by Joseph Vecsey

I don’t play streetball the way that I used to since I started stand up comedy, but I still get questions about it.

A lot of questions will be in the vein of:

“What happened to it?”

“How come it’s not as popular as it once was?”

“Did those guys make enough money to live off?”

A lot of those questions are somewhat answered in previous articles I have written about the AND 1 Mixtape Tour downsizing and the split of the team when the majority of the players went to start a new but quickly faded company Ball4Real. There were various companies such as Ball4Life, SKY No Limit, and other tours that went on after. Most recently, AND 1 Live and a company called Ball Up have been the biggest names in streetball.

But it’s still not as popular as it once was. A player who is trying to bring street basketball back to where it was is Dennis “Spyda” Chism. You might remember Spyda as being one of the most popular AND 1 Mixtape players on tour. In fact, one year I remember one of editors of GreenPoint Pictures who put together the AND 1 Mixtapes at the time turning to me at Madison Square Garden wondering why Spyda wasn’t at that particular game. Spyda  would always get some of the loudest applause and cheers, but he wasn’t at the game.

AND 1 would have specific players play certain legs of the tour, which never made sense unless you weren’t a popular player. Spyda should have been on tour for every stop because there were fans in each city that wanted to see him play. Spyda is not only an amazing athlete who jumps out of the gym and has the speed to beat a college runner (which he did on ESPN2’s show Street Ball once) but is the only player in the world that hangs upside down from the rim in an actual game.

Spyda is determined to bring his company Street Ball Evolution to a place where streetball was when the AND 1 Mixtape Tour was in its infant stage. It’s doable because the art of street basketball is still exciting. It just needs to be reintroduced to everyone in a fresh and more competitive way. There are also a lot of people who have never been exposed to that type of basketball before; some who just weren’t hip to it, and others too young.

“We can bring that pro-ness back. That competitiveness. There’s a generation that’s never seen us before. They have heard of us but never seen it….It’s gonna bring back them gym rats,” Spyda says.

I have even noticed that less and less people play pick up at basketball gyms. When I was in high school or college, the gyms used to be packed. It seems like there’s been a decrease in guys working out in basketball gyms and outside courts. It certainly doesn’t seem as competitive or have the same excitement surrounding it. According to Spyda, that’s why gyms like Run and Shoot in Atlanta and DC closed down.

Spyda hopes to have a tour up and running by the summer and already has some dates scheduled in Canada. He wants to start from the grassroots the way AND 1 did when they began and will also be doing something for “back to school time” to get the kids involved. Spyda has been talking to investors and sponsors so that they can make this tour come to a city near you.

What got Spyda to the point where he felt he had to do this himself, you ask? Well, that resulted from lack of communication when he was not resigned to the AND 1 Tour in 2007. After AND 1 got sold, things apparently changed. And when a bunch of the main players were looking to leave and start their own company Ball4Real, Spyda got caught in the middle of it. According to Spyda, there was a “lack of communication” between everyone.

Spyda wanted to re-sign with AND 1. He did not want to go to Ball4Real. Spyda was waiting to get his next AND 1 contract in Orlando but never received it. According to Spyda, an executive at AND 1 left him waiting for eight hours for the contract to be faxed or emailed over. It never came.

“And they didn’t pick up the phone after that,” Spyda says. “I guess they were going back and forth doing conference calls.”

Spyda felt that his younger teammates that ended up staying with the company should have stuck up for him since he wasn’t one of the OGs. “That was only my second, third year in,” Spyda says. According to Spyda some of the OGs had spoken for him and claimed to have him coming with them when that wasn’t the case.

“We needed a union. If there were any changes, everyone should be under one roof. One table,” Spyda says. “I would have wanted to stay somewhere that was already televised, that was already and up and running. AND 1 is where I came in at. You can do whatever with a household name. Don’t go by another player or an assumption that another player is going with another organization. Why would I wanna go to Ball4Real? It doesn’t make sense.”

The AND 1 Team also wasn’t as much of a family as it appeared to be on TV. “No brotherly love. It was never a true true family. It was about money. It was no unity,” says Spyda.

It was more or less your typical work atmosphere where people would do their job, then leave. Spyda doesn’t even keep in contact with any of his former teammates unless he sees them at various games. “If it ain’t no game, we not talking…It was like a boy band group. We can’t make a song because we set in our ways. But when we do make a song, it’s a hit. We only bonded on the road,” Spyda says.

There weren’t enough jobs to go around at that time. Some of the older players may not have been resigned, so starting a new company and stealing the younger players was probably the OGs best power move that they could have done. It came close to working. The AND 1 Tour definitely suffered and became anti-climatic and downsized for the following summers after most of the key names left. If AND 1 had not been able to hold onto Hot Sauce and The Professor, I’m pretty sure the Tour would have shut down all together.

The players made history at AND 1 but unfortunately, they were not fully compensated and appreciated for their work. That’s why something like Ball4Real could have been huge for the players because it was going to allow them to be fully compensated for their work if it was a success. According to Spyda, while at AND 1, he never got residuals for any of his jerseys. “They told me they lost count. I also only got paid 5 grand flat fee for the video game. My image was on the back of it. Should have been residuals,” Spyda says.

In fairness to AND 1, the players should have negotiated that into their contracts. Spyda even acknowledged that they weren’t educated as far as the business side of things and were very young at the time. “You should be retiring with a pension. We never got paid our worth,” Spyda says.

Ball4Real eventually folded due to investors running out of money and running off. It’s quite difficult to make money off of just an arena tour. I remember speaking to Lisa Fusco who worked for AND 1, then left to run Ball4Real, who said the AND 1 Tour itself never made money.

After the collapse of Ball4Real, Spyda played for a number of different tours such as Main Event and Shane The Dribbling Machine’s Ball4Life and SKY No Limit Tour. Both stopped after a while, but Spyda was also back playing with a downsized version of the AND 1 Mixtape Tour called And1Live. Spyda walked away from And1Live in 2012 and was quite depressed about it. And1Live was not paying the players nearly enough money and was taking advantage of them.

“You can’t play a game for $150 when you used to getting $2,500 to $3,500 a game. I didn’t feel comfortable in that situation,” Spyda says. They were supposed to receive contracts for three years, and when they finally did, it wasn’t enough. Spyda walked away not knowing where he was going to go, which lead to him a state of depression. Spyda was not happy because he couldn’t maintain the lifestyle he wanted. He was also having trouble running other businesses he had since his price was going down every year. Spyda actually turned down a Ball Up contract because it wasn’t enough. For the money they offered, Spyda said, “I might as well get a regular job. That’s not a lifestyle for me.”

Spyda pulled himself out of his depression and got himself a manager who began helping him with his entire brand. Spyda is now willing to take a risk and start Street Ball Evolution. He is looking to bring back that flare of streetball and music back. The difference with Street Ball Evolution and all Spyda’s previous employers companies is that it will involve the players on the team more with the business side of things.

“We’re basically gonna start a union. We’re not just having one person doing all the voting. We need everybody’s vote on the team for a journey like this again,” Spyda says.

Spyda wants to leave behind that legacy for street basketball, and he feels like they should have been at the ESPYs getting awards and having their highlights shown on ESPN. I will say that what those guys were able to do will definitely go down in history, and it’s still the most entertaining reality show I have ever seen. In fact, it’s the realest reality show that’s probably ever been made. It did not have to be scripted or forced in order to be entertaining. It was also a healthy reality show as opposed to programs today such as Keeping Up With The Kardashians or House Wives of East Hampton or whatever the next horrible show to come out is.

Hopefully, Street Ball Evolution will get the streets excited again and bring back the anticipation for summer basketball. Being that Spyda has been through a lot and is always looking to help people, he is also starting another organization bringing awareness to mental illness. When the interview was over, I asked Spyda if he could still hang upside down on the rim, and after a long pause, he calmly replied, “Is Obama still black?”   

Make sure to follow all Spyda’s social media outlets for updates on Street Ball Evolution: @TheWorldOfSpyda, @StreetballEvol, IG: @SpydasWorld, SpydasWorld.org.