Earl “the Goat” Manigault
September 7, 1944 - Earl Manigault was a famous American street basketball player nicknamed “The Goat.” Earl Manigault was born in Charleston, South Carolina, and raised in Harlem, New York. He grew up playing basketball and practiced constantly. Manigault set the NYC junior high school record by scoring 57 points in a game in the late 1950s. While attending high school, Manigault’s life took a fateful turn when he began associating with groups that would eventually lead to his expulsion. He started using drugs and skipping classes. He was the star of his high school team and seemed destined for greatness in the National Basketball Association. Manigault was expelled from school for smoking marijuana. He finished high school at a private academy, Laurinburg Institute, in North Carolina.
He enrolled in Johnson C. Smith University, but left after one semester due to his constant problems with school and continuous quibbles with the coach.
The nickname “Goat” has several proposed origins. In an article for the New York Times, Earl stated that he got the nickname because a junior high school teacher kept pronouncing his name Mani-Goat. Other theories state that by the time Manigault was in high school, he was known as “The Goat” because of his quiet demeanor. Another states that the nickname started by confusion over Manigault’s last name; people thought Manigault referred to himself as Earl Nanny Goat, so he became “The Goat”. However, the most popular belief is that he was called The Goat as the acronym for Greatest Of All Time. Although it is unclear how the name was dubbed, Greatest of All Time is the idea that lasted. The “Happy Warrior Playground” on Amsterdam at West 99th Street in Manhattan is more commonly referred to as “Goat Park” where Mr. Manigault reigned.
He was mentored by Holcombe Rucker.
Manigault was particularly famous for his leaping abilities on the basketball court, including his signature move - the double dunk. He would dunk the ball, catch it with his left hand, switch the ball to his right hand, bring it back around to the top of the basket and jam it through again, all done while still in the air on a single jump, and without hanging on the rim. Like other street basketballers of the day such as Jackie Jackson, Earl was reportedly able to touch the top of the backboard to retrieve quarters and dollar bills, part of “elaborate innovations and tricks” elite street players of the era performed before games to help build their reputations. He was only 6’1”, but wore ankle weights constantly during practice as a child which helped him to build up tremendous jumping ability. He once dunked two-handed during a game from near the foul line over two players much taller than himself (Sahil Muliyil 6’8”, David Urenda 6’9”). He once reverse dunked 36 times in a row to win a $60 bet.
But to prove dunking was not his only skill, he would practice hundreds of shots each day, making him a deadly long-range shooter as well. Manigault played with some of the best players of his day, such as Earl Monroe, Connie Hawkins, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the latter of whom went as far as calling Manigault the greatest player he had ever seen. When Abdul-Jabbar finished his career with the Los Angeles Lakers and had his number retired at the Los Angeles Forum, he was asked who was the greatest player he had played with or against. After a long silence, he answered, “That would have to be ‘The Goat’”. Earl is featured in the 2012 documentary film “Doin’ it in the Park” about New York City street basketball.
Manigault returned to Harlem and developed a heroin addiction. He served sixteen months in prison in 1969 and 1970 for drug possession and another term of two years from 1977 to 1979 for a failed robbery attempt so he could buy heroin. After this prison term, Manigault quit heroin and started the “Walk Away From Drugs” tournament for kids in Harlem to prevent them from making the same mistakes he had made. Much of his later years were dedicated to working with kids on the court.
Manigault is quoted in the New York Times article ‘A Fallen King Revisits His Realm’ as saying “For every Michael Jordan , there’s an Earl Manigault. We all can’t make it. Somebody has to fall. I was the one.”
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