ESPN a number of years ago did one of their 30 for 30’s on Marcus Dupree- one of the greatest high school football players ever whose career was basically ended at a young age in the USFL with a knee injury. They called the program “The Best That Never Was.” Earl “The Goat” Manigault may have been the basketball version of Marcus Dupree but in Manigault’s case it was drugs and not injuries that did him in.

Earl Manigault was born in South Carolina in 1944 but was raised in Harlem where he became a basketball junkie.

Earl was a legendary New York City playground basketball legend. There are no stats to look at to prove his greatness- just the people who saw him play. Most of his organized play was in junior high and high school- in junior high he set the NYC junior high record when he scored 57 points in a game in the late 1950’s. At Benjamin Franklin High School he averaged 24 points and 11 rebounds a game. Earl’s downfall began when he began hanging out with the wrong crowd. He began skipping class and using drugs. He would be expelled from high school for smoking marijuana. He would finish his high school career at a private institute in North Carolina where he averaged 31 points and 13 points a game. He entered Johnson C. Smith University but didn’t last long due to problems with the basketball coach. That was his organized career.

How Earl Manigault got his nickname “Goat” is up for debate. One source says a junior high teacher mispronounced his name as Man-Goat.  Another has it as Greatest Of All Time- GOAT. On the playground Earl Manigault could do it all- he was known for his leaping abilities. They say that he could leap so high he could touch the top of the backboard and pick off dollar bills and leave change. His signature move was ‘the double dunk.”  Manigault I must point out was only 6’1″. Of course a lot of the Manigault legend is probably urban legend. Manigault himself denied being able to do some of the things people said that he did. He played all the time and it wasn’t just dunking. He would practice shots from everywhere. He would never made it to the NBA. Earl developed a heroin habit and would spend time in prison for possession of drugs. He would serve another term in jail for attempted robbery.

Manigault developed serious health problems- having two heart operations. He made a living doing odd jobs- cutting grass, painting houses, working at a local rec center.

The question of how great a basketball player he was of course is up for debate. There are as I earlier mentioned no stats, no team championships. A lot of his legend is people who saw him talk. I have no doubt though that he was a great and talented player- and I would base that on the comments made by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar- at the end of his career he was asked who the greatest player he ever played with or against and he said Manigault. Think about the players Jabbar went against during his long career- a whose who of all time great NBA players. Manigault said himself once that “For every Michael Jordan, there’s an Earl Manigault. We all can’t make it. Somebody has to fail. I was the one.”

On this day twenty years ago Earl Manigault died of congestive heart failure at the age of fifty-three.