Rodney can be found at Goat’s Park on 99th, talking with kids, navigating first-time juvenile offenders through the judicial system and counseling those who doesn’t have a father figure.
“Our partnership is great,” said Darrin Manigault. “My father worked hard. And for me, 10 years in the game, I can see what he’s been struggling with - and until his dying days when he could barely walk, he would still come out here to do something with these kids.”
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