Many NBA stars are proud to say that basketball has saved their lives, dragged them from dangerous streets, drugs, and violence. However, there are no more than 500 players in the NBA. Not all super-talented basketball players were predestined for success. This is one of the stories from the dark side of the streets.
Earl “The Goat” Manigault. The great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar called him the best short player in the history of New York. The legend of New York street basketball was in his prime in the ’60s and ’70s of the last century. However, a rapid decline followed shortly thereafter.
In 1969, when Jabbar became the most wanted rookie in the NBA and the biggest boost to Milwaukee Bucks, Earl was arrested for drug possession. He spent 16 months in jail.
“We grew up together. Kareem and I were inseparable friends. We both were talented and we both went on different paths. He chose his own, I chose mine.”
As Jabbar slid toward the Hall of Fame, Manigault walked through the streets of self-destruction. The same ones on which he was the hero.
“Back then there were only a few people that who could do what Manigault was doing”, Jabbar said.
“He was very talented, powerful, fast. He had a 60-inch vertical. He could deal with much bigger players under the basket without much struggle. Basketball was his only way of expressing.”
Manigault dunked on Kareem, Connie Hawkins, Willis Reed, and other greats.
“We did everything that Michael Jordan and the company do today, we just called it differently,” said the Goat (he was nicknamed like that by the professor who pronounced his last name Mani-Goat).
“We called the 360 dunk around-the-world dunk, and the tomahawk dunk was called the Goat dunk.”
But, the lack of discipline has reversed his basketball career. He was expelled out of high school for smoking marijuana, moved to another school and successfully graduated. He then got calls from reputable universities like Indiana, North Carolina, and Duke.
Earl was well aware that he would not be able to meet demanding school programs along with basketball and went to Johnson C. Smith, an Afro-American school in Charlotte. The decision brought its consequences and reflected like a boomerang. He didn’t get along with the coach and packed the suitcases before the end of the year.
Anxious, without the desire for college basketball, he returned home. His old friend, Kareem, has long gone to the West Coast and became the well known UCLA name.
“Then I went straight to the bottom. I got into heroin. I became a heavy addict and needed $100 a day for the required dose. I started stealing.” – Earl said.
“It was a pity, a tragedy,” Kareem said.
“He had more than enough talent, he had proud. He was not a total loser like the ones he was hanging out with, and you never thought he would end up like that.”
When he got out of prison in 1970, he was 25 years old and spent a short time in Utah, in the probation camp. He failed, and the body could not withstand. He returned to Harlem, but this time to start The Goat Tournament, which was held every year and where the future NBA stars like Reggie Carter and Bernard King were born.
“It was my way to thank those who stayed with me when I was at the most difficult stage of my life. I felt I had to return the debt to the community for the respect and the attention they had given me over the years, even when I was at the bottom.”
Despite good intentions, bad habits have returned, and in 1977 he began to socialize with heroin again. That summer, Manigault had formed a plan with several friends. A plan worth six million dollars. They failed, the police caught them, and the plan was never discovered. He spent two years in jail. After leaving the prison he dropped the drug forever.
“The heroin killed my body and I could no longer look into the mirror. I needed so much courage and pain, but I did it. I got out of it as I got into it. Without drugs, hospitals, therapies and stuff like that. I beat the drug just as I once beat my opponents in the field. I imagined myself going to the rim, but the opponent, in this case, drug, stood between me and my goal. I ran to the left and to the right, but the opponent was still there. There was nothing left for me but to jump over it. I jumped, flew to the basket and dunked.”
Sadly, the drug has left unrecoverable consequences. Earl had three heart surgeries and eventually died of congestive heart failure in 1998 at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City.
Loser? In relation to Kareem, of course. But compared to many others, he is definitely a winner. Kareem was right. Earl is not a complete loser. From the toughest game of life, he came out as a winner, came out alive. And do you know who gets out alive out of the toughest battles? Only kings.
The movie about The Goat
If you want to watch a movie about the life of Earl Manigault, in 1996 a director Eriq La Salle and HBO gave us Rebound: The Legend of Earl “The Goat” Manigault.
While Oscar-winner Don Cheadle played as Manigault, former NBA players like Kevin Garnett, Mitchell Butler, and Joe Smith were legendary NBA players and New York street ballers. Garnett is Wilt Chamberlain, Butler is Earl Monroe, while Joe Smith acts as Connie Hawkins. The movie was very noticeable, and it’s no surprise when the famous movie-makers were included in production. For example, one of the film co-producers was John Badham (“Drop Zone”), while D.J. Caruso worked as a producer and in the movie “Nick of Time”.
Here’s a clip from the movie where The Goat touches the top of the backboard with ease.
For basketball-movie maniacs, here’s a piece of information that in 1993, a great Brian Lindstrom filmed a documentary on the same theme entitled “Earl the Goat Manigault: Coming Back, Give Back.”
If you are interested, you can order Rebound: The Legend of Earl the Goat Manigault on Amazon.
New York street legends
Since the 1950s, the biggest street basketball shows played on the streets of New York, mostly in hoods where no smart white man ever entered. That shows are also remembered today. After all, young players will tell you that those very old names deserve the greatest respect and that they have just opened the way for many of today’s stars. And to those who are just coming, who are still balling on the Bronx and Harlem courts. Let’s just mention the biggest ballers:
“Easy” Ed Smith
Earl “The Goat” Manigault
Richard “Pee Wee” Kirkland
Joe “The Destroyer” Hammond
Herman “The Helicopter” Knowling
James “Fly” Williams
Eric “Elevator Man” Cobb
“Terminator” Ronnie Mathias
Lloyd “Swee’ Pea” Daniels
Tony “Red” Bruin
“Master” Rob Hotchkiss
“The Future” Malloy Nesmith
Rafer “Skip to my Lou” Alston