If you haven't heard already, hip-hop staple Bobbito Garcia and French photographer Kevin Couliau directed the amazing documentary, Doin' It in the Park: Pick-Up Basketball, New York City. The film features NYC's most notable neighborhood basketball courts and various streetball legends, ranging from Pee Wee Kirkland to Kenny "The Jet" Smith. The filmmakers took their bikes and cameras to explore the many concrete arenas that litter the Mecca of Basketball and knocked it out the park. We talked to Kool Bob Love and Kevin "Behind the Scenes" Couliau about their motivation for making such a film, the surprising response they've gotten, and their favorite sneakers to ball in, among other things.
The doc has been screened across the globe to critical acclaim (we named it one of the best sports docs of all time) and it could be yours today. Doin' It is available for digital download on their website. However, if you're in the New York City area, the doc officially opens today in Harlem at the Mist Theater on 116th between 5th and Lenox. There will be four showings a day, playing all the way through to June 6. If you're not in the NYC area you can go to the website for locations and showtimes. Trust us, you will not be disappointed.
Interview by Angel Diaz (@ADiaz456)
How did you guys link up?
Bobbito Garcia: Are we recording?
You don't wanna talk about that? It's a secret?
BG: [Laughs.] The love and respect of basketball. [Laughs.]
Kevin Couliau: Yes. L'amour de baloncesto. [Laughs.] Nah, so in 2004, I started doing playground basketball photography in my hometown on the west coast of France and I sent the first photos I did of my friend dunking to Bounce Magazine, to the, I think it was to the info@BounceMagazine address, and [Bobbito] replied to me, and he published a photo of my e-mail in the Reader’s Corner column of the magazine. And me, I was like, "Yo, wow! A magazine from New York, from the States!" Then two months later I was going to New York City with my girlfriend.
BG: Wait, timeout. That was the first time he ever got published as a photographer.
As a real photographer?
KC: Yeah, so two months after, I am going to New York City with my girlfriend. I met Bob right before going, and I meet him at his apartment, and I brought him some French recordings of my friends doing hip-hop. We played basketball on Morningside and 118th, right behind his apartment. I played my first game of 21. We went to Bed-Stuy, to the Fireball Tournament. That was the first time I saw Mookie and guys like that, that we have in the film right now.
You can play too! I saw you in the film and you were ballin' a little bit. I was like, "Oh, shit!" They were calling you "France" and all that stuff.
BG: [Laughs.] Yeah.
KC: So, this is how we made the connection in 2004, and since then I've come to New York every summer or he has been coming to Paris to play ball as well as coming to DJ.
How's the pick-up basketball in Paris?
BG: He can answer that better than me. I love playing out there. Pick-up basketball is a global movement and that's why we've been able to achieve so many screenings already in five continents. As an independently funded and distributed film, it's kind of incredible the amount of places we've been able to show it. But that's by virtue of the people, the local event promoters, some of which have never done a screening but they love our film so much, a lot of them had never even seen the film. They just saw the trailer. They just respected Kevin's work and mine. Pick-up basketball in Paris is just like it is in New York. They foul hard. They play. I mean, some of the cultural values are a little bit different. Kevin can speak on that.
KC: Yeah, I mean, me, for example, I didn't grow up playing games such as 21, 5-2. We would just play 3-on-3. 1-on-1 maybe sometimes, 5-on-5. But, yeah it was really important for me to work on the doc with Bob just to show the depth of the culture, of the basketball culture, in New York City, and expose that to kids around the world.
You never played Booties? There wasn't Booties over there?
KC: Ahhh, no.
KC: We don't even have fences on our playgrounds. [Laughs.]
So what was the purpose of this documentary?
BG: Well, I think we wanted to create an honest portrait of not just the community of players, which is as diverse as you can imagine, but also the culture. It goes from President Obama, to the scrub who is like 11 years, to the kid who's crazy nice who is on his way to maybe playing pro. Kevin and I are both avid followers of all things documented on the sport and we realize that this piece was missing in the catalog. So that was Point A. That was the inspiration behind doing the film. The motivation of it now, at this point, is to advocate people to play pick-up basketball. Not just to watch the film, but to actually go out and participate in free recreation. Because there's a lot of positive value that comes out of that.
So basically, you chose the birthplace of it. What's so special about NYC pick-up basketball?
KC: The fact that the city has a long history of basketball, from the early 20th century until now, you have more than 700 playgrounds, many stories. Kids playing all over the place. It's not a secret that New York City is the Mecca of basketball, and for us kids all around the world, we're all looking up at New York City as such. It's the Mecca. We all dream about the city. We all dream about experiencing pick-up basketball in the city, and me, as a photographer, personally, I always love documenting the playgrounds here, because you can compose beautiful shots with the ball players and the architecture of New York City. New York City is one of the best cities to do photography and cinematography. It's no secret. The fact that now I can shoot playground photos on schools, on beautiful landscapes, and the incredible playgrounds that Parks & Recreation are designing. It's pretty unique. You don't find anything in the world that has 700 beautiful playgrounds like that.
BG: The other thing that I want to add to that is that understand that I'm born and raised in New York. Kevin and I would've loved to have just done Doin' It In The Park: Pick-Up Basketball and went to courts around the world. But this is my particular location of expertise. This is where I grew up. And I think New York has had such an impact on the culture of the game, from fashion to style to behavior to language that's put a blueprint on the rest of the world. So, with that said, people around the world, love our film because of the emotion that comes out of it has no location. It's like Rakim said, "It's not where you from, it's where you at." We got much love for ball players in Chicago, and LA, and Sao Paolo, Brazil, and all the places that have been showing our film. It's been phenomenal.
The way it starts is perfect, too. It begins with guys around the court just talking shit and playing one-on-one or whatever. That was awesome.
BG: Thank you. And that happened completely naturally. We were just at the court interviewing Sundance, and after we finished interviewing Sundance, that game just started and we just happened to be there.
What was your home court growing up in NYC?
BG: Well, tried and true, still to this day, not in past tense, it's the Goat on 99th and Amsterdam. So for me, as a first-time filmmaker, it was important to pay homage to my personal mentor as a kid—Earl Manigault was in the park when I was growing up. And at the same time the hip-hop world called that same park, PS 163 Playground, Rock Steady Park. So there was like, we explored that in the film, how there were two communities...
Yeah, you've got the B-Boys in the corner...
BG: Yeah, exactly! Living in the same exact playground, and it was like, incredible. It was incredible. I had no idea as a kid, the impact that we were making, just in that one schoolyard.
What was your favorite park that you went around to film? In terms of the environment, the people...
KC: During the shooting, the playground that struck me the most was Lefrak City in Queens.
BG: AKA Iraq, as they call it. [Laughs.]
KC: [Laughs.] Just because, we went there and there was a great vibe when we arrived. The wind was moving in the trees and we arrived on that beautiful, Kenny Smith basketball court that is red and blue and you had like, 20 or 25 kids playing a game of 21. And some of them were playing in flip-flops, and you could feel that... they were just right underneath the building, and this is where we shot the film poster photo. Everything was special with that day, because you had the Kenny Anderson court that was right behind, and you had like 20 more kids on that court as well. It was sort've like, Heaven Is A Playground, you know? If there would be definition of the book of Rick Telander, that would be it.
This documentary might be as important to basketball culture as Heaven Is A Playground was/is. So, with that being said, what has this experience been like?
BG: Well for me personally, it's been a whirlwind because there's these daily highs getting emails from Ghana and getting emails from Poland and Serbia and China and Venezuela, and people being like you, "Yo, you and Kevin killed it!" "I feel so attached to the movie!" One dude already watched it 10 times. It's really the response from the people that makes me so elated to know that we made such a work of art in a lot of ways. On the other hand, it's stressful because we're doing this ourselves. We booked the Maysles Cinema ourselves. We booked Mist Theatre in Harlem. We open Friday, May 31. There's this new, state-of-the-art theater on 116th between 5th and Lenox and we booked it ourselves. We're delivering the posters, we're delivering the DCP(Digital Cinema Package), and sending the t-shirts. That said, we have tremendous support from Gold Crest, 360 Creative--who did the posters and all the graphic designs--the Knicks, HOT 97, Slam Magazine, Jimmy Jazz, Canon, our equipment sponsor, Dynamic Theories. All these people, they're not funding us, they believe in it. They're all helping us spread the word. So that's a beautiful thing.
I didn't know you were funding it yourself until I saw the Kickstarter. You guys did it from the grassroots level.
BG: One thing I wanna add too, is that Nike has been beautiful and that they're bringing me and Kevin in to screen our film to 11 international cities. We already went to Mexico City. We're heading to Chicago, China, the Philippines, South Africa, Europe, and in each city they'll fly us out to do the Q&A, to play ball, to document the local scene. In Mexico City we showed the film outdoors. Hundreds of Mexican cats lovin' it. Spanish subtitles. It was ill, yo.
Basically spreading the gospel of pick-up basketball.
BG: Exactly. Kevin doesn't even realize...
KC: I've got my bible now. [Laughs.]
BG:...that he's an ambassador now. He has a responsibility to be clean-shaven now, everyday. There's people who look up to him now. [Laughs.]
KC: [Laughs.] Look at you, man. I'm better shaved than you today.
BG: [Laughs.] We wanna thank Complex too because y'all blessed us with the Top 25 Sports Docs of All Time, and if you haven't seen it, that's written right on the poster. So, much love to the publication, to Noah, to yourself, to Russ, to OJ. Everybody up there for showing us ill love.
When I watched the doc, one of the guys that stole the show was Pee Wee.
BG: Yeah, hell yeah. He didn't steal the show; he made the show.
Yeah, he's funny. Can he still play?
BG: Pee Wee teaches a weekly clinic on Sundays at Riverbank State Park called School of Skills. He gears it towards young boys and girls, mostly pre-teens and high school kids. But he doesn't play anymore. He's in his 60s. But he teaches and he mentors and he coaches.
There was a clip of you in there when you were younger with him teaching?
BG: Yeah, when I had hair.
That was the same type of thing?
BG: Yeah, similar. Pee Wee loves to offer his opinions. He's not shy.
And Fly Williams too. He could still shoot too. He was covered in Heaven Is A Playground.
BG: Yup, exactly.
So Kevin, when there weren't courts available growing up in France, how did you make do? Did you ever have a wire hanger on the door?
KC: No, we didn't grow up like that. I grew up doing organized basketball in a club. So, all this time it was a little bit different from the States. I started from the age of 6, and I would spend like 95% of my time in the club, training with my team, training even with the women's team and I only started playing on the playground at the age of 10, 11. And in my hometown we had maybe like 10 playgrounds, but we all met up on one, central playground that would be, sort've a Marine Park in Brooklyn vibe. Really family vibe. Lot of guys from all around the city would come, even tourists sometimes. We didn't experience basketball like kids in New York with hang-wires or crates.
BG: Kevin played against Tony Parker.
Yeah? How old are you?
KC: I'm 31. I'm from 1982, like Tony Parker.
Who was your favorite basketball player coming up? Jordan?
KC: Growing up? Scottie Pippen. I was a big Scottie Pippen fan, even though I wasn't really looking at the NBA, because the only cable that would broadcast the NBA was more expensive. So I didn't even start playing basketball because of the NBA, I just started playing. I don't even know why I started basketball. My father was a soccer player, so...[Laughs.]
You didn't wanna play soccer.
KC: Yeah, no. [Laughs.]
So when did you play against Tony Parker?
KC: When I was like 13, 14. I was the top kid in my area in the west, and he was in the midwest, but he was the top kid in the north west of France. So we eventually played against him one or two times.
Did you ever go pro in France?
KC: No, the thing is, I had the opportunity to go pro in a specific school we have, that would be like the college here when you play ball and get studies, but in France you don't have many schools like that. I was selected in one of those when I was 16 and after those schools you go pro. And I said, "No." There were like 500 kids, and I was the 10th selected, and I turned that down because I was doing skateboarding at the same time, and skateboarding opened my mind to the world of basketball and I made a step back and said, "I don't really want to think only basketball, talk only basketball and not see the world in its entirety." So yeah, I turned down professional basketball, and kept doing skateboarding. And I wouldn't even be doing photography and the documentary with Bobbito if weren’t for skateboarding. My brother is a pro skater.
Bob, you still get some runs in?
BG: Yeah, yeah, I mean, I'm 46 now so the injuries come in and hold me back, but, yeah definitely. I'm still out there on the regular. I actually organized an open run that travels to different courts and I always post the location on our Facebook.com/doinitinthepark page. That's spelled without a G. But yeah, I'm not someone who made a film because I was enchanted by the subject. It's like, I am a ball player. This is my life.
You played pro in Puerto Rico, right?
BG: I played pro in Puerto Rico. I played college basketball at Wesleyan University in Connecticut as well. And I played in all the major tournaments in New York.
Besides Bobbito, did you earn any nicknames out on the courts?
BG: Yeah, yeah, yeah I mean, it depends on the tournament but at Orchard Beach they used to call me “Boogie Bob.” At Fireball they called me “Bag of Tricks.” In the 38 and over league in Harlem they used to call me “Make It Happen.” But mostly everybody just calls me Bobbito or Kool Bob Love.
You gave yourself a whole bunch of nicknames too. [Laughs.] Cucumber Slice.
BG: As my DJ aliases. Well y'know, actually Claw, you know the graffiti writer? The sneaker-slash-graffiti writer?
BG: Yeah, Claw Money, yeah. She's the one who nicknamed me Cucumber Slice. Lot of people don't know that. I should mention her more often in my interviews. Serch, from 3rd Bass, nicknamed me Kool Bob Love.
You earn any nicknames while you were filming this, Kevin?
KC: Yes! So the first one came from a production assistant, Rey Robles. He called me Baguette.
BG: Nah! I called you Baguette.
KC: Nah, he's the one.
BG: Nah! I'm the one.
KC: You? For real?
BG: Yeah, he kept on saying it. Yeah, I called you Baguette.
KC: When did you call me Baguette?
BG: In Queens.
KC: In Queens. Really? [Laughs.] Okay, well, Bobbito Garcia aka Kool Bob Love.
BG: But he didn't like that nickname.
KC: No, I don't like it.
BG: I didn't know that it means, a dude with skinny, flimsy arms. Like a baguette, like a skinny baguette.
Ah, yeah, like the loaf of bread.
KC: Yeah, yeah. I'm also called “Behind The Scenes,” because one night in the Jefferson Projects, I was filming a 3-on-3 game and Bob was playing with the kids, and at some point I went in front of the camera and played with all those guys.
BG: And he killed them.
KC: And then one of the kids said, "Oh, Behind The Scenes! He's filming, but he can play ball too!"
BG: And then when we went to Riker's Island, the warden, he nicknamed Kevin, "Escargot". Oh, and my favorite one of all them was Geroi nicknamed him Croissant. That's a dope nickname, Croissant. The Saint of Cross.
How long did it take to put this film together?
BG: From conception to actual, commercial release? Three years. On May 1, we had our worldwide release from doinitinthepark.com. Spelled without a G.
KC: We started shooting in June 2010.
BG: Yeah, 2010. I hit up Kevin in the spring, because he made a short called Heart & Soul of New York City, with Red Cafe and Pete Rock.
I didn't see that.
BG: You gotta see it, B. It's got a million views. This shit is incredible. And I peeped that.
KC: It's on my website, if you want.
BG: So when I saw that I was like, "Yo, like, this is the dude that I gotta bring along with me on a journey to make a film about pick-up basketball in New York City." So that was spring of 2010. Now we got our theatrical release. I also wanna mention that not only have we done week-long runs in London, New York, we got two coming up in Chicago and Arizona. We're also partnered with Tugg.com, which is a theatrical on-demand platform, which means that anybody in the US—anybody—you live in Jersey and you wanna screen our film, you go to Tugg.com, select our film, select the date, a theater and then at that point it becomes like Kickstarter. If you get the minimum reserved tickets, then the event happens. If you don't get the minimum, then nobody's credit cards get charged. That's phenomenal. The technology that we have available to us now as independent filmmakers is phenomenal. VHX.tv, they power our website so that we can sell digital downloads and streams direct to fans. Couldn't do that two, three years ago. Dudes like Louis CK and Aziz Ansari are doing it. We saw what they were doing and we were like, "Wow." We get a better percentage of the sales than if we sell it on iTunes.
Exactly. You really took advantage of everything that was available to you. And it worked out, even more than you probably thought it would.
BG: Way more than that. Way more.
KC: But yeah, it took a lot of back-and-forth trips between New York and Paris because we did the editing in Paris and some in New York as well. That was an interesting process because usually you shoot a movie and you edit in New York or you do everything in New York City. And we had to travel, and Bobbito came in one winter, during Christmas.
BG: Two winters.
KC: Two winters, yeah. And that was interesting to do a film like that. The creative process was different than usual.
Are you making all these trips for the screenings? Or some of them?
BG: Nah, not every single one of them. Like, we just screened it in Poland and Brazil this weekend. We did Barcelona. You go to our website, doinitinthepark.com and you'll see like 40 screenings around the world. So we obviously can't be at each of them. I personally went to the LA, San Francisco and Oakland screenings. Oakland and LA, we actually sold out. We got a screening in Miami, tomorrow, the 29th. That's sold out. Again, for an independently distributed project, we're fucking rocking, yo. We're fucking rocking, yo.
Are you gonna try and do more docs in the future?
BG: No. Maybe Kev.
What was your most embarrassing moment on the playground while filming?
KC: Losing against kids. All the time.
Yo, those kids are nice in New York, man.
KC: Yeah, and they're so fast.
The crossovers and all that...
KC: They have so much energy. Most of the people we played against were high school kids, and they are running all over the place, they are physically in-shape, and they are unstoppable. We're trying to fight against these kids. [Laughs.]
They play ball 24/7.
BG: That's true, and it's like, a lot of courts we go to, it's like, that's their home court. They know every crack and crevice...
Every little bounce, the rim...
BG: Yeah, and like, you see a kid, he's like 5'1", 5'2" and you'd think, "Oh, we gonna smack them, y'know?"
BG: But yo, they're coming at us. I mean, y'know, we won a lot of games but we definitely lost some games, and I'm looking at the squad on the other side, like, "Yo, how did they just beat us? How did that happen?"
What legends have you seen live, Bob? I know you've probably seen a bunch, but who stands out?
BG: That's a long, long, long, long, long list, B. You gotta remember, I'm born in the '60s, so I done seen a lot of dudes play. The list is too long. But of course...it's hard to answer that question because I always think I'm gonna leave someone out and they're gonna be mad at me. So lemme just say this: New York has definitely produced some very special ball players, and I feel blessed to say that I'm born and raised here.
What's the craziest thing you saw in a pick-up game when you were filming?
KC: Bobbito, making one kid fall at Jefferson Project, right?
BG: Oh, yeah, that was at Jefferson Park.
BG: It was like, I stepped back. But it was bugged out ‘cause, we would show up to parks and Kevin would set-up his tripod and start filming the trees and the rim, and me I was just—I'm not a filmmaker—so I would just go on the court and shoot around. So this one kid was like, "Yo! You Bobbito! NBA Street Vol. 2! Yo, play me one-on-one!" And I'm always down to play, but that day I actually was just trying to help Kev film. So I was like, "Well, I ain't gonna turn down a challenge." So yeah, I put the whip whop on him. He fell, and he had like nine of his boys all watching the game and they all ran on the court like, "Ohhhh!" That was my highlight. That was so much fun. That was definitely my highlight.
What's your favorite sneakers to ball in?
KC: Favorite sneakers? Right now, the Kobes. Kobe 6, 7, 8. I only play with low-top shoes.
Yeah, that's that European style. The soccer shoes.
BG: Nah. [Laughs.]
KC: They're not soccer shoes.
Nah, I'm just saying they really made that popular.
BG: No, no I'm gonna have to check you here. ‘Cause you gotta remember, I'm in my late 40s. We been playing ball in low-cuts forever. It dates back to the '50s. So it's not anything new. Kobe didn't sensationalize it. He just revived it for this generation.
KC: The only thing that I would add to this is that you've had trends in the shoe market since the '90s, and at some point, the brands, for example in '90s, 2000s, you couldn't find any low-top shoes.
Yeah, that's what I'm saying.
KC: Now it's a trend that is coming back--the low shoes--because of guys like Gilbert Arenas...
Steve Nash, too.
KC: Steve Nash, Kobe.
Yeah, because the soccer players wear a lot of that because they cut and all that stuff.
KC: [To Bobbito.] Yeah, but you're right that guys have been playing with low-cut stuff forever.
Yeah, y'know with the old Converses and stuff like that. The Superstars. But how about you, Bob?
BG: I've been finding myself playing in the LeBron Soldier 6.
Those are the ones with the straps?
BG: Yeah, with the straps. They came out, I guess, in the winter. But ever since they came out, I've been like, "That's my shit." Feel real comfortable. I like the LeBrons. They're a little bit wider than the Hyperdunks or Nike's other releases. Like, KD's are dope, they look fly, but they're real narrow on my feet, so I like the LeBron Soldier 6s.
The LeBron Warriors are strong too. Kinda like the Air Raids. Like they’re built for outdoor basketball.
BG: Yeah, I guess you could compare them to those. They feel good when I play ball outdoors. And that's my home, the concrete.
So let's talk about some promo stuff. When is it gonna come out in theaters and all that?
BG: It's out in theaters now. You can go to doinitinthepark.com to find out locations and showtimes. If it's not in your town, you can go to Tugg.com/titles/doinitinthepark, spelled without a G, and you can create and promote your own screening at a local theater. That's anybody. You don't have to be a club promoter. You can just be...if you know like 40, 50 people that love basketball or just love film, you can get them to the theater and it can happen. Then our digital download stream is available from the website. Our t-shirts are available from the website. We're releasing a soundtrack EP featuring Eddie Palmieri, nine-time Grammy award winner. That'll be available from the website on CD, digital and vinyl. We're doing that through Fat Beats. For everything you can just go to doinitinthepark.com.
We open at Mist Theater in Harlem, 116th between 5th and Lenox, on Friday, May 31. Four showings a day, playing all the way through to June 6. If we kill it at the box office, they'll extend it. This is a super important week. If we get numbers in there, we'll play longer, and who knows? Maybe we could open up in other cities, week-long runs. Did I forget anything, Kevin?
KC: Nah, I don't think so.
BG: Oh, yeah, we sell our poster on the online shop too.