The late Brooklyn rapper “The Notorious B.I.G.” was memorialized at a naming ceremony for the basketball courts at the Crispus Attucks Playground in Clinton Hill, which are now known as the “Christopher ‘Biggie’ Wallace Courts.”
The NYC Parks department joined City Councilmember Robert Cornegy to celebrate the recent $2.5 million renovation of the park, which improved accessibility at the park and added new play equipment. A garden was planted where the stairs from Fulton Street previously stood and landscaping was done throughout the park. New fencing and security lighting were also added to the park.
But the focus of the event was on the legacy of Christopher Wallace, who grew up playing basketball at the playground alongside a young Robert Cornegy. Before the ceremony, local youth played on the new courts while a DJ spun radio edits of Biggie’s greatest hits.
The lyrical content of Christopher Wallace’s music was a point of contention at local community meetings leading up to the naming, with residents opposed to celebrating an artist whose fame was won through virtuosic raps that dealt bluntly with the harsh realities of his time: drugs, guns and violence.
But with Biggie’s daughter, Tiana Wallace, and Junior M.A.F.I.A. member Lil’ Cease present, Councilmember Cornegy spoke of Christopher Wallace’s legacy as one of positivity and success, and framed the memorial as an anchoring point of memory in a rapidly changing neighborhood.
“While this community is under tremendous siege as it relates to gentrification, I don’t care who lives here—if you come in this park, you’re gonna have to know who Biggie Smalls was,” said Councilmember Cornegy.
Cornegy praised the courage of Community Board 2 for unanimously approving the name of the courts, while recounting his apprehension speaking to Community Board 3 about the issue, when “the room didn’t look much like me.”
“We started with a divided community around the issue and watched the community quickly galvanize around the idea that young people need to have someone that they can look to, to show that there’s a way out of whatever circumstance they’re in, and Big did that for many of us,” said Cornegy.
Christopher Wallace’s life was cut short in a drive-by shooting in 1997, when the rapper was just 24 years old. Assembly member Walter Mosely, speaking at the event, wondered what could have been if Wallace had lived longer, invoking the late-career community projects of Biggie’s contemporaries, Sean “Diddy” Combs and Sean “Jay-Z” Carter. He urged the crowd to help cement Wallace’s legacy through community projects like the basketball court.
Between speakers, Councilmember Cornegy briefly hijacked the program to request Biggie’s smash hit, “Juicy,” from the DJ—urging the crowd to liven up and celebrate the man’s legacy. Many in the crowd rapped along, on their feet and dancing.
The day’s naming ceremony took place just ahead of the annual basketball tournament held in honor of Biggie, which will be held then weekend of August 5 and 6. Reinterpreting the nickname BIG to champion “Books Instead of Guns,” the tournament will raise funds for youth in need and encourage school studies as a route to success.
Producer, attorney, and publisher L. Lindell McMillan summed it up best: “It’s still about trying to grow and build your life and making a lot out of something small. To be great,” he told the crowd. “To the young people—think big, don’t think small… When you come to this park, you think big, and hopefully think about Christopher Wallace, the Notorious B.I.G.”