by Joseph Vecsey
Since the And 1 Mixt Tape Tour went on hiatus in 2008 and streetball in general has been on a steady decline, I’ve been reflecting a lot on the past years, the years when street basketball became known to me. I remember watching AND 1’s Mix Tape Volume One featuring Skip To my Lou in the fifth grade and not being able to grasp what was going on. Skip, of course, was the main guy on that tape, but there were other players that had amazing highlights as well. There was another skinny kid that I caught myself studying and trying to copy.
When the second Mix Tape came out, I couldn’t even contemplate what I was watching but knew it would take my personal game in a different direction. I was forever changed after seeing the first two tapes since I had never been exposed to that type of basketball. However, even though the next three tapes were unforgettable and introduced legends like Aaron “AO” Owens and Hot Sauce, the tapes were missing that other skinny kid with the incredible handles from Volume 1.
Finally, when AND 1 was in its first season of streetball on ESPN 2, I saw that skinny kid again. He was now a man, and I was excited to see what he would pull out all these years later. The skinny man I’m referring to? His name is Tyrone Evans, better known to the world as Alimoe AKA “The Black Widow.” Granted, he had a few highlights on AND 1 Mix Tape Volume Five, but if you blinked, you would have missed it, being that he wasn’t featured on that tape as a player on the team.
The Mix Tape Tour really ended for me when things started straying from their roots. That ranges from lack of playing time for certain players to the loss of other key players—including Tim “Headache” Gittens, Shane “The Dribbling Machine: Woney, Robin “Sik Wit It” Kennedy and stars Hot Sauce and Alimoe.
Recently, I found myself constantly wondering why Alimoe left the Tour when he was one of the most featured players (he had his own Volume and a battle tape with Skip). I didn’t know the answer, which lead me to think that Alimoe would make for a great interview. I hoped to learn why he parted ways with AND 1 and what he was up to now.
So I’m driving up to Harlem at two in the afternoon to meet Alimoe, where he’s visiting a school, talking to kids about basketball and education. I call him as soon as I get in front. He picks up and says he’s on the corner right near the school, but has to go because the police are taking him and his boys out of their car. I haven’t seen nor played with Alimoe since a Crash the Court at Gun Hill Park in 2003, and I see him for the first time with his hands on his head being taken out of the car by undercover policemen who do a full search of the vehicle. As I slowly approach Alimoe, he looks me up and down like he may want to fight me. He then recognizes who I am as the police tell me to step back. Later he told me, “I thought you were another cop, man. I haven’t seen you in a while.” Nothing was found in the car, and the five undercover policemen said they stopped him and his boys because their windows were too tinted. (Somehow I doubt I would have received the same over the top treatment on the Lower East Side if I had been in the same car.) Either way, it was an interesting reintroduction to Harlem and Alimoe, both of whom I haven’t been around in a while.
When Alimoe first saw his footage on AND 1 Mix Tape Volume 1, he knew it was good, but wasn’t that shocked or surprised since he had been around that type of ball all his life. It was going on all over the world, but nobody had captured the style the way AND 1 did on that first tape. Thanks to AND 1, we’ve started to understand that great players come from everywhere. There are tons of players just as good as Alimoe in Los Angeles, San Diego and Washington D.C, but back then, being from New York helped. According to Alimoe, the reason he wasn’t on the second tape that followed Volume One was because he didn’t like the way the company approached it. “They told me a lot of the moves were going to be rehearsed, and I didn’t like the way they were going with it. A lot of guys get mad when I say that, but the tapes don’t lie. Go get Volume Two and Three and some of those moves are rehearsed. None of my stuff was ever rehearsed. You see me do the same stuff in Rucker, Kingdome, wherever,” Alimoe says.
Alimoe eventually signed with AND 1 after seeing how big the Tour became. He had went to go watch a game because his younger relative wanted to see Headache and Future play at RiverBank State Park. When he arrived, he was asked if he wanted to participate. Alimoe negotiated a payment and laced up his shoes. According to Alimoe, AND 1 was so impressed with his skills that they asked him to get on the bus and go to the next city to play with the rest of the Mix Tape players. That’s actually where the idea started, to have players try to make the bus simply from playing in the open run in a city. And although, it was his decision not to take part in the next Volume, Alimoe saw it as a “slap in the face” that he would have to start from the bottom and work his way up to the top as far as the Tour went.
“With me coming to AND 1, I never felt [the other players] were my family. I knew who my friends were when I left the tour and there was nobody. But that’s how it goes. Look at Beanie Segal and Jay-Z. You thought they were the coolest people. Now you find out that Jay-Z never messed with him like that. Soon as we got off tour, I never spoke to those guys. I would try to keep in touch with some of them because it was genuine for me,” Alimoe says. Even though there were a lot of New Yorkers on the team, Alimoe insists he felt like an outsider. “Guys looked at me like I was strange when I was on tour. Because I was the only guy on the team not going out buying jeeps and cars. I was taking the train when I had a contract. They couldn’t get that. People bought cars, I paid my credit. And I didn’t have any kids so they assumed, ‘oh he must be gay’…If people don’t recognize how you are, they think you are weird so I always knew how those guys were coming at me,” Alimoe remembers.
While touring with AND 1, Alimoe quickly started getting sick of all the illegal moves and how certain guys were getting on that didn’t belong. When they first starting touring in the indoor arenas, Team And 1 was actually getting beaten by the opposing team sometimes. “The first year we went into the arenas, guys on the opposing team like Eric “Spinmaster” Holmes were beating us so much that guys on our team were complaining saying that they were playing too much defense. They had people tell the opposing coach that he had to sub in the little kids or weaker players so we could win. And I’m like, You guys are comfortable with that? So if this was baseball, you gotta pitch me underhand so we can win, and then I call myself A-Rod?” Alimoe says. Things like that started taking a toll on Alimoe as it made him less inclined to want to continue his stint with the Tour.
“When I wasn’t happy, I’d use other stuff to get me over. I’d get inspired by something. Like once, Joe Johnson was getting his workout in Phoenix where we were practicing. That made me feel like I was a pro for a while, but eventually that wears off,” Alimoe says.
Regardless of Alimoe not liking certain aspects of the Tour, he became more popular while touring with AND 1. They started promoting him as much as they did Hot Sauce. Alimoe was in commercials and had his own tape, which was AND 1 Volume 6: Back to the Roots. He was also featured on a battle tape between him and Skip Alston, which was given away for free if you bought a pair of AND 1 shoes or some type of merchandise. Volume 6 did not sell well, though.
“Guys on the team were so happy that the tape wasn’t selling well. They think I didn’t know that they were saying volume three is the best selling volume and they were happy my tape didn’t sell…But Vanilla Ice sold more than Jay-Z. Numbers lie sometimes. MC hammer sold more than Jadakiss, so does that make him better? Sometimes people react more to the fake stuff…I can remember being overseas and they were going to have a premiere for the Volume 6 at a movie theatre and I was like I’ll wait until we get back to see it. Because everyone is gonna have to see it and show fake love. I waited to see it at the offices back in the US,” Alimoe recalls.
After being featured in tapes, DVDS, commercials, a TV show and traveling all across the world entertaining fans with his hoop skills, Alimoe decided to walk away from it all while still on top. He was like Garry Shandling leaving his hit series The Larry Sanders Show. At the time, Alimoe couldn’t have been a bigger streetball star, but he couldn’t come to terms with AND 1 on a new contract. (That was the same summer that a lot of Tour players sought new contracts. Eventually, everyone ending up signing on the dotted line, except for Hot Sauce and Alimoe.)
According to Alimoe, AND 1 continued calling and visiting him, trying to him bring him back to the Tour. He never ended up re-signing, though. “I found out who I was. AND 1 didn’t make me. I was “Black Widow” before that. I earned all my names,” Alimoe says.
The following summer, when the Tour stopped in New York, Alimoe went to visit his former teammates at their hotel. Financially, even without checks from the Tour, Alimoe had been doing fine. He had saved most of his money from when he played, and had a Nike hook-up for clothes. When he saw them at the hotel, he noticed them looking at him strangely. “I’m not as stupid as I look. I know what time it is. Guys were mad to see me well-off and see that I wasn’t hurting. Then they start looking at themselves.”
Since leaving AND 1, Alimoe has been playing in overseas games as well as in domestic streetball games, ABA games and he has fielded D-League offers. He also visits schools and talks to the kids about life and basketball.
For a time between the Tour and now, Alimoe, a diabetic, was sick from not taking his medicine. I tried asking him why someone wouldn’t take their medicine and it took a while for him to come up with a definitive answer. Alimoe felt that if he started taking his medicine, he would have to follow a routine and go back into the house quite a bit to get himself healthy. His blood sugar was so bad at one point that he would have to stay in the house for a whole month just to get back to where he needed to be. He enjoyed playing ball, hanging out and partying. During his unhealthy days, Alimoe was so sick that he was playing ball overseas and he couldn’t even feel his feet. He was playing on one leg half the time and couldn’t even dunk. “I didn’t even know if I had my sneakers on. That’s how numb my feet were while playing. I knew it was really bad when my knee gave out while walking up a hill,” Alimoe says. After a while of not being able to play the way he was accustomed to, Alimoe started taking his medicine and is currently healthy again. The worry from his friends and family was starting to get to him, and he finally knew if he didn’t start taking care of himself, it could possibly result in something awful.
A healthy Alimoe is still addicted to living in New York and walking around the streets of Harlem. He enjoys the life he lives. People drive him wherever he wants, give him clothes for free and he doesn’t have to do much else. “I’ve gotten offered real jobs, more opportunities with the ABA and the D-league, but I love Harlem. I turned all that down,” Alamo says. “I never played basketball to make it to the NBA. I played so people would like me.”
Before basketball changed everything, Alimoe was used to people treating him badly and making fun of him as a kid. So when people started complimenting him on his basketball skills, that made him want to play more and put the ball through his legs that much harder. Wanting to be liked was motivation for Alimoe to play basketball. The NBA was never what Alimoe wanted; it’s a dream forced on him at times by others. Alimoe is quite content and honest about where he is and what he wants out of life as of right now.
When I was with him at the event commemorating Rick Telander’s 35th anniversary for Heaven Is a Playground, a man asked Alimoe if he had any interest in playing overseas. Alimoe said, “Nah, because you have work to play overseas.”
“So you don’t want to make money?”
“I do, but I just don’t want to have to work for it. I once was on a D-League team and they gave me what type of conditioning drills they’d be doing during the next month. Once I saw that, I got on a plane that night back to Harlem,” Alimoe says.
There is something admirable about being that honest. The fact is, Alimoe enjoys being around his friends and the streets of Harlem, a place where people are willing to break their necks to do things for him and get him anything he needs.
During his travels, Alimoe says he made a lot of connections by just being a good person. In one city while touring with AND 1, a kid’s father came over to Alimoe and explained how much his son loved his game. Alimoe ended up keeping in contact with the kid and inviting him to New York to hang out with him for a whole day. It may have made the kid’s year. It turned out that father was a big somebody, which Alimoe did not even know. “If I ever really need a job, I could call him because of what I did for his son. That all happened just from me being a good person,” Alimoe explains.
I asked Alimoe if he regretted not signing that contract and he said, “definitely not. I’m not financially where I was, but I’m alright. I don’t owe anything.”
Now that Alimoe is in excellent health again, he plans to come back better than ever for the summer tournaments in New York. He wants to leave the game on top. Being that he was sick for a while, people assumed that he lost his game. He wants to show people that the same thing he did years ago when he first started playing street ball is the same thing he could do on his way out. He also wants to start his own community center where kids teach other kids. Alimoe wants kids who are smarter to teach kids who may need the help. “I want to bring kids together because most kids are uncomfortable around other kids because they judge. If your shoe game ain’t up to par or you have a wack hat, kids will make fun of it. Adults don’t judge kids and they like that,” Alimoe says. His main goal is make kids want to go to school and feel comfortable around each other. If the kids do not do their schoolwork, they won’t be able to join the activities of his community center and lessons he has to teach about basketball.
Even though Alimoe doesn’t have much discipline in terms of the way he approached the game of basketball, he claims he could teach someone how to do what he never did. He may not have had the discipline to make it to the league, but he could help a kid who truly wants it.
No matter what happens to Alimoe in the future, I don’t see him getting a nine to five anytime soon and as long as he’s content with what he’s doing, why should he? Alimoe left AND 1 when he was in his infancy, and it’s been his choice to stay in the streets and not pursue any real basketball job. “I’m in the streets because I wanna be in the streets. Nothing’s changed. I’m doing the same thing I did when Tarkanian invited me out to Fresno to play for him. I’m addicted to the lifestyle of Harlem.” Alimoe has been offered a lot of things that he has chosen to turn down because he enjoys the life he’s living so much. “They always said I dream small, but it’s just that I’m happy with what I got. I never wanted to be real rich to where I don’t appreciate things no more. I like getting free Nike stuff. I like that the light changes for me when I cross the street. I learn to appreciate everything. I once got like that on tour where my nose was up in the air, and I don’t want to get like that again where five dollars doesn’t mean anything to me anymore. I’m happy when I have six dollars in my pocket” Alimoe says.
So if you’re ever looking for Alimoe, you know where to find him. Be on the lookout for his DVD The Alimoe Project coming soon with never before seen footage of Alimoe from back in the day all the way up until now. The point of the DVD is to show the same thing Alimoe did coming in is the same thing he can do when he leaves. From what I have witnessed from “The Black Widow” AKA “Crispy Alimoe” this winter, it looks like he will leave the concrete on a good note.