A tribute to Harlem’s own streetball legend Crispy Alimoe aka The Black Widow.
I got the chance to write an in-depth article on Al about three years ago for SLAM. I kept in touch with Al throughout the years, whether it was hooping on the court with him or catching one of his games uptown. I had a great time interviewing him for the article. He gave the most honest answers I think I’ve ever heard, and we also laughed a great deal.
Anyone who watched Al on TV or knew him in person knew how funny he was. He wasn’t just, “Hey, I’m the dude on the corner with all my friends funny,” either. I do stand up comedy now and Al was a hilarious guy. Everyone I talked to can certainly vouch for that. I don’t back down from too many verbal challenges but if we were around other people, I wouldn’t spar with Al.
There are some examples of what Al is like when he gets into the mode on DVDs. In fact, after the article was finished, Al came all the way downtown with me, got in a train to Long Island City and watched me do stand up for at an open mic at a place called The Creek And The Cave. It was only my second time getting on stage and here’s Alimoe who’s not the easiest person to make laugh watching me. It felt good to have the support.
It was also hilarious for me to watch what he thought was funny and what he didn’t find funny. He might have laughed and smiled equally at both. It was quite the setting. Here are all these nerdy tight jean-wearing comics with their notebooks trying out material, and here I come in with baggy clothes, some notes on paper, and a s6-8 black dude wearing a sweat suit.
That particular crowd probably thought we were there to rob the place. But the night went well, and Al enjoyed himself even with my material being as bad as it was (looking back at it now). I remember trying out a joke on him and he laughed, so then I did it on stage that night. I’m actually really happy that Al was one of the first guys to watch me do comedy.
I told him that he should go into acting. He was a natural. When you see him in those commercials, it’s really impressive for someone who doesn’t come from any type of acting or artistic background. I said to him, “Nobody is gonna look like you that shows up for an audition. You’re funny, you can be yourself, and you are 6-8. How many really funny 6-8 dudes are walking into audition for anything?”
He would have stuck out and been different from everyone else. I really wish I could have convinced him to do that. I knew for sure if one day I could green light movies like Adam Sandler, I would throw Al in a movie.
I even thought about asking to be in one of my sketches. I actually sent Al the sketch he could have been in last week and when we spoke on the phone, he said in a funny way, “Man, I turned it on, went to get my food, and when I came back I saw you doing something real gay on the screen so I turned it off and deleted it off my page.”
I said, “Al, it’s a joke.”
“Well, I don’t do jokes like that,” Al jokingly but seriously said.
He then told me to send it to him again. I completely forgot.
Before I sent him that sketch, I actually had not spoken to Al in a little while. I would call every now and then to see how he was doing. I always knew he could make me laugh or give me some material. When I asked what he was up to, he replied, “The same thing I was up to last time you spoke to me, man.” Al actually said he was taking better care of himself, which I was happy to hear. He was playing ball, and getting his shots up. We even had scheduled a one-on-one for the near future that I was looking forward to. White Chocolate told me that him and Al would play one-on-one at 3 a.m. sometimes.
I’m really going to miss not being able to hear Al speak, see him smile, or get to just play basketball with him. He was someone I enjoyed playing defense on because I became fan during it. “He was born to ball. He made other people smile. If you met Alimoe once, you’d never forget him. He really made an impression on people,” said Stratos Costalas, a good friend of Alimoe’s.
Al was definitely someone who was very encouraging positive with people in general and kids. At times, Constalas tried to get Alimoe placed overseas and anywhere he could. But any time Stratos would bring in a guy from Greece, Turkey or wherever, Alimoe would graciously work the guy out.
“It didn’t matter if the kid was a top college prospect, potential overseas player, or just an ordinary kid from somewhere, Al would work him out. Run him through drills, give him tips, pointers, play two-on-two with them. The kids loved him,” Stratos said.
When Al wasn’t taking care of himself properly years ago, Stratos (also a diabetic like Al) would be giving him extra insulin. Recently, Stratos was struggling with his medical coverage that had ran out, and actually needed help because insulin, along with other medical supplies, were getting too expensive. Of course, Alimoe who had the type of insurance plan where he was getting taken care of, returned the favor and was helping Stratos out.
“I was always there for him. And he was there for me too. I don’t know what it was but we trusted each other,” Stratos says. Al was definitely the type of guy who would welcome you with open arms even if he ragged on you.
When I got the chance to play on the same team as him during a crash the court at the Gun Hill Road years ago, we rode the bus together from a hotel in midtown with some of the rest of the players. I was in 10th grade and nervous as ever. First thing he said to me was, “I hope you can ball now. Don’t live off your father’s name,” Alimoe said to me. I was just happy that he acknowledged me, as some of the other guys didn’t pay too much attention to me. But me made me feel more comfortable and I liked his attitude. You knew that if he liked your game, he wasn’t just saying that.
I can even remember playing one-on-one with Alimoe during halftime up at SUNY Purchase three years ago, and I was hitting some jump shots right in his face. I remember him smiling in surprise while checking the ball back to me to D up again. Of course when he got the ball, I was at his mercy and he would toy with me as he did everyone else.
I always stayed joking with him about that day how I was going to be beat him in a game of one-on-one to 11. He told me he was going to play the type of defense where I wasn’t going to be able to score at all. My preparation for that battle was probably going to be not showing up at all that way I couldn’t lose. From just playing around with Al that day during halftime and getting to play with him on the same team made me so much more confident when I would go play local pickup games at my gym.
When I met Al uptown, or any time I was thinking about going up to Harlem he would tell me, “Yo, if you come up here, you good.” When I left Harlem, he even wanted me to call him when I went back downtown so he knew I was alright.
According to Ball Up Streetball player and former AND 1 Star Grayson “The Professor” Boucher, he really liked hanging out with Al during his first couple of years on tour because Al encouraged him to workout more, stay focused, how to stay in shape, and would pass down wisdom. “Al was one of the few guys who wasn’t always trying to hang out,” Professor said. Al was the type of dude who would bring you around Harlem, and introduce you to people. Very early on, he even brought The Professor around his hood. “He really exposed me to the culture. I thought that was real cool of him as he didn’t have to extend such a welcoming hand toward me. I loved his game and he inspired me early in my streetball career…his legacy will live on in the streetball/basketball world as well as his unforgettable personality,” Professor says.
He never made the League, but NBA players knew who he was. Rappers put him in songs and he had the respect of anyone who knew basketball period. “A lot of great things happened to him in a short time. Alimoe and Rafer Alston became what Pee Wee Kirkland and Joe Hammond were back in the day. Even though Rafer made it to the NBA, I put him on the same pedestal. He made a mark in basketball. When you say ‘The Goat,’ everyone knows you are talking about Earl Manigault. Same with ‘The Black Widow,’” says Hall of Famer Peter Vecsey who also spoke on Alimoe’s Battle Tape Vs Skip.
Al definitely is missed by everyone he played against, played with, or knew off the court in any type of way. A phrase Main Event told me Al used to say a lot jokingly before a game started was, “Ain’t got paid yet.” Sometimes in streetball, promoters can be funny with money or maybe you wouldn’t get all of it, so Al would say that before tip off or right before the game started. He would even say that before AND 1 games when he was on contract or games where it was clear he was going to get paid.
During one of the first times in a limo, Alimoe made quite the scene out of it. Him and Shane Woney were being dropped off in the limo. As Shane was dropping off Alimoe in the limo in Harlem, Al was like, “We gotta go up every block in Harlem. I owe it everybody that said I was gonna make it so they see me in this limo,” said Alimoe. Shane and Alimoe rode from 137th street to 151st street up and down the blocks while Al stood up in the limo yelling, “look at me,” and embraced the moment.
Shane, along with White Chocolate and Half Man, just had a game with Al this past weekend in New Hampshire. They say he looked pretty good. Shane was at least grateful that he got to spend over 10 hours talking to Al back and forth in the car from the game.
I’m a fan of so many moments of Alimoe whether it be the time him and Troy “Escalade” Jackson played one-on-one or when him and Robert “50” Martin played one-on-one in Atlanta. I’m sure if we dig up unused footage of Al during his days on the tour, there would be enough for his own reality show.
Even though Al maybe could have made it further in basketball, he was all about encouraging others to not make the same mistakes he did. He was also a man of principles. “Winning isn’t everything. How you win is everything,” Alimoe would say. As true fans of Alimoe, we will always envision what it would have been like if he played in the NBA or overseas, or even stuck around AND 1 longer than he did. But either way, it seems like Al did exactly what he wanted to do. He enjoyed playing ball in places he felt like, living in Harlem, and encouraging younger players and kids. A line from rapper Machine Gun Kelly makes me think of Alimoe when he spits, “I been a pro, I just dodged the League.” Alimoe was definitely a pro who showed he had the skills without being in organized leagues overseas or the NBA.
His favorite NBA basketball player, Kobe Bryant, sent his signed sneakers to Alimoe for Al to have forever. I know Alimoe is not only going to be smiling wide in Heaven when his family receives them for him to have, but he’s also going to be doing some bragging. I can see him now saying, “Y’all better do some reading around here…the Black Mamba is a fan of The Black Widow.”
These days, the word “legend” is thrown around way too much. There’s a certain criteria that goes with becoming any type of legend. You need to be original in some way, have a large body of work, and do it for an extended period of time. I’m privileged to say that I got play with and got to know the authentic and certified Harlem’s own streetball legend Crispy Alimoe aka The Black Widow.
Funeral Services (UPDATE): Due to the expected overwhelming turnout, services (which will be held on Tuesday, March 5) have been moved to the United House of Prayer, 2320 Frederick Douglass Blvd (8 Ave) @ W. 124th Street NY, NY 10027. If you need further info or Instructions do not hesitate to contact Unity Funeral Chapels 2352 8th Avenue New York, NY 10027 212-666-8300. If needed also you can contact Fort Washington Florist 212-795-2978 for floral arrangements.