Manigault, Earl “The Goat” 1943–

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Earl The Goat Manigault 1943

Basketball player

At a Glance

Adjusted Poorly to College Ball

Dramatized in Two Films


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Called the king of his own generation of ballplayers, [and] the idol for the generation that followed by Pete Axthelm in The City Game, Earl Manigault never realized his incredible potential as a basketball player because he succumbed to the lure of drugs in the Harlem neighborhood of his youth. He brought the fans to their feet in legendary one-and-one competitions in New York City playgrounds against future professional stars such as Connie Hawkins and Lew Alcindor (later known as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar). In the New York Times, Abdul-Jabbar referred to Manigault as the best basketball player his size in the history of New York City, and many other professional players who have witnessed Manigault in action have also sung his praises. I let thousands of people down, Manigault admitted to the New York Times.But Im nothing phony. And there was a time when I gave the people what they wanted.

Manigault was a frequent participant in Harlems Ruck-er Tournament, which often drew top-level players. His jumping ability, in particular, struck awe in onlookers, and he could pick a quarter off the top of the backboard even though he was only a little over six feet tall. Some claimed to have seen him dunk a ball through the hoop, catch it with the other hand, then dunk it again before touching ground again. One time he dunked a ball backwards 36 times in a row to win a $60 bet. His ability to play like a man who was 6-9 was incredible, noted Rucker Tournament organizer Gene Williams, in the New York Times.He was a phenomenal player. And hes still a legend to the kids today.

According to New York Times reporter Ian OConnor, Manigaults nickname of The Goat stems from a junior high school teacher who continually pronounced his name Mani-Goat. By his early teens Manigault was typically outplaying older and much taller opponents on the basketball court. As Pete Axthelm described him in The City Game,He was a six-foot-two-inch forward who could outleap men eight inches taller, and his moves had a boldness and fluidity that transfixed opponents and spectators alike. His heroics were cut short in his senior year at Benjamin Franklin High School after he was expelled for allegedly smoking marijuana in the locker room, a charge he denied. From there he took his skills to Laurinburg Institute, a prep school in North Carolina, where he was tops on the

At a Glance

Bom 1943 in New York, NY; never married; seven children.Education: Attended Johnson C. Smith University, c. 1965.

Benjamin Franklin High School, basketball player, 1962-63; Laurinburg Institute, NorthCarolina, basketball player, 1963-64; Johnson C. Smith University, basketball playerfor less than one year; Rucker Tournament, participant, Harlem, New York, NY, c. mid-1960s;GoatToumamentbasketball competition, founder, New York, NY, 1977; has workedfor Support-ive Childrens Advocacy Network, New York, NY, 1990s; helpedorganizedabasketball league in Harlem, 1991.

Addresses: Home New York, NY.

basketball court but barely got his high school degree after placing second-to-last in his class academically.

Adjusted Poorly to College Ball

Continuing to build his reputation as a slam dunker and shot blocker on Harlems playgrounds, Manigault was deluged with visits by college recruiters after he graduated from prep school. His lack of confidence in his academic skills caused him to forego offers by major colleges. Instead he enrolled in John C Smith University, a largely black school in Charlotte. Problems beset Manigault early on at the college level, and poor performance in the classroom combined with a lack of willingness to adapt his freewheeling game to a structured game resulted in him leaving college after less than one year.

Returning to New York City after his aborted college career, Manigault abandoned any interest in returning to college and soon became addicted to heroin. Thats when I went right to the bottom, he told the New York Times about his getting involved with drugs. I started messing with the white lady [heroin]. Before long Manigaults addiction was costing him more than $100 a day, even though local drug dealers often gave him drugs for free because of his fame on the local playgrounds. Unable to keep a job for any duration, Manigault resorted to theft to support his habit, including stealing mink coats in New York Citys garment district. Meanwhile, his skill on the basketball court withered rapidly. In the 1965 Rucker Tournament, he lost his balance while playing and fell down twice.

By 1968 Manigault no longer frequented the parks where he had built his fame and was heavily immersed in the drug scene. Although he began working with a local drug rehabilitation program in the summer of that year, he still could not shake his habit. In 1969, he was arrested for drug possession and served 16 months of a five-year sentence in Stormville, New Yorks Green Haven Prison. The following year, at the age of 25, he was granted a tryout with the Utah Stars in the American Basketball Association by team owner Bill Daniels, but his drug habit had robbed him of his former skills, and he did not make the team.

For a time during the 1970s Manigault claimed to be clean of drugs, and, in 1977, he started up a basketball competition called the Goat Tournament to be played at 98th Street and Amsterdam Avenue in Harlem. Initial financing for the tournament was secured from local drug lords who had previously supplied him with heroin. Just as the tournament was about to begin, Manigault and his accomplices were arrested in the Bronx for the attempted robbery of $6,000,000, sending him to prison for another two years in the Bronx House of Detention and the state prison in Ossining, New York.

Upon his release from his second prison term, Manigault fled New York City with two of his sons and moved to Charleston. I didnt want my sons to be greater junkies than I was, he told the New York Times. Once relocated he managed to make a living by painting houses, mowing lawns, and working for the local recreation department. By the late 1980s, he was almost destitute and suffering from serious heart problems. In February of 1987, he had to have two heart operations to correct problems in two valves, and it severely depleted his stamina for the pick-up basketball games he often played.

Dramatized in Two Films

In 1991 Manigaults enduring fame reaffirmed when he received $10,000 for the rights to his story from screenwriter Alan Sawyer, whose Angel of Harlem explored the basketball legends rise and fall. Five years later he was subject of an HBO film called Rebound that was directed by ER star Eriq La Salle. Chills ran through me, Manigault told New York magazine after seeing the films premiere in November of 1996. Why did I put myself out there like that? Its there for the younger generation to witness, so they wont have to go through it. If a lesson is to be learned from his life, Manigault stated it himself in the New York Times: For every Michael Jordan [professional basketball star], theres an Earl Manigault. We all cant make it. Somebody has to fall. I was the one. Currently, Manigault works for New York Citys Supportive Childrens Advocacy Network, as a counselor and coach of local children at East Harlems La Guardia Memorial House. After 13 years as a heroin addict, he claims to be off drugs for good today. The playground where he used to wow the crowds is still called Goat Park by local residents, and his fame in the old neighborhood has never waned. As Alex Williams remarked in New York,Kids too young to know NBA all-stars of the 1970s still mythologize this amateur from East 106th Street.



Axthelm, Pete, The City Game: Basketball in New York from the World Champion Knicks to the World of Playgrounds, Harpers Magazine Press, 1970, pp. 134-144.

George, Nelson, Elevating the Game: Black Men and Basketball, HarperCollins, 1992.


Jet, November 18, 1996, pp. 52-53.

New York, December 12, 1996, p. 33.

New York Times, June 16, 1989, pp. A23-24; August 11, 1981, section 8, p.1; February 7, 1992, p. B11;February 21, 1992, p. B13.

Readers Digest, May 1991, pp. 61-64.

Village Voice, October 10, 1990, pp. 1654-166.

Ed Decker