RAP IMPRESARIO Damon Dash, the cofounder of Roc-A-Fella Records, is Harlem born and bred, so he knows what plays on the streets. "It's how you act," Dash says. "Harlem guys are cocky. We think we're super cool. That's your swagger."
The Kingdome Classic, a storied streetball tournament that Dash began sponsoring in 2004—this year's edition kicks off on Friday—is steeped in that kind of attitude. Held at a public court at the corner of Manhattan's 115th Street and Lenox Avenue, the Kingdome was founded in 1985 by Terry (Huncho) Cooper, a lifelong Harlem resident. When it started it was little more than a grudge match between teams from rival apartment buildings.
Over the years, though, the tournament became a highlight on the Harlem summer calendar. In the late 1980s and '90s hundreds of people would watch NBA players like Malik Sealy and Conrad McRae play. Dash began sponsoring the event in 2004 and added some Hollywood flair to the Harlem flavor. He supplied new uniforms and fiberglass backboards. The field grew to 20 teams, and more NBA talent joined: The Kings' Ron Artest (11, left), the Knicks' David Lee and the Rockets' Rafer Alston played in 2006 and are expected back this year. Several teams are sponsored by Dash's pals, including Diddy, Jim Jones and the Ruff Ryders.
The Kingdome's popularity has exploded; last year some games drew crowds of 5,000, with a courtside emcee heckling struggling players. Despite the presence of hip-hop royalty, Huncho, 47, still the commissioner, has limited the corporate influences he feels have corrupted street-ball events like the Entertainer's Basketball Classic at Rucker Park and the AND1 Tour. He has turned down several lucrative offers to change the Kingdome name. "Sponsoring this is a dream come true," says Dash (left). "Rucker is cool, but it's corporate. A lot of that swagger has left. You get that old school feeling here."