Back in 2003, you changed my life. Like a one-night stand with an older woman who’s still got it and really knows how to bring it, you blew my freakin’ mind.
Sitting in front of my parents’ television set the summer before I started college, my brother and I devoured ESPN’s second season of Streetball: The And1 Mixtape Tour (the year of the Professor) the way a fat panda bear devours the last stick of bamboo at a panda bear get-together. That sh*t was amazing.
Only a crotchety, senile old purist could see this tribute to athleticism as anything besides entertaining. “Shenanigans,” they’d say. “Absolute ridiculousness,” they’d call it. But why hate on something so beautiful?
Perhaps the rules of streetball are slightly skewed to favor the offensive player, and maybe James Naismith didn’t exactly have this interpretation of the game in mind when he invented the peach-basket sport, but can you deny the fun in all of this?
Zipping passes through traffic that would leave Pete Maravich in awe, dunking over all states of matter, bouncing balls off defender’s foreheads, pantsing the slow-to-react, and dribbling between every discernable gap in the human body were just some of the antics on display during the Tour’s heyday.
Providing commentary on the action as it happened was an in-house emcee (MC Duke Tango, a vocal legend of New York’s famed Rucker Park) who, armed with a microphone and the quickest lips in broadcasting, delivered jokes, play-by-play, and nicknames. And he had nicknames for everybody. Nicknames for the nicknames, even. From AO (“Eyyy-YO!”), to Hot Sauce (“Hot Sizzle!”), to most notably, the Professor (“My Godson!”).
And if there ever was an individual more synonymous with And1, it had to be the Professor, aka Duke Tango’s Godson, aka the Ghostrider, aka Grayson Boucher.
If you don’t know the Professor, you should. Because let’s face it, there are few white people in this world who have done more for black-white relations than Grayson Boucher. I can only think of a couple. Abraham Lincoln. Larry Bird. Bill Clinton. And then probably Boucher. He’s that important. I kid you not.
The Professor rose to meteoric fame in that second season of ESPN’s reality show, winning the American Idol-like competition that the network had instituted that year. He earned a contract with And1, became a focal point of the Mixtape crew’s performances, and gave hope to every Caucasian kid who ever picked up a basketball. At 6’1″ and maybe 150 pounds, Boucher was an unassuming superstar who revolutionized the world of streetball.
Now an actor (he starred in the indepedent film Ball Don’t Lie, and is currently shooting a movie starring R&B singer Chris Brown and actress Vanessa Williams), a veteran of various professional basketball leagues (he has played in both the CBA and IBL), and a video game star (he was featured as an all A+ player in NBA 2K9), the Professor is so big that he’s the subject of his very own website, GraysonBoucher.net.
Beyond the advent of the Professor, the Mixtape Tour was a testament to a bourgeoning shoe and apparel company that broke the Nike-Adidas-Reebok triax of evil (though we’ll all admit that we like their products). If you’ve played basketball and haven’t worn some And1 gear in your life, you need to play more basketball. There are people out there whose very existence was altered by the And1 Tai-Chis. And that’s saying something.
And1 and their approach to the game forced the big three to reexamine the way they marketed their basketball lines. Around the time that the Mixtape Tour was taking off, Nike went so far as to design an entire ad campaign around the streetball mentality. They even went and created “street” versions of their basketball shoes, introducing more durable court footwear for asphalt surfaces.
Responding to a much smaller rival isn’t something that a mega-corporation like Nike is accustomed to, but And1 brought them to that point. No small accomplishment, to say the least.
ESPN’s version of the Tour enjoyed seven seasons (2002-2008) on-air before it disappeared from television. In that span, it produced copycat reality shows, video games, and movies (including one dud of a flick entitled Crossover, starring Wayne Brady as a villain-of-sorts, which goes against everything Wayne Brady truly stands for), earning its rightful place on future episodes of VH1′s I Love The 2000s, without a doubt.
And while many people out there have criticized the idea and the format of the Tour, it is, if nothing else, pure entertainment. For the same reasons we keep up with the Kardashians and walk the Jersey Shore, we’re a society that enjoys being entertained.
The And1 Mixtape Tour may be gone, but it’s certainly not forgotten. And if I could make a humble suggestion, let’s bring it back. That and Knight School. I loved that show, too.
Oh, and Magnum P.I.
And Hangin’ With Mr. Cooper.
Yeah, that’s pretty good for now.