True deception

by Matt Caputo

Stuart Tanner is a real life Billy Hoyle. He played the goofy white guy watching on the sideline role and hustled New Jersey Nets guard Devin Harris in an impromptu one-on-one match. In fact, the London streetball legend did it in tight jeans and a sweater that looked like it came from J.Crew.

The 28-year-old Tanner had abandoned a serious pro playing career about five years ago. After being cut from the Milton Keynes Lions of the British Basketball League, he’s spent the last few years coaching kids, helping his brother run a basketball website, and dealing with a disheartening illness. Despite his recent inactivity, Tanner’s chance encounter with Harris during the Nets preseason visit to London earned him worldwide props via YouTube.

SLAM spoke to Tanner about his life before and after his heavy brush with streetball superstardom.

SLAM: Did Harris say anything to you after the game ended?
Stuart Tanner: No not really. He was just kind of like “wow, you’re alright.” After the cameras stopped rolling basically I got my photo taken with him and he seemed really cool about it. He is a really nice guy because it could have been really easy for him to say, “no let’s play it again” and then absolutely destroy me.

SLAM: Do you think he would beat you if you played again?
ST: Oh, without a doubt. If we played flat money or obviously if we played again he would play me seriously, I think offensively, I’m not saying I could score or do tricks on him, but I would have a much better chance on offense, but because I haven’t been working out and going to the gym and stuff like that, there is no way I could stay in front of him. He would just blow by me. We are talking about one of the quickest guys in the NBA, in the entire world, and if you match up with him on the perimeter one-on-one he is just going to burn you all day. I’m not stupid, if Devin Harris would play me serious he would absolutely kill me.
You know...slow mo.
SLAM: What did you think of Harris before you met him?
ST: Well obviously we don’t get great exposure of the League over here, we only get about one game a week or something like that, and the only time I really saw him play was when he was with the Mavericks. I haven’t seen him play with New Jersey really, but he seemed like someone with a bright future, very very quick, not a fantastic outside shooter but I thought he could potentially be a top-three point guard in the NBA in the next three or four years.

SLAM: Did you think your encounter with him would get the attention that it has?
ST: No, no way not at all. Even after it happened, I went to it with my brother because he runs a website, but we went down there to do some work, and after it all happened we parked up a car in south London to get some food. And I was like “oh are you just going to leave the camera in the car? What about if someone breaks into the car and takes the camera?” But then once my brother unloaded it and it got all these hits, we were just like can you imagine if it did get stolen and we lost all these hits, it would be like it never even happened. It would be like the world never got to know about it.

SLAM: How did it all happen? Was it your idea to just go over there and pull a trick on this guy?
ST: No again. I’d love to say that it was some type of pre-meditated hustle but it wasn’t at all. I went down there with my brother to try and help him out, you know tame some photograhs, or tell him about things that are going on because he is filming for his website, which is basketball247.co.uk. It’s the biggest British website for basketball. Basically yeah, when it all started rackin’ up, when all the players have done all their press, all the kids start going over to NBA players asking for autographs and photos. Now, I’ve never really respected that. I’ve found it weird to say, Can I have your autograph? on a bit of paper. But, obviously, Devin Harris plays basketball, I play basketball a bit, so I’d much rather play him in a one-on-one, even to a low number like two. It would mean a lot more to me to actually play against an NBA player than to get his autograph. So, my brother came over to me, with Devin standing right next to us, and asked if he should take a photo. I told him, no, I wanna play him in a one-on-one. Devin heard it, and he looked me up and down—a six foot British white kid in jeans and a v-neck sweater—and thought, oh, this guy is no threat. And then he got a bit of a rude awakening two points later.

SLAM: What’s the streetball scene out there like and how did you fit into it?
ST: Well, I grew up in the suburbs of London, so I wasn’t in the heart of streetball. When I was 17 or 18, I played in a top league over here, it’s called National Juniors. I started to realize that I was on a similar level with the inner city point guards even though my team lost most of our games. When I hit about 19 or 20, I went to an even called Rough and Ready which is a top event for guys in the country. If you’re already ranked, then you get an invite, but they also hold tryouts and give a spot to three or four players, so I showed up to one of those and absolutely killed the top guards in our country; I was going through his legs, wrapping it around his head. And this was a time, in 2000, when streetball hadn’t really blown up over here. So I was doing stuff that a lot of people hadn’t seen before, especially from an unheard of white kid from the suburbs of London. From there, my name got known. My brother’s website started getting quite big and he got a team together and I was one of the main players and we went around the country and played a lot. I started to get my name known in England. And then at 23 I went to tryouts with a pro team over here, and it never really worked out. I was one of the only English guys on a team full of Americans. So I said to myself, I’m never really gonna make a career out of this, so even though I still played I just didn’t try to do it so seriously. I got more involved in coaching.

Ball handling wise I feel like I was one of the best in the country, but I never really played a whole lot of proper set-up ball. I never really played a whole lot of indoor ball, I’ve been much more of a street baller my whole life. I’ve always much rather enjoyed going to the park and have the freedom to be creative than having a coach telling me I should run this stuff and do that because in this country we play such a different style as you guys know. Europeans and British and Americans play such a different style of basketball where the point guard over here doesn’t really do anything. He dribbles the ball down passes to one of the wings and then screens away and they you are all done. In the NBA they got to run a lot of high pick-and-rolls and a lot of one-on-one. I think point guards have much freer reign to do what they want in American style of ball than they do over here in Europe basically.

SLAM: Why do you think the video got so big? You got several million hits now.
ST: In England, no one had really heard of it, and I went to bed one night and there were about 80,000 hits. I woke up in the morning and America had gotten hold of it and there were 2.5 million views. So that happened in a very short amount of time. My brother told me that it was on Yahoo’s front page and it was also being covered by ESPN. So, those are the reasons that it got the views, but the reason that I think it did so well is because I’m the epitome of an underdog. For one, I’m British, and British people aren’t known for basketball. Secondly, I’m a white kid. Thirdly, I wasn’t even wearing basketball clothes. Fourthly, it’s not like I beat him with great fundamentals, I actually tricked him and made him look a bit silly by putting it through his legs. And, obviously my brother laughing while filming makes the clip even funnier. The reason it got so big and so many people loved it so much is because, in my view, I’m the ultimate underdog.

SLAM: What’s changed for you since this game?
ST: Well, every single girl from my past seems to wanna be my friend again. I’ve been asked out on six or seven dates in the last few weeks. My friends are really happy for me. There were a couple days where I couldn’t do anything ’cause it was just doing radio interviews and TV. I’ve been all over the newspapers, and I have people coming up to me on the street that I have no clue who they are but they come up and talk to me and actually know who I am. I was at the local supermarket the other day, and some girl came over and started talking to me, and my friend was like, who’s that? I told him that I had no clue, she just came up and started talking to me about how I’m that basketball guy from TV. But it’s only gonna last for a few days. That’s the problems with it—I’ve had a taste of being in the limelight and now it’s gone and gonna be gone forever.

SLAM: Have you received and offers to play serious basketball since the video was released?
ST: I have the same illness as Dajuan Wagner, it’s called Situs Solitis. It’s a stomach disease. I got it when I was 14 and then three years ago I relapsed for the first time in almost 10 years. It can go into remission, which it did for a while, but that’s not the case right now. I was talking to the doctor because every time I started doing drills I would throw up, and he said that it had to do with my medicine, and he said that I can play ball but I can’t push myself. At the end of summer, I went to trials with a team, it’s sort of like Division III over here, and I started training with these guys but then I’d have to stop because of the disease. So, until I get fully well, I can’t even think about it because even though this is a great opportunity, once the teams do I medical test on me, they would see that I’m not well.

SLAM: If you don’t get anything out of this basketball-wise, what do you think is the best thing that can come out of it?
ST: It’s good for the kids now, because I’ve got their ears more now. I’m that guy who beat the NBA player, so they want to listen to what I’m saying. Hopefully I’ll get a lot more kids at the camps now. If nothing else comes out of it, it’s something funny in my life—being on national newspapers, reporters at my mom’s house, friends in Australia phoning me—so I don’t really mind it. I’ll just go on with my normal life again.