By Sam Rubinroit, Senior writer, 15, Malibu HS
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Jerry "The Assassin" Dupree throws it down at the AND 1 Tour streetball tournament.

Photos by Seth Rubinroit, 16, Malibu HS

Most basketball players start on the streets or playgrounds, playing pickup games with their friends, calling their own fouls, and making up rules as they go along. Some go on to play organized ball in high school, college and, for a lucky few, the NBA. However, many stick with the less formal pickup game without rules dictating their style, playing solely for the love of basketball.

While the NBA has a list of rules covering everything from court dimensions to a dress code, the AND 1 Tour, which consists of a group of streetballers going city to city playing the best streetballers in the country, has a “rule book” that is just three pages long (double spaced!). It starts with, “This is not your typical basketball game.”  And it certainly is not.

AND 1 is a basketball shoe and clothing company founded in 1993, but rather than focusing on producing products for fans of all ages, AND 1 focuses more on the devoted streetball players, who play basketball for the love of the game rather than for fame and fortune. To promote its products, AND 1 puts on a national streetball tour.

I had the opportunity to go to Long Beach when the AND 1 tour came here in August and talk to a few of the players about what separates streetball from the NBA. As an NBA fan myself, I had never seen professional streetball before.  I expected the play to be very sloppy, with lots of turnovers and for it to be confusing to watch (especially if you do not know the rules of streetball).  Seeing it firsthand really changed my perspective. 

I expected to see a huge court with fancy seats, security everywhere and numerous food vendors—the norm for an NBA game. However, it was quite the opposite. The court consisted of two hoops in the middle of the Queen Mary parking lot, with only free-throw, three-point, half-court, and out-of-bounds lines spray painted over the parking spaces. The court was separated from the bleachers by a mere three-foot high wall, with fans throwing the ball back to the players when it bounced over.  The feeling of almost sitting on the court made me feel closer to the action, as if I had a part in the game. The bleachers seat about 1,000 fans at $20 a ticket for open seating. The locker rooms were tents with chairs against the walls, separated by only a fence from the Porta-a-Potties shared by fans and players alike.  A DJ played rap/hip-hop music during the game. The music made the game more interesting, with players dancing during timeouts and fans standing in their seats to dance when they were put up on the big-screen.

The facilities are not as plush as Staples Center, but the real attraction is the game. The players started warming up 10 minutes before game time, periodically pausing to sign an autograph or take a picture with the fans lining the wall. When the game started, four out of every five baskets scored were dunks—after each the crowd went nuts. The referees get argued with on every call, although there were hardly any, and there was definitely no penalty for hanging on the rim. Every time a player brings the ball down the court, the players show off their ball handling skills, going around their backs, bouncing the ball off their opponent’s head, or lobbing a half court alley-oop for a reverse dunk. All the while, MC Duke Tango narrates the play running up and down the court as players try, sometimes not too hard, to avoid colliding with him on their way to the basket. Even a non-basketball fan can enjoy the up-tempo style of play and amazing showmanship the players display.

Kenny "Bad Santa" Brunner drives to the hole. They call him "Bad Santa" because he makes amazing passes.

To add to the connection between the fans and players, every player has a nickname identifying their style of play printed on the back of their uniform instead of their last names. The AND 1 roster consists of the Assassin (he kills his opponents), Bad Santa (he dishes out assists like presents), the 8th Wonder (for his amazing all around skills), Hot Sauce (because he has so much sizzle), the Professor (he schools opposing players on the court), Helicopter (he’s always in flight), Baby Shack (for his rebounding ability), Escalade (he trucks down opponents), Go Get It (for his ability to catch any lob), Silk (he’s so smooth), and Springs (for his jumping ability). The nicknames are well deserved, with Bad Santa making amazing passes, and the Assassin making amazing plays knocking his opponents back.

Some critics say that AND 1 disregards the fundamentals and teamwork stressed so much in the NBA and organized basketball. This is true, with players traveling so often the refs don’t even call it. However, Kenny “Bad Santa” Brunner says teamwork is just as important in streetball. “People think that most of streetball is one-on-one, but you’ve got to have guys on the team willing to sacrifice for guys like The Professor, Silk, and Hot Sauce who are there for their one-on-one skills. It’s a one-on-one game, but without the five of us working together, it wouldn’t really work.”

Watching a game, I can see what Brunner’s talking about, because for every spectacular dunk and amazing trick a player does, there are just as many amazing passes and defensive blocks. The constant showboating my be excessive to some, but for fans like me who are used to NBA play where the most exciting part of the game comes from a few dunks each quarter, the AND 1 Tour puts the fun back into basketball.

All of the players made it to the Tour by their love of the game, but many still dream of one day making it to the NBA. Although the AND 1 Tour is a great experience, nothing matches up to the fame and money a player can make in the NBA. However, if the salaries were the same, nearly all of the players told me that they would rather player streetball.

They call Grayson Boucher "The Professor" (the guy taking the shot) because he takes the opposing players to school.

Streetball is more interesting for the players because it allows them to have free reign on the court without their coaches dictating every move. Still, this style of play is hard to maintain for an entire game, because it so intense and requires complete concentration. “Some of the top NBA players can play the style of basketball we play with the fancy dribbling and the dunking, but they couldn’t do it all the time,” Bad Santa said. “Streetball is a freestyle affair, where the objective is to put on a show at all times, yet still win.”   

Although streetball may not be the game many people are used to seeing, I think it is more fun to watch than the NBA. Jerry “The Assassin” Dupree talked about the difference between streetball and NBA. “Streetball’s got more action. It’s faster, and we don’t think as much, we just go out there and play our game,” Dupree said. “We’ve got the different moves you won’t see in the NBA, so that’s a big difference.”

While the NBA draws fans based on its competitive nature where games can come down to the last .4 seconds, streetball has a more constant, up-tempo style. Rather than the pressure of playing well throughout a long season, AND 1 lives more in the present.  The Professor weighed in, adding, “There’s no question it’s more exciting than the NBA because you’ve got the best ball handlers in the world and some of the best dunkers in the world. In the NBA they’re trying to make buckets and win championships, while we’re trying to put on a show for the people there that day.”

The players all know that it is important to play to the fans, and go out of their way to help them enjoy the game. They know that without the fans, they would be nothing. As Hugh Jones, aka Baby Shack, says, “I’m just a regular, so don’t hesitate to ask me for a picture or an autograph. I wouldn’t even be here if it wasn’t for [the fans].”  If you go to an NBA game, you would be lucky to get the third-string guard’s autograph.

But the NBA is still the NBA. People around the world tune in to watch the games because of its history and the amazing athletic ability the players have to be able to sustain nearly every day during the season. While the game not be as fast as streetball, its style of play has more finesse and is much harder to perfect. NBA players practice by shooting hundreds of shots a day, running drills and going over their plays to outmaneuver the other team.

The AND 1 Tour may not have the same nationwide appeal as the NBA, but it’s slowly getting there. Streetball is on the rise, with more of a focus on fans, and a game that is more exciting and flashy than the NBA, yet keeps a competitive edge. Although it may be hard for streetball to reach the level of popularity that the NBA has, I think that as it catches on and more people find it as a diamond in the rough, it may be seen as just as fun to watch as the NBA.  However, I wonder if as streetball becomes more and more popular, will it be able to keep its street style attitude it holds today?

Other stories by this writer …

Interview with Greg Louganis. Sam interviewed the former Olympic champion about his diving career, his new book and living with HIV. (Summer 2007)

Kareem’s perspective. Basketball star and author Kareem Abdul-Jabbar honors the many blacks in history who paved the way for minorities to achieve their goals. (March – April 2007)

A future in baseball. A special inner-city program helps teens pursue the sport. (March – April 2006)

Don’t pass this up! Get up close to NBA hopefuls at the Summer Pro League. (May – June 2005)

Crazy for The Simpsons. Sam got to see how one of his favorite shows is made. (March – April 2005)