January 17, 2021

‘LL: What role did you see Latinos play in the history of pick-up ball in New York City?
BG: Well we have a phenomenal history and that dates back to the great influx of Boricuas that came in the 1950’s. In the 1960’s you see a lot of great players coming out of El Barrio and the Bronx and Brooklyn – wherever there were strong enclaves of populations of Latinos in the 60’s. Turns out that the Puerto Rican pro-league, there wasn’t a Nuyorican to play in that league until the late 60’s and by the 70’s the door just opened up. In 1976 the Puerto Rico league lost by one point to the United States, one point! The two star guards of the team were Nuyoricans, Neftalí Rivera and Alfred “Butch” Lee. [Basketball’s influence runs far] and it’s not just Puerto Rico. I have traveled to Venezuela, Brazil, Costa Rica and I have seen the players in the canchas going hard. Pick-up basketball is a global movement and there have been some phenomenal contributions by Latinos, absolutely.

‘LL: Why was it important to show diversity in the score and the film itself?
BG: Being Boricua myself, I’m very proud to have shown a diverse face of the game. I think most people “hear pick-up basketball” and think only African-American or black. But in the film for example, Palmieri created original compositions, there are songs by Tato Torres of Yerba Buena, La Casita de Chema which is Bomba-Plena (Afro-Boricua roots music). What film are you going to see Latin Jazz, Salsa and Bomba-Plena all in the same score? It’s really subtle, but I am showing my Boricua roots without people even realizing it. The last line of the film is “Mucho love for this game” said by Corky Ortíz, who is a legend here in Spanish Harlem who played pro in Puerto Rico as well. He gets the last line of the film and guess what? The line starts in Spanish. Also, Kevin has a lot of French nuances in the film that people may not know until he explains it. So, that is really cool.

‘LL: What did you learn about pick-up ball or NYC that you didn’t know prior to making this film?
BG: The majority of players today on the courts are under the age of 21. You still have the adults that go out, maybe after work or on the weekends, what’s called the weekend warriors. But the kids go out there at midnight when the sun is down and all you see is the lamp posts, or the fire escape, or milk crates. It’s so beautiful to see a sport that is 120-years-old (it was created in 1891). The great thing about pick-up basketball is no one is holding their hands to go out there and play. There’s no referees, no schedule. There’s just a court and kids voluntarily go out there and play, they don’t get paid for it. It’s just free recreation and that’s the message of the film: go out, play, engage with your community, interact. There are a lot of positive things that come out of doing that. I can’t even think of anything greater to say than that.

Man dunking basketball

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About The Author

Navani Otero is a New York City based multi-media journalist. Her work has been published in The New York Post, Latina, XXL Magazine, In Touch Weekly, msnNOW and MTV News. The self-professed music junkie splits her free time helping out on The Heavy Hitters Radio Show on SiriusXM and mentoring aspiring teen writers. You can read her observations on life at www.navaniknows.com.

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