By Jesse Serwer
The brainchild of OG rap legend Duane “Spyder-D” Hughes and Freedom Williams of C&C Music Factory fame, the Atlanta Krunk entered the CBA this year with the goal of making “every game a show.” But, beset by financial insolvency and dilapidated conditions at their homecourt, the Krunk’s ambitious plans to take the marriage of hip-hop and basketball to the next level with regular pre- and post-game concerts haven’t exactly panned out. Despite the presence of coach Kenny Anderson, CBA all-star Zach Marbury and Grayson “Professor” Boucher of and1 fame, the struggling team has failed to create a Lil’ Jon-like splash in the ATL, and are currently bringing up the rear in the league’s American Conference. SLAM recently spoke with Hughes about the difficulties of bringing minor league ball to a major league city, why his squad has so much New York flavor to it, and whether or not he’ll be back for a second go-round next season.
For those who are unfamiliar with Spyder-D, can you break down your history in basketball and music?
I earned my name on the playgrounds of Queens, NY in the ‘70s. People said I looked like a spider because of my style of spinning on the court and my skinny arms and legs. I graduated from Richmond Hill High School in 1978 and got recruited to play at Eastern Michigan. My college career didn’t last but a couple of weeks into September. I wasn’t used to doing two-a-days and my knees gave out like spaghetti. I went into a little depression and that’s when I started concentrating on writing rhymes. I was homesick in my dorm room so I wrote a song called “Big Apple Rappin” about the sights and sounds of New York. One thing segwayed into the next and I started Newtroit Records. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was the first rapper to start and run my own label.
You founded the Krunk as an ABA franchise out of Charlotte in ’05. Then you were supposed to come into the CBA in ’06. What happened?
I grew up watching Dr. J and Larry Keenan play for the Long Island Nets in the old ABA so, when I got involved with ownership, the allure was the red, white and blue. The new ABA franchise seeds were very affordable. Too affordable, some people say, and a lot of teams fold. We did it up big for the short time we were in the ABA. We got the 10,000-seat Cricket Arena, advertised on TV alongside the Bobcats, did pre- and post-game concerts. But our life in the ABA was short lived because five of the teams in our division just gave up. It’s ironic because it was the Moses Malone division, and Moses never quit at anything, but we were kind of the last man standing. We didn’t play in 2006 because we didn’t come on board with the CBA until three months before the season. You need at least a year to gather sponsors and the confidence of the community. The CBA is a very well run league and, right now, we’re probably the weak link. Being that this is our first year, we’re not as well funded as other teams. We’ve had some struggles.
Where we decided to play, Morris Brown College. If you look around the campus, it’s empty and dilapidated because of losing its accreditation. Being from the north I wasn’t educated to what was going on here. Our original plan was to house our team, the coaches, and the visiting team here and bring some life back to the campus. We were going to host pre-season tournaments and make it a real one-stop shop for basketball. The school needs it. We actually signed a production deal to do a reality TV show with Sean Rankin, who did College Hill and Making The Band, and we were shooting the pilot when we walked into the dorms. Really sophisticated crackheads must have come in because every floor was gutted of copper pipes. So we’ve had to pay for housing out of pocket at a Super 8.
Why’d you call the team the Krunk?
I wanted to keep a musical theme because of my background. Even though we started out in Charlotte, it was a southern term. We couldn’t be the Charlotte “Hardheads from New York.” I knew using the term crunk would draw attention. Right away, ESPN Classic featured us on a segment about the ABA called “Bringing Back the Funk’ so it had the desired effect. I didn’t know if Lil’ Jon and Crunk Energy Drink had that trademarked so I spelled it with a K to avoid any copyright infringement. Ironically, we’ve been trying to bring in some investors this year so we can finally get into a financial groove and we had a number of meetings with Crunk Energy Drink. They said, “Lets co-brand’’ but my partner Freedom didn’t want to change the K back to a C. He’s finally agreed to change the K to a C, but it might be too late.
Hip-hop is a presence at any basketball game now, whether it’s a DJ playing songs during timeouts or a halftime show. How is your “every game is a show” premise different?
I did the first post-game rap concert of any kind in any sport for the Atlanta Hawks in January of 1986, so that’s where my model comes from. It was Salt N Pepa, LL Cool J, Jekyll and Hyde and Sparky-D, and I hosted the show. 16,000 people came and 14,000 stayed for the concert at a time when the Hawks were averaging 9,000 a game. All people had to do was stay in their seats, and they saw a concert. “Every game is a show” has a double meaning, referring to the type of roster we were putting together with Professor and Zach Marbury and some other players that Kenny and our GM, Vincent Smith, chose to bring on. But let me keep it real. We’ve done nothing this season. It’s been very tough dealing with issues at Morris Brown, like the gym being cold. We didn’t spend any advertising dollars in our opening five game home set because it was Thanksgiving and Atlanta was bombarded with competition for the entertainment dollar and we felt we couldn’t compete. We haven’t picked up the sponsorship that we thought we would. We didn’t even settle our lease with Morris Brown until a week before the season, or get into the building until two days before the first home game.
Bringing in Professor was an interesting move. Did you do it because of his hip-hop appeal?
Professor was the one calculated move like that, and he was supposed to be the cornerstone. Originally it was going to be a pairing of Professor and Hot Sauce from and1 but it ended up being just Professor. Being a former point guard myself, I noticed he knew where everyone was on the floor including the guy running up and down with the mic. The tricks and fancy passes were just the mustard on the hot dog ‘cause he did all that within the flow. He wasn’t forcing anything. Having to convince a former NBA all-star that this streetball player is the point guard for your system was difficult but Kenny was pleasantly surprised. I think Professor learned a lot under Kenny. I would have liked for him to have had more playing time. There’ve been match-up issues size-wise and some games he didn’t t play.
Did you bring in anyone else because of their name or entertainment cache?
My original plan was to bring in Tim Hardaway. We became good friends during my stint in the ABA. He took me under his wing, which he didn’t have to do since we were opposing teams. Tim’s a gym rat and, right now, he’s in better form then 90% of the kids in the CBA. If we had Tim with his skills and leadership abilities, this season we’re in the playoffs if not first place.
Why didn’t that happen?
Had he and Kenny gotten together it would have. He cautioned if something came up in the NBA he’d bolt immediately and I understood that. I tried to explain to Kenny, you’ve got a six-time NBA all-star that is willing to play under you, a rookie head coach. That would make you look awfully good. But Kenny was concerned about the players gravitating more towards Tim and it usurping his authority.
That makes sense. Their peers basically, in age and experience.
Tim assured us that whoever his coach is, that he’d do whatever it takes for us to win. All he wanted was for him and Kenny to sit down. He said, “Have Kenny call me and I’ll assure him this will work out fine.” That call never happened. I regret that I was not more urgent and insistent upon that. But I also didn’t want Kenny to be uncomfortable, that wouldn’t be beneficial for the franchise.
This team has a real New York slant to it, between Kenny, Zach and yourself. Your GM is Vincent Smith…
I think that’s one place we went wrong. I didn’t want that to be so obvious but it is. Miguel Millian is from Lefrak, same complex as Kenny and Vincent. Taliek Brown was on the team originally. There was a lot of New York flavor to the squad. But you really want to have that downhome flavor. The homegrown Atlanta players didn’t turn out to our tryouts the way I thought they would. If I’m still involved next season, and that’s still up in the air, I’d fill the team at least halfway with local ballplayers. In a minor league environment it really helps when you have homegrown athletes.
Any pleasant surprises, despite all the turmoil?
One of our forwards, Terrance Hunter, has really blossomed. He’s played most of the season with an injured ankle, and the other night he put up 41 and 17 against a quality opponent. I’m proud of him because he basically came as a walk-on. Right now we have a split squad. A lot of our people have left. I’ve been in the throes of bringing in new majority ownership so we can survive the season. We did have two all-stars. Zach Marbury and Steve Thomas, though Steve is now playing for Kentucky and Zeck is on injured reserve because he’d been playing most of the season with a groin pull. Which is amazing, considering the punishment he was taking. He was leading the league in free throw attempts. He’s the man with the ball towards the end of the game and he takes it to the hole. I’m really proud of him, and Professor for getting his props on a serious level, which the CBA is. There are more polished ballplayers in the D-League but I think the CBA has it beat athletically. Jamario Moon is a perfect example.
Jesse Serwer is a writer from New York City, whose work is regularly published in XXL, Time Out New York and Wax Poetics, among other fine publications. He is currently on day 57 of a hunger strike outside of the Dolan family compound on Long Island’s Gold Coast