Downtown’s best blacktops


BY Joseph Rearick

Summer is the season for hooping it up on the blacktops of the basketball capital of the world, and the Downtown area is no exception. While Lower Manhattan’s courts don’t have the reputation, or cutthroat competition, of their famed uptown neighbor, Rucker Park, the area has plenty of spots for a solid pick-up game. From courts with 8-foot rims for youngsters dreaming of sinking the game-winning shot to those that host seriously competitive play among adults, you can find the right locale for your game. Here’s a look at the character of a few public courts so you can decide which one you’ll grace with your jumper this summer.

P.S./I.S. 89:

This school’s playground and basketball facilities are open to the public during the summer days, and the shady, enclosed spot provides the perfect venue for good practice. One full-sized hoop and one 8-foot are available and rarely occupied, so young and old can work on the fundamentals of their game. Indeed, the spot is known by so few that pick-up games don’t happen with any frequency, or at all. But rejoice in the opportunity to work out in private or play uninterrupted with a few friends. If you shoot an air ball from the free throw line, no one’s around to heckle.

Grand and Canal:

This barebones outfit speaks to the classic images of NYC street ball: a weathered recreational oasis just feet away from one of Downtown’s busiest corners. Comprised simply of two battered hoops, some asphalt and a chain-link fence, this court’s ambience changes dramatically and unpredictably on a daily basis. It is consistently empty until the mid-afternoon, daring an enterprising player to practice in the midday heat. But once five ‘o clock rolls around, it fills up with an odd mix of talented and goofy players. Sometimes serious games develop (usually among young professionals coming from work), but you’ll more often find a crowd interested in a casual game.

West Thames Park:

This recently opened Battery Park City facility offers courts that are both beautiful and strangely designed. Towards the playground at the Downtown end of the park, a semi-circle is sectioned off for the neighborhood’s burgeoning youth population to hoop it up on an 8-foot rim. During the playground’s peak hours, however, the single hoop becomes overcrowded with kids of varying abilities, and balls run into the surrounding jungle gym. Also, expect to see some teenagers abusing the hoop’s stature to experience the joy of dunking. Full sized hoops are located at the park’s other end, but instead of one full-sized court in a perfectly appropriate space, two half-courts sit side by side in a counterintuitive arrangement. This doesn’t perturb good players from showing up, it just prevents them from playing a full-court game. Quality half-court battles happen with regularity; don’t show up here in the late afternoon unless you can handle playing with guys who dunk (and not on the kiddy hoop).

Nelson A Rockefeller Park:

For those seeking a high level of play Downtown, this is another good local resource. The park’s basketball section is comprised of 6 courts, at least two of which are utilized by talented adult players in the afternoons. The others go to neighborhood kids having a good time and sometimes demonstrating an impressive array of skill. These courts skew younger than some of the City’s other strong basketball destinations; talented high school and college-aged players are the park’s best. And because they are trained to follow a referee’s whistle, the play adheres better to the game’s rules than that of most other public courts, which can sometimes devolve into a mess of fouls and travels. But the play isn’t puritanical; there are plenty of both to go around. 

The court at Grand and Canal is a classic New York City blacktop, complete with missing nets.