Documentary is an ode to NYC playground basketball

Half-moon hoops, double rims, chain-linked fences for

out-of-bounds lines and no net that anyone can recall.

Such is the imperfect urban landscape of playground basketball,

what many consider the truest expression of the sport. It’s

basketball without referees, coaches or sneaker deals. Anyone can

play, so long as they call ”Next.”

A new documentary, ”Doin’ it in the Park,” is a loving ode to

the blacktop world of New York City pickup. With more than 700

courts, it’s the mecca of pick-up basketball, featuring places like

Rucker Park in Harlem and the West 4th St. court, a kind of fish

bowl of nonstop basketball on view for West Village commuters and

tourists. Basketball is woven into the asphalt fabric of New


”Every court has a story,” says ”Doin’ it in the Park”

co-director Bobbito Garcia, who made the film with Kevin Couliau, a

French photographer of outdoor basketball.

When Garcia was found on a recent sunny spring day at a Village

court off Hudson Street, he was calmly knocking down shot after

shot: ”You take it, `cause I won’t miss,” he says, offering the

ball less with arrogance than matter-of-fact politeness.

Garcia, 46, is not your average documentarian. A New York native

and former basketball pro in Puerto Rico, he’s carved out a career

as a DJ, as an author of a book on shoes, as a New York Knicks

sideline reporter and through countless other basketball-promoting


”I have no aspirations to make another film,” he says. ”It’s

not like I got enchanted by a subject and dove into it for two

years to create a film and now I’m to my next project. This is it.

I just want to play ball.”

He and Couliau made ”Doin’ it in the Park” by visiting 180

courts across all five boroughs over the course of the 2010 summer.

They often traveled between courts on bike, Couliau’s backpack full

of film equipment, Garcia’s with just a basketball. Couliau crashed

on Garcia’s couch in Harlem.

They tried to capture the culture of New York basketball, one

dented backboard at a time. Their urban odyssey took them from

rough Coney Island courts (the point guard hotbed that produced

Stephan Marbury and Sebastian Telfair) to the daily prisoner games

of Rikers Island.

The movie is something of a cultural guide to the world of New

York playground basketball (Garcia disdains the demeaning ”street

ball” name), cataloguing its courts, its legends, its local

characters and its peculiar customs.

The film takes the viewer through the sometimes fraught process

of getting into the most competitive runs; examines the fierce

competitiveness that makes the playground an incubator of talent;

and presents the peculiarities of the game ”21,” (in which three

or more players play individually against each other).

Kenny Smith, the former NBA guard and current TNT analyst,

recalls growing up on the courts in Queens. The day he made it into

a game on ”the big boy court” in his neighborhood as a

15-year-old, Smith says, remains his most cherished basketball

memory. (He’s a two-time NBA champion.)

Richard ”Pee Wee” Kirkland, the Rucker Park legend and top

scorer, calls pick-up ”the essence of basketball,” in the


”One time I played at Tompkins Square Park and there was a

priest on the court, a woman who had played college ball, me, a

Wall Street banker and two homeless dudes – we didn’t have

enough,” Garcia says. ”Where are you going to find that mix of

people engaged in a physical activity? It’s not going to happen in

the club where it’s members only. It’s not going to happen indoors.

It’s going to happen in the park. It’s going to happen


Often, the filmmakers would (not reluctantly) be pulled into the

games they were filming.

”We weren’t just witnesses,” says Couliau, by phone from

Paris. ”We were also taking part of the movement on the

playgrounds. We aren’t like filmmakers trying to understand a

culture. We just wanted to capture it and show it to the


Often, Couliau would have to lure Garcia away from a game,

reminding him that he ”couldn’t be in every shot.” Sometimes, he

would simply put the camera on a tripod and let it roll. The two

engaged in a one-on-one battle throughout the making of the


Most groups happily received the pair, but some were protective

of their territory. In Brooklyn, Garcia says, they had to get

permission to shoot from the local guy who runs the park.

”Everywhere else we were received with open arms,” says

Garcia. ”But in Brooklyn, it was like, `Yo, what are you all

doin’? You cops?”’

To release ”Doin’ it in the Park,” Garcia and Couliau have

taken a DIY approach in line with their subject. Earlier in May,

they released it themselves on the film’s website for $9.99 a

download. They’ve booked theatrical runs themselves at theaters (it

opens in a New York theater May 22, and follows in other cities)

and they’ve organized community screenings. Nike is sponsoring them

on a world tour through August that will bring the film to many

different – but also similar – international cultures of pick-up


”President Obama, Lebron James, the 65-year-old dude right here

and the scrub out of junior high school behind us – they all play

pick-up,” says Garcia, gesturing at the courts around him.

”Everybody plays pick-up.”

Leaning back on a park bench, Garcia smiles broadly, basking in

the cacophony of balls bouncing around him. One court nearby is

teaming with 10 kids, none older than 9.

”It’s alive,” he says, pointing to the kids. ”I can’t make

this up.”


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