By Eduardo Maisonet, III / @edthesportsfan
For FOX Deportes
When I first saw the information break out about Bobbito Garcia and Kevin Couliau were collaborating on a film called “Doin’ It In The Park,” I was instantly willing to support the film just on the strength of Bobbito’s name on it, but the backstory on the film made this a must see film.
Co-directors Garcia and Couliau hopped on their bikes and traveled through the five boroughs of NYC to 180 different basketball courts in search of the perfect pick-up game. With their backpacks filled with cameras, boom mics, release forms and of course, the almighty basketball, Doin’ It In The Park does a deep dive on the essence that is pickup basketball in New York City.
The film also features renowned basketball legends like Dr. J, Kenny Smtih, Pee Wee Kirkland, Kenny Anderson, and more. I was fortunate to chop it up with Bobbito and Kevin about the film and talk about how this documentary came together.
FOX Deportes: What was the catalyst to decide, “we should do this film”?
Bobbito Garcia: I’ve known Kevin since 2004 and he has a particular skillset in being able to film and he can hoop. Personally, I’ve had this idea about doing this documentary about New York City basketball since the 90’s, but I didn’t have the experience to do the work behind the camera. We spoke about it, he came to New York, he slept on my couch for three months and we knocked it out, guerilla-style. As we filmed, this story started to change and began to develop. The vision was to explore New York City basketball. There have been films that covered high school hoops, or a tournament, or a particular player. We wanted to focus on the essence of pickup basketball, it doesn’t matter if you’re 80 years old or LeBron James, everybody plays pickup. It doesn’t matter if its in New York, even if it is the Mecca, anywhere in the world can relate to pickup basketball.
Kevin Couliau: Bobbito & I are both basketball-aholics, we have been playing and documenting the game for many years, however we felt that an important piece of culture was missing in the basketball film library. The Graffiti and Hip Hop world has “Style Wars”, Skateboarding has “Lords of Dogtown” , Surfing has “Riding Giants”, so far the basketball world has documentaries focusing on individuals, teams or specific tournaments but none one of them really explained the roots of the game and how it has evolved to become a global culture. Early 2010, I directed a short clip called “Heart & Soul of New York City” for rap artist Red Café and a german basketball brand. It has a tremendous impact within the streetball community and Bobbito Garcia who asked me to work on this documentary project with him.
FOX Deportes: Talk about the grind of filming this documentary.
Bobbito: Big thanks to Canon (camera sponsor) as Kevin was able to pack his 5D camera he put it in his backpack, I had a basketball and a boom mic in my backpack. I had the release forms and he had his still camera, and we just rolled. We went to 180 courts in 75 days over two summers. When we first talked about doing this film in the 90’s, we would’ve never been able to do the film in such a guerilla-style like we did it now.
Plus, I’m 45 years old. I’ve spent decades playing basketball in New York, and it takes a lot of time to know the streets, especially in the five boroughs. My notoriety definitely helped too, from the NBA 2K series, NBA Street, being a halftime reporter for the Knicks, and we’d go from park to park and have the type of access that other filmmakers wouldn’t get. The film gives an insider’s perspective on pickup ball, especially from a latino’s perspective.
DOIN’ IT IN THE PARK: PICK-UP BASKETBALL, NYC - Trailer from Doin’ It In The Park on Vimeo.
Deportes: Explain to people who don’t understand, what is the cultural landscape of pick-up basketball like in NYC vs. France?
Kevin: New York City counts 700+ outdoor basketball courts, whereas a city like Paris counts around 50 playgrounds. A simple fact that easily demonstrates how basketball is deeply established in the big apple. The game is a recreational tool that generates social link between people of all ages. New York City, is the only place in the world where you can play pick-up with a college kid, a Wall Street trader, a woman and a 70 years old man at the same time. Growing up on the French playgrounds is slightly different even though we are really influenced by the American culture. Our perception of the game is more “team” oriented so we don’t really experience games like H.O.R.S.E, 21 or 5-2. The beauty of playing pick-up in NYC resides as well in its environment, Parks & Recreations has done a tremendous job designing basketball courts like nowhere else on the globe.
Bobbito: I’ve played ball in 35 different countries and 5 different continents, so I’m unique perspective in that I have a true perspective of how special New York is. There are people from New York that will boast and brag, and they’ve never left Brooklyn. New York City basketball is as unique of a sports environment there is in the world. Partly because of the history, the skill level, the audience…people sitting on the sideline could possibly be extremely knowledgable of the game…and they’re giving you business talking smack and they’re not even on the court. The history of the game in New York is unmatched. From the Black Fives to the Harlem Rens, to the New York Celtics, barnstorming games and the Madison Square Garden. The Knicks are the highest grossing franchise in the league, regardless if they win or lose. This is the Mecca of basketball of basketball, we have the two most recognizable outdoor courts in the world in Rucker Park and West 4th. Maybe Chicago had produced more players but New York has more history.
Plus, New York City has over 700 outdoor courts. Japan only has 25 in the entire country. People will email me from overseas asking to hoop with me, I say sure, come join me at the open run.
FOX Deportes: What do you think the current state of pick-up basketball is like in 2012?
Bobbito: The technology that we were able to use (5D camera) to put this film together (shoutout to Canon, the official camera sponsor of the film) helped us be able to move to 180 courts in 75 days and that wouldn’t have been possible back in the 90’s.
Kevin: As we like to say, “The park is our church, and basketball is religion” , a statement we verified playing with an incredible number of believers while shooting the documentary on more than 180 courts within the five boroughs. We have witnessed people from all origins and ages playing pick-up basketball, it’s their way of life. The sport is getting more popular thanks to the recent NBA lock-out, success of the Knicks, increased number of tournaments and phenomenons like Jeremy Lin who pumped up the excitement around basketball, on Chinatown’s playgrounds and on a worldwide scale. Hopefully “Doin’ It In The Park” will encourage kids to get outside on the playground instead of playing video games.
FOX Deportes: There are a few notable NBA players featured in the documentary, did anything surprise you from what they had to say?
Kevin: We had the chance to interview God Shammgod, Smush Parker, Kenny Anderson and two times NBA champion and TV analyst Kenny “The Jet” Smith. He was the most animated character we had on camera, especially when he was speaking about his childhood, playing pick-up in Lefrak City, Queens. I was surprised to hear that his “most vivid memory was winning his first 3x3 game on the playground and not winning a NBA Championship”, it just made me realize the impact of pick-up in the evolution of a basketball player.
Bobbito: No, not at all. Kenny Smith was as good of a person we could find to be on camera, but just as Kevin said, winning at Lefrak City was his biggest achievement growing up. That’s more special to him than being an All-American at North Carolina. I’m not surprised by it because that’s how I feel. I love playing pickup outdoors in New York. I love it, I’m on a high when I play. Everybody can identify with playing ball, even NBA players.
The beauty of the film is that its not about NBA players that started playing pickup as much as seeing the hearing-impared players that we documented playing in Harlem. Or the incarcerated players at Rikers Island and we were given access to film on the yard. This film is really based on the common ballplayer, the everyday person.
FOX Deportes: What are the biggest hurdles in getting this film distributed nationally?
Bobbito: Its not hurdles versus time and effort. We were able to get this film done in 2 years, where it could take some 7-9 years to do a similar project. We’ve got free screenings outdoors here in New York City, screenings in California, Europe and Africa. What independent film is doing screenings for free, outdoors? We’re creating a lot of excitement for the film and our own following as well. The rhythm will continue to be in our favor so that come fall we will be able to roll it out to different theaters. We’re exploring services like tugg.com to do screenings across the country as well.
FOX Deportes: How often do you still get a chance to get “next” these days?
Bobbito: I play all the time. Go to our Facebook page and see. I just went to an open run yesterday, and I’m playing as much as possible. I’m 45, I love the game, and I’m not slowing down anytime soon. Oh, and I still get buckets! (Bobbito made sure that I put that in this post.)
Kevin: Calling “next” is an art into itself, especially in New York City. if you are a foreigner (like me) you need to get over the language barrier and be confident or you’ll never get on the court. Once you’re on, you have to prove that you deserve a spot in a team and can get the job done. Luckily, Bobbito and I have been playing for years, so we have enough game to earn that respect from the local players and be credible as ballplayers.
For more information about the film, visit its website, Facebookpage, and Twitterpage.