I took off from work early one day last month, and the Wife and I saw the documentary Ballin’ in the Graveyard at the Spectrum Theatre in Albany. Early on, the participants explained that some of them have played street basketball in various tough neighborhoods in New York City and around the country, yet no game is as intense as the ballin’ in Albany’s Washington Park, less than a dozen blocks from the theater, BTW. These are in-your-face players who do trash-talk to gain an advantage and occasionally will make a bogus call to even up the score.
But the film is only partially about sport. Their success on the court is shown in relationship with meeting the challenges of everyday life. Their court swagger belied the often tranquil demeanor at other times.
While the term “the graveyard” was meant to define a “do or die” level of play, that section of Washington Park indeed was a cemetery, with sections for the city’s black and “stranger” population until 1868, when those bodies were exhumed and reburied. mostly in Albany Rural Cemetery.
The documentary was produced and directed by Paul Kentoffio and Basil Anastassiou, the latter a longtime player, and co-produced by Spectrum owner Keith Pickard.
My wife liked it more as it moved away from basketball and more into their private lives, noting that it was both local and universal. But she also appreciated the notion of the culture and tradition passed down to the next generation. I liked it all.