Where We Live: Irving Park’s basketball legacy

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It's Portland's version of New York's famed Rucker Park

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — From college stars to future pros, many of Oregon’s best basketball players proved themselves at Irving Park in Northeast Portland. And they’re still doing it today, despite the pandemic.

It’s Portland’s version of New York’s famed Rucker Park, located at Northeast 7th and Fremont. The best players in the city held court at Irving Park for decades.

Ryan Slider, July 2020 (KOIN)

“It was a proving ground,” said Ryan Slider. “If you were good, or thought you were good, you went there to test yourself and to play against the better players in the city.”

Slider knows because he was one of them. The Tigard High School star played at the University of Montana and then professionally overseas. Today, he creates promotional videos for athletes with his company SS Visual Works. It’s what brought him back to Irving Park.

“There were actually a couple of kids that are aspiring college players, that some colleges reached out to me and said, ‘Hey, we’d like a closer look at them playing in real games,'” said Slider.

But COVID-19 shut basketball down this summer. Gyms were closed. AAU tournaments were cancelled. So, even though the best players had mostly abandoned Irving Park, it re-emerged out of necessity.

Photo from a video created by Ryan Slider at his company, SS Visual Works. (Courtesy Ryan Slider)

“But for those kids in particular, Black and brown community type of kids, it was a great thing,” said Slider.

However, the city shut it down, and even covered up the baskets for a couple of days, citing the pandemic. The players felt singled out.

“Technically, yes, the park should be closed, but every park should be closed and they’re not,” said Slider.

A boarded-up basketball hoop at Irving Park. (Courtesy Ryan Slider)

Basketball courts, along with many other park amenities remain closed per the governor’s Executive Order, according to Mark Ross with Portland Parks and Recreation. But PP&R does not have the resources or capacity to physically close all the basketball courts city-wide. So, the games continue, bringing a neighborhood tradition back to Irving Park.

“Being at the park is a really, really important thing for them,” said Slider.

Irving Park, and the Irvington neighborhood, are named after William Irving—a steamship captain who owned the land in the 1800s.

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