Streetball: The Gift & The Curse
We all love the NBA. It is the best association in the world when it comes to basketball. The best players and coaches are apart of the NBA but the essence of the sport of basketball does not live in the NBA. The local neighborhood blacktop is where that lives.
Streetball over the years has become a big phenom across the globe. Alot of that you can credit to AND 1. The shoe company manage to take streetball to that level, turning local neighborhood ballers into household names. The commercialized success did help the culture of streetball but it also watered it down. So in this article, I'm going to give you a brief history lesson on the streetball culture and explain to you the Gift & the Curse of the blacktop.
It's nothing like streetball, especially at Rucker Park. Now I never been to the Rucker but it's definitely on my bucket list. Rucker's history dates all the way to the 1950s when Holcombe L. Rucker started having his own tournament with Pro and amateur athletes. By the 70s Rucker was the place to play if you were a baller. NBA Hall of Famers like Julius Erving, Nate "Tiny" Archibald, and Kareem Abdul Jabbar played against neighbor legends like Pee Wee Kirkland and Earl "The Goat" Manigault.
Summer nights at the Rucker was the place to be in Harlem. And back then players got their recognition through word of mouth, not YouTube.
Due to NBA contracts becoming more lucrative which made players becoming more cautious, NBA stars sightings started to dwindle at Rucker but in 1980 a man by the name of Greg Marius would create a tournament that would become the Entertainers Basketball Classic. It started out as a game between local neighborhood rappers and grew into the largest streetball tournament in the world.
The EBC has been very pivotal in the streetball culture, even more so than AND1. President Bill Clinton even showed up at the Rucker with commissioner David Stern to catch an EBC game, Stern even threw on the Terror Squad chain. The EBC basically imported top of the line basketball back into Rucker. Entertainers put together what they though was a monster squad in attempts to win "The Chip".
The most notable summer at the EBC has to be when Fat Joe and his Terror Squad were SUPPOSED to meet Jay-Z and his Roc-A-Fella squad in the championship game back in 2003.
Now leading up to the game both teams were running the field but were in different divisions, so it was inevitable for them to meet. But that summer brought out many famous faces to the park such as Kobe Bryant, Beyonce, LeBron James, just to name a few. Both Jay-Z and Fat Joe recruited NBA talent to make sure their team was loaded and ready to go. Jay-Z had the likes of Sebastian Telfair, Jamal Crawford, and streetball legend John "Franchise" Strickland, while Fat Joe had Stephon Marbury, Rafeer Alston aka Skip to My Lou, Kareem Reid aka Best Kept Secret, and Zach Randolph. Both Jay-Z and Fat Joe had NBA reserves on call also like Lamar Odom, Amare Stoudimire, Tracy McGrady, Carmelo Anthony, and yes even the Diesel, Shaq was supposed to play in that championship game. That would have been epic. Unfortunately, that game never
While AND1 grew global recognition and flamed out, the EBC stayed true to the game. Unlike AND1, the EBC has fancy moves and dunks in the game, not the other way around. Players like AO, Half-Man Half Amazing, Alimoe(RIP) and Main Event all garnered their name at the EBC. And that's another wonderful aspect of streeball, the nicknames.
The most known name has to be Skip to my Lou. Skip wowed folks back in the mid 90s with his dazzling dribbling skils and charismatic showmanship. He was the prototype for a streetball player and most importantly, he made it to the NBA. Essentially, streetball have saved a lot of dudes from terrible situations, but unfortunately, there is a darkside to this culture.
This right here is Ed "Booger" Smith. Some say he is the last streetball legend to gain his fame through word of mouth, before the internet age. Booger graced the cover of Sports Illustrated and had his own documentary, Soul in the Hole, released all in the same year. How is this a curse you might ask? During that period of fame, Booger was also heavy in the streets of Brooklyn.
Booger was a streetball phenom at the age of 12 but he was also selling crack. Fiends would wait in lines until he was finished playing ball just to be served by him. Unfortunately, this is the lifestyle of most streetballers.
Booger also dropped out of high school but still had an opportunity to play at a Junior College in Arizona, but that stint lasted for only a year before he returned back to Brooklyn. Boog was locked-up for 4 years (2004-2008) and has no connection to basketball except coaching a youth girls team.
This is the curse of streetball, the ills of the street. Boog couldn't leave the streets alone even though he was gifted enough to be in the NBA. He even said himself in a SLAM Magazine interview that if he didn't make it to the NBA he would be a drug dealer.
Pee Wee Kirkland may be the greatest streetball player to never play in the NBA. While at Norfolk State, John Wooden recruited him to transfer and play at UCLA with Kareem. Legend has it that Pee Wee is the inventor of the cross over dribble and spin move to the basket. He was drafted to the Bulls in 1968 but returned back to his home of Harlem to continue running his lucrative drug enterprise. Pee Wee claimed that he made more money off the streets than he would make playing in the NBA, which could have been very true, especially during that time.
Just like Booger, Pee Wee was also a streetball phenom while selling drugs at the age of 13. Pee Wee became infamous from his dealings with the streets, owning a Rolls Royce before he could get a license. The money was fast but it paid a price. Three years after leaving the Bulls, Pee Wee was arrested on drug conspiracy charges and sentenced to 3 years. Then in 1981 he was once again incarcerated this time for tax evasion, he wasn't released until 1988. Pee Wee is a legend in both streetball and street life, Pusha T said it best, "A legend in 2 games like I'm Pee Wee Kirkland.
Street life is always the ills of street basketball. Stories like Kirkland and Booger are happening all over this country. Earl Manigault is another legend who could have had NBA success. Kareem even went on record to say that Manigault was the best player he ever played against. Manigault couldn't shake drug addiction so his legend only made it to the blacktop.
Movies like "Above the Rim" depict how even the neighborhood dope dealers can contribute to the ills of the game. And street life isn't the only thing that cursed the streetball culture, commercialized success played a part too.
After And1 had a show on ESPN showcasing their national tour, it became more about the tricks than anything. NBA coaches and college coaches started to lose respect for the culture because it took away from learning the fundamentals of the game of basketball. Kids would watch these dudes do fancy dribbling moves but don't learn how to shoot a jumpshot or dribble without carrying the ball and traveling. Streetball legends like Kirkland, Manigult, Booger, AO, Main Event are long gone now though, but the culture still lives. Thanks to the NBA lockout, the streetball culture seen some good games between NBA and neighborhood talents. Most notable has to be Kevin Durant dropping 66 at the Rucker. Yeah he did that.