Wednesday, August 9th, 2006 at 12:22 am  |  16 responses

Falling out of love with streetball

One man’s divorce from Streetball

by Marcel Mutoni

One of the most prized possessions of my teen years was a well-worn copy of the And 1 Mixtape, Volume 1. I still remember the day my buddies and I rushed to Foot Action (the sports apparel outfit) to buy an And 1 product–the company was running a promotion where all you had to do was buy a product of theirs and the tape was yours–just to get our hands on the grainy footage of then-16 year old Rafer “Skip to my Lou” Alston. Each of us grabbed an armband (hey, no one said we were rich) off the shelf and practically tripped over each other on the mad dash to the counter to claim the tape, and I guess to pay for the armband.

We then ran to the nearest house we could find that had a VCR and excitedly popped in the tape and positioned our jaws directly on the floor for the next 18 minutes or so. This was one of the most captivating things any of us had ever seen. Skip and his playground friends were playing a game we were not aware even existed until that day. We practically broke my buddy Patrick’s VCR while constantly rewinding the tape to oooh and aaahhh over the crossovers, the dunks, but most of all, the tricks. I had never imagined that someone could bring the ball upcourt and casually bounce it off the defender’s noggin, regain possession and continue on his merry way to the hoop as if it was the most ordinary thing in the world. This was revolutionary stuff.

After watching that tape, I started caring about Skip the same way that I cared about my NBA heroes. Maybe even more. At least those NBA cats had guaranteed money and were known the world over. Skip was just a kid in the hood (he looked like a lot of kids that I saw around my own neighborhood), but he was special. The ball was magnetized by his hands; he threw passes that I had only seen guys like Nate “Tiny” Archibald and “Pistol” Pete Maravich attempt on ESPN Classic. The difference was that he did it to a booming Hip Hop soundtrack, wore a baggy white T shirt, and went out of his way to embarrass defenders.

Of course when you discover something new, the first thing you do is try to tell everyone about it. My buddy Pat and I went on a crusade to bring Skip’s name (and game) into the collective consciousness of our high school and anyone else who was willing to listen, and soon enough everyone was trying to break full-court presses while skipping with the ball–much to the chagrin of the coaches. We decided one day after having viewed the tape once more that this very magazine wasn’t too far off when they photographed Alston in his Fresno State uni, dribbling around MSG and showed him love on a cover screaming : “Best point guard in the world (that you’ve never heard of)”.

The first volume of the And 1 Mixtape series was a runaway success, so the tiny shoe company founded in 1993 with modest aspirations–which had been given the original tape (the tape that launched streetball as we know it today) with the grainy footage by an unidentified individual after a tournament at Rucker Park as a show of gratitude to the company for having provided shirts to the players and the trophy for the winners–had no choice but to rush out a Volume 2 the following year.

As the franchise grew, so did everything associated with streetball : the dunks became crazier (I seriously began wondering who was the real Half/Man Half/Amazing = Vince Carter or the guy on the playground?), the tricks more outrageous, the soundtrack even doper, and the hoopla became almost uncontrollable. Volume 2 wasn’t given away. You had to buy it now. And 1 had found their lottery ticket.

Volume 3 (arguably the best of all the mixtapes) was the last one that I bothered to get. The charm had quickly worn off. At least for me. Once you’d seen one (or a hundred) through-the-legs tricks, you’d seen them all. Sure, the tapes became sleeker and better packaged; the locations changed and we learned about what kind of streetball was being played from coast to coast; and great streetballers continued to emerge–guys like Hot Sauce, Bone Collector, Spyda and AO continue to push the creative envelope–but none had the revolutionary appeal of Skip (who was now in the NBA).

After a while, I started noticing the flaws (the shameless bending of the rules; the constant DJ Clue-like yelling by sideline announcers first at Rucker and then seemingly everywhere else; the fans obnoxiously charging the court after a simple crossover) more than the positives of the street game. The whole thing became like wrestling to me = fake and contrived.

The Mixtape franchise has grown by leaps and bounds: Volume 9 was recently released, you can’t turn on the television without seeing a streetball program, video games tailored to the street game are all over the place, and streetballers (not to mention the corporations who sponsor them) are reaping the rewards. However, despite all of the success that streetball has enjoyed, it’s hard to argue that the game of basketball has benefited.

Streetball is undoubtedly entertaining, but it leaves the viewer with an empty feeling. There’s a lack of substance. Ron Naclerio (Skip’s old high school coach) may have put it best during an interview with Sports Illustrated: “This stuff is dessert. You just hope they [kids] won’t eat too much of it.” From time to time, whenever boredom overtakes me, I’ll pop in the Volume 1 tape and go back to a time where the possibility for greatness seemed to at least exist.

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  • http://www.goldenstateofmind.com/ Atma Brother #1

    Nice piece man. Props for giving the mixtapes their due, but not over romanticizing them or their legacy. Well grounded insights.

  • http://thehype.wordpress.com Hype

    That’s exactly how I feel man, you wrote it way better than I could’ve!

    It’s just hard to really watch And1 on tv nowadays because it’s not as special anymore. As always, some things should be left underground and ‘below the radar’ for it to remain cool.. just the way it goes. Once it’s mainstream, it gets diluted and overexposed and becomes the shell of its coolness.

  • Swisha House

    Streetball sucks. That’s why the World is catchin up with the US talent wise. Young players waste their time on streetball garbage instead of learnin the fundamentals of BBall.

  • h2o

    Streetball is really not as exciting without Skip. I don’t know how anyone who was a playground ledgend can fall out of love with it, that’s how he got established in the first place isn’t it?

  • Big DS of InsideStreetball

    First of all, you fell for the AND1 advertising machine’s hype. Streetball is NOT AND1. So, if you’re fed up with the AND1 mixtape tour, then say you’re fed up with AND1. The original tapes of Skip came from real streetball, not the mixtape tour. A lot of the moves that Skip does comes from parks in Queens, not Rucker Park. Real streetball is about getting a “w”, not about making someone fall. The mixtape tour, does that say the streetball tour???? Last week, P-Diddy brought Channing Frye & David Lee to play at the Kingdome. When is the last time either one of them made someone fall or crossed someone over??? That’s why AliMoe calls AND1 the “milkshake tour”. Don’t get it twisted.

  • Decimus

    Found the comment about Half Man Half Amazing strange. Throughout the tapes he never showed me a dunk that was all that impressive.

  • j-bell

    yo chill out dude u must not realy play or care about ball there is no such thing as streetball there is just basketball its all the same. white people whith ties just chose to catorgeriz it just cause it was different. skip is the king of basketball he did what dr j and mj did for the streets. streetball is all about substance and feelings. your probably the kinda person that when mj quite said the same shit about the nba right, u know iam.u know how hard it is to do the tricks they know how much time u have to invest in your craft trust me i know first hand iam a basketball enthusist .so think about that next time u want to hate on and1 and on your so called streetball just mind your manners. oh and before i forget there was no boucing the ball of the head in vol 1 and u didint have to pay for a mixtape until volume 5 boy boy. PEACE

  • LUIS

    First. What streetball is?
    It’s just basketball, and now it seems like a circus.
    I play at the streets here in Spain, and i think it’s a great place to learn how to fight for win (there’s no place to complaints; you lose, you left the court), to make yourself hardest and of course the best place for having fun balling.
    But it’s not that kind of streetball we can watch on Mixtapes (they look like clowns not ballers).

  • Dre

    I feel the exact same way about streetball now. I grew up playing streetball and could easily revert back to fundamentally sound or streetball but when I watched and or played it we could do the tricks within the rules. No walking, no carrying, no duble dribbling tis is where streetball has lost it’s way.

  • Tru Warer

    I don’t know what you are all thinking even if streetball is on tv everyday just to see that 720 dunk thats crazy I’ll watch shit like that over and over and damn stop hatin’ I bet them and1 ballers can rip all you up in a so called “real” game sho em some luv mos these dudes came from livin with a dirt floor dirt poor the kids like it they doin it for the kids so what they travel or whatever it looks nassty like ao says this aint white picket fence ball holla back!

  • http://www.myspace.com/kameia Kameia

    Yea i agree with u in this article. I was so geeked up when I saw the first And 1 tape!! But then, you started to see it everywhere! The same plays over and over again! Dont get me wrong, I LOVE STREETBALL

  • http://www.myspace.com/kameia Kameia

    Yea i agree with u in this article. I was so geeked up when I saw the first And 1 tape!! But then, you started to see it everywhere! The same plays over and over again! Dont get me wrong, I LOVE STREETBALL

  • http://www.myspace.com/kameia Kameia

    Yea i agree with u in this article. I was so geeked up when I saw the first And 1 tape!! But then, you started to see it everywhere! The same plays over and over again! Dont get me wrong, I LOVE STREETBALL, i just wish the rest of da world would get off its nuts already damn!

  • somekidfromCT

    Ditto on the comment about half man/half amazing (I thought it was just me).

    The statement about streetball being dessert…classic. You know how one metaphoric statement can put things in perspective for you? That one just did.

  • http://slamonline.com storm coneyisland

    Halfman halfamazing is not mention in the same breath as vince carter for one rafer alston will always be the best streetball player hands down hotsauce nor bonecollector will never smell the leage in their lives sebastion telfair the next great point guard u watch and see

  • twisted

    The title of this article should be “Falling out of love with And1″. All these people saying I hate streetball because of the excesive traveling blah blah DON’T KNOW WHAT STREETBALL IS. Streetball is just an abreviation of street basketball aka basketball. The name is only used when marketing basketball towards the urban youth in attempt to make money. Its not a style, its a marketing ploy to get young people interseted in the game.