The Ghetto Boyz are in black, and Biv 10 is in white. The two teams are playing at 155th Street and Eighth Avenue in Harlem, at historic Holcombe Rucker Park, in what is now called the Entertainers' Basketball Classic. This is a tough part of the city—walk through the police line first, please, get patted down—but it's where pros and street players used to mix it up in the earliest days of the asphalt competition, where you might have seen Kareem Abdul-Jabbar or Julius Erving trading elbows with some guy named the Eraser or Mr. Clean.
This new league is still much like the old Rucker tournament of the 1960s and '70s, except that this one was started by a rapper deejay named Greg Marius in 1980 at a park on 120th Street and Madison Avenue. The rappers, whose music is the electric vapor that floats like a thunderhead over the city game, at first played in the games, but soon they were stacking their teams with ringers rather than singers. "I saw what the guys were doing," says Marius as he hands cordless microphones to Tango and Cash, the deejays for tonight's game, "so I loaded my own team, Disco 4, with guys like Pearl Washington [of Syracuse] and [UNLV's] Richie Adams and [Arkansas's] Kenny Hutchinson, serious players. So you know we won the tournament."
As the hoops talent grew, so did the crowds. Marius brought his thriving league to 155th Street a few years back, and now pros such as Kevin Garnett, Joe Smith and Allen Iverson occasionally stop by to play with the boys of summer. There was a rumor that Booger might show up to play with the Ghetto Boyz tonight, but no luck. It is still so hot at dusk, over 100°, that anyone could be excused for not playing ball. But heat doesn't stop the city game. And the players are out—Ron-Ron, Da Main Event, Superman, Lefty, Half-Man, the Terminator—running fast and strong.
Everybody has a "game" in summer ball, a signature style that defines him the way a haircut or a tattoo or a favorite T-shirt does. The Terminator is a muscular, high-flying forward. But he has an oddly retro style. He lays the ball in on breaks. He does not shoot from outside. He does not dribble between his legs. He does not hotdog. "The Terminator will not dunk!" roars one of the deejays after the forward banks in another layup. "He will not shoot a jumper! And he'll score 50!" To take such a stance, to not do what is possible, is a form of brilliance. And it excites the crowd.
Half-Man jams the ball home. "Half-Man, half amazing!" screams Tango into his mike.
A player races down the lane, right through the defense, to throw in a double-clutcher. "It's the red-carpet treatment!" wails Cash.
The coach of the Ghetto Boyz, a small young man in new Filas, nice shorts, an expensive gold watch and a T-shirt that shows a human-faced mouse smoking a huge joint, seems unfazed by any of the action. He has a studious Rick Pitino—like crouch that he alternates with a concerned Pat Rileyesque arms-crossed stance. Like most of the summer coaches, this man is not a coach by trade. He goes by the name Mousy—nobody has heard him called anything else. The back of his shirt reads LIFE is FULL OF IMPORTANT CHOICES, and those choices, listed above drawings of marijuana leaves, are: PURPLE INDICA, VIRGIN ISLAND BUDS, JAMAICAN SINSEMILLA, COLOMBIAN GOLD.
Not so calm is the coach of Biv 10, an intense man named Richard Wheeler. He starts using profanity as his team falls behind. That's a basic no-no in a realm where too many verbal disputes end up being settled by Mr. Glock and Mr. Remington. Marius tells Wheeler to cool down.
"F- - -you!" says the coach.
"Man, you got to quit using the word f- - -," says Marius. "It's the rules."