“Go hard or go home.” Looming against a blue sky and brick walls, Pee Wee Kirkland asserts, “We changed basketball.” Playing the game on outdoor courts in New York City, he and his fellows forged a new attitude, a new style. “It was about living up to what you said, it was street flavor basketball.” Indeed, the pick-up games he’s describing have shaped all of basketball, a point illustrated over the past couple of weeks during the Eastern Conference Finals between the Pacers and the Heat, characterized by impressively athletic, physical play and all manner of trash talk.
Kirkland is now legendary, a baller of prodigious skill and unstoppable spirit. He’s one of many legends interviewed in ‘Doin’ It In the Park: Pick-Up Basketball, NYC, open now at Mist Cinema in Harlem. Bobbito Garcia and Kevin Couliau’s film is part preservation project, part poetry, all hard-charging energy, taking you on a tour of 180 parks in all five boroughs, but even more intensely, in those interviews. While Kirkland remembers the invention of the crossover, and stars like Kenny The Jet Smith, Fly Williams, and Julius Erving, as they look back on the special mix of competition and celebration that shapes street ball, its thrilling acrobatics, its inspiring vitality, and its incredible creativity, on the court and in players’ nicknames. Witness Corey “Homicide” Williams, Earl Manigault, a.k.a. the Goat, Tim “Headache” Gittens, Richard “Crazy Legs” Colon, Greg “White Chocolate” Ganley, and Dr. J himself: the idea is to identify and denote a legacy. Along with the naming comes the talking: “This is the place where all the garbage comes from,” observes Fly Williams, proudly. “You don’t disrespect him off the court,” adds Kirkland, “But when game start, he on the other team. Forget about it.”
The film captures the sheer joy and the sincere commitment players bring to the battle, their mutual appreciation and their deep understanding of history. Exhilarating and rambunctious as Doin It in the Park may be, it makes this especially clear, that no single moment or generation defines the game.