Rucker Park DurantJosh Lefkowitz
There’s this clip online of a twenty-two-year-old Kevin Durant torching it up at Harlem’s famed Rucker Park. The game’s entirety is on YouTube – he scores 66 by the end – but the best part is around the start of the fourth quarter: KD knocks down four consecutive three pointers and with each successive swish, the crowd’s electricity intensifies, to the point that by the fourth drained trey, the fans spill out of their seats and onto the court, interrupting the game as a result. Folks are surrounding him like the second coming. People are reaching out (or I guess I mean up – he’s 7 feet tall, I don’t care what the official logs say or Durant’s original desire to play the 3; the guy is 84 inches with shoes on and everyone knows it) and just trying to touch him, to get some of that magic or mojo or simply be a witness, like how the Nike executives insist we ought be for that other generational superstar, the one out of Akron.
I think about KD’s Rucker Park performance often. Imagine it: to be the best – the uppermost echelon of excellence, the very pinnacle of brilliance – at anything in the world. For everyone to gather to watch you do the incredible, and then, for you to deliver on that promise. When someone excels in this way, it gives people hope. It’s like a giant win for the human species.
The hard part about the KD Rucker Park scenario is the underside of that coin, which is to say, supreme and superior performance can send one back to one’s own meager, humble life with a deflated feeling of inferiority – that is, if you’re wired a particular way, which I regret to inform you I am.
Suffice to say, I am resigned to the fact that I will never score 66 points at Harlem’s Rucker Park, not least of reasons being because I am forty-one years old, five foot 11 and a half, Jewish, stricken with a self-afflicted minor but persistent case of gout, and haven’t played organized basketball since the winter of ‘94.
(Parenthetically, I want to mention I did once catch fire, as a thirteen-year-old youth, on Marc Berman’s backyard driveway court in Huntington Woods, Michigan, during a heated game of two-on-two: Marc and I against the Field twins. This was confirmed to me years later when Andrew Field passed through NYC while I was still living there, and we met for a veggie-heavy lunch at a crowded Chelsea cafe. We swapped stories and memories, as old friends often do, and at one point Andrew asked, “do you remember when you couldn’t miss a shot at Marc Berman’s house that one time?” “I do,” I said, softly, smiling, “I do remember that.” My very own meager Rucker Park performance, confirmed to me by another – and so, I had not in fact merely dreamt it!).
I sometimes wonder if there is anything I can do these days to elicit a fans-storming-the-court type reaction; that the masses would be so delighted, awed, and overcome by my performance that they crowd around me as one might a minor deity. My ego likes this daydream very much, but in actuality it does sound stressful – especially if you had to use the bathroom.
For a while I thought or rather hoped it could be a poem that would do the trick – a certain heaven-sent ordering of syllables and words, aligned in just the right way so as to elicit maximum emotion from wide swaths of readers – but fourteen years of genuine attempts at exactly this goal has me beginning to doubt if such a literary-aligned achievement will ever successfully occur (though I suspect I will keep trying; at the very least, it gives me something to do with my free time).
And actually, if I’m being honest with myself, I think the whole admired-by-large-throngs thing was really more of a past, younger-me goal, back during the eager theater years. It seems lately I’m content with screenshotting a publication, throwing it up online for my Facebook and Instagram friends to read, and basking in the temporary glow of anywhere from 13 to 76 likes or hearts. That seems to be enough, for me, for now: that my parents’ cousins (Facebook) or Russian sexbots (Instagram) appreciate my latest attempt at getting it right, or at least, getting it written.
Perhaps it is a sign of maturity – or is this settling in? – but mostly I just want to make my wife happy; that’s the audience for whom I have the greatest concern and consideration. Oh, I know, I know, you don’t believe me – I’m not even sure if I believe me! – but that does seem to be the place in which I’ve centered my need-sphere, and lucky me, she is symbiotically willing enough to play along.
Don’t get me wrong: there’s never been a single moment in our years together where I have done or said or behaved in such a way that she has ‘leapt from her seat,’ so to speak, and ‘rushed onto the court’ of my life, to be a witness to my greatness – oh no, no no, nothing like that. But I can make her laugh, sometimes, as she does me, and that feels pretty good. I will share (and I apologize in advance should my in-laws be reading this screenshot on Facebook or Instagram) that I do recall one steamy evening wherein I performed exceptionally well during an intimate bedroom exchange. This was during the first year of the pandemic, and we were binging Greatest British Bake-Off at that time, and so afterwards, in the post-coital glow of elation, I was awarded a no-notes Paul Hollywood style handshake, along with an English-accented “well done.” So that was pretty great. But there’s no video of that moment on YouTube, and no one has asked me about it in interviews to this day. The victory was a private one, and it lives in my memory – that hazy, half-truth place where the story of my life unfolds, and insists beyond reason that I’m actually kind of a hero, in my own unique way. It’s wonderful there, in the myth of my mind. I’ve come to rely on it, in order to get out of bed in the morning.