(AP) Documentary is an ode to NYC playground basketball
By JAKE COYLE
AP Entertainment Writer
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 pick-up. 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 York.
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 activities.
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 films 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 film.
Often, the filmmakers would (not reluctantly) be pulled into the games they were filming.
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 documentary.
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.
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 basketball.
Leaning back on a park bench, Garcia smiles broadly, basking in the sounds of balls bouncing on courts around him. One nearby is teaming with 10 kids, none older than 9.