Known better as a hallowed sumo venue, Tokyo’s Ryoguku Kokugikan transformed into a hoops hotbed on Nov. 13.
Half-NBA and half-Harlem Globetrotters, Team AND1 — composed of legendary streetballers — put on a show, trouncing a Japanese select squad 91-66 in the team’s second appearance in Japan.
Cheering fans couldn’t have cared less about the lopsided score, however. Team AND1, which now visits over 30 cities in the United States per year as “the AND1 Mix Tape Tour,” delights fans with a battery of high-flying plays, all set to the sounds of hip-hop music.
Houston Rockets guard Rafer Alston was a big reason for Team AND1′s inception.
“The Mix Tape” was originated in 1998, when Queens, N.Y., high school basketball coach Ron Naclerio recorded the moves and techniques of Alston, his player and then a playground legend, a video that made its way to executives of basketball apparel newcomer AND1.
AND1 then assembled Alston, known as “Skip to My Lou” in the streets, with other players and re-recorded their creative and unique style of the game blending with hip-hop music as “the Mix Tape.”
The first tape was distributed at sporting goods chain Foot Locker throughout the United States, and it quickly became hot stuff among adolescent basketball maniacs. The sales have only gotten stronger since the inaugural Team AND1 began playing in 2000.
Although the players haven’t become household names like the NBA’s stars, the AND1 players have become famous among hoop fans. Each hoop man has his own nickname, something the fans connect with.
While swift guys like Grayson “the Professor” Boucher and Jamar “the Pharmacist” Davis display excellent dribbling and passing skills, Waily “Main Event” Dixon and Lonnie “Prime Objective” Harrell slam the ball in the rim one after another on powerful and ingenious plays.
Dixon caught the eye of some current NBA coaches, including the Houston Rockets coach Jeff Van Gundy and Washington Wizards bench boss Eddie Jordan, when he was hooping at a playground in New York. Harrell is a former Orlando Magic player and plays with overwhelming scoring ability.
And of course, trick plays are Team AND1′s signature. They didn’t forget to exhibit them to the Japanese fans at Ryogoku.
“That’s what makes AND1 different from any other sports,” Dixon said in an assured manner.
But the AND1 team is not a circus corps that only parades its tricky moves.
According to Dixon, Team AND1 never works on trick plays in practices, and most plays they come up with on the court are ones that they had fostered in the street.
“If the Professor does his move, you don’t know if it works,” Dixon said. “If it don’t, he just goes to something else.”
For the Japan tour, John “Helicopter” Humphrey, currently playing for the Tokyo Apache of the bj-league, joined the AND1 team as a guest player. Reuniting with his old teammates, Humphrey performed spontaneous plays in the less-restricted game and showed a demolishing slam dunk.
The 6,125 spectators enjoyed the genuine street ball of the AND1 team, stirred up by a Thomas “Duke” Tango, the old emcee from New York’s legendary hoop hotbed Rucker Park, who goads and upbraids on the floor.
“I think the anticipation of the people here is becoming bigger and bigger every year,” said Boucher.
Meanwhile, there were Asian hoopsters that impressed the fans on the Japanese side.
Ahn Hee Wook, a 22-year-old South Korean and Shun Okubo, a 13-year-old junior high student from Sagamihara, Kanagawa Pref., both played with the Japanese team after having been chosen via “Open Run” — an audition-type of game that is always held at the Mix Tape Tour.
The two invitees received showers of acclaim and applause during the game.
Ahn, whose nickname is “Sonic” because of his quickness, thrilled the fans with his moves. He demonstrated lightning ballhandling skills and fancy footwork in front of the AND1 ballers, even overshadowing the Professor.
“I’ve always watched the AND1 DVDs,” said Ahn, who visited Tokyo just to see the Mixed Tape Tour, not imagining actually playing with the players he’s always yearned back in Pusan, his hometown.
“I’ve seen The Professor, Main Event, and other guys many times through the screen. So today it was like ‘Wow’ to me.”
On the other hand, the AND1 players, who were once streetballers like Ahn, understand that there are so many proficient and adept players and were not specially surprised at the South Korean’s blazing moves.
“You don’t underestimate nobody,” Humphrey said. “You just come out there and play your game.”
Most people initially associate basketball with the NBA, but the AND1 team players claim that their game is another kind of hoops.
“Team AND1 plays at different pace from most people,” said Boucher, who joined Team AND1 via an Open Run in ’04.
“If you aren’t used to playing street ball, it’s hard to adjust to it. Even the NBA guys make mistakes when they play with us, because they’re not used to the flow we play.”