Pick-up bball legends tell the tale of the game outside

NYC's Bobbito Garcia (left) visited 180 courts in 75 days with filmmaker Kevin Couliau (right) to shoot 'Doin' it in the Park'.

We're talking about basketball, NYC pick-up announcer legend Bobbitio "Kool Bob Love" and I, but our conversation is hardly hinging on the Warriors-Spurs match-up or LeBron James' shot at MVP this year. Rather, we're discussing the power of the men and women ballers on the playground -- a culture that Garcia and French filmmaker Kevin Couliau painstakingly documented for their film Doin' it in the Park, which begins its Bay Area run at the Clay Theatre on Thu/16. 

“There wouldn’t be an NBA without pick-up basketball," Garcia tells me in the voice made famous by his narration of countless pick-up tournaments, his pioneering ESPN feature on sneaker culture, and his turn as the New York Knicks' first Latino broadcast team member. "Our culture and movement has informed every level of organized basketball. It’s informed even hip-hop fashion -- all the iconic sneakers have taken their cues from pick up basketball."

Pick-up powerhouse Niki Avery takes it to the boys in a shot from Doin' it in the Park

Given the subject matter, the DIY style in which the duo shot Doin' It was fitting. "I was sleeping on Bobbito's couch," while filming the movie, says Couliau, checking in via phone from France. The videographer grew up on the ball courts of his homeland, and learned about NYC's thriving basketball scene -- the metropolitan area is home to no less than 700 outside courts -- through the Internet. Small wonder that the Frenchman eventually wound up in the Big Apple documenting the game in the gorgeously shot music video for rapper Red Cafe's "Heart & Soul of New York City".

Garcia caught wind of the short and proposed a feature-length project that turned into Doin' it in the Park. To shoot the film, the duo traveled ("90 percent by bike," says Bobbito) to 180 borough courts.

The film lands candid commentary that assesses playground ball going back decades from court legends like James "Fly" Williams, takes viewers to the court at the Rikers Island jail complex, investigates court-side style (be careful where you wear your NBA jersey, let's just say), talks to women who've found their home under hoop like Niki "the Model" Avery, and documents game from all kinds of players.

Garcia says diversity in age, race, and social standing on court is a trademark of pick-up ball. To illustrate his point, he tells me about a game he ran in which his teammates were, "a Wall Street banker, a priest, and two homeless dudes. Where are you going to find that variety engaging in physical activity anywhere?”

Doin' it in the Park, Garcia says, is one the most important projects he's worked on -- which is saying something. The man created Bounce Magazine, the first magazine devoted to the art of pick-up. He's the voice on the NBA Street and NBA 2K videogames, written for Vibe, has turned guest roles in Summer of Sam and Above the Rim. His half-time commentary at Madison Square Garden for the Knicks was a crowd favorite. His hip-hop radio show with Stretch Armstrong in the early '90s was called the best ever and gave airtime to an unsigned Notorious B.I.G. and Jay-Z. 

Garcia says that pick-up courts in New York dispell the notion that young people eschew sports for smart phones these days. If you're gotten your fill for the day of Stephan Curry's three-point percentage, one of this week's Bay Area screenings of Doin' It would be a fresh look at the streetside passion for b-ball. 

"It’s hard to say who are the [current pick-up] stars," says Garcia. "If I go to Staten Island and destroy everybody, it’s not going to show up on ESPN. There’s a lot of great players, but most of them aren’t really known.”

Doin' it in the Park Bay Area screenings

SF premiere and Q&A:

Thu/16, 8pm, $10-15

Clay Theatre

2261 Fillmore, SF


Thu/16, 10pm-2am, free

Social Study

1795 Geary, SF


Fri/17 screening and reception, 7pm; Sat/18, 3:30pm; Mon/20-May 22, 9:15pm; $8-10

New Parkway Theater

474 24th St., Oakl