Joe Pope is streetball’s best.
by Joseph Vecsey
Summer streetball is just around the corner in New York City and nothing gets me more excited than that.
There’s just something special about walking past legendary parks like West 4th, Rucker Park, Watson Park, Dyckman, Tri-State Classic, and seeing them packed with players and fans. It’s not just the players and fans that get me hype for streetball; it’s also the announcers. Or should I say “the announcer.” Right now, there’s only one announcer of streetball as far as I’m concerned and that’s Joe Pope. Others are good, but the king of announcing is definitely Joe Pope, and has been for some time now.
When you are walking toward a park, you know you’re getting close when you hear the MC talking over the microphone. There’s a feeling of excitement and anticipation for players as well as fans. The MC has a lot to do with the tone, setting, and mood the game is going to have.
Joe Pope is the best at announcing streetball games to date and will probably continue his reign for many years due to his originality, energy and comedy he brings to the table. He can also be brutally honest with players, fans, coaches, and referees, which carries on the tradition of most announcers. There have been some funny announcers in the past Like Hannibal and Boobie Smooth, but Joe brings a different type of comedy to streetball. It’s like he’s doing stand up comedy while watching a basketball game. He’s actually not far removed from the stand up world being that he is literally standing in front of an audience with a mic, and making jokes on a court, which is like a stage in a comedy club.
He truly has a gift for blending comedy with actual commentary of the game. That’s mainly due to the fact that Joe is a funny guy in his everyday life and also played the game of basketball at a high level for many years. A lot of announcers cannot say that. Most people who MC or talk junk from the sidelines never played the game. Joe played ball at Walton High School alongside legends like “The Predator” and “The Terminator.” He then went on to graduate at FAU in Florida, but did not play ball because he wanted to focus on getting his degree. Plus, there wasn’t much exposure for Joe when he played ball, which left him without a scholarship. But Joe continued to play streetball after college and averaged 35 points a game at Rucker Park on 155th. They called him “Who is he?” aka “Phife Dog.”
After Joe injured himself badly on the court, he wanted to stick around the game. “Some people wake up and say they want to be an announcer. I woke up and was an announcer,” says Joe Pope. It seems like talking in front of people was just something that was inside him for years. It finally came out when Lee Green (commissioner of Watson Classic) told Joe to come up and try to announce the game. They knew he was funny and thought it could work. After doing well at Watson, he started doing the UBL (Uptown Basketball league) with two guys named Reggie and Smitty. He did his first games with almost nobody at the park.
But after rocking the mic, and hearing the games were going well, 2,500 people showed up the next weekend. That weekend took Joe to another level being that he contributed to the park becoming packed due to how good he complimented the games with his energy and unique style nobody had ever seen before. Joe then went on to do the Forest Classic with Lord Finess, Rodney Park, and also the tri-state classic at 145th. Joe did the Tri-State classic for about two years, which was one of the best tournaments in New York City, and then cut his ties with them due to the fact that they didn’t appreciate all the work he had done for them. “I entertained the tri-state’s classic crowd for two years and they didn’t want to pay me. They thought they could put any old dude on the mic,” says Joe Pope.
Joe continued to do Watson Classic and also moved onto Dyckman tournament ran by Kenny Stevens. “The two most honest dudes in streetball are Lee Green of Watson and Kenny Stevens. They appreciated me working for them. They also appreciate every aspect of the game. Not just the fans, players, but everybody,” says Joe Pope.
In addition to streetball outside on the concrete, Joe Pope has been huge in the mainstream streetball world too. He announced for the Crossover Tour that featured players such as Hot Sauce, Pat Da Roc, Silk and many others. He has also worked with the Ball Up Tour, as well as doing one of the AND 1 Mixtape games in Japan last year that featured guys such as Bone Collector, The Professor, Special FX, Mr. 720, and others.
“Fans in Japan really appreciate streetball. They appreciate the players, the history, and just want to learn from us,” says Pope.
Joe and the rest of players interacted with fans during the game and also afterward. To have the ability to bring his style and comedy overseas is an amazing accomplishment. Not too many announcers can bring their energy and tone to a packed arena in Japan and Joe did just that. Some of the players Joe Pope has admired through out his years of announcing is Jon “The Franchise” Strickland, “Kareem “The Best Kept Secret” Reid, and Steve “All Day” Burt” who he renamed “Killer Instinct.” Some players who Joe says need more recognition are Steve Burt Junior, Corey Fisher and Kimball Walker.
Joe Pope’s talent is not only announcing and playing basketball, but he recently signed a deal with Smile Heart Records in Japan with his rap group the Bronx Mob featuring Joe, and all Bronx natives, DJ Hek Tek, Vocab, Robert Ruckus, and Profit. There first album sold a couple hundred thousand units and they are in the process of working on their second record.
Joe Pope is not only the funniest announcer in streetball, but also one of the funniest people period. He does his classic signature routine called “Celebrity Check” where he can pick anyone from the crowd, players, referees or coaches and tell them which celebrity they look like. It’s one of the most brilliant routines he does. It’s amazing Joe hasn’t tried to pursue stand up comedy yet, which even he admits is always something he wanted to do. At one of the best clubs in New York City called Comix, Andy Engel, a producer and stand up comedy teacher, is offering a free workshop May 22 at the club teaching how to be a successful stand up comedian. And when I was reading through some of the topics, I said to myself, “Joe has already mastered almost all the things this class has to offer. If he actually took it, he would already be past almost everybody and ready to do stand up comedy in no time.” Some of the topics include how to conquer stage fright, writing techniques, and delivery.
Even though there’s always something to learn, Joe has already mastered them all. So I’m going to say it first: If Joe heeds my advice and takes up stand up comedy, he just might be popping up on television not that long after. I feel like if Joe took that class at Comix and sharpened his skills after listening to stand up comedy pros speak, he would be well on his way to a stand up comedy career. And after performing in front of crowds in basketball parks in the Bronx, Harlem and Brooklyn and all over urban areas over the US, there is no crowd he couldn’t perform in front of. Street basketball crowds, especially in New York City are the most difficult and critical. Be on the look out for Joe Pope this summer at the Watson Classic and Dyckman as well as other various streetball events. Go to myspace.com/bronxmob for more info and details.
“I just want to thank Earv Opong aka ‘I’ll be right back,’ Wally ‘Main Event’ Dixon, and Shane ‘The Dribbling Machine’ Woney for always being real honest and still calling brothers even when their chips are down” – Joe Pope