Since 2003 concerns about overcrowding at playgrounds have forced the tour to take refuge indoors. Tango, the old Rucker Park emcee, now weaves in and out of the action with a cordless mike, goading, upbraiding, sometimes even calling for a clear out so two guys can settle some issue one-on-one. At each stop locals compete in the open run in a parking lot outside the arena, hoping to be "voted into the building," as they put it, while a select few get invited to join the tour, Magnificent Seven--style. At the end of each season at least one wannabe lands an And1 endorsement deal. Documenting it all is Streetball, which has turned "voted onto the bus" into a phrase almost as recognizable as "voted off the island."
In June 2003 the tour stopped in Portland, Nike's backyard. At first, paranoid roadies surveying the thin crowd worried that the Swoosh had sabotaged the turnout. But soon they became too mesmerized to be bothered. A 5'10", 140-pound white kid from Salem, Ore., was dominating the open run. Grayson Bouch�r, then 17, had bought Volume One off eBay, disappeared into his basement and emerged worthy of his own nickname, the Professor, a moniker courtesy of Tango. By the end of the summer he had sunk the buzzer-beating three-pointer that defeated the And1 team in Madison Square Garden, and thereby nailed a trifecta of another sort: into the building, onto the bus, on the dotted line. Today Bouch�r, a onetime benchwarmer at Chemeketa (Ore.) Community College, is better known than many NBA players.
SINCE THEN, DEVOTED Streetball followers have seen John (Helicopter) Humphrey play his way into a contract. Volume Eight will introduce the players who signed deals as a result of last summer's tour: Dennis (Spyda) Chism, Eric (Spinmaster) Holmes, Hugh (Baby Shack) Jones and Jamar (the Pharmacist) Davis, a roly-poly guard from Mount Vernon, N.Y., who, while keeping his dribble, "shirts" Hot Sauce, pulling the tail of Sauce's jersey up and over Sauce's head. Alston has noticed how the Mix Tapes feature more and more illegal moves and Globetrotterish japery, and he doesn't entirely approve. "Everything I did on Volume One was legal," he says. "O.K., maybe a palming violation or two--but 98 percent of the players in the NBA palm to get from one place to another. Now the Tapes are more about trying to do tricks."
But as with the Trotters in their prime, the showmanship only stokes interest in the tour, especially in Europe and the Pacific Rim, both of which will host And1 teams this summer. Members of the entourage are astonished to see how well players in such far-flung places as Japan, France and the Philippines adopt and adapt Mix Tapes tricks. "You used to be able to tell when someone was from New York City," Garcia says. "Now you can be from Wichita and have that little bit of pancake syrup. A kid from Harlem on the sidewalk in front of a storefront window or the Professor in his basement in Oregon--kids all over the world are freestyling, and that's great. It blows the roof off the s---. People love it, just like people love the Globetrotters. Nobody has ever said the Globetrotters were bad for basketball."
Where Garcia parts company with And1 is in the hype, which bills players as "living legends." "Just because you get into the building doesn't make you a streetball legend," he says. "Seventy percent of the guys in the open runs are scrubs. To mention some of those guys in the same breath as ['60s and '70s Brooklyn playground legend] Fly Williams, that's sacrilegious. What Hot Sauce does is entertaining and beautiful but totally illegal. And [recently] they've been out of their element, in arenas. They call it streetball, but it's really organized unorganized basketball."
Indeed, on the Mix Tapes defenders sometimes look like complicit statuary, as the team on offense channels Marques Haynes, the Jesse White Tumbling Team and random kung-fu movies. The result is a pageant descended from the old blues-joint rite of "cuttin' each other up" and, more recently, break dancing. Moreover, as the tapes reveal, a dozen years ago kids wanted nothing more than to dunk over an opponent; now they'd rather beat 'em off the bounce. (For evidence that the crossover dribble has eclipsed the dunk in status, just look at the proliferation of synonyms for the former. Where once dunk had the longest entry in the hoop thesaurus, the array of words and phrases in current usage for Mix Tape--worthy dribbling moves is at least as extensive: break ankles, crack ankles, skate, boogie, bop, etc.) The object now isn't to posterize but to Klotzify.
Several times on each Mix Tape the action goes into rewind and super slo-mo, so anyone can study, practice and master a move. For all the protestations of the And1 players ("This ain't no do-how tape," says AO), scores of Middle-American Mittys have treated them as just that, taking the moves from the rec room to the rec center. The atypical basketball body types on the tapes and the tour--the Professor; his protector, Troy ( Escalade) Jackson, who tips the Toledos at more than 400 pounds; and the almost-that-rotund Pharmacist--only underscore how, with work, Everyman can play the Mix Tapes brand of ball.
Its credibility on the streets smooths And1's task at the top when the company hunts for NBA endorsers. "We have an easy entr�e," says Ron Skotarczak, vice president for marketing and entertainment. "Young players coming into the league are immediately interested in talking to us." Nike still has slightly more than half of all NBA players under contract, but And1 now services 21% of the league, more than Adidas, Reebok or Converse.
"WHEN THEY FIRST CAME to me, I was like, Have you seen me play?" says Kyle Korver, the jump-shooting Philadelphia 76er by way of Creighton and Pella, Iowa. "But a lot of other companies make you go through catalogs or [allow you to] order only two times a year. And1 takes care of what you need right away."
Korver doesn't doubt that today the Mix Tapes are getting worn out even in places like Pella. And, of course, they remain the bomb in the big city. And1 constantly takes the measure of its target demographic: frequent ballplayers aged 11 to 17. In 2000 its market research in Houston found that Main Event and Hot Sauce enjoyed higher name recognition than Steve Francis, then the starting point guard for the hometown Rockets.