Written by Lower East Scribe. Photos by Jon Lopez
What happens when you mix the never-say-die attitude of New York ballplayers, an innovative idea, and the chance to make history? You get the culmination of Bobbito Garcia’s Full Court 21 NYC. After four weeks of men and women eager to make a name battling it out with blacktop legends, one man proved to be the favorite on championship day August 27th, 2013.
“Honestly, I want to play right now,” said Hector “Hungry Hec” Navarro before the first round qualifier, which he was given a bye in.
Hungry Hec never wants to sit sideline, but he was the main reason for his own absence. The six-foot guard bullied his way through the the first four qualifying weeks of competition undefeated prior to this week’s championship, thus forcing an extra set of games to determine who he’d play in the chip.
“Does everyone understand that in order to win today, everyone else must win at least two games, but Hector only has to win one?” asked Bobbito to the crowd of competitors before the opening tip.
Kunga Nyima scored the games earliest buckets, and took the lead with 11 points. Roman “El Regalo” Perez and Rell Watson came back for a three-way tie at 11 to end the half. After heading into halftime with zero, Brian Santos scored 13 straight points (finishing with 17). Perez showed off the Brooklyn-boogie with street bred handles, dribbling his way through the first round qualifier and into the chip against Navarro. When asked about his strategy, Perez said, “I went light for the first five minutes because I knew I was the fastest person on the court. Dudes got tired and I then I picked it up.”
The second game of the evening was a hotly contested seven-man melee. Returning from game one were Rell Watson and Jason “International Jay” Gray, joining an already stacked game that featured Ian “The Yulogist” Yu and Matt “The Fullback” Thomas. With so many players on the court, breaking double and triple teams only meant you’d be rewarded by another set of defenders waiting for you at the rim. The Fullback took the lead late in the game with 20 points, but with under 10 seconds to go, and trailing by one, Watson grabbed a rebound and was inadvertently scratched in the eye. Despite suffering his second injury of the season, Watson refused to quit and was allowed to advance to the finals along with Thomas.
“I had to dig deep,” Watson said. “I fought to get here. This a toughness that was instilled in me from growing up in Brooklyn.”
In the early stages of the championship game, Watson set the tone by scoring eight points. Hungry Hec refused to go out quietly, bulldozing his way through double teams to get on the scoreboard, but it was Regalo who took the lead into halftime with 11 points. Hungry Hec’s power and experience was on display in the second half and Bobbito let the crowd know what was at stake.
“Hec wants those sneakers, y’all,” he announced over the bullhorn. “He told me before the game started, ‘I’m a 10-and-a-half.’”
Things got chippy towards the last two minutes. Referee Mike “Nappy Nap” Napolitano had no choice but to call fouls on Regalo and Watson, while Hungry Hec and Thomas battled it out. But at the end of regulation and all four players within one point of each other (Watson and Hec with 20, Regalo and Thomas with 19), Bobbito decided to have an untimed overtime and let the players decide the outcome. The four-time winner, Hungry Hec got the first shot at a victory, but couldn’t hit the three to finish everyone off. Watson struck next, looking to make a storybook comeback but missed the NBA three-point game winner as well. Given his chance, Thomas whirled through two defenders like a record DJ Kool Bob Love spins at Camaradas for the bucket. Thomas then hit the three to be crowned the first ever champion in Full Court 21 NYC history.
“This is an honor,” said Thomas. “It’s what I want to do with my life. Winning this is like a stepping stone. I just want to give a shout out to my cousin Joey and to Hector. That’s my brother. I may have won today, but he’s the real champion.”
With hugs and daps all around, the Full Court 21 NYC experience added something to basketball. Call it innovative, call it crazy or simply fun, but understand that this is a new movement and its creator can’t wait to see what this experiment does for the city game.
“I’m always an advocate of people playing outdoors,” Bobbito shared. “We (New York City) have the longest running outdoor 5-on-5 tournaments in the world thanks to Mr. Holcombe Rucker, but everyone plays 21. I just wanted to bring the game to an organized environment.”
To commemorate his first season of Full Court 21 NYC, Bobbito gave out awards with prizes courtesy of the New York Knicks (http://knicksnow.com/):
Kimberly Goodley, The Spirit Award
Jason Gray, The Crowd Favorite Award
Chiené Jones, The Staff Member Of The Summer Award
Rell Watson, The Warrior Award
James from Manhattan, The Style Award (Most Clapped Boards)
Look for more of Bobbito Garcia’ Full Court 21 NYC this winter and next summer. Stay tuned!