Wheelchair basketball takes over Rucker Park

Team Queens (Gray) captures NVWG gold

 

After arriving at the famed Holcombe Rucker Park in Harlem, N.Y., Brent Garlic hoped he’d have a blast and put on a show. He did both.

The Queens (Gray) and Manhattan (Blue) teams square off during the National Veterans Wheelchair Games wheelchair basketball tournament at Holcombe Rucker Park in Harlem in New York City on Friday. (Photo by John Groth)

Not only did the 42-year-old Army veteran help lead his Queens (Gray) team to the National Veterans Wheelchair Games gold medal Friday afternoon, he won the 3-point shooting contest, too.

Team Queens (Gray) blew out Team Manhattan (Blue) in the final game of the round-robin tournament to finish 2-0 and capture the title. And Garlic won the 3-point shooting contest at halftime of the second game, hitting a 3-pointer from the shaded right corner for the victory.

“It was great, man. The heritage, the history, knowing that all the greats came here and shut it down,” says Garlic, who sustained a T11 spinal-cord injury in a car accident in California. “I tried to come out here and do the same.”

Named after Holcombe Rucker, a local teacher and playground director for the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation, Rucker Park has been one of the iconic places for street basketball — featuring countless tournaments and hosting a host of NBA players from the likes of Wilt Chamberlain and Julius Erving to Stephon Marbury and Kevin Durant.

But on Friday, wheelchair basketball took over one of its blue-and-orange courts during the fifth competition day of the 2021 National Veterans Wheelchair Games, co-sponsored by the Department of Veterans Affairs and Paralyzed Veterans of America.

One of Rucker’s children, Philip, attended the games and awarded medals. Both were Army veterans. For Phillip, this was healing.

“This is about the true values of my father — these type of men and women are the true values of myself and my Uncle Jimmy [James Rucker] … ” Phillip Rucker says.

Wheelchair basketball players deal with the high-90s temperatures and humidity by draping cold towels around their necks at Holcombe Rucker Park in Harlem in New York City on Friday at the 2021 National Veterans Wheelchair Games. (Photo by John Groth)

 

Instead of playing inside a convention center, athletes wheeled about outside and dealed with the elements — which included the heat. With temperatures in the low 90s and high humidity, games were shortened. Instead of four eight-minute quarters, there were two 10-minute halves with a running clock. Halftime was five minutes. Players draped themselves with cold towels under tents and cooled off with water, too. Hydration and rest were key, says 61-year-old Marine Corps veteran Glenn McClary, who was born and raised in Queens, N.Y.

“For one thing, it was hot,” says McClary, an above-the-left-knee amputee. “But other than that, it was great experience to play on Rucker, playing with some of my old teammates and new teammates.”

With less players at this tournament because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, there were just three teams. So, the tournament featured a round-robin format, with those teams — New York (Red), Queens (Gray) and Manhattan (Blue)— squaring off against each other.

The Queens (Gray) team celebrates its wheelchair basketball gold medal at Holcombe Rucker Park in Harlem in New York City on Friday at the 2021 National Veterans Wheelchair Games. (Photo by John Groth)

 

Garlic helped Queens edge Manhattan by six points in the first game, coming up with a key steal and a layup with 1 minute left to seal the win.

New York (Red) and Manhattan (Blue) provided the wild excitement, as their game went into double overtime and then turned to free throws to decide the winner. New York’s McClary scored late baskets to send the game into extra sessions each time.

Tied after both overtimes, the game went to a free-throw shooting contest to determine the winner. Seven straight players missed free throws before Team New York’s LeToi Adams made one to secure the victory.
But thanks to that time to rest, the Queens team rolled to a victory in the final game and finished undefeated.

Wheelchair basketball players compete at Holcombe Rucker Park in Harlem, N.Y., during the 40th National Veterans Wheelchair Games. (Photo by PVA staff)
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