While many basketball fans spent Wednesday speculating on who the Wizards might pick in the upcoming NBA Draft, a different night of hoops was happening in Columbia Heights.
At the Gala Theatre, hip-hop ambassador and basketball lifer Bobbito Garcia screened his film, “Doin It In The Park,” to a somewhat star-studded crowd. The film, which Garcia made with Kevin Couliau, explores the world of New York City’s outdoor courts and the culture surrounding them.
The documentary is a love letter to blacktop basketball, and explores open runs from the famous West Fourth Street Court to the prison-yard games at Rikers Island. Shot impeccably on what Garcia called a “no shoestrings” budget, it serves as a primer for anyone unfamiliar with the world of playground hoops, the true lifeblood of the game in many minds.
But that wasn’t the crowd in attendance Wednesday. The event, which was also a fundraiser for the non-profit group Hoops Sagrado, drew D.C. Councilmember Tommy Wells, as well as ESPN television personalities Kevin Blackistone and Tony Reali, who hosted a question-and-answer session after the movie with the filmmakers.
Sagrado, run by Bryan Weaver, sends at-risk teens in D.C. to Guatemala to teach basketball and provides scholarships for education beyond fifth grade to children there.
And of course, the film brought up discussion of D.C.’s own playground scene, which has a rich history as well. The Goodman League is well documented and stories of past players like Elgin Baylor still come up in street hoops circles.
“I’m very aware of the great players that have come out of here, dating back to Elgin Baylor, who’s probably the first superstar that I know of out of the DC playgrounds,” Garcia said. “According to folklore, Wilt Chamberlain came down from Philly and Elgin’s crew spanked his five, although I don’t know if they gave Wilt a bum four to run with.”
And for Blackistone, the movie reminded him of games he saw growing up in the area.
“I remember being at an Urban Coalition league in a hot, sweaty Dunbar gym, when Adrian Branch dropped 72 and broke the scoring record there, which was 71, set by Truck Robinson when he was playing in the NBA for the Washington Bullets,” Blackistone said. “I can remember games like that.”
Reali, a New York native and D.C. resident who still plays regularly, noted that between the two scenes, there are some differences at the highest level.
“It’s not really fair to compare how your playground is to how your NBA success is, but if you look at the players that have come out this region now, you talk about [Kevin] Durant, you talk [Michael] Beasley and guys in the league now. The NYC players we saw in the league most recently, that’s Smush Parker and Homocide Williams, who couldn’t make the Toronto Raptors, and he’s a legend,” Reali said.
“This is one of things we saw with the NBA lockout. I think D.C. really stepped up their game at that moment. And became more of a national scene for playground basketball during the time when the NBA would shut down and these players came back and played in this area.”
Bobbito’s movie and life have a couple connections to D.C. beyond basketball. His wife is from the District. And clearly the title of the movie is an homage to the Blackbyrds’ 1975 hit, “Rock Creek Park.”
And for Garcia, geography isn’t really what the film is about at its core. It’s about how one sport has managed to bring communities together in an urban context for so many years with so much success.
“I’ve been coming down to D.C. since the ’80′s and have played pickup, and of course there’s X amount of amazing players who have impact from both PG County, Baltimore and D.C. We have nothing but love for this city. Our film is based in New York because that’s our area of expertise, but … forget about the location,” Garcia said. “It’s more about a movement. You can be from China, or D.C., and you can relate to that.”
Clinton Yates is a D.C. native, Local News Editor for Express and a columnist for The Root DC. Follow him on Twitter: @clintonyates.