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‘NYC Point Gods’ documentary honors some of the city’s most iconic hoopers

New York’s famous lead guards are the focus of the Showtime documentary featuring Stephon Marbury, Mark Jackson, Kenny Smith and more

There’s a saying that’s on the back of every jersey given to players who are playing at the legendary high school/AAU league known as Is8:

“Bring Your Game, Not Your Name.”

This motto best describes the culture of New York City basketball. You weren’t bringing just your name to legendary courts such as Rucker Park, The Cage, Dyckman or Gersh Park. You were bringing neighborhood pride and carrying your borough’s honor. Legends were molded and folk stories were born on those basketball battlegrounds, themes that Showtime captured in a documentary debuting Friday in collaboration with Kevin Durant and Rich Kleiman’s Boardroom and Thirty Five Ventures.

NYC Point Gods highlights the history and rich tradition of New York City birthing some of the game’s most iconic point guards. It was players such as Rafer Alston aka “Skip 2 My Lou,” Kenny Anderson, Andre Barrett, Mark Jackson, Stephon Marbury, God Shammgod, Kenny “The Jet” Smith, Dwayne “Pearl” Washington and Kemba Walker, just to name a few, who revolutionized the way the game was played forever.

“New York is a place of survival. You always got to figure out how to get better because of the competition,” Shammgod said of his experience growing up hooping in New York City during the early 1990s.

The inventor of the deadliest crossover move the game has ever seen named after himself, Shammgod battled elite competition such as Felipe López, Richie Parker, Kareem Reid and Marbury weekly. It forced him to bring his A-game regardless of the tournament or league. His scoring ability, meshed with his tricky playground ballhandling skills, were frequently the talk of the town during his playing days at La Salle Academy. Teaming up with Metta Sandiford-Artest, formerly Ron Artest, Shammgod dazzled the crowd and scouts and became a McDonald’s All American, something he had his eyes set on after seeing Harlem legend Reid achieve it in 1994.

But what helped put the pro scouts and executives on notice was when Shammgod led Providence to the Elite Eight in the 1997 NCAA tournament. He dropped 23 points while dishing out five assists in a tough loss to a University of Arizona squad led by Mike Bibby. Following that performance, the Washington Wizards drafted Shammgod with the 46th pick in the second round of the 1997 NBA draft.

“Back then, no one was afraid to compete against each other. At that time, that’s what made NYC hoops better than any other region in the country,” said Edgar Burgos, one of the documentary’s producers.

Burgos, a Harlem native with more than two decades of film experience, covered and captured New York City streetball for the NBA and MSG Network. From watching Washington’s showmanship to Anderson’s dominance on the court as an undersized guard at Molloy High School, Burgos saw from afar how much talent was brewing in the Big Apple.

“In order to be a true NYC point guard, you had to be tough, willing to fight and have a certain winning swagger towards you,” Burgos added.

Andre Barrett started as a McDonald’s All American before going on to a college and professional career.

Boston Herald/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald via Getty Images

Outside looking in, people would see this as a different level of hell, with no breaks given while being battle-tested against elite competition daily. But if you were a New York-bred hooper, this was the norm as rivalries were born at an early age.

Before he won championships in China and put up 20 points and eight assists a night in the NBA, Coney Island’s Marbury learned this feeling at the tender age of 12. Following a bloodline of brothers who made a name for themselves in New York City high school hoops, Marbury played at the famed Abraham Lincoln High School. His impact on New York City basketball was so significant that it has been rumored that movie director Spike Lee’s He Got Game was based on Marbury’s journey to NBA greatness.

Like every era that dies down, a new one arises, opening the eyes of a new generation with star power that shakes up how the game’s played. Among those new floor generals was Barrett, an undersized point guard from the Bronx.

“It started when we were young. I used to always hear about players like Omar [Cook], this kid from Brooklyn who was playing for BQE at the time. I played at Kips Bay with Kenny Satterfield, but everyone knew about me coming from the Bronx and Omar coming out of Brooklyn,” said Barrett, a former Seton Hall Pirates sensation whose teammate Satterfield went on to have an outstanding collegiate career at the University of Cincinnati.

Barrett was a McDonald’s All American at legendary national powerhouse Rice High School and part of an elite trio of New York City point guards in the Class of 2000, all ranked Top 25 nationally. Barrett, Queens native Taliek Brown and Brooklyn’s Cook would often run into one another in some of the city’s most elite tournaments, which gave hoop politicians something to talk about.

“I would hear things like, this kid from Brooklyn, Omar Cook. He can pass the ball, he dominates the game without scoring and all this stuff. I was like, man, I’m not trying to hear about all this stuff,” Barrett said and chuckled while discussing his early rivalry with the Brooklyn guard.

“Also, while at Kips Bay, I would go out to Queens to play in Kenny Anderson’s tournament in LeFrak City and that’s Taliek’s home/projects he grew up playing basketball at. Anytime I’d come there, people knew I was a kid from the Bronx. They always said, ‘You nice, but we got a guy from LeFrak [Brown] that’s nice, too.’ ”

Brown lit up the stat sheet at St. John’s Prep, averaging 22.5 points and 6.6 assists. Jim Calhoun recruited Brown to UConn, where he was captain when the team won the 2004 NCAA national championship, the second in school history.

The competition Brown endured created a buzz for himself in the city and prepared him to prove naysayers wrong about holding his own as an undersized guard.

Omar Cook was one of the top point guards to come out of New York City in the late 1990s and early 2000s, eventually playing one season at St. John’s.

Manny Millan/Sports Illustrated via Getty Images

Omar Cook played for Casademont Zaragoza in Spain, and retired from professional basketball in May.

Borja B. Hojas/Getty Images for Hereda San Pablo Burgos

While some kids spent the weekend watching Saturday morning cartoons or cutting the grass, some who were competitively playing basketball in New York City were figuring out how to break full-court presses and traps as early as 8 a.m.

“Mike Boynton and I, someone who I was playing with since I was 9, 10 years old, started to play in leagues around the city,” Cook told Andscape. “We would wake up around 8 in the morning then travel to the Bronx to play in UDC.”

Cook and Barrett tested their skills against elite competition in some of New York City’s most legendary leagues such as Is8, Soul in the Hole, UDC, Citywide, Young World, ProStyle and Nike Swoosh. Rather than individual stats dictating who was the best in a one-on-one matchup, matchups were won when your team was taking championship pictures with trophies more than 6 feet tall.

Players such as Louisville Cardinals legend Russ Smith, Drexel sharpshooter Chris Fouch, former Jordan Brand All-American Omari Lawrence, NBA All-Star Walker, University of Virginia standout Sylven Landesberg, former Florida Gators sharpshooter Erving Walker and NBA veteran Lance Stephenson forced you to be prepared and leave it all on the court. The Gauchos, Riverside Church, Long Island Lightning, Team Next, NY Panthers, Brooklyn USA, S. Carter Elite and Juice All-Stars, to name a few, made the AAU circuit pay close attention to the scene in the Northeast region.

It played a major part in why New York City was the melting pot for Division I men’s coaches to recruit, with more than 100 players from New York City on Division I rosters this year. It’s the most out of any region in the country.

Cook came out of Ingersoll Houses project in the Fort Greene section of Brooklyn, also home to Wizards forward Taj Gibson and Seattle Storm guard Epiphanny Prince of the WNBA. Cook credits most of his skills and intangibles to watching the greats who came before him, such as his older brother, Shameek Cook, legendary streetball player Ed “Booger” Smith and NBA legend Bernard King.

“For me, when I was young, it started with Bernard King, who at the time played for the Knicks. He’s the person I saw coming out of my projects, so I model my game and my mean streak after him,” Cook said.

“I was lucky to see Ed ‘Booger’ Smith at an early age. At the time, he was a celebrity, showing off his skills in movies and I used to watch him play pickup ball in regular street clothes. His handles were insane and court vision was unbelievable. I saw him roll the ball full court, picked it up and made a pass for a layup and I thought that was crazy.”

Ed Smith received plenty of praise after his debut in the classic hoops documentary, Soul in the Hole. He would go on to make a name for himself at Rucker Park while being on the cover of an issue of Sports Illustrated — a rare honor for streetball players.

Cook went on to have a successful freshman campaign for St. John’s University. Starting at point guard, he averaged 15.3 points while distributing 8.7 assists a night for a squad coached by Mike Jarvis.

Despite short stints in the NBA and the National Basketball Development League, Cook became a household name overseas — becoming a FIBA EuroCup Challenge champion and a two-time FIBA Champions League winner before making an unplanned retirement announcement during a postgame interview in May.

Some of New York City’s legendary point guards who are no longer playing are ready to share their knowledge with a new generation of hungry guards. Shammgod joined the Dallas Mavericks as a player development coach in 2019 and Cook desires to become an NBA coach.

Cook met with coaches and executives in Las Vegas during NBA summer league this month and shared a moment with ESPN analyst Richard Jefferson, who paused an interview to congratulate Cook on his retirement.

“He appreciates the vulnerability I displayed in that [retirement] video,” Cook said.

“My family and friends know who I am, but the young generation is not familiar with me. So, for someone like RJ, who is an analyst on NBA on ESPN, to stop his interview to acknowledge me meant a lot.”

As Cook embarks on a new career chapter, the former Red Storm great finds himself part of a trend.

Fresh off coaching his own squad in the Rucker Park regional in The Basketball Tournament, Alston provides his game education to the youth while positioning them for success in his RA Elite program. Former NBA greats such as Jackson and Kenny Smith continue to be fan favorites with their witty personalities and ability to school NBA enthusiasts through their play-by-play and postgame commentary. Rod Strickland, who is also featured in the documentary, is the newest head coach for the Long Island University men’s basketball team, where he has his eyes set on leading the Northeast Conference squad back to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2018.

The knowledge these legends are dropping to the next generation of hoopers such as Jermel “Mel Mel” Thomas, Johnuel “Boogie” Fland or Tai Turnage will help keep the legacy alive.

Welcome to New York City, where your game speaks louder than your name. Just ask the point gods.