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Doin' It in the Park: Pick-Up Basketball, NYC: Film Review

Doin It in the Park: Pickup Basketball - P 2013

The Bottom Line

This filmmakers' passion for their subject matter shines through in this entertaining if rough-hewn documentary.

Directors

Bobbito Garcia

Kevin Couliau

This loving documentary chronicles the history and social impact of NYC's outdoor "b-ball" scene.

As freewheeling as the milieu it depicts, Doin’ It in the Park: Pickup Basketball, NYC chronicles the city’s outdoor “b-ball” scene with such exuberance that viewers might be tempted to leave halfway through and head to the nearest outdoor court. This documentary by Bobbito Garcia and Kevin Couliau -- now receiving a theatrical run at NY’s Maysles Cinema -- might not boast stylistic expertise, but it should please aficionados while providing an entertaining primer for the uninitiated.

Beginning with a brief recounting of basketball’s history -- it was invented by a doctor in 1891, if you didn’t know -- the film quickly moves from one topic to the next like a player barreling down the court. Among the aspects of this urban sport explored here are the various types of games, including the most common variation, “Horse”; its role as an incubator for such future NBA stars as Julius Irving, Wilt Chamberlain and Walt Bellamy;  the need for appropriate apparel (“to play good, you’ve got to look good”); and the vital importance for the best players to have colorful nicknames (“Franchise,” “Primal Fear,” “White Chocolate”), which street etiquette dictates that they not invent for themselves.

Shot over the course of a summer at some 180 courts throughout the five boroughs, the film provides a virtual travelogue of the city’s outdoor basketball scene, with a particular emphasis on such famous courts as Harlem’s Rucker Park and the West Village’s “The Cage,” the latter especially popular because it provides the players with a prime opportunity to show off for camera-toting tourists. It even includes a segment shot at a court at Rikers Island prison, where the players seem no worse for wear.

An endless series of interview subjects provides effusive testimony about the underground culture, including such local legends as Richard “Pee Wee” Kirkland, who wound up in prison instead of the NBA, and now coaches students at a Harlem school; Corey “Homicide” Williams, who went on to play in Australia’s pro league; and, most entertainingly, Jack “Black Jack” Ryan, one of the few white players deemed good enough to compete and who’s still vigorously playing even while approaching age 50.

For many viewers, of course, this might be too much information about the relatively rarified topic. But the filmmakers’ obvious passion for their subject matter ultimately proves infectious even to those whose basketball experience is limited to shooting hoops outside their garage.

Opens May 22 (Goldcrest Films)

Directors/producers: Bobbito Garcia, Kevin Couliau

Screenwriter/narrator: Bobbito Garcia

Executive producers: Thibaut De Longeville, Nick Quested

Director of photography: Kevin Couliau

Editor: David Couliau

Composer: Eddie Palmieri

Not rated, 83 min.