AND1 Mixtape Tour 2006: New York
“Don’t worry about it. It happens to a lot of guys.”
My heart sank the second the words no man ever wants to hear reached my eardrum. Failure to perform ranks high on every male’s list of worst fears and, yesterday evening, that dreaded nightmare became a painful reality for me.
From push-ups to jogging on the spot to focusing techniques, nothing could get me ready to carry out my duties, leaving me bewildered, ashamed and lost as to what to do next. I’d read that there were pills for that sort of thing, but, with none readily available, I accepted that I was just going to have to make my apologies for not being able to get the job done and endure the humiliating condition in silence. The hollow consolation from my female friend only served to confirm that I did indeed have a problem.
Writer’s block got me.
By now, you’ve likely all been exposed to AND1’s “I Ball” advertising campaign. Well, to paraphrase the slogan for my own purposes, I Write. Accordingly, writer’s block is my equivalent of tendonitis or an ankle sprain, being the sort of condition that could require anything from days to months to overcome.
Fortunately, unlike tendonitis, turned ankles and the problem you nasty bastards thought I was referring to previously, the cure for writer’s block can sometimes be instantaneous. Such was the case for me some ten minutes ago as I realised why it was that I couldn’t begin to find the words to describe last night’s events when crafting language is my job in the same way as streetball is Hot Sauce’s.
You see, words don’t quite do the trick when detailing the Mixtape Tour’s visit to NYC. My mental block arose as a consequence of the fact that I was trying to articulate thoughts and feelings that had manifested themselves during the game as such exclamations as “Uuuuuuunnnnhhh!”, “Whooooooooo!” and “Aaaaaaaaah!”. At my most eloquent, I was able to express myself with a hearty “Daaaamn!” or, on occasion, an “Oh, shit!” or two.
The point I make by all of this is thus: I can only convey so much with the text and images on this page. I do my best within the constraints of the English language, but please understand that to fully represent the atmosphere in the Garden, I’d have to visit every reader individually, scream for two hours, high-five them twenty times and break out an array of celebration dances that betray my Caucasian heritage.
Short of that, however, you’ll have to do with this recap. Let’s hit the highlights, reproduced from my real-time notes (hence the present tense).
· My highlight of the open run? The end of the open run. I’m sure there are some decent players in attendance, but after watching a fat kid thrice lose the ball while trying to stiff-leg his defender, I give up and decide instead to find Big Mike for a recap of the tour between Miami and now. This being New York and me being an ethnic brother, I’m cut off by a security guard before I can make it onto the main stage.
· As I post up in the media section, I catch sight of one of the reasons why I can’t move freely around the restricted areas today: Skip. He waves off the guards and greets an endless procession of fans at the edge of the podium, posing for dozens of pictures and shaking countless hands. We’ve said all there is to be said of his game, but his love for the fans is rarely acknowledged.
· Although Air Up There told me he’d be playing while Professor claimed on Wednesday to be sitting the game out, the former is in street clothes while the latter is dressed to play. Either there’s been a change of plans, or they were messing with me before.
· Contract hopeful Special EFX breaks out the “Chicken Noodle Soup” dance during the player introductions, and it’s immediately apparent that Harlem’s in the house.
· The announcement of Circus brings the crowd to their feet for the first time, where they remain as Air Up There steps onto the court, albeit in jeans and a t-shirt. Bad Santa shortly follows, rocking a Father Christmas hat cocked to the side. I didn’t think anyone could make Santa gangsta, but he’s pulled it off.
· Hot Sauce, stepping out to his custom “The champ is here” theme, receives the loudest ovation of the evening. Despite his limited playing time this summer, the fans obviously expect big things from Sizzle.
· The contract winners are all eager to show their stuff early on, with Special EFX’s one-handed alley-oop dunk drawing first blood. Springs one-ups him with a catch-and-cram of his own moments later, with Circus following with a series of fakes that see him windmill his arms over the ball before driving for a layup. It’s not hard to see how he became so popular with the fans.
· AO does his point guard thing, throwing pinpoint passes to Baby Shaq and Helicopter for back-to-back alley-oop dunks that put the rim in serious danger of breaking free from the backboard. I’ve heard of players jamming like they’re mad at the rim, but these two look like they want to eat the stanchion. My side note for these two dunks puts it simply: “Beasts.”
· AO then takes it on himself, pulling off a tricky spin move before stepping back, turning his defender’s head with a wicked over-the-shoulder fake and driving to the hole for an easy two. Duke Tango’s trademark “Aaaaaaayo” only adds to the fun.
· It’s alley-oops galore for the following few, with Special EFX, Spyda and Helicopter combining for four in quick succession. It’s then that EFX decides to break out the big guns, treating the crowd to a lefty variation on Vince Carter’s famous windmill alley-oop. A little boy a few rows behind me yells out “Give him the contract!” when the celebrations die down sufficiently that he can be heard. Not so hasty, young ‘un.
· Spyda catches a pass behind his head for another alley-oop slam, finishing with his famous hanging inversion. I’ve seen it a hundred times now, but it never fails to impress me.
· Special EFX puts down yet another alley-oop, this time with his forehead at ten feet.
· Hot Sauce makes his first appearance, sending his man every which way with a series of crosses and spins too complex to detail here. To give you an idea of the sequence, a standard crossover is represented by a single symbol in my notation system. This play alone required eight.
· Isolated on the wing against Escalade, Special EFX pulls a page from Tracy McGrady’s book o’ tricks, throwing a self-alley off the board and finishing with a mean one-hander that brings the fans to their feet.
· Escalade saves face by wrapping the ball around EFX’s head twice on the next trip down the floor, although it’s going to take a lot more than that to make the crowd forget about what just happened.
· Amazingly, “a lot more” goes down briefly thereafter as the opposition team puts together the play of the summer. Grabbing a rebound under his own hoop, Circus takes off down the court, dribbling the ball between Escalade’s legs at the halfcourt. With two teammates trailing him, he throws a no-look alley-oop pass off the floor which EFX gathers and turns into a double-fisted reverse windmill. You might want to read that through a couple of times, folks.
· Springs crosses back and forth and fakes a drive before pulling back hard, turning Helicopter so quickly that he loses his balance and ends up with both hands and one knee on the floor. By the time he can straighten himself out, Springs has already hurled the ball into the upper tier of the arena.
· There’s more run-and-gun streetball for the rest of the period, with Spyda catching the last highlight of the half when he finishes a three-sixty on the break.
· Duke Tango is honoured at the half for his two decades of service. He makes a brief but impassioned speech, finishing “It’s been twenty long years, but twenty long, good years.” Here’s hoping you stick with AND1 for another twenty, Duke.
· Next up on the mic is our old friend E40, who punishes the crowd with ten minutes of noises I last heard on a nature documentary detailing the mating habits of big cats. I’m not saying he’s a bad rapper, but when the hottest track on your album sounds like a female cheetah being violated in a tree, it might be time to think about retirement.
· As has become customary, a few of the dunkers are brought out at the half for an aerial exhibition. Special EFX goes with a three-sixty windmill, and Springs comes back with a between-the-legs lefty jam. Air Up There, evidently still rusty from his month-long layoff, fails to complete either of his dunks, although he looks as if he’d be more than capable of doing so after a decent warm-up. The latter, a self-alley-oop between-the-legs one-eighty reverse (take a second to digest all of that), is a sight to behold even when it rims out and TJ lands flat on his ass.
· The Pharmacist gets things going in the second half when he threads the ball between his legs before tossing it up to a streaking Main Event, who finishes emphatically with both hands.
· Springs attempts to toss himself an alley-oop off the floor, but, finding himself in a sea of bodies, he instead switches it up in mid-air and throws it up to Special EFX for the rare double-alley.
· Circus catches AO with a gorgeous spin move, but The General comes right back at him, completing a filthy behind-the-back crossover that has even the fans looking the wrong way.
· AO decides he’s done enough after delivering yet another laser-guided alley-oop dish, undressing in the middle of the court with more than eleven minutes remaining and hurling his uniform deep into the crowd.
· A player evidently selected from the open run puts Silk to sleep with a display of quick dribbling before catching him with a head-pop. Silk puts him back in his place, however, executing a perfect reverse tornado before feeding the ball behind his man’s back and regaining possession.
· The Pharmacist hopes to victimise the same player when they’re matched up a few plays subsequently, attempting his go-to move (which, if you didn’t know, is a trick whereby he removes his defender’s jersey while maintaining his dribble). However, it’s clear that his opponent has been watching his mixtapes, and he easily foils Pharm’s plan.
· What he doesn’t see coming, though, is another of The Pharmacist’s favourites, the catch-it-under-the-leg-and-point-over-the-shoulder move (they really need to start coming up with names for this shit), which segues into a beautiful alley-oop crush by Go Get It.
· “Sizzle…Sizzle…SIZZLE!” The crescendo in Duke Tango’s voice calls to mind Hot Sauce’s first tour of duty with AND1, as does the move he pulls out of the archives. Having spun his man in circles with a handful of semi-legal crossovers, he hits him with the Flintstone Shuffle, finishing with a full-body shimmy. It’s been too long, Sauce.
· With an open run selection – a young man referred to as “Captain Nappy” for his unkempt ’do – guarding him, Sauce has a little more fun with it, putting the ball between his legs and throwing it off his forehead in one slick sequence.
· Sauce gives us another look at his notorious stiff-leg crossover before the benches flood the floor in the final minute in anticipation of the upcoming announcements. For those who care, the final score stands at 101-87 in Team AND1’s favour.
· Following five minutes of promotional patter, Half-Man finally reveals that the winner of this summer’s contract is Circus, who, having played in every game of the tour, was all but an official member prior to the announcement.
· It’s a good twenty minutes before Circus is able to make it through the crowds and into the backstage area. Of course, we were able to catch him for his only post-game interview, available exclusively at HoopsVibe.com.
· As I’m talking to Circus, Special EFX approaches us and exclaims “They even stole my drawers.” Circus notes that his cell phones, shirts and other personal effects have gone missing from his bag. Later, as we wait for the elevator, Special EFX curses out a man carrying a pair of ill-gotten sneakers. Tell ‘em why you mad, Ryan. In all seriousness, his anger was justified. Asking for someone’s jersey is one thing, but rifling through their bag and taking personal belongings is another entirely.
· Regardless, the mood backstage is close to euphoric, with the conversation largely being centred upon the end-of-tour celebrations. AO keeps a gaggle of fans entertained with his witticisms, breaking out one of my favourite quotes of the year. When asked if he feels uncomfortable after he undresses on the court, he replies “This is the way I was born, only covered in jelly and with a tube out my belly” while gesturing towards his navel. AO needs his own show when he retires from streetball.
· I ask Air Up There why he chose not to play, and he explains that he left the decision up to higher forces: “I showed up and my shorts weren’t there, so I took it as fate.” I’ll tell you one thing: If I find the equipment manager who misplaced those shorts, I won’t be leaving his ass-whupping up to fate.
Save for the remaining interviews (we have at least seven more full-length features on the way), that marks the end of our summer streetball coverage for 2006. As always, you can reach me with your comments, questions and requests via the comment box below or by emailing me directly at CY.Ellis@HoopsVibe.com. Until the next time, take it easy.
– CYE at MSG