By Matt Caputo

Street Godz is the latest trend to hit the alternative hoops scene. Evolving from TV commercials into a formal competitive event, freestyle basketball is on a high right now. Street Godz, effectively what UFC is to mixed-fighting, was launched by pro ball player Raphael Edwards (black shirt and shades in the photo) in order to create a forum for creative hooping. The result is a steadily growing underground movement backed by Red Bull and ready to launch into the international market. SLAM Online got a chance to chat with Edwards on a break from a workout.

SLAM: What gave you the idea for Street Godz?
Raphael Edwards: Well, at the time, Trikz (ball handling star, Luis “Trikz” Da Silva) and I were really cool. I saw no reason why he wasn’t famous. I felt like he should have been famous and I wanted to make him, basically, a household name. It all fell into place when I saw the movie “Lords of Dogtown.” It was just how the guy’s had the vision for themselves as skateboarders and where he wanted to be. I also saw what he did wrong and ended up losing the skaters to three different companies. I added what I needed to add from there.

SLAM: For the people who haven’t seen Street Godz live, how does the competition work?

Raphael Edwards: Well the competition is like this, which will be slightly different from the tour. I invited ten freestyles (ball handlers) and I had an open call looking for two other guys. So, we do it bracket form and the guys go up against each other one-on-one. They guys go at it for sixty seconds and that time is broken up. I got for thirty seconds, then you for thirty seconds, and back and fourth. The judges decide. I let the kids use whatever music it is they want to use and then in the second round it begins to be all freestyle. The DJ plays whatever he wants and then they just go. The scoring is based on style, charisma, how they get the crowd excited, difficulty of moves, how sharp the moves are and obviously we deduct a lot of points if you actually loose the ball. It’s basically showmanship, we judge on all that.

SLAM: Where do the ball players actually come from?

Raphael Edwards: Man, since I’ve been doing this it’s been so many from all over, it’s hard to really answer that question. Like in Japan, I have at least eight guys that freestyle who want to come over and get on. In Italy, I have three different crews, five people in each crew. I have probably the same amount of guys all over the world really. What I can tell you is that they all have different styles. It’s crazy when they all get together because it’s so noticeable.

SLAM: Are there any other guys people would know?

Raphael Edwards: Well, Trikz actually did the first event ever that I did. I’ve had Ramon Rodriguez who is one of the stars on HBO’s show, The Wire.

SLAM: Who do you feel like the audience is for Street Godz?
Raphael Edwards: I feel like it’s a wide range. It’s similar to any professional sport audience. It’s like 15 through 35-year-olds, but as you saw at the competition we had kids that were a little younger and they loved it as well. We also had men and women that were much older and they loved it. I would say our target is like 15-35-years-old but I’ve think we’ve really seen a wider range.

SLAM: It seemed like you had a lot of sneaker heads in the crowd.
Raphael Edwards: Yeah, I had a lot of kids from Japan and I had Japanese MTV come down and I also had FINE magazine that is out in Japan. Asians love the whole black culture and Japan was one of the first countries we went to after we did the Nike Freestyle commercial. Actually, it was the first one. I think the influence of freestyle is so heavy over there.

SLAM: Where have you guys been recently?

Raphael Edwards: Well, we’ve been doing a lot of small events around New York City, We had DJ Envy spinning at our events in New York and we’ve had Antoine Wright from the New Jersey Nets and rapper Red Café as judges. On the 28th we’re planning on going to Moscow. It will be the same competition as in New York, just smaller, and in Moscow.

SLAM: Red Bull set-up a stage and appears to be giving you some backing, how close are they working with you?
Raphael Edwards: Red Bull has been a Godsend. They are working hands on with me. The Field Market Manager, Ryan, and I talk about four or five times a day. He gives me his feedback on the competition and what we could do to make it better.

SLAM: You’re also trying to do a clothing line behind Street Godz, right?

Raphael Edwards: Pretty much because a lot of the guys who freestyle don’t even know how to play basketball. For example, Tommy Baker, the most recent winner, from London, he doesn’t even play basketball at all. It’s a different sport, so I feel like they should have a different type of uniform. Being that it’s more of a lifestyle sport, I did the whole clothing thing behind that.

SLAM: You’re still going to be playing pro ball this winter though right?

Raphael Edwards: Yeah, I’m still going to be running with the Strong Island team in the ABA. My basketball is two hours out of my day and the whole Street Godz thing takes up the next twenty hours of my day, you know? I sleep for two.

SLAM: Are people going to be able to check out Street Godz on a mass level?
Raphael Edwards: Yeah, they’re going to air it on Press Pass TV on Time Warmer Cable. They’re going to air the competition, the behind the scenes stuff, the casting call for the ring girls. Like I said, Moscow is next and for 2008 I would like to scout for a venue to have the even during NBA All-Star weekend. We have seven countries who want us to come overseas, but we might have a tour with five cities and 4 overseas countries.

SLAM: What’s the biggest difference, in your mind, between the Street Godz and the Ball 4 Real tours?

Raphael Edwards: The biggest difference is that Ball4Real and And1, although they are displaying creativity and talent, they are still displaying that in a game that has rules and boundaries, so there is but so much they could do. With Street Godz and freestyle basketball in general, the rules are not conventional to a basketball game and there are no boundaries for them. Their creativity is limitless and with freestyle basketball, there is no time off. It’s as far as the mind can think.