A journey back into Streetball‘s most prominent vessel.
Some days, I find myself missing the AND1 Mixtape Tour.
AND1 isn’t defunct, but it’s not running at the rate it used to when each mixtape was a must-own. And once you’d wrapped your mind around each crossover technique, another tape made its way into your hands. The leniency of AND1 rules tarnished its legacy—when AND1 legend, Hot Sauce sent the basketball around and under his shirt, the implication wasn’t that move was artistic, but that it represented a polemic against fundamental basketball. (This point was brought home in an hilarious sequence on The Boondocks, where a team’s “star” player dices his way through defenders again and again only to throw bricks at the rim). I don’t know why we needed to debate streetball versus fundamental basketball as if the two were mutually exclusively. And yet, GM David Stern saw the NBA’s image edging toward streetball and decided to mobilize against the crossover—the ref’s started to call out Allen Iverson for carrying—and set a strict dress code. Now that we’re out this dichotomy, we can see a player like Ricky Rubio who seems creative ala And1, but whose closest comparison is “Pistol” Pete Maravich. These distinctions seem meaningless now. Allen Iverson, who Oliver so deftly defended here at the Good Men Project, just handed out the gameball at Game Six of the Eastern Conference Semifinals. It’s not quite a league ambassador role, but it’s something.
It’s strange that AND1 was so pigeonholed as a singular style of play when it was so eclectic in its own right. Take the AND1 Mixtape tour and its ESPN Streetball television show accompaniment. On Streetball, the AND1 Mixtape tour split into two dedicated teams and toured the nation, each team adding and dropping players from the corresponding cities. With Streetball we had a reality television that was, as far as know, not written or manufactured. Plus, the Tour didn’t take place on a remote island like Survivor, but in cities where anyone had a fair shot of playing against the team. The Harlem Globetrotters are great show to watch, but its audience members do not get to audition and its games are fixed.
Streetball managed to distill everything that was exciting about watching AND1. Before the show, the AND1 Mixtape was Youtube before Youtube. Growing up in Philly, where AND1 was founded, the DVDs would appear every now and then—get proliferated and bootlegged like crazy—and occupied your weekend. AND1′s lengthy games seemed close and personal—there was no regular season daze as per the last stretch of the NBA season—and provided moments where all you could do was say, “oh.” The moves were then imitated at local recreation centers: bouncing the ball off the head, dribbling on the floor, and of course putting the ball between your opponents legs. Streetball showed that editing could streamline the process. It gave the viewer a highlight real from each game and let the tension of game’s closing minutes play out.
Streetball emphasized AND1′s workman’s appeal. The NBA throws the greatest basketball block party with its weeklong All Star game festivities, but they can only bring this to one city each year. AND1 put out open calls to the each cities’ basketball enthusiasts. Streetball spent a lot of time on the tour bus, showing their players interacting with fans. It wasn’t uncommon for an episode to end with kids chasing after the tour bus as it pulls out of town. One episode’s tag featured dribble-machine, The Professor squaring up against a businessman in a three-piece suit on the street. He playfully put the ball between his legs, but the businessman struck back on their next exchange with a steal and a smile to the camera.
And how could it take this long to mention The Professor? Hardly removed from his teenage years, Grayson “The Professor” Carter joined the tour after a tryout in 2004 as the streetball equivalent of Eminem. He was the audience eyes into the world of Streetball and it’s to the show’s credit that it convinced the audience he could be voted off the tour. One of show’s preoccupations, if not on purpose, was branding. And when the Tour’s hype-man/narrator yelled the “The Professor!” like a hawked spit or championed an alley-oop, saying “Sick Wit’ It to Go Get It,” like the perfect nursery, you could see why these players had remained staples on the Tour. The audience could identify them—Hot Sauce and Rafer “Skip to My Lou” Alston had the most flair in their crossovers—and from this their popularity sprung. The Professor was the young underdog with the crossover. The Streetball season finale ended like most reality television shows: with one winner. High-flyers Spyda and Helicopter weren’t as compelling as The Professors, but whose to say which was the better player. Yet AND1 existed on this strange gradient between ability and excitability that made it difficult to characterize, though impossible to discount.
Photo credit: El Mostrito/Flickr