Troy “Escalade” Jackson and the last days of the AND 1 Mixtape Tour.
by Matt Caputo / @MattCaputo
July 28, 2008
Standing at the highest point of the Liacouras Center on the campus of Temple University, 500-pound Troy “Escalade” Jackson looked more like a discarded marshmallow at a vacated campsite than the giant of a man he was at eye level. In the hours before the Philadelphia stop on the 2008 AND 1 Mixtape Tour, Troy Jackson sat on the bench and spun a basketball back to himself in his seat. Looking out at the 10,200 empty seats, Jackson had a moment to reflect on where the tour had taken him.
The younger brother of former NBA star Mark Jackson and named after a Cadillac Sports Utility Vehicle because of his physical size and large personality, he’d emerged as one of streetball’s greatest spectacles – a 6-9 and 500-pound power forward who could dunk but also handle the ball like a pint-sized point guard.
Up close, I asked him if he was excited about the next and last stop on the tour. That year’s Grand Finale was played at the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, MA on the mini-court where the museum’s visitors are allowed to shoot baskets during business hours.
“I just found out that the Hall of Fame has nothing to do with the NBA and they are not one company,” Escalade told me. “It’s a place where they celebrate the his story of basketball around the world, so that’s a special honor for me.”
But by 2008, Escalade was more often parked. He was playing less and becoming more involved in promoting the AND 1 and “coaching.” He’d joined the tour in 2002 and helped reinvent entertainment basketball in the process. He’d seen his face on the cover of Sports Illustrated and was adored by fans the world over.
“When I did play I played well. I’ve been doing more of the corporate stuff and making the transition.” Escalade said. “AND 1 Head Coach Big Mike (Ellis) and I have been picking the teams and that’s different for me. It’s a different talent.”
Other things had changed besides Escalade’s role. The ’08 tour – “United Streets of America” – was shortened to just eight dates and lacked the drawing power it had in previous years. General admission to the Philadelphia game was just $10. Things had changed for the collection of comic book-like basketball players and everyone was feeling it.
“I think the focus of the tour has been a little different. People have to understand that we’re a new company, I’ve been at AND 1 a ton of years, but there has been a transition from the folks who started it where it was almost a mom-and-pop organization and the Tour was the baby of the guy who started it,” Escalade said. “Now we’re own by a huge entity, a conglomerate and it’s become more of a business simply by the way it’s run. There are positives and negatives, but we run like clockwork now simply because things are more professional.”
Depsite the transition of the times, Escalade loved the game of basketball and always spoke humbly of all he’d achieved playing it himself.
“I feel like I’ve played everywhere in this world on this tour. From Madison Square Garden and in the Staples Center to when I was with the Harlem Globetrotters playing on an Aircraft Carrier to when I was at Louisville playing at the Carrier Dome in front of 60,000 people in the NCAA Tournament against Vince Carter and all of them guys,” Escalade said.
People got to know Troy as NBA fans began to know his brother, Mark. He used to sit behind the bench at Madison Square Garden for Knicks games and before that at St. John’s University games.
Escalade completed high school at Half Hallow Hills East High in Huntington, Long Island and furthered his reputation in leagues around New York City. He played at George Wallace Community College in Selma, AL from 1994-1996. Jackson reportedly weighed nearly 500 pounds in his JUCO days, but was a skilled enough player to still be named an all-region selection for coach Bill Hughley.
He moved on to play for Denny Crum at Louisville University from 1996-98, but he didn’t get a lot of burn, averaging 3 ppg in just 20 games played. Troy Jackson—who was not yet “Escalade”—is still remembered fondly by Cardinal fans. Troy’s nephew, Mark Jackson Jr, is currently a freshman on the Louisville basketball team.
Troy showed up on the AND 1 Mixtape tour in 2002 in New York City at the Riverbank State Park stop. At one point he through the ball off Robert “50” Martin’s head and took the lane to dunk on John “High Octane” Harvey’s head.
“If you look back at the tapes from 2002 and 2003, there are few guys who could do what he could do at his size, probably every,” says Grayson “The Professor” Boucher, reached on the phone shortly after Escalade’s passing.
He officially joined the tour as a team member in 2003 and almost immediately became a fan-favorite, transforming to “Escalade”—streetball’s luxury SUV. Fans of the traveling trick show couldn’t fathom how such a big man had such a steady handle.
By December of 2009, Escalade had amassed a basketball résumé impressive by any standards. A slightly embellished press release on OurSportsCentral.com (a sort of ESPN for minor league sports) enthusiastically announced Jackson as an assistant coach for a new American Basketball Association called the Florida Thundercats.
*Following his high school career, he played for Hall of Fame Head Coach Denny Crum at the University of Louisville from 1994-1998 and was voted one of the 20 most popular athletes in Louisville history. He then went on to play professionally in the Dominican Republic, China, Portugal, France and Germany as well as in the US and was a Harlem Globetrotter from 1998-2000. He was mentioned by and played with the legendary Magic Johnson on “The Magic Johnson All Stars” and also played on an All Star team with Dennis Rodman, Jayson Williams, Charles Oakley and Walter Berry. And, if that wasn’t enough, he played for the AND 1 Mixed Tour from 2002-2008.
Jackson was also voted 1 of the 50 greatest playground legends of all time by SLAM Magazine and was one of the stars of the ESPN Show, “Streetball.” He has been featured in national campaigns for Mountain Dew, KFC, Old Spice Swagger, Lays Potato Chips and many others, and has appeared on the cover of *Sports Illustrated*, in the video games “Street Hoops: Vol 2″ and “Streetball” as well as Spike Lee’s movie, “The 25th Hour.” Jackson is the younger brother of NBA legend and current ESPN/ABC analyst Mark Jackson.*
Escalade was hard to miss, but few basketball players who never came close to the NBA enjoyed the notoriety that he did. By many accounts, he realized it was important to use the attention he gained as a platform for a greater good. In his life, he was an advocate for safe sex and used his notoriety to draw attention to STD-prevention, even dressing up in latex costume to endorse his own signature brand of extra-large condoms. He’d lost another older brother in the late-1980’s to AIDS and the cause was very close to his heart.
“Nobody moves like he did at that size,” Boucher says. “He would see someone on Oprah that weighed 500 pounts and couldn’t get out of bed and he would laugh. “Ha! What? I was an All-American at 500 pounds.’ say”
During NBA All-Star weekend in Los Angeles, Escalade and members of his new streetball squad, “BallUp,” made the town visiting parties and events.
“We didn’t get any sleep and were running around so much,” Boucher says. “We were making the rounds as team and promoting Ball Up.”
Escalade went back to his room on Saturday night and Boucher began to worry when he didn’t pick up his cell phone. Although he was known to ignore phone calls when tired, it was surprising he’d want to rest through the evening’s festivities.
“They fond him unresponsive in the hotel room the next morning,” Boucher says. “They tried to do what they could to save him, but I think he’d been gone for a while.”
When I got to Springfield for that Grand Finale in ’08, Escalade was all dressed and ready to play about an hour before the game. The return of Aaron “AO” Owens and an appearance by former NBA player Lynn Greer had made the Philadelphia stop a huge success. “Last week looked like a lot of fun, I had to get out here,” Escalade said in our brief exchange that night. “Wanted to make sure this was as big as possible.”
“You can’t really replace that presence,” Boucher says. “He was so entertaining. Doing what he did was a gift.”