Basketball is the sport that captures the rhythms, pace, culture and desperation of life in the inner city. From playgrounds in Brooklyn, to Rucker Park, to Madison Square Garden, New York City has embraced Dr. Naismith's game with greater enthusiasm and produced more elite basketball talent than any other city.
This is not an exhaustive list of the greatest New York City ballers. Neighborhoods throughout the five boroughs are replete with tales of playground legends like "Pee Wee" Kirkland, Earl "The Goat" Manigault, Joe "The Destroyer" Hammond and Herman "Helicopter" Knowlings who never played in the NBA for a variety of reasons.
The following list is restricted to players who sculpted their games on the blacktops and gymnasiums of New York City. NBA stars such as Michael Jordan and Carmelo Anthony, both of whom were born in Brooklyn, but developed their skills elsewhere, are not included.
Athletes raised in other parts of the state, such as Bob Lanier of Buffalo, New York, were also not considered. Elton Brand was a tough call because he grew up just north of the city in Mt. Vernon and played AAU ball in Manhattan. Ultimately, he was left off the list because he is so closely associated with the town of Peekskill where he attended high school.
The rankings are based upon the players' success in the ABA and NBA, not simply talent alone. In a couple of cases in which athletes were unable to play in the NBA during some of their peak years, their entire bodies of work were examined.
As always, it is difficult to compare athletes from different generations. I tried to strike a balance between evaluating players relative to their contemporaries, while also taking into consideration the evolution of the game and those who play it.