Friday, September 7, 2007

Dart’s Rant Of The Day: The Overcommercialization Of Streetball


I feel asleep on my couch after watching a late episode of Baseball Tonight and I woke up around 2 AM to catch an episode of Streetball: The 2007 And 1 Tour. I thought the show wasn’t coming on this year seeing as half of the original And 1 players including the winner of last year’s contest, Jerome “Circus” Holman left And 1 early in 2007. This year’s And 1 Tour was garbage as it only stopped in 10 locations and all of the games were played outdoors. Last year, And 1 played open runs outdoors and played games in 20+ arenas all over the country. The players that left the And 1 Tour started the Ball 4 Real Tour instead. This tour played in arenas all over the US like the And 1 tour used to and it split the original And 1 squad right down the middle.

Of course, back in 1998 when the And 1 mixtape was first released no one ever would’ve ever seen this coming. The players felt like they were being exploited by the And 1 corporation and that they should’ve seen a lot more money. After all, it was them that made And 1 the leading shoe of choice amongst NBA players and a Fortune 500 company and not the guys that came up with the catchy slogans for those goddamn T shirts. After they got the cover of Sports Illustrated back in 2005 you just knew that this would all end badly for And 1 and it’s players.

Growing up, I heard the occassional stories and legends about some of the greatest ballers that never made it to the NBA but played at Holcombe Rucker Park in Harlem against some of the best players the pro ranks had to offer and more than held their own. Stories about Earl “The Goat” Manigault, Pee Wee Kirkland, Joe “The Destroyer” Hammond, Slyvester “Fly” Williams, Herman “Helicopter” Knowings and a host of other players became like the hood version of tall tales.

Sure we had players that were nice come through every few years, but few cats that could be considered streetball legends like the ones they had in New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, Detroit and Baltimore/D.C. area. Back then, streetball was an underground thing that few people paid attention to. Sure, some people wrote books and newspaper articles about these players from time to time but streetball didn’t pop up on most sports fans radars, forget about corporations. Nowadays, the average 12 year old basketball fan can rattle off his 10 favorite streetball players and perform their signature moves right off of the DVD’s he has.

Starting back in the early 90’s, all you could hope for was to hear some stories about what happened at the Entertainer’s Basketball Classic at the Rucker secondhand. There was no news coverage, no videotape, nothing whatsoever to keep you informed about who the new ill players were. You got their government names and you had to wait for the players to enter college to see what they could do on the court. This is what happened when God Shammgod AKA Shammgod Wells (pictured below), Shaheen Halloway, Kareem Reid, Scientific Mapp, Felipe Lopez, Bevon Robin, Rafer Alston, Charles Jones and several other players entered the college game.

Even the sports commentators would reference their AAU and streetball careers during their college games. The AAU/streetball influence was becoming more and more prevalent in the college game until it culminated in Michigan’s recruitment of the Fab Five of Chris Webber, Juwan Howard, Jalen Rose, Jimmy King and Ray Jackson. Their bald heads, long shorts and black socks were a sign to basketball purists that things would never be the same again.

With the creation of Slam mgazine back in 1994 you finally got to read the stories of some of the greatest streetball legends ever. You also got coverage of the latest streetball players and up and comers. Then came the release of the first And 1 mixtape and the world was never the same again. After that 35 minute tape showing highlights, dunks and dribbling tricks featuring Rafer “Skip To My Lou” Alston (below) who later attended Fresno State University before declaring for the NBA Draft. The brass at And 1 had the idea to play games featuring some of the best players they could find and tape them. Later on, these same players would suggest that they play in different locales against local competition and tape it and that eventually evolved into what is now known as the And 1 Tour.

Kids all over the country were watching those same And 1 tapes and trying to attend those games. This caused a snowball effect that led to streetball becoming super popular, then the floodgates opened. The internet also helped to get the word out about the world of streetball as sites like insidehoops.com, slamonline.com and nbadraft.net popped up providing articles and updates of AAU and summer basketball tournaments.

In 1998 TNT produced a film called “On Hallowed Ground: The Champions Of Rucker Park” premiered, a film called “Soul In The Hole” was created documenting the rise and fall of Ed “Booger” Smith, a streetball legend and yet another NYC point guard that fell short of attaining his dream of basketball stardom. After that, the Entertainer’s Basketball Classic at Rucker Park became hot all over again.

The NBA even became a sponsor of the EBC starting in 2002 by airing recorded games from Rucker Park on NBA TV going as far as to run a website for them. EBC DVD’s (below) began flying off of the shelves almost as fast as the new And 1 DVD’s were. The NBA even encouraged it’s players to play in the EBC to continue the tradition of NBA players competing at Rucker Park...that is, until the US lost in the 2004 Summer Olympics to a bunch of teams playing structured, team ball. The next summer the EBC was nowhere to be found on NBA TV. The Knicks website featured weekly EBC recaps, though.

Next came the Slam From The Streets series and accusations from others in the streetball community that And 1played watered down basketball. The last thing any of the players on the And 1 Tour wanted to be seen as were the modern day version of the Harlem Globetrotters. They didn’t want to be perceived as clowns but they also didn’t want to lose the hook that made them popular. They found themselves constantly trying to stay on that middle ground while at the same time defending themselves from purists that blamed them for contributing to the deterioration of the fundamental skills of today’s basketball players.

Nowadays you have professional streetball leagues, the YPA Tour, Ball 4 Real Tour, And 1 Tour, The Notic and several others popping up all over the place. Streetball has become a multi million dollar business involving the sales of everything from headbands, jerseys, shorts and soft drinks. Whereas before the dream was to get recognized for your playing ability and one day make the league, the dream has now become to one day be the next Hot Sauce or Professor and live off of the money made from personal appearances and endorsement deals. Huh? What?

Streetball captured the mainstreams attention through the famous Nike Freestyle commercial, MTV’s Harlem Hoops and Who Got Game series’, Nike/MTV2’s King Of The Court tournaments, ESPN’s City Slam and BET’s coverage of the EBC and EBC America tournaments. Then came the videogames like Street Hoops, NBA Street, NBA Ballers and And 1 Streetball. Not too long after Hollywood came calling, making a Like Mike sequel and movies like Crossover.

Kids now have it in their heads that they can become the next streetball legend, forgetting that the only reason people ended up playing streetball way because for whatever reason they couldn’t make it to the NBA. The exposure they got playing streetball was supposed to open up doors for them to eventually play in the NBA. When Shane Drisdon, James Williams, Waliy Dixon, Anthony Heyward, Tim Gittens, Robert Martin, Aaron Owens, Lonnie Harrell, Tyrone Evans and several other cats first started out playing on the streetball circuit it was so they could get scouts to see them and get the chance to play in a minor league like the CBA, ABA, NBDL or hopefully crack an NBA summer league team to get an NBA tryout.

Cats nowadays aren’t even concerned about making the NBA anymore, they just wanna get on the bus or get off a couple of tricks on a DVD not realizing that the guys they’re watching have been playing basketball at every level for almost a decade and resorted to playing that way just to get noticed. To make mattersworse, since the NBA has been trying to field a team to win back the gold medal in basketball for the 2008 Olympics, it’s been discouraging players from playing at the Rucker during the summer so that they can participate in helping train candidates for the next Team USA by staying available to play with a select team to scrimmage them in preparation for the basketball world championships and the upcoming Olympics.

This past summer, streetball has become the red headed stepchild in favor of coverage of Team USA as they scrimmaged and played in the world qualifying tournament for the Olympics. The NBA no longer carries EBC games and few if any NBA players will appear at the Rucker. Since And 1’s team splintered off and the majority of the well known veterans left (after a couple of And 1 veterans contracts weren’t renewed the previous year) the And 1 team didn’t carry the prestige it once did anymore. The only way to find out what happened at the EBC was to wait for them to finally update their website. The EBC America final happened back on August 21st and the score still hasn’t been posted on the website to this very day. I found out what happened from a Baltimore/DC area newspaper article .

Now streetball has become as mainstream as regular basketball. Nine year old kids in the suburbs are doing the same ball tricks they saw Bone Collector, Anti Freeze, Homocide and The Future do on TV when they play pickup games with their friends. When they play Live 08, they’ll use the Create A Player feature to make Mr. 720 and stick him on their favorite team. The sad part is that with the proliferation and oversaturation of streetball that it’s taken all of the excitement out of something I used to love...this is the first summer in more than 10 years that I didn’t even care enough to try to find out who won the EBC Championship at the Rucker...damn shame it turned out to be a team sponsored by Rocsi of BET's 106 & Park.

Makes me wanna holler...© Marvin Gaye

One.

1 comment:

the most felonious vocalist said...

You need to back up your claim that And1 is the sneaker of choice for NBA players. Great post, though. Sauce!!!