In New York City, if there’s one thing that signifies summer, it’s streetball. Known for its high energy and aggressive playing style, streetball is defined by Oxford dictionary as an “informal type of basketball played especially in urban areas such as parking lots, playgrounds, etc.” Some of New York City’s legendary courts, including Rucker Park and the West Fourth Street Courts, also known as “The Cage,” have been a home for aspiring NBA stars to develop their skills, with stars including Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Wilt Chamberlain and Kyrie Irving. In June 2016, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson and other members of the U.S. Olympics men’s basketball team stopped by Rucker Park to surprise a group of young fans, prior to competing in the 2016 Rio Summer Olympics.
Over the past two summers, photographer Anthony Geathers began documenting streetball as part of an ongoing series. “I just shoot what I love and streetball happens to be one of those things,” he says. “It’s great, because you get these guys that play on a high level, but have a showmanship about them.” From 2008-2012, Geathers served in the Marines Corps and did two combat tours in Afghanistan as a machine gunner. Prior to joining the Marines, Geathers developed an interest in photography in high school, learning different film formats and darkroom techniques. After his service ended, Geathers decided that he wanted to continue his passion: “I still had photography in the back of my head, I still loved it.” In 2012, he enrolled as a student at New York City’s School of Visual Arts, which served as a platform to expand his perspective and knowledge of photography’s history.
Regarding influences, Geathers’ biggest role model, particularly on his streetball series, has been notable photographer and Shaft director Gordon Parks. “He really got knee deep in the photograph and the subject,” Geathers reflects. “I approach it with the same kind of mindset. I don’t just shoot the game, but shoot everything else [that’s] around.” Whether it be sneaker trends, hair styles, or how fans react, Geathers strives to capture each little moment and feeds off the energy of the players and spectators: “You get connected to the street more, more to the people, especially during the summertime.”
Geathers photographs each game from a variety of spots around the court; some of his favorites include underneath the basket, or utilizing the fence around a court for framing. Gersh Park in Brooklyn’s East New York neighborhood remains one of the photographer’s favorite courts to shoot at, because of its throwback factor to streetball’s earlier days. “As a kid, I always admired basketball, being raised in Brooklyn and being a fan of basketball culture in NYC, I just felt that I had to come back and shoot that.” Geathers often gives prints to the players to show their families, which is especially important to them if they have children. Each photo acts as a unique memory.
“These guys are high-level players, but they’re also entertainers,” Geathers says. “If anything, I think they play a little better when the camera’s in their face.”
Anthony Geathers is a photographer based in New York City.
Elijah Sinclair Walker is a freelance photo editor at TIME.com
Kenneth Bachor is TIME’s associate photo editor, overseeing entertainment and culture.
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