EVEN THOUGH he is an expert in caroms and sudden changes in direction, Stuart Tanner couldn't have anticipated how quickly his life would lurch when he faked right, went left and totally deked Nets guard Devin Harris one blustery autumn afternoon in London. Tanner's streetball sorcery, which included a sadistic crossover dribble through Harris's legs and a deadeye fadeaway jumper, occurred during an NBA outreach event that coincided with the Nets-Heat preseason game on Oct. 12 in the U.K.
Tanner's older brother, Greg, a basketball blogger, captured Stuart's moves on video. If you've already seen the clip on YouTube, you're in good worldwide company: It has had more than four million views. Tanner was the subject of a recent segment on ABC's World News Tonight, and Jay Leno's reps have called. "For someone like me, a skinny white kid from London, that's pretty incredible," says the 6'1" Tanner, 28. "I've become a one-move wonder."
Perhaps because dribbling artists rely on feints and misdirection, some have wondered whether Tanner's exploits were simply a clever viral marketing ploy. (Adidas sponsored the event.) It was all so seemingly well-choreographed. Tanner—almost translucently white and wearing a V-neck sweater, jeans and an untucked T-shirt—challenged the 6'3" Harris, then hustled him, Billy Hoyle--style. There was also the remarkably gracious reaction of Harris, who is blossoming into a star in New Jersey (page 142): "You see how fast he was? He tricked me, he hustled me in my own court! We might need to sign him up!"
In truth there was no sleight of hand, Tanner's notwithstanding. Besides, to question the authenticity is to miss the point. This episode says as much about basketball's relentless globalization as the influx of foreign NBA stars does. It's one thing when an uncommonly tall German (Dirk Nowitzki), Argentine (Manu Ginobili) or Asian (Yao Ming) is able to play at the highest level. But you know your sport has truly penetrated a culture when it's given rise to a population of tribalists—"Basketball Bennies," in the vernacular—who are students of the game's jazzy derivations rather than its gym-rat roots.
Tanner and his brother discovered basketball in the early '90s, when British television began airing episodes of NBA Jam Session. "It was the only basketball we were exposed to," says Greg Tanner. "Then White Men Can't Jump came out and we thought, Eeeow, this sport is cool. Our council [local government] built two outdoor courts near our house, and so we just started imitating what we saw."
Predictably, Stuart's early ambitions to play professional hoops in Britain—where "You flash bastard" is among the most damning insults one can dispense on the soccer pitch or cricket field—were scotched by coaches who accused him of "over-dribbling." He did, however, become a minor urban legend through three-on-three tournaments, his moves documented by his brother on a now defunct website, streetball.co.uk. Like most artists, Tanner, an aspiring physical trainer from London, has made almost no money from his talent. He's never hustled for cash, he says, and though he was contacted by Adidas about sponsorship after the Harris clip went global, nothing came of it.
If his legerdemain against Harris was testament to the burgeoning international growth of basketball, it also ought to comfort hoops purists who bleat that while American players are showboating and freelancing, their overseas counterparts are perfecting crisp bounce passes and exquisitely calibrated bank shots. Greg Tanner laughs at this notion, pointing to Bulls forward Luol Deng, currently the only notable Brit in the NBA. "Deng is pure fundamentals," says Greg. "But on the street I could name you 15 guys that could do to Devin Harris what my brother did."