“I’ll tell you a funny story,” Bobbito Garcia says. “It was maybe five years ago. I was playing ball in Harlem. This kid walked up to me. He was like, ‘Yo! You used to play ball with my grandfather.’ I’ve never felt so old in my life. ‘He said you had a nice jumpshot and you used to play together at the Goat.’ I was like, ‘Wow.’ That struck me. I might very well have played with his grandfather.”
Forever #SLAMfam, Bobbito Garcia has been around for a while. He made a name for himself first as a ballplayer, then as a DJ, and author, and then as a filmmaker. Garcia’s latest project, Stretch and Bobbito: Radio That Changed Lives, is a documentary about his revolutionary radio show with Stretch Armstrong that ran on WKCR from 1990-1998.
Stretch and Bob’s airwaves were the first time the public heard acts like the Notorious B.I.G., Nas, Jay-Z, Wu-Tang Clan, Fat Joe, Big Pun, Busta Rhymes, Eminem and Big L, just to name a few. The new film features interviews from the likes of Nas, Jay, and Em. Garcia spliced those interviews with never-before released verses from countless artists and old footage shot during show’s eight-year run. The doc is in essence a love letter to hip-hop and New York City, which ties in to the rest of Garcia’s many projects.
“I grew up in New York,” Garcia says. “I have a voice and any of the things that I document, in any media, they’re really from a first-person narrative. Even Doin’ It In the Park: Pick-Up Basketball, NYC, where it wasn’t about me, the underlying narrative was about me.
“Stretch and Bobbito is even deeper than that because it’s right up front. No matter what medium, I’m paying homage to my roots, but at the same time, making it inclusive for any and everyone who has that shared passion for the things that I’m about. It doesn’t matter. If I’m amongst people who love basketball, who love great music, who love sneakers, more than likely we have some sort of shared emotion, that we can easily identify with each other about.”
One thing is clear throughout the film; Stretch and Bob’s show meant a whole lot to a whole lot of people. That’s another tie-in to the rest of Garcia’s work. In Doin’ It In the Park: Pick-Up Basketball, NYC, the love of NY and basketball bleeds through the screen. That love can be heard in Garcia’s narration. In Stretch and Bobbito, just about every person interviewed tells a story about staying up until 5 a.m. on Thursdays (when the show aired), taping the show, and missing school or work on Friday morning, just to listen.
Armstrong talks about that community in the film. “We were being broadcast into your homes, but really we were coming into your lives,” he says.
The superstars of today were the unsigned artists of yesterday who revered the show and tried desperately to get on the airwaves.
“First you was nice on your block,” Talib Kweli says in the film. “Then you was nice in your neighborhood. Then you was nice in the park. And then you got to go on Stretch and Bob.”
“It helped inspire us in many ways, just to be brave,” radio personality Sway says about the Stretch and Bob show during the film.
“Wow, I’m going to Bobbito and Stretch Armstrong show,” Nas says while being interviewed in the film. “I made it. At that point in time, your show was the most important show in the world.”
Garcia says audiences have loved the film so far. “We’ve been screening it all over the world already and selling out theater after theater. Not just selling out but actually standing room only. In LA, we had 50 people standing in the back by the exit. It was, like, a fire hazard.”
As for the film’s stars, there’s a moment at the end that shows just how much their show meant to them.
“Stretch had never told me in the 20 years we’d known each other that he loved me,” Garcia says. “As a friend, ‘Yo, I love you, bro.’ Never. And he did that on our 20th anniversary in 2010. Not only to my face, but live on air. I thought that that was a nice ending to the doc, to the natural story arc of us meeting, us parting ways and us coming back together and having this reunion.”
Of course, Stretch and Bobbito isn’t the only thing Garcia is working on at the moment. His revolutionary summer basketball tournament, Full Court 21 (as many as 10 players competing by themselves at one time, going up and down), is taking off in ways he never could have predicted.
“It’s sort of unbelievable. Think about it,” Garcia says. “There’s no teams, there’s no coaches, there’s no tryouts. You come, you sign up, you play, as an individual against, potentially, four to five defenders. That’s unlike any other organized environment.”
Garcia started the tourney in 2013, at Riverside Park in Manhattan. After its first year, he moved it to Booker T. Washington Playground on 108th and Amsterdam. Now the tournament is worldwide. It has outlets in Tokyo, Hong Kong, Mali, London, Vancouver and several cities in America.
“It is beyond belief,” Garcia says. “It’s culture in a very grand scale.”
Like those interviewed in Stretch and Bobbito, Full Court 21 has a community of diehards.
“I’m blessed, in that I have some really, really phenomenal friends and very supportive people who see what I do be done as best possible,” Garcia says. “It’s just full of love. You feel it.”