On a summer weekend in New York City that saw a thrilling WNBA Playoff Game and the best high school players in the country going head to head, there was also some of the world’s best streetballers, in the form of the Ball 4 Real tour, in town. We sent Sherman Johnson to check it out…
I was excited about attending this event since the original plans I had to run weekly profiles on the streetballers on this tour fell through a couple months ago. The tour is sorta like a spinoff of And-1, which spuriously ran their own tournament in some of the same major markets as Ball4Real a week before the latter was due in town. The former definitely stole some thunder because a lot of people obviously confused the two and figured they were one in the same. Maybe that can explain why attendance at the event was marginal when you consider that NYC is the mecca of streetball. A lot of the players on this tour are from the area and other close-by places like philly and d.c. The team visited Rucker and competed against area all-stars in a classic over on 145th which they won by a lot closer margin than the game they played at MSG. Curiously enough, there were a lot of people from Jersey who came out for the Ball 4 Real events, which included a block party on 33rd between 8th and 9th. There were booths set up in the dock area between the underpass between the two buildings. It was aiight but would’ve been better if the entire block had been sealed off. Instead it felt like everybody was cordoned off by the NYPD like at a lot of big outdoor events in the city, all of which is annoyingly ironic because it contributes to the very thing they’re supposedly there to prevent. People get tense when they’re herded together like cattle. I was paranoid about somebody stepping on my semi-new kicks and didn’t want step on anybody else’s toes either so I tried to keep my mood to a minimum by hanging out by the basketball court where there where a few games and a dunk contest running. They should’ve had a three point contest instead because shamefully only a couple of guys who were in the dunk contest were actually able to cram it. It was sad and bogus. A lot of guys long on ambition but short on the art of aerial acrobatics. It was unreal. The crowd was oohing and ahing about what coulda been.
AO (pictured) was semi MCing the vent and he was cracking on their lack of gravitas. He made a crack about the eventually winner looking like blackula with cornrows and everybody fell out. He was definitely a crowd favorite for his style and charisma. After the pickup games he helped pick out some of the standout players the team would compete against later on inside. There was also a cipher that was formed off to the side of the court which again was conceptually tight but the spirit of it all was killed due to some backwards ish that went down with the first amendment that’s currently taking the nation by storm. What’s more, a chick from New Jersey won the Xbox. It was one of the themes of the afternoon and evening and sorta like the artificiality of mix tapes released by major music outfits who specialize in co-optation. Off to another side of the court was a soundsystem/info booth manned by Truth, the company that puts out those disconcerting commercials that out socially irresponsible co-optation conglomerates. One of the MCs who was in the cipher was also manning the booth and freestyling over beats during the games which was kinda wild. The skater’s area was an ill idea too and I spent the majority of my time there watching all the kids tweaking the controls on their antigravitational devices on the miniturized ramps and pipes wishing I’d brought my own skates too and feeling lame that I hadn’t thought of it in the first place because I hadn’t expected something like that to be set up. The skate park and the Truth soundsystem actually gave the block party an edge of the spontaneity you’d get at the famous court on West 4th Street where cultures sometimes clash but inevitably coalesce. Nearby was a table with a couple of tricked out BMX bikes set-up. There was also small stage set up with a DJ and a booth a few Xbox consoles and flatscreen TVs. The stage setup was sweeeeeet, especially when the chicks got up there and started pulling off the type of ridiculous stunts that make your eyes bug out like a cartoon character with his tongue on fire. It was all good until my ADD started acting up and I made a beeline for 8th ave to pick up my credentials.
Getting into the Garden was rigmarole but once I got inside and visited courtside to watch a few of the Ball4realers warm up it was history. Special FX, High Octane and 720 were shooting around putting on airs. I caught the vapors when Special FX took off from near the charity stripe, caught the ball high off the glass and rammed it home with enough force to make Darryl Dawkins shudder. From topside or television the aerodynamics of it all are easy to take for granted. Down low is a sight to behold. I thought the carom from 720 came off to hard and high for him to reach but he reached up into the stratosphere to pull it in and I was so close underneath I could see the afterburners flaring up on the bottom of his sneakers. SFX (Ryan Williams) is 6-5 but he plays much bigger like a lot of tall lanky players who have the sorta strength that opponents underestimate. He’s a Queen’s native and went to St. John’s before eventually going juco. He was a contestant on the AND 1 tour and was featured in the Streetball series last year. He claims he’s a point guard but he can’t even dribble that well in open court but he’s a terrific finisher who goes hard to the hole. He had about 10 dunks in the first half alone and all of them were ridiculous. The one that made everybody (as in, approximately 3,000 fans) go bananas occurred late in the first half with him and circus on the break with a couple of defenders dropping back. Circus was in the lead with Willliams trailing him and took off from the wing, twisted 360 degrees in the air before tossing the rock way up in front of the basket for Williams who then passed it between his legs to deliver the money shot with a defender on his hip. The spectacle shocked and awed me so much I started tripping way down memory lane to when I was a little kid and saw the Harlem Globetrotters play in Cobo Arena. The physics of the game were so primitive back then the only player exploring the properties of moving air in relation to its interaction with kinectic physical structures was Julius Erving who’d only recently gotten his doctorate in aeronautics. Plus I never even believed all the stunts the Globetrotters used to pull on their opponents was real. Not even now in relation to the advanced nature of what these guys were doing. I always thought all the Globetrotters’ opponents were chumps. But then again I’d never even heard of capitalism and the twisted ish people do for money.
The opponents here were getting chumped to but they were also playing for a share of the $100,000 jackpot. There were about 10 of them selected from the pool of players who competed in the pickup games outside earlier that afternoon. Some of them were pretty good. A couple of them had obviously been schooled in the streetball methodology because a few times they pulled off the same moves as the Ball4Realers. Early in the first half Circus tried to pull a sleight of hand between his legs after crossing midcourt and got pickpocketed like a tourist in Times Square. He was so mad (perhaps embarrassed?) that he came back with the same move and scored on a reverse layup with a few people on him. No matter how hard the opponent tried (they were getting pissed at all the noncalls by the refs) the game was no but it was exciting to watch and the atmosphere had the circus atmosphere you’d find at Rucker Park but only on grander scale (the DJ mixing and scratching on cue showstopping feats, the on-court announcer MCing the game and handing out prizes to the crowd, the black marching band, the halftime medley of rap acts with special lighting FX and the up-close-and-personal perspective that real ish affords you) since every major market the tour stopped at was hosted at that city’s basketball arena. But I have the impression the pickup games outside of those venues were more competitive than the games inside. The only downer about the game inside MSG was that there was no replay of all the highlight reel footage on display and there were no alcoholic beverages on sale.
But the way the Ball4Reallers had the crowd collectively tripping who needed liquor when there was plenty of dope stuff to see and experience.