Basketball Documentary Focuses on New York City Court

Beastie Boy Adam Yauch has directed a documentary about a high-profile basketball game at the Rucker Park courts in New York City.

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MIKE PESCA, host:

The NBA Draft, another lesser competition, takes place tonight, and among the ranks of the top college players that will be selected are a few who belong to an elite fraternity, the young men played in a very special game in 2006, called the Elite 24, at a very special location. You could call Rucker Park in uptown Manhattan the Muscle Shoals of pickup basketball, maybe even the Mecca.

(Soundbite of documentary "Gunnin' for that #1 Spot")

Unidentified Man: To actually come and play in the park in New York City, to me, I think that would be a big deal to any kid all over the place.

Unidentified Man #2: I play ball. Everywhere I go, Finland, Sweden, Germany. Yo, what's it like to play in Rucker Park? You know, everybody knows Rucker Park.

PESCA: That's a clip from the documentary that's opening in select cities tomorrow about the Elite 24 game. It's called "Gunnin' for that #1 Spot" and it's directed by Beastie Boy Adam Yauch, who followed some of the most high-profile high-school athletes from their hometowns across the country, to Rucker Park.

(Soundbite of reverse playback)

PESCA: You have three of the top five projected picks in the NBA in this film.

Mr. ADAM YAUCH (Rapper, Beastie Boys; Producer, "Gunnin for that #1 Spot"): Yeah. And yeah, some of the other guys haven't even been made eligible for the draft yet, because one of them, Lance Stephenson, was 15 years old when we shot this. He was about to start his sophomore year of high school, and now he's going to be starting his junior year of high school in September, so it's - oh, no, he'll be a senior this year. He'll be a senior in high school this year, because we shot it in '06.

PESCA: He went to Lincoln High School.

Mr. YAUCH: Yeah.

PESCA: He was a rail splitter, which is one of the great high-school names. And I noticed in the part when you were in Coney Island, you take your camera, it's a really well-shot film, and you use that fish-eye lens, right? And you go over the Verrazano, is it?

Mr. YAUCH: Yeah. Well, we fly over Coney Island, and then we - and then over Verrazano, and then into Manhattan. It's sort of, like, that's the transition where the movie goes from these kids from all over the country, sort of, like, their introduction. Like - it's almost like they're seeing Manhattan for the first time.

PESCA: And to me, I don't - you know, you must have thought about this, but for you - the fish-eye lens, I was first aware of what it could do in that - in a Beastie Boys video in "Shake Your Rump." That was the first - that video was all in the fish-eye lens.

Mr. YAUCH: Yeah, prob - yeah, it certainly was.

PESCA: That's pretty cool. And the other kind of - there were a couple of these other moments where your professional life, where we knew you as a music maker, and now as a documentarian came together. This is a really funny moment. You're there with Kevin Love at his house in Oregon, and a cell phone rings, and you hear "Fight for Your Right (to Party)."

Mr. YAUCH: Yeah. I think Kevin actually played that as a ringtone on his thing, and I wasn't there when that was shot, because I was interviewing the East Coast guys, while they were doing the West Coast, but Kevin did, right after he played that, turn to the camera and say like, huh, huh, that's for Adam.

(Soundbite of laughter)

PESCA: And then you got him back, because Kevin Love's dad is Stan Love, and Stan Love's brother is Mike Love, who's a member of the Beach Boys, and there is - I think "California Girls" is in this movie.

Mr. YAUCH: You know what? They wouldn't clear it.

PESCA: Oh, no.

Mr. YAUCH: The Beach Boys wouldn't clear it, so that song is not actually in the film, but it's in the rough cut.

PESCA: It's in the leaked version, I guess. Really, so you put Kevin in the documentary, and the Beach Boys wouldn't even sign on.

Mr. YAUCH: There you go.

PESCA: That's tough. And I figured you had so many connections in the music business, you just ask, and they would give.

Mr. YAUCH: Yeah, well, with most people they did. There were just a handful of holdouts, just a couple, and the Beach Boys were among them.

PESCA: And what's your background as a documentarian?

Mr. YAUCH: I was around a lot when the "Free Tibet" documentary was being made, which is a documentary about the first Tibetan freedom concert, so I spent some time with the editor Paula Heredia, and I learned a bit about like developing character arcs, and storylines, and how to develop a story over the course of a film, and of course, you know, my background is in making music videos and I've been, you know, working with Super 8 film, and working in videos for a long time.

PESCA: There's great visual style, one of the things that producer Jacob and I noticed is, to establish backstory, you just use a lot of shots of the Internet. I guess it's not literally filming a computer, but it looks like we're jumping around to Wikipedia, we're jumping around to the Hoop's website...

Mr. YAUCH: Yeah.

PESCA: It really establishes backstory in an efficient way, and exactly the way that people really do it in real life.

Mr. YAUCH: Exactly. Yeah. I think it's the way that information is accessed these days, so it made sense as a way to present it.

PESCA: We get to know a few of the players, because we can't deal with all of them, and one of them is Tyreke Evans, who's, you know, a great baller. His brothers were all really good and for a moment you talk with Eric "Pooh" Evans, who won a high-school basketball championship. Let's hear from Pooh.

(Soundbite of documentary "Gunnin' for the #1 Spot")

Mr. ERIC "POOH" EVANS (Former Point Guard, Cheyney Wolves, Cheyney University): Reke's been a gym rat, like all his life, like, you know what I mean? Been working out in the gym, you know what I mean? Whereas though I's (ph) been in the gym playing bitty, but this is my stomping ground right here. Reke never really played streetball that much, and I didn't really want him to. I did all that, and my brothers did all that, so he wouldn't have to.

PESCA: Was that common, that he would take about streetball as something - like he says, so that he wouldn't have to - it's almost like, you know, I was - I sold drugs or something, so he wouldn't have to, or I was in - I was doing something dangerous, so that my younger brother wouldn't have to. Why would he talk about streetball like that?

Mr. YAUCH: I mean, it might be pretty rough. Going to that neighborhood, you know, that's Pooh, that's Tyreke's brother speaking, and, yeah, I mean, going to that neighborhood, it reminded me of what New York was like when I was a kid, like what the Bronx was like, and parts of Brooklyn, and...

PESCA: This is Chester, Pennsylvania, the lighted community.

Mr. YAUCH: Yeah, and going to Chester's like going to see where Tyreke lived, like, every other building on the block was a burned-out building, and it was definitely a rough neighborhood, you know. You almost forget in New York what that was like, because, like, in the '70s, it was like that, but New York's changed a lot, and so I wouldn't be surprised if playing streetball is a rough bit of business.

PESCA: Did anything else remind you of when you were young? Just because, you know, you're really young, you got musical success, you were on the verge of stardom, you assumed - you were right - that you could have a long career and make a lot of money. That's probably the same assumption that a lot of these guys are making. Some are going to be right and some aren't. So did you see any parallels to your own experience?

Mr. YAUCH: That's interesting. I think there probably are some parallels, and now that you bring it up, I think I remember like my mom saying, like, you know, you better be thinking about something else to fall back on, because like it's a long shot that anything would happen in the music business, and she says - I don't really remember this, but she says I said to her, like, nah, don't worry about it. I got it. Like, I got it figured out. This is - I'm going to be fine.

(Soundbite of laughter)

PESCA: So do you have some sympathy, like, when you hear about, you know, a 29-year-old guy who, all he's done is played basketball, is trying to do something else and he's kind of, you know, at a loss for things? It's easier with music. You don't age out as quickly, but can you identify with the professional athlete a little bit?

Mr. YAUCH: Yeah. I mean, I guess so, It's wild, but I mean, what are you going to do? You can't tell somebody not to pursue that if that's their dream, you know? I don't know, but the odds are definitely stacked against him.

PESCA: What do you think about the - there is a criticism, you know, if you talk to NBA scouts, and you have Lawrence Frank, the coach of the Nets, and other guys who work with NBA players, but they'll kind of tell you that the streetball of the Rucker League is - perhaps it's not great for a player, because it doesn't emphasize fundamentals like passing and, you know, blocking out on defense. It's more about flashy moves, dunks, blocks, that sort of thing. Do you think there's any danger in streetball for some of these young guys?

Mr. YAUCH: I don't think so, because, I mean, what is basketball really about? I mean, at the end of the day, it's like - it's entertainment, right? I mean, people turn on their TV because they want to be entertained watching ball. So what always kind of surprises me when you hear a coach like getting really mad at somebody because they did a flashy dunk. If they've put the ball in, you know, what's the big issue, you know?

PESCA: So once we get to the actual all-star game, there's no shortage of flash, and style, and the audio at the game is provided by Bobbito Garcia. He gives all the players nicknames. He narrates the whole thing. He provides a lot of fun.

(Soundbite of documentary "Gunnin' for the #1 Spot")

Mr. BOBBITO GARCIA (Former Basketball Player; DJ; Announcer, Elite 24 Hoops Classic): Shampoo for another two. What are you going to do? He's going to have a lot of shampoo endorsements in a minute, boy, I tell you. Conditioners, shampoo, everything.

PESCA: And he talks plenty of trash.

(Soundbite of documentary "Gunnin' for the #1 Spot")

Mr. GARCIA: I'm not going to call out no names, but I'm seeing a lot of ugly sneakers on the court, man, what's up? What's up with these orange sneakers? Where do you get them? No. I don't - haven't seen them in the stores. They must've got them from some all American camp or something. Yo...

Mr. YAUCH: Yeah. Bobbito's been around for years. He was a DJ at HOT 97. Bobbito's been like a streetball legend in New York for a long time, and Bobbito grew up right by the Rucker and Harlem, and so he kind of has a feel for it, and he has a whole flavor to the film that's amazing, and the fact that he commentates the game, makes it really real, because I listened to the following year, to the second Elite 24 game, watched it on TV, and there were these two commentators, that were these two kind of stiff NBA-type guys, who were like, oh, his nickname is too easy. I'm really getting the hang of this, Bob. This is so funny. You know, and it definitely didn't have the same flavor as when Bobbito just - you know, he's part of the neighborhood. He lights it up.

PESCA: At one time, Bobbito, you know, gets on Kevin Love for just laying it in, rather than dunking, and I'm thinking to myself, Kevin, you have - Kevin Love is an amazing player. He has these great fundamentals. I was just hoping Kevin Love wasn't taking Bobbito's advice actually.

Mr. YAUCH: Well, you see, like, a minute - a few minutes later, that Kevin, like, dunks the hell out of the ball. So maybe he hears it, but it is funny. Yeah, somebody gets up and heckles him. Like, I think Kevin, like, puts it up, and just kind of, like - just sort of, like, lays it, like a layup, you know, and somebody screams, yo, you got to dunk that (bleep), Kevin! And, yeah, Bobbito is clowning him a little bit.

PESCA: Yeah. Well, all Kevin did was went to UCLA and go to the Final Four, and now he's going to be, like, taken in the top five in the draft. Did you keep in touch with any of these guys, or have you been in touch with them since?

Mr. YAUCH: A little bit. Like, sometimes I run into them and different things. Kevin and his brother were out at - I was out at the Lakers game, the one in L.A., the last one in L.A., and Kevin and Colin were out there, his brother.

PESCA: Yeah. And have any of them seen the film? Do you know?

Mr. YAUCH: Yeah. A bunch of them have seen it. A few of them came to the premier in Tribeca, and that was cool.

PESCA: Adam Yauch has just put together a movie called "Gunnin' for that #1 Spot." Thanks a lot for coming in, Adam.

Mr. YAUCH: All right. Thank you.

(Soundbite of music)

PESCA: All right. During that interview, I'm going to pat myself on the back. I did not start by saying, MCA get on the mic, my man! Would've put him off.

RACHEL MARTIN, host:

Way to restrain yourself.

PESCA: Yeah. I'm all about restraint. I'm also up to this point, all about not saying what I'm all about. Kind of annoying. Coming up on the show, the "Juno" effect.

MARTIN: Like the city in Alaska?

PESCA: No.

MARTIN: Oh.

PESCA: This is the Bryant Park Project from NPR News.

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