Initial greetings out of the way, an exhausted Grayson Boucher fell into a chair in a nondescript classroom near the Tent Dome in Toyosu on one of the final few warm, sunny days of 2010. Boucher had just finished putting 44 youngsters through the paces in a basketball ball handling clinic and the man nicknamed, “The Professor” was spent.
Still, as the fatigue of a hectic schedule took its toll during a rare moment of inactivity, Boucher, fast becoming a legend in streetball circles, and fellow instructor Alonzo “Showstopper” Miles were happy with the work they’d put in with their young fans.
“I just thought it was dope to do something in the country where we probably have the most loyal fans,” Boucher said after the And1 Tenth Anniversary Basketball Ball-handling Clinic. “For us to give something back to them is really big.
“Me and him,” Boucher began as he gestured toward Miles, “are trying to expand these academies into a worldwide thing. We did one in Africa, we did one in Central America and we have a bunch in the States. The goal is just overall expansion, getting out there and actually giving back to the kids and getting this thing up moving.”
There are few more qualified to use such a forum to spread the gospel of streetball than Boucher.
He was an unlikely addition to the group of streetball players who comprise the popular And1 Mixtape Tour in 2003, his ball-handling skills earning him the moniker of “The Professor,” in part because of the way he “schooled people on the court.”
Standing 177 cm and hailing from Keizer, Ore., Boucher doesn’t fit the mold of a typical streetballer. Which makes him well suited to promote a style of basketball that doesn’t quite mesh with what purists have in mind.
Streetball is mix of style and substance that combines the skill of an NBA game with the flair of a hip-hop concert. This version of the ages-old game both encourages and applauds individuality. One minute a player may pull off a jaw-dropping dunk and the next he’s in the crowd among the people. Or, in the case of Aaron “AO” Owens, pulling a jersey over someone’s eyes, tossing the ball off their head, and blowing past for the score before jumping onto and running the length of the scorer’s table in celebration.
Try that in the NBA.
The phenomenon got its first taste of mainstream with the advent of the And1 Mixtape Tour a little over a decade ago and today is recognized around the globe. It’s morphed from something traditionalists turn their noses up at to a game that has made global role models out of former playground stars.
As far as the sport has come, there are still detractors who have no time for the free-flowing game that celebrates showmanship and utilizes a mild, at best, application of basketball’s normal rules and etiquette.
Though neither Boucher nor Miles seem hungry for acceptance from anyone.
“I don’t really care because I don’t listen to those people,” Boucher says. “To me, If someone holds us to a high standard and says streetball is not really that good, I don’t really care. Those are the people who are looking into it deeper than what it really is. We go places to entertain and inspire people.”
Just as beauty is in the eyes of the beholder, the players say the perspective of streetball changes depending on the who’s watching.
“If we start trying to prove something, it takes away from it,” Miles said. “We’ve both played professional basketball. It’s not like we can’t do it. I don’t want to play in the NBA. I love what I do here. I love the fact I can shake somebody then go stand in the crowd or whatever. I can’t do all that without getting a tech (in the NBA). I can have fun and do what I want to do. This fits me way better than playing in the NBA.”
Despite the “haters,” as Miles calls them, streetball has gained a cult following around the world, and not just from kids.
“I think a lot of people in our sport look up to the NBA players,” Miles said. “The thing we don’t realize is NBA players look up to us too. If you look at the top 10 plays (on highlight shows), it’s nothing but crossovers and dunks. The things you see in our whole game.
“It’s not just a boring pick and roll game. Those games are fun, but at the end of the day, it only gets exciting in the fourth quarter if the game is close. If you come to a streetball game, from the very first play, you’ve got ‘Fess going around the back and the crowd is going bananas. From the beginning, the level is turned to 100.”
Their still-burgeoning impact on the basketball landscape was no more apparent than at the clinic in Toyosu, when a few of the kids gave the duo a dose of their own medicine.
“We didn’t know these kids could dribble like that,” Miles said. “The first kid took the ball and went straight to the hole. Then I was like, ‘we can’t take it easy on these kids. We’ve got to beat them,’ ” he joked.
“It shows the impact that he’s (Boucher) had, even in Japan. As soon as he stepped on the court, the kids started emulating him. They looked at him like he was a superstar and wanted to emulate all of his moves. They’re going to remember that for the rest of their lives.
“Streetball . . . is all about inspiration. It inspires people.”