Some native New Yorkers who were bouncing around in the ’70s will swear that Joe Hammond was a better basketball player than Dr. J. For years you’ve heard the tales get taller on the blacktop: “Hammond dropped 50 on Doc. He could’ve busted ass in the N.B.A. if only. Nate Archibald, a Hall-of-Famer who played with legends Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, and Robert Parish on the Boston Celtics, says he truly believes all the playground hype for one simple reason - he was there. “I was actually working a Rucker game once for ESPN when Joe Hammond scored around 82 points against pro-caliber competition. And I wouldn’t have believed it if I didn’t see it with my own eyes. It was live, and it was real,” says Archibald. “Growing up in the city, I knew all that playground talk was not just hype, because I played with and against some of those great players.
Despite the fact that he never played a minute of college or NBA ball, many consider Hammond the greatest streetballer ever. His high arching jump shot was allergic to the rim. He found driving lanes that didn’t exist and his knack for scoring made it look as though he were on cruise control. No player from NY City ever used those metal grated backboards as well as The Destroyer. His performances led Wilt Chamberlain to talk to the Lakers about signing him to a Rookie contract. But Hammond turned down the 50,000 Lakers owner Jack Cooke was offering because , he said, he could make more money selling drugs on the street. He was right. By the time he was 21, he had over 200,00 stashed away in his appartment. “That was real money to me,” said Hammond, “Selling drugs was gauranteed money. The Lakers wouldn’t even offer me a gauranteed contract.” But drive the lane enough times and your’re bound to get your shit regected eventually. For Joe it came in 1971 when he was sent to prison on drug charges for 11 years.