You don’t have to be a basketball aficionado to have heard of the renaissance man Bobbito Garcia, AKA Kool Bob Love, AKA Bobbito the Barber. Sneakerhead, hip hop journalist and Radio DJ, the man has starred in many a documentary, and by the way, was also a B-Boy in the Rock Steady Crew.
Bobbito is a New York legend, whose imprint is on many things, but the basketball world was where I had first heard of him. I first did my Googles on him about ten years ago, after watching the Gunnin’ For that No.1 Spot documentary where he emceed the first “Elite24” basketball game at Rucker Park.
Earlier this year I came across the Stretch and Bobbito: Radio That Changed Lives documentary and it blew my mind to learn that Garcia played a pivotal role in breaking many of the hip hop acts that I still listen to today. Not too long after that I find out that he is DJ Cucumber Slice from the NBA Streets video games. Basically every hobby I’ve ever thought of having, this guy has been paid to do professionally.
Needless to say I rock with him and DJ Stretch Armstrong pretty heavy. I spent a great deal of time digging up old uploaded You Tube audio recordings of their WKCR show from back in the day (one of the best is an episode from June of 1994 where they say that “Rockets fans can feel balls”), and of course I follow them both on Twitter.
I’d heard good things about Bobbito’s latest basketball documentary, Doin’ It in the Park and watching it got me so gassed up about hooping, that I signed myself up for his annual Full Court 21 tournament– even though I’ve been threatening to retire from playground ball for the last year or so. The dates of the tournament lined up perfectly with my visit to New York City, and though I doubted my chances of winning, I knew I had to at least compete in it.
I showed up to the courts looking like a Herb, and I don’t mean former New York Knick Herb Williams. I looked like black Billy Hoyle, showing up in my “Save Seattle Basketball” t-shirt, Oakland A’s ballcap, And1 shorts, and some busted hand-me-down- Jordan’s that my buddy used to wear when he cut his lawn. I was also wearing church socks (you know because basketball is my religion).
The event is held in Harlem, on 99th and Amsterdam; only a few blocks from the 96th street subway station, which was famously captured in the cult film The Warriors (though the stop looks a lot different today). Located in the middle of a playground are two full courts with four basketball goals–all fenced in by a metal cage with no top. I arrived about 45 minutes before the required check-in only to see a bunch of guys already on the court taking shots. New York playgrounds are notorious for their territorial customs and seeing these mostly younger, more athletic dudes on the court made me rethink my position on playing. I’d already breached visiting player etiquette by not bringing my own basketball.
It had been raining all day in the city, and I wasn’t sure if we would even play. Most of the court looked dry; except for a few large leave filled puddles that a tall Italian guy in an Adidas jump suit was push mopping with a broom. Bob would later publicly thank this guy, introducing him as his good friend, “The Evaporator–thanks for evaporating this water so we can get some games in.”
I looked to my right and saw a tall, younger looking white man stretching his back against the fence. He looked safe and approachable (in fact he was really friendly–later between games he would share his snack of cherries and trail mix with me).
“Yo is there gonna be a run today?”
I half expected someone from the court to yell, “Nah. We good. You can watch the tournament for twenty dawlahs tho–you cornball!” and then everyone to start laughing at me. No one even looked twice. They were getting their shots up.
Whit dude went into the Full Lotus position then lowered his head. “Full Court 21?”Yea they said we’re playing today. You gonna play?”
That was a good question. Outside of the Puerto Rican teenager shooting from three-point line, everyone on the court was noticeably taller, and more athletic than I was. A dreadlocked light-skinned, muscular kid in his early 20’s, took a shot from damn near half court and made it with ease. He was wearing skinny jeans, and jeans on the basketball court meant either you were really garbage or you could really ball.
It was as if the Yogi had read my mind. “I hear he won last week.” He said.
“Oh word?” I really needed to get some chewing gum and rethink this. “Yea I might run.” He introduced himself as “I.T. Because he made the nets work.” We shook hands and then he ran off to shoot with the group already warming up.
I looked around the park. Even with the best of maintenance, the court looked like it was going to be too slick for a 38-year-old man with no insurance to be playing on.
No one would blame me if I sat this out. I turned around and walked back through the park towards Amsterdam Avenue and took a left towards the closest supermarket. I had forgotten to get chewing gum to help me control my breathing. For a brief second, I considered just getting back on the subway back to Jackson Heights, but if I was already out here, then I should at least stay and watch the event. Why wouldn’t you play? No one wants to read a story about you watching Full Court 21, and what if Kool Bob plays? You’ll kick yourself forever if you don’t play.
I grabbed a pack of gum from the nearest Bodega and threw three sticks of gum in my mouth, and the rhythm of chewing the gum calmed down considerably. I decided I should at least go back and see if there was going to be a game.
A few more people had arrived to the court, some of them seemed like they knew each other–a couple of them already had T-shirts from when they’d played previously. One guy looked like a poor man’s Nazr Mohammed. Another guy looked like a darker skinned, buffer version of Miklo from “Blood In, Blood Out.” The guy who intimidated me the most looked like he was kin to either God Shammgod, or Chris Partlow from The Wire. I could tell just from watching him take five shots that he probably played some high levels of organized basketball (apparently he played professionally over in England).
I laced up, walked over to the throng, caught a rebound and finally took a shot from about 12 feet. It rimmed out. Shit. What did I need to prove? I didn’t even like scoring. Why was playing Full Court 21 THAT important? Seemed like the perfect opportunity to get hurt. I took a couple more shots before going off to the side to do some stretching. I had just finished doing some lunges when I spotted Bobbito Garcia out of the corner of my eye. He walking up towards us smiling, carrying a gym bag. The energy on the courts shifted immediately.
I wasn’t ready to pack it up and head back to Queens, but I talked myself into at least staying to watch the games. But first I needed to get the scoop. I loped over to the table where Bob and another guy were putting out t-shirts and getting out the mic and P.A.– and asked what was up.
I knew I couldn’t fanboy out and pelt Bobbito with a bunch of crazy questions like, Was New York in the 1990’s the greatest place in the world to be living in his 20’s, or did he lose his mind when John Starks dunked on Michael Jordan and Horace Grant, or where was he the first time he’d heard Shook Ones Pt. 2? This was no small feat. In New York you must do as New Yorkers do, and that is play things cool.
“Yo. So which courts are ya’ll playing on?” I asked.
Bob looked up and pointed in the direction of the scrum. “We’ll be running games on these two half courts, but those other two half courts will be open for anybody to shoot at.”
“Oh!.So the games will be on this side of the court?”
He looked at me quizzically. “Oh you tryna play?”
I hesitated, then answered “Yea. I think I’m gonna run one.”
“Oh okay. Just get with my nephew. It’ll be 20 dollahs for the shirt. Five for the referee fee, and five for the registration fee. What’s your name?” He reached his hand out.
I shook it. ” I’m Bobby.”
“Oh. Wait. You got like a funny last name right?”
“Bobby Mickey. Yeah.”
He smiled. “yea man. I be reading your tweets man. You’s a pretty funny dude.”
I grinned. Oh snap! He likes my tweets. ” Thanks man.”
“Yea. You finally came out huh? You were saying that you were ready to retire.”
“Yea I had to come out and see what was up.”
“Yeah. We’ll go over all the rules and stuff here in a minute.” He motioned to the man next to him. He looked to be in his mid-twenties and was wearing a Full Court 21 NYC T-shirt. “Just check in with my nephew here and we’ll gather you all together to discuss the rules.”
I shook my head and handed his nephew my dough. “Cool. Cool. Now what’s the custom around breaking ice? And is there a prove it shot?”
“Don’t worry about that man.” He reassured me. “Its 21 man. I’ll explain everything in a bit.”He smiled and added “You asking too many questions.”
His nephew chimed in. ” Yea man you sounding real nervous right now.”
I laughed and put another stick of gum in my mouth. “Aight cool.”
Bob added. “Why aint you warming up B? You should be sweating by now.”
“Yo that won’t be hard to work up. Its maddd muggy out here.”
Bob laughed. “Just Relax man. Go out there and have fun.”
I walked back to mid court.
“Yo Bobbbeyy!” I looked over my shoulder. ” Warm up.” He threw me a nice, custom-made leather Full Court 21 NYC game ball and I started putting up shots,and practiced some of my post moves. I smiled to myself, thinking “Kool Bob fucks wit me. That’s what’s up.” A few of my shots started falling and my confidence in my game slowly came back. Bob was right. I just needed to have fun.
Bobbito called us all into a group about 10 minutes later to explain the rules. THe most basic ones were:
- Every person for themselves
- you get three fouls
- First person to score 21 points wins, going by 1’s and 2’s
- Whoever has the highest score after time expires wins and advances to the Finals
- No Cursing (There were kids around)
- No arguing with the Refs
I found it a little surprising that we were only playing half court games. I’d always imagined that it was a full court affair where you ran to the other goal after each defensive rebound. My granola and cherry eating friend kept asking questions revolving around the minutiae of scoring game point–earning himself a new on the court nickname from Bob, “Too many questions guy”, something we all heard every time he touched the basketball.
I was in the first pool of contestants. My group consisted of “Too Many Questions Guy”, this stocky Puerto Rican fella who Bob thought looked like the Kingpin from “The Punisher” comics (I personally thought he looked more like Fat Joe from the Bronx but it wasn’t my event). A tall hippie with long blonde hair named “Rain”— not because his shot was so wet, but because that was his real name. The tall black dude who looked like Nazr Mohammad, and of course me–Bobby Buckets (my nickname down in Austin–Bob didn’t give that one to me).
Bobbito got the PA going, announced the players, introduced the referee, had a young elementary school kid shoot the honorary opening shot from the free throw line (he swished it), and soon we were balling with Bobbito calling our game live with the play-by-play.
After a couple of people missed shots, I made the game’s first points, scoring on the ugliest pump-faked, up and under jumper that I’ve ever thrown up. It looked like a last second desperation heave as the shot clock expires. It looked like I was doing an impersonation of Kobe Bryant playing with Cerebral Palsy.
It was ugly, but it went in. A couple of possessions later,and the ball was again in my hands. I jab stepped with my left foot and put the ball down, dipped my shoulder and drove to my right, before throwing up a Tim Duncan hook shot that hit the top of the backboard and went down in. People were bugging! I smiled. The ref blew her whistle, “traveling.” For real? I mouthed at her before getting back on defense.
“Bobby Mickey with the hook shot! Who takes hook shots these days? Bill Russell done come out of retirement ya’ll!” I’m smiled–not going to lie. I didn’t care that the point didn’t count. I was gassed up on the audience and wanted to put on a show. I got caught up in the announcing a bit, there were times I’d have possession of the ball and I could consciously hear what Bob was saying about me on the microphone. “Yo that’s a good shot tho Bobby! I like the way you play man. I’m hafta get you on my 3-on-3 team sometime.” I almost turned the ball over a couple of times when he started talking about my 20,000-30,000 twitter followers and the church socks that I was playing ball in.
Having someone call the game just added another level of hype. I even attempted to play perimeter defense because I didn’t want to get embarrassed trotting out a half sass level of effort. I got tired halfway through the first game and wasn’t closing out on shooters as fervently as I was early on. And by the end of the game, I could barely even jump for rebounds.
My final points came on a three pointer I drilled after pump faking “too many questions guy” into the air. Once he went flying past me I calmly tossed the shot up and put my finger in the air as I watched it drop into the net. I made two free throws after that and when the buzzer sounded about a minute later, I had finished the game with a whopping total of nine points.
The tall hippie, Rain, advanced to the next round by scoring 18 points. He hit what seemed like five baskets in a row at one point. I walked towards the sideline like I’d just won the NBA title. Maybe I wasn’t washed after all. It was honestly the most fun I’d ever had on the court. The atmosphere on the court was light and humorous. Even the spectators were enjoying themselves.
Kool Bob Love is as warm and funny of a person as you would imagine him to be. He was positive and encouraging with everyone I saw him interact with. He is a man of the people and his ability to remain so down to earth is what endears him to so many of his fans.
I paid another five dollars to jump into the losers bracket game, but we were barely five minutes into it before it started raining again. The courts got too slick and the rest of the event was called off. The winners of the first two rounds automatically advanced to the finals. I paid my respects to Bobbito and bounced.
The rain didn’t kill my buzz, and my hoops juices were just starting to flow, so I talked myself into joining a few of the other ballers at the 63rd St. YMCA for some indoor full court. This turned out to be a mistake, because I it was there when I would come to realize that in fact I am washed. I got muscled under the boards by some young college aged Korean kid, and my team had one too many chuckers on our squad. We lost to a younger, less talented, and less selfish group of kids. Outside of that gigantic waste of time though, I had very little regrets for spending my evening in Manhattan.
I left the gym thinking that I might come back uptown the next Tuesday just to watch the international finals. But instead, I took an ill-advised train trip to up Montreal that following weekend and couldn’t make it back into town to catch them (It turns out Crazy Legs made a cameo appearance).
If I am able to swing another trip out to New York next summer, I will definitely sign up to play again the Full Court 21 NYC All World tournament. It was fun being involved in the event and a great honor to play in front of one of the biggest ambassadors of hoops and hip hop.
During the normal flow of a pickup game, my first instinct is to move the ball and set my teammates up to score, but I enjoyed attacking the basket and working on my offensive game. Bobbito if you’re reading this, get at me if you ever need a third player for some 3 on 3 hoops. I love getting buckets, but I enjoy passing way more–especially out of the high post (Sabonis!!!). Thanks again for hosting such a cool event and much respect.
Bobby Mickey is the alter ego of writer and poet Edward Austin Robertson. When he isn’t involved in some basketball related activity, actively looking for parties to deejay or venues to perform comedy, he can be found recording podcasts with Craig Stein at Fullsass Studios. Follow him on twitter @goodassgame. For booking inquiries, send contact info to firstname.lastname@example.org.