Everyone had a dream growing up. What was yours?
Maybe it was to play in the NBA, become a movie star or a famous actress. Maybe you wanted to be on the cover of Vogue magazine. My dream growing up was to not only play in the NBA, but also to become a New York City streetball legend.
Unfortunately, location played a big factor, so growing up in the suburbs of South Jersey wasn't the ideal place to realize my dreams. I could read and watch everything about New York City basketball, but I could only fantasize about it. Once in a while when I would visit New York, the only place I wanted to visit were the famous basketball courts. Times Square, Broadway, and Fifth Avenue were great, but not very high on my priority list. Put me at West 4th Street or the Rucker and I'll be happy.
Slowly, as life developed, I inched closer and closer to New York City. I worked there in between college semesters, and lived there for a few months in between professional basketball seasons overseas. Each time, New York City has pretty much eaten me up, with barely enough money to pay for food, a Metrocard, and a gym membership.
Two years ago during the summer, I was looking for somewhere to play in New York. I knew there were good pick-up games in the city, but I didn't know many people, and wasn't just going to stand outside Rucker Park in Harlem asking if people wanted to play basketball with me. I emailed Dime magazine, a basketball magazine that I loved growing up, to see if they knew anywhere to play. It took a week or so, but they eventually emailed me back and introduced me to Bobbito Garcia, a New York City streetball legend. I knew Bobbito from the And1 Mixtapes, the NBA Street video game, and his Nike commercial, so I was excited. Bobbito told me he had "open runs" every week or two, where players would just get together and play.
The first "open runs" I went to, I got nervous since Bobbito is a pretty big name. I didn't want to do anything that would piss him off or make him look down on me. Everything changed though, when I was lacing up my shoes. He said, "How long are you going to be?" He knew I played overseas, and was probably gauging to see if I was going to be a prima donna, where the world traveled at my pace. I quickly replied, "Twenty seconds," and from then on I knew he was the real deal. He asked me the question in such a way that translated to, "I don't know where you're from or what you've done, but this is New York City, so tie your shoes and let's play."
Last fall I came back to New York after being overseas and in Florida, and immediately attended his "open run." One of the first things Bobbito said to me was, "Didn't I light you up on this court once before?" I was shocked. Here was a guy who has traveled all over the world, met thousands of people, yet still remembers a pick-up game two years ago where he hit a few shots on me. I couldn't deny it, so I said, "Yes... yes you did."
The main difference I've noticed between New York City basketball players versus anywhere else in the world is the pride. I can make fun of a guy's intelligence, girlfriend, or financial situation, but when I tell him to pass the ball because he dribbles too much, that's when he genuinely gets angry at me. I've never seen anything like it.
Last summer, Bobbito started a basketball tournament called Full Court 21. Basically, it was 21, with every man for themselves, but it was full court. This means that once possession changed, you had to dribble the length of the court to get to the other hoop, with 3 or 4 players guarding you most of the time. In the beginning of the summer, this was my only goal: win Full Court 21.
I'm a different type of human. On all the major holidays and weekends, while most people were relaxing, drinking, or at the beach, I would be at any courts all over the city, playing streetball all day until it got dark out. I trained incessantly for this, sometimes doing midnight training runs on the west side highway basketball courts.
Once the Full Court 21 championship game happened at the end of August, I was completely prepared for it. My training all summer paid off, and I won in a sudden-death shootout with an extremely quick guard. Another dream of mine in life was to get a nickname, and now I have three of them.
The thing I love most about New York City basketball is that nobody cares what you've done in the past. You could have scaled Mount Everest last week, made $50 million last year, and have written the greatest book ever published. But if you start talking about yourself and your accomplishments on the court, you will immediately hear, "Nobody cares man, check the ball!"
In different areas of the world, there may be better players, better games, and better pure basketball. But New York City is still the Mecca. When you tell someone, "I played streetball in New York City," they'll immediately know it toughened you up. Only the strong survive, and that saying is no more evident than on the courts of New York.
ESPN wrote an article recently saying streetball in New York City and across the United States is dying. I say they just didn't know where to look.