Interview with Aaron ”A.O.” Owens
North Philadelphia, born and raised/On a playground was where he spent most of his days/Killing cats, clowning, crapping on fools/Playing the bus driver, taking kids to school/Met a couple of guys, and they tried to make good/Started breaking ankles in your neighbourhood/He went on one little tour and the game got scared/And y’all know how the story continues from there.
The history of Aaron “A.O.” Owens may not be sitcom material, but that isn’t to say that he doesn’t have a tale to tell. As one of the handful of players to have been with AND1 since its infancy, he’s seen it all from the inside. In fact, as a member of the original seven that kept the company from going the way of so many small businesses in its early days, he’s a big part of the reason it still exists. Others might step into the limelight from time to time, but they’re just a part of AND1. A.O. is AND1.
Shared initials, shared growth, shared love. What one sows, the other reaps. What one grows, the other keeps. As relationships go, this one has turned out pretty well, outlasting every high-profile marriage but Whitney and Bobby’s. While theirs has been mutually destructive, however, the bond between A.O. and AND1 has brought nothing but benefits to both sides.
HoopsVibe caught The Fresh Prince of AND1 as he swung through our hometown for the Miami tour stop, and he was kind enough to take a moment to answer a few questions for his fans. Read on for the second interview in the seven-part series, available exclusively at HoopsVibe.com.
C.Y. Ellis: How does it feel to be out here in Miami?
A.O.: It’s Miami; what you mean “How do I feel?” It feels good! It always feels good to be in Miami, no matter what you here for.
CYE: This seems to be a favourite stop for a lot of players.
AO: It’s cool. I mean, every stop has different things that you might like. It’s sort of like a melting pot with all the cities involved. Certain cities you like certain things, and other cities you like other things.
CYE (gesturing towards a pair of young ladies wearing very little): Miami’s benefits are pretty obvious, right?
AO (rolling eyes): I guess…(under breath) It’s heaven!
CYE: How’s the tour been this year?
AO: The tour’s cool. We got a lot of new guys. I mean, they blending in well – no egos, no problems – so we good.
CYE: So there’s no drama on the bus? There were reports of beef between Hot Sauce and the Pharmacist in the media a while back.
AO: It’s just what you said: the media. It wasn’t like Sauce and Pharm was fighting or nothing like that. It was just basketball beef. It’s like rap beef; it ain’t about nothing.
CYE: How do you think this tour compares to those of previous years?
AO: It’s about the same. I think we keep it consistent overall as far as the tour every year. I mean, certain tours are better. The beginning tours might have been better. There was only seven of us, and we had a bond with the seven…it was crazy. We got eighteen people now, therefore you got to deal with shit like I said – egos and stuff like that – which is no beef, but it’s different. For ten games you might be playing with Shaq, then ten games I might be playing with Helicopter, so I gotta get used to that.
CYE: Very few streetball organisations have even come close to having the success of AND1 either commercially or in the ‘hood. Did you ever expect it to get to this point?
AO: No, and if anybody out here tell you that then they lying. That’s a goddamn lie. In the beginning, it was what it was, and then when ESPN blew it up and all that other stuff, it grew to another level that we never could imagine. I never would have fathomed that.
CYE: Why did AND1 make it where so many other organisations didn’t?
AO: It was first. It’s like another brand trying to make a Jordan shoe: You just can’t do it. AND1 is streetball.
CYE: What do you think of the open run concept? Some people say that there’s a lack of talent out there, while others think there are still a few diamonds in the rough.
AO: Always, but there’s never been an open run that was consistent. I’ve never been to an open run where we got down to the final twenty and for all twenty it was like “Damn, we need that dude in the building.” Normally, I find that there are only three or four who have basically what we’re looking for.
CYE: Ever since AND1 came on the scene, there have been critics who say that the tricks you pull out there teach the kids bad habits…
AO: We’re teaching kids bad habits? Is that what they really believe?
CYE: “They” believe that kids watch you guys out there and focus too much on trying to put the ball between someone’s legs or throw it off their head. I try to ask every streetball player about this issue. What’s your take on it?
AO: Come on, man. Who does that? What kid have you ever seen in that type of basketball setting – AAU or whatever it is – that did something like that? They know the difference. It’s not a problem when Kobe’s getting eighty-one points and shooting forty-nine times.
CYE: So you think that’s more detrimental to the game of basketball than AND1-type streetball?
AO: What do you think? I’m asking you what you think about it when Kobe goes out and shoots the ball forty-seven times.
CYE: Anything that increases the popularity of the game is fine by me. So if Kobe goes out there and dunks it with his foot, I don’t give a shit because it’s going to get a couple of kids off their asses and playing the game when otherwise they might have been doing nothing. Even if they are out there dancing and trying to throw the ball in their shorts…
AO: It’s always positive. There’s always a negative and a positive with everything, so this couldn’t be all positive anyway. There had to be some kind of negative, so if that’s what they want to give us, that’s what they give us.
CYE: Where do you think the AND1 style of play is going? A lot of people have commented that it seems to be moving away from tricks and towards dunks.
AO: That’s the good thing about it. It’s not that we’re moving away from tricks, but in the course of the game, the way the game flows, if it’s more dunks than tricks, then it’s more dunks than tricks. You just evolve, and next year it might be back to tricks.
CYE: While we’re talking about dunks, I have to mention Taurian’s 720. Did any of you see that coming?
AO: No. The funny thing about it is that we didn’t even finish playing the game. The game was over. There were, like, four minutes left and we stopped the game. I didn’t know what the fuck it was! I was like “What the fuck did he do?”
CYE: I still can’t believe what happened, and I must have watched it a thousand times now.
AO: It was crazy. That’s one of the moments in basketball – not streetball; you can’t characterise it as that – that’s one of the moments in basketball history.
CYE: Do you think that might encourage kids to practice the wrong things?
AO: Nah, because everybody can’t do that. That’s the difference. That’s something totally different from doing tricks and stuff like that. So they can run in their room and jump at that little basket as much as they want. If they can’t jump, they can’t do it.
CYE: How would you rate that against the best dunks by Michael Jordan, Dominique Wilkins, Dr. J and them?
AO: It’s a different era and different dunks. But I ain’t never seen them do it.
CYE: It’s been a long journey for AND1. What have been some of your personal highlights along the way?
AO: Too many, too many. All of it’s been great, though. It’s been fun. We wouldn’t come back if we didn’t think it was fun.
CYE: Tell us a little bit about basketball outside of AND1 for you. Mark Edwards told me that you had a trial with the Sixers in 2001.
AO: I had some trials and stuff like that, but I guess you stuck with what you stuck with. I don’t think about it at all. Until somebody brings it up, I don’t even worry about it.
CYE: You must have had your fair share of offers over the years, though.
AO: Yeah, but for certain reasons it didn’t happen, so I can’t even worry about it. I focus on what I’m doing.
CYE: Streetball used to be something you saw only in the parks, but now it’s a tool to sell t-shirts, sneakers, DVDs and the like. Do you think that’s a good thing, or do you feel it takes the game away from its roots?
AO: It’s cool. To each his own, man. Everybody gotta have an opinion about something, so it’s always going to be fifty-fifty on everything.
CYE: How much does business play into things?
AO: As far as streetball?
AO: It’s business, period. We know that. Once it’s business, there’s certain rules and regulations or whatever the case may be that you gotta follow. This is a job for us.
CYE: There are a lot of AO fans out there. What’s your message for them?
AO: I’m doing what I do.
CYE: Thanks for your time.
AO: No problem.
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