Video: Ball Up Tour / Professor Q + A

by April 30, 2009

Words by Justin Walsh

There’s something to be said about basketball purity—the crisp stutter dribble, the shoulder rub on a pick and roll, the spacing of the team. But then there’s also something to be said about a spin move crossover with the buzzing of feet to disorient the defender. The look on the face of a fan who’s seen an elongated crossover, although clearly a carry, send a defender the opposite direction of the ball handler. The feel of the air when a guard, without looking up, flicks the ball in the air toward the rim—you see nobody in particular in the horde going for the ball—and it happens. You may have blinked, turned to talk to your group, but it happens; a figure skies through the key and strikes the ball down through the rim. It may not be purity, but there’s something beautiful about it.

Through the decades, there have been ups and downs of streetball. There were the golden years of it—Kareem dubbed Earl “The GOAT” Manigault the greatest basketball player he ever played against. Heavy words. Pee Wee Kirkland had such a star status in the game that he turned down the NBA because he could make more money playing streetball and selling drugs than he ever could in the NBA. Joe “The Destroyer” Hammond once dropped 50 on Dr J… in one half. Joe was so prolific that the Lakers, when Wilt was on the squad, flew out to New York just to see what Joe was like in an NBA setting. When’s the last time you ever heard an entire NBA team, coaches and all, uproot themselves and fly to the other end of the country for a basketball player who never went to college? You’d probably bet that’s the only time that it ever happened. Howie Evan of the Amsterdam News said Joe was humiliating a certain Laker so badly, that the player body slammed Joe into the ground. That player was Pat Riley.

Then AND 1 happened. A small shoe company with a niche in basketball exclusively had itself a tour. It blew up with the play of  Skip to My Lou, Main Event, Shane the Dribbling Machine, Hot Sauce and… Grayson Boucher.

“Grayson Boucher? I’ve heard that last name before. Wasn’t he the lead character from Waterboy?” No, That’s Bobby. Grayson is a 5-10, 165 when wet point guard from Oregon. At first glance one might think the closest Grayson is to basketball is that Nike Headquarters is within driving distance! Barely out of high school, Grayson was a reserve for Chemeketa Community College, worked in a grocery store—this was like some Kurt Warner ish! Anyway, AND 1 had an open run in the area. His brother and friends convinced Grayson to play in the infamous asphalt, sand-bag laden basketball goal tryout. And without boring you with the well-documented, captain-obvious facts, the rest was history.

After Fess joined the tour, shit blew up quick. They were on ESPN, they were making bank, they all had signature shoes, some kids even went as far as to say “Who would win, NBA or AND1?” And while that statement is as ludicrous as the word Chemeketa, they had done something not done in years. The fan-base was totally mystified. It was the Harlem Globetrotters with grime. It was a circus. Cats were rushing the court during halftime. This was a game and literally thousands would rush the court just to be within distance of the players during halftime.

For some reason or another, gravity took hold. Half the team left AND 1 for a now defunct Ball4Real tour. Some people called it bad management, some people called it the bastardization of basketball. One way or another, streetball changed, to be sure. Grayson hasn’t. He plays basketball, he’s loyal to the company, he’s comfortable with his niche in the game. And right now, that’s on the Ball Up tour.

Air Up There. Sick Wit’ It. The Professor. Hawk. Special FX. AO. BC. Just to name a few. They ride with the Dub Show Tour—a luxury Car, Entertainment and Lifestyle tour that screams recession proof. Million dollar cars, Gorilla Zoe sets, lavish festivities, the works. Ball Up may have solved the recent issue with streetball. The street crews were renting out arenas too large for their niche, the fan base was somewhat limited—the streetball boom was over. Ball Up seems to have made a big step forward—put them in with a luxury tour with a built in fan base ready to be mystified again.

Recently, Fess was gracious enough to have a one-on-one with Justin Walsh about the tour, the state of streetball and more.

Justin Walsh: You’re part of the Ball Up team on the Dub Show tour,  could you walk me through how that came to be?
Grayson Boucher: Basically, this is how it all went down. We were approached by a guy by the name of Demetrius Spencer. He told me that he wanted to put together a tour, not just a basketball tour, but a luxury/lifestyle tour and do things in a different light than how streetball has been exposed to this point. Basically saying he wanted to try and blow it out, do everything as big as possible. Then he told me he was partnering up with the Dub Show, so we would have a built in crowd and everything. After that he just pitched to me the opportunity. He had some guys in mind to move forward with the tour and asked if I wanted to be a part of it. At first, I was hesitant, because people always approach you with ideas, but when I heard his business plan I was excited for it.

JW: Considering that the tour is part of a larger tour outside of just the basketball niche, do you feel like you guys have a chance to expand the streetball fan base to the more casual person?
GB: Absolutely. Plus, we are going to air on a major network which hasn’t been decided yet, but that’s being worked out. Also, we’re getting audiences that we haven’t hit before with different cultures. We’re also with different car shows, not just the Dub Show, just different audiences we haven’t had before. I think it’s exactly the right platform for a streetball tour to hit more of a mainstream audience. We have agencies pushing the tour full force, there’s a lot more going on than just the basketball tour. That’s never been the case until now.

JW: Does that calm down some of the players, knowing that fans are going to be entertained regardless and you guys can just play your game?
GB: On the court, I don’t think it changes the guy’s perspective, because we’ve played in so many types of venues that I believe it doesn’t affect anything on the court, we’re used to this. Job security is number one, so a player knowing he has a spot on this team makes them more comfortable, but as far as carrying out your game on the court—I don’t think that changes anything whether we’re playing for free in a park or playing in a pro-am game. Even with a streetball game in front of thousands of people, I’m not sure it changes.

JW: Now, in the first game, you bounced the ball off of the head of Manny Pacquiao (current WBC Lightweight Champion of the world). He seemed to have taken it for what it was, part of the game. But some people seemed to morph it into some outrageous international event. What’s with that?
GB: Right, [laughs] well when we got together the highlights from the game and I saw that, I originally didn’t think anything of it. It was a streetball celebrity game; it’s supposed to be entertaining and fun! I always throw the ball off people’s heads in a game, you know what I’m sayin’? I think where the comments came from when people were saying, “Oh, that’s disrespectful” and so forth came from people who could relate to Manny, especially from the Philippines. He’s extremely popular in the Philippines, so if they go on the internet and search “Manny Pacquiao” and the first thing that comes up is some guy smacking a basketball off his head. And on top of that, there’s still quite a few people who have no idea who I am. So these guys must be watching this, thinking to themselves, “Some little white boy just bounced a ball off my idol’s head…” I get where they are coming from, but for people to think I was being disrespectful is ridiculous. I believe most of that were just good fans of Manny from the Philippines or guys that are diehard boxing fans that got upset about it, but I also got a lot of comments that were like, “This is just for fun, he’s not trying to make a name for himself off of Manny’s dome…” It’s not like Manny thought it was disrespectful, we were laughing and joking about it at the game. Actually there was a funny part to it—my boy Demetrius was like “Do you realize you could have messed up that man’s career? If you broke his nose?!” I was just chill about it. I think I said, “I wasn’t going to break his nose man! I do this all the time, plus if you hadn’t noticed—He can take a punch or two!” At the end of the day, we didn’t think anything of it, it was nothing personal. Fans are going to react how they want to. They see what they want and block out what they want.

JW: In addition to Manny, you played against Donald Faison of Scrubs, Tyrese & a whole slew of celebrities in that game… Was anybody there in ANY way shape or form a basketball player? I know you had a part in Semi-Pro and you played one-on-one with Woody Harrelson off set. I’m sure you played many celebrities for Ball Don’t Lie. Is anybody good?
GB: [Laughs] You’re pushing me to throw people under the bus!

JW: They throw themselves under the bus when they play on national television. Did you see the celebrity all star game?!
GB: Man, honestly some guys are pretty good to where they can hold their own. In that celebrity game that we just did for Ball Up, we only ended up winning by five, so they definitely have some players on the team that can play. As far as people in the highest level of celebrity in the entertainment industry being able to play basketball at a quasi-professional level? No. But in that game, Nana Gbewonyo from Coach Carter [Nana played basketball at Washburn University in Kansas and Henderson State University in Arkansas—Ed.], he was also in the new Clint Eastwood movie Gran Torino. Anyway, that dude could play. He was getting buckets, he probably had 30 points. Columbus Short could play ball, he was that guy from Stomp the Yard. People always talk about how Brian McKnight being a good basketball player, he’s OK. Chris Brown is also fairly good. It’s hard to say though, because I wouldn’t sit here and tell you that anybody could play on a professional level, but there are a few that look like ballplayers.

JW: Have you ever seen Master P play basketball?
GB: I’ve never seen Master P ball! Everybody tells me he’s good. I know he played with Helicopter and Spyda for their ABA team four years ago. He was the owner and he played. They told me he was legit, but I haven’t seen him.

JW: You came into the streetball game right before it took off. Internet wasn’t the powerhouse of marketing that it is now, there was talent in the game, but there wasn’t the marketing and driving force of mass platform that there is now. Right when you came in, everything blew up. In the past few years, however, streetball has gotten smaller and more disjointed. What do you think streetball needs to do to get past that?
GB: I’ll tell you what it is in all honesty. A) ESPN stopped playing our show as much as it used to. In 2003 to 2005, every time I turned on the television, Streetball was on. Whether it was on ESPN, ESPN Classic, ESPN 2—it was on television. It wasn’t just some 2 a.m. stuff, it was on during prime hours, you know 7 in the evening, 8 in the evening, etc. But after that point, for whatever reason—I still can’t figure it out—ESPN made our show go from a primetime spot to just some filler show for programming. If there was nothing else to air, they might cue to Streetball. You know what I mean? That played a part.

Next point, B) I think we were never marketed year-round, and that hurt. Because we would be on TV during the summer, then the tour would be done. After that we would go overseas for the rest of the year to tour and come back the next summer. During that time overseas the only driving force we had was an AND 1 global DVD, and that’s not consistent marketing, that’s something that comes out at one time. I think that the fans should be getting what they want. And what they wanted was for us to be showcased year ’round, and that never happened. So I think not being out there and not being marketed year ’round decreased the popularity of streetball, to me. That’s really what it is, and I don’t think there’s any debating that.

Also C) There were randomly all these new faces in the game and there was no story to why there were new faces and who these people were—the fans were never fully brought in to what was going on. Like when you see the NBA Draft and the rookies come in, they’ve been properly followed for a long time. With streetball, one mistake is the fact that people were randomly coming into the fold, and streetball never properly explained that. Overall, I can’t really complain though, because I was always taken care of. AND 1 always pays well, they took care of us, gave us a platform to play basketball and gain some notoriety. And not just nationally, but worldwide as well. I think for the most part we’ve done well, but to get to the next level we need to stay on a major network and be marketed year ’round.

JW: All personal stuff aside, just from the standpoint of growth in streetball, do you think that the fact that there are so many streetball teams (AND 1 even had a beef and a good portion of the team left for Ball4Real, which is now defunct) plays into why streetball has struggled recently?
GB: Absolutely, that’s part of what I meant about having new faces for no reason. There was no story as to why you don’t see Main Event, Shane, Half Man, Octane, and these other cats weren’t on the AND 1 Tour, so because there was no explanation for that, some fans were probably like, “Wait, why is there another tour, aren’t these the AND 1 guys?” And we never really explained it on our end, so there’s a good possibility that it led to a decline in popularity in streetball. But at that same token, I believe that if you have a solid group of guys, AND 1 or otherwise that are showing love for the game and get marketed year round, they can succeed. But there was no reason in the public eye as to why some of the guys weren’t down, there was no reason as to why they started a new tour. People didn’t know the difference because it was the same names, so it probably confused fans on both ends.

JW: Wow. Now, you’ve played in two professional leagues, the Salem Stampede for the IBL and the Atlanta Crunk for the CBA. What were those experiences like in those leagues?
GB: It was a great time for me. With the IBL, before that time I had never played professional basketball before. I was like 20 years old so, if anything, it helped me improve as a basketball player. I got to play in front of my home crowd, which was cool. The IBL experience for me was nothing but positive. I think we finished the season a little over .500, I had the opportunity to play with some guys that were locally big time people. On top of that it was a stage to play on outside of the tour, so that was a very positive time in my life. The CBA wasn’t as smooth an experience as the IBL was just because the CBA was suffering after the NBDL took over minor league basketball. For a few years, the CBA was the dominant league, the senior among minor leagues outside of the NBA. I think I played on it’s last successful year, honestly… Our franchise only went three-fourths of the season, then the people who funded it no longer had the means to fund it, the coaches ended up quitting. But until that happened everything was OK. The real reason for playing there was to improve, I wasn’t trying to be a  CBA veteran or anything. I can’t complain though, it served it’s purpose for me. I had some games where I was droppin’ 20 points, 7 assists. I got to learn from Kenny Anderson, who was the coach. That was good for me. Actually, for the most part the CBA was a good experience, it just ran out of steam financially at the end. I sure wasn’t doing it for the money, because there wasn’t that much in it.

JW: You said Kenny Anderson coached you, he recently said he had aspirations of becoming an NBA coach at some point. Do you feel he can do that successfully if given the chance?
GB: I really think he’s a talented coach. He’s definitely what we call a player’s coach. He’s not the type to be all dominant over his players and berate them al the time. He’s not extremely systematic, he let’s the players create some on the offensive end, because an extremely systematic style just wasn’t how he played in the League. I think for any point guard especially, it will be an honor for whoever plays point to be under his wing and coach him up. I learned a hell of a lot under Kenny. If somebody gives him the opportunity, I think he will thrive.

JW: People may not realize this because you’ve been around for so long, but you’re fairly young in the game. What do you have planned in the near future for yourself?
GB: I’m focused on trying to push streetball in a different light. Like what we talked about with the Ball Up Tour—I see that getting big. Acting as well; I love acting. I also want to run different camps of my own. I’ve already headed up a few in different cities that have been successful, so I definitely want to expand on that. I just want to inspire some of the kids, steer them in the right direction. Mainly I would focus on those three things, because like you said, I’m still young. I want to do camps nationwide, start my own company. You have to plant many seeds, because acting isn’t guaranteed. You can’t play streetball forever. These days, you have to provide yourself multiple avenues to succeed long-term.

JW: Do you ever watch somebody in the NBA and say to yourself, “You know, I may not be better than everybody, but I could be in the place of a few of these cats”?
GB: Yeah, I do. You know what, I wont say any names or anything rude like that, but there are a few times where I’ll be watching a game and say to myself, “I could have that person’s job and do what they do. If not as good, then better.” But don’t get it twisted, I don’t say that off the strength that I can go in there right now, just throw on a jersey, but if I played competitive basketball from day one, never got into streetball? I absolutely know I could be at that level.

For a look into Grayson’s upcoming movie Ball Don’t Lie, as well as his words on the film, click here.