So you’ve got a multi-platinum coach, a teen idol point guard and a dunk champ running on one squad—can’t you just feel the gym full of hate from here? Well, they can. “That makes us play harder,” Romeo says. “They always stereotype you at the beginning, but after the game, they come up and say, ‘Man, I didn’t know you could ball like that. You got a lot of heart and you do a lot of good things on the court.’ That’s what I like about it. I don’t want everybody on my side. I wanna prove to those people that I’m here for a reason.” He’ll continue this season, running the point at L.A.’s Windward High.
DeRozan, who stars at Compton HS, acknowledges the envy: “Everybody wanna see us lose, but once we prove them wrong, they just gotta respect us.”
“It ain’t about being cocky,” Master P tells. “It’s about being confident. It’s like with me—if I didn’t believe in myself, I couldn’t be here where I’m at now.”
Don’t let the Dancing with the Stars appearance fool you; at 39, the man who brought New Orleans hip-hop up from the bayou to Billboard loves basketball almost as much as he does looking at his bank statements. Always has. “The hood had to respect me,” he remembers. “When you’re good in basketball, the hood gives you a pass: ‘Oh, leave that dude alone. He’s gonna be somethin’.’ People wanna make sure you’re all right. That helped save me.”
As P tells it, the University of Houston offered him a basketball scholarship out of high school, but a knee injury shelved his Final Four hopes. That same injury ultimately led him to the recording studio, where he released over a dozen albums through his imprint, No Limit Records. But while he was makin’ the world say “ugnnnh,” he was dreaming about making crowds go “ooooh.”
“I’ve played on the same team as Vince Carter and Tracy McGrady,” P says of his ’98 tryouts in a Toronto jersey. He gave it a go with the Hornets and Kings as well. “Everybody who plays basketball knows me for basketball. They’ve had to deal with me all these years. But after I got hurt, I slacked off and did [more] music stuff.”
But didn’t those NBA clubs, not to mention the ABA teams he ran with, sign him for his fame more than his jumper? “To be honest,” he says, “it doesn’t matter. I think it was both, but if I wasn’t in shape and able to play basketball, they wouldn’t have talked to me anyway.”
It’s worth noting that, any time the conversation lingers on him too long, P puts it back onto his two stars. “We went online,” P begins, “and somebody done took DeMar’s name already [as a website address]. That let’s you know that you done made a serious name on the basketball court. They just came this week from the ABCD Camp. They played against OJ Mayo and all those kids.”
Frank DeRozan, DeMar’s father, has been pretty quiet for most of the conversation, leaving the basketball talk to the players. Yet something tugs at him, and he feels compelled to speak: “Master P cares about his players. He cares about his son, my son and anybody else’s son. This man stays with his kids. He eats with his kids. He’s got a big heart—one of those King Kong hearts.”
It’s warm praise, and the timing is fitting—our meal is pretty much over. On a 1-to-10 scale, it’s about a 6. I probably needed some white bread. P, seemingly content with his roast beef, asks, “You wanna see the tapes?” He’s referring to the one with the dunk contest and three-point shootout (in which Romeo shot lights out) from Vegas. I nod yes, expecting nothing more than a courtesy, I’ll-have-my-secretary-mail-it type of response. P says cool, calls somebody about the video, pays the dinner tab and starts making his way out the restaurant. Yeah, we’re actually heading to Master P’s crib to watch a high school videotape.
How nuts is that?
As we roll out, a group of what looks to be high school girls—well, they could be UCLA freshmen—begin shouting hysterically at either P or Romeo. The Miller Boys don’t bother figuring it out. They merely wave and keep on pushing. Sorry, girls, the guys have hoops on the brain. Priorities.