Editor’s Note: For most of us who were fans of the game in the mid 2000s, the And1 Mixtape Tour was a way to pass the time during the offseason until NBA games started again. But for some of the chosen ballers, it was a chance to become a legend. Seth Johnston is one of those chosen ballers, and this is his story. This is Seth’s first contribution to The Diss. You can follow him on Twitter here.
I caught the And1 Tour early in the summer of 2003, just before my nineteenth birthday and just as And1 was threatening to become a full-blown phenomenon. That summer the tour would grow from the outdoor courts and small gyms of its previous years to NBA arenas (or NBAish arenas; in Portland they played in Memorial Coliseum, home to the Blazers until the mid-nineties) and from sneaker purchase DVD giveaway to a series on ESPN sponsored by Mountain Dew. The little sneaker company had hit on something its big corporate competition had missed and was planning to ride it all the way to the mainstream.
But it wasn’t there yet. And1′s biggest star was Rafer Alston, known then as a street ball legend and marginal NBA player. He was And1′s greatest claim to elite talent and was struggling to hang on at the highest level. The upcoming NBA season would validate Alston, and by extension And1, when he played a starting role for a Miami Heat team that made the second round of the playoffs. But when the tour rolled through Portland, Alston hadn’t quite broken through. Hot Sauce was a mix tape favorite but hadn’t crossed over (heh) to a big audience yet. The Professor was not yet THE Professor—but I’ll get to that. A lot was about to happen.
I had been into the mixtapes for a year or so and was among a small number of rubes in the Oregon sticks throwing the ball between people’s legs in pickup games. I took it a step further and started recording myself practicing awkward dribble moves in the street in front of my parent’s house and trying them out on confused people at the community center. I had enough coordination to imitate moves from the mixtapes and spun-off a few of my own but lacked the quick handle needed to make them really pop. I was in love with the creativity and entertainment of it all. I was not missing the tour when it came through Portland.
The logistics on that And1 Tour stop worked like this: before the game people had paid to see there was an open run outside in the parking lot. The open run was free to watch and free to play in. From the open run hordes And1 players and judges would select a few dreamers to play in the paid main event. This is an important part of the appeal, that an unknown—maybe even you—could end up shining on a bigger stage or featured in the next mixtape. That’s how Hot Sauce got signed just a couple years earlier, and who wouldn’t want a chance to be the next Hot Sauce?
I drove my car thirty minutes to the light rail station and rode the train an hour into Portland. I was still early. The open run court hadn’t been setup yet so I dribbled around practicing my moves like I had done so many times back at my parent’s house. Some kids showed up and challenged me so I did a Hot Sauce move on them. They thought I was awesome. I thought maybe they were right. More people showed up, I displayed more moves. Yes, establish yourself early. The court was ready. I signed up.
The type of people that show up early enough to be in the front of an open-run tend to be pretty good. I learned this during warm ups when a person much shorter than me followed my pedestrian dunk with a windmill. No problem though, because dunking wasn’t my thing. I had moves. I took the court with my And1 heroes looking on.
Let me pause here and tell you about the look I had going that day. I suspected that I could end up being the white guy and for some reason thought it would be funny to accentuate this with self-consciously weird style. I had my hair, shaggy and red in the sun back then, puffed up in the way wavy haired white people can puff their hair up by rubbing a towel over it after a shower. I wore an old t-shirt from my grade school parks and rec league. I sported conspicuous black, white, and silver Puma basketball shoes. Christ.
The game begins. One guy does a handstand while keeping the ball away from a defender. Another guy dunks on somebody. I’m running up and down the court just…running up and down the court. Shit. Time is running out. The ball comes to me, I take a dribble and flip the ball up court with a standard behind the back pass. It’s enough to get me the ball again a possession or five thousand later, this time I hold onto it-
That’s what the in game MC starts yelling into his microphone as he walks over to me.
He keeps yelling it. I realize that I am Jerry Lewis. I want to reflect on this—why, of all possible white people, Jerry Lewis?—but am dribbling a basketball with a person in front of me.
“JERRRRRYYYYY LEWWWWWWWISSSSSS! YOU BETTER DO SOMETHING JERRRRYYYY LEWWWWWWIS!”
The MC has made me the focal point of everyone’s attention. I feel it. The defender feels it too, and he switches his loose exhibition defense into No Way I’m Not Letting Jerry Lewis Get Over On Me defense. I panic. I dribble around a bit and get stripped. I got the ball maybe once more and quickly passed it off. I don’t remember anything else from that game except that at one point the MC said “Jerry Lewis you are alright.” I was not invited to play in the main event. I would not become the next Hot Sauce that day.
I hung around to watch the rest of the open run. Things were winding down and the talent level was dropping when suddenly there was some little guy out there doing moves. His moves were better than my moves; tighter, lower to the ground, quicker, actually effective. He would get invited to the main game along with a few from my run. Then he would win the contest aspect of the tour/TV show and become The Professor, full fledged And1 star. Later that fall I’d be at Chemeketa Community College in Salem, Oregon, coincidentally where The Professor had played ball the season before he jumped on the And1 rocket. He would drive around campus in a white Mustang, seeming to me like the coolest human alive.
As for the main event, the game I paid to see that day I remember only two things. First, that David Banner performed “Like A Pimp” at halftime. Second, I high fived my favorite And1 player, Sik Wit It, while the game was being played. He shook his defender and threw a high arcing lob that ended in a fantastic dunk. I stepped onto the court and congratulated him. None of this happens at a regular basketball game. It was the sort of excitement and accessibility that was uniquely And1.
I returned home more enthusiastic than ever. I would spend the rest of my summer watching and rewatching the ESPN show and scouring for pickup games, opportunities that offered new victims for my moves. I’d end up in games as far north as Seattle, as far south as the Bay Area, and as close to home as the community center. By the fall my interest started to wane for reasons I don’t recall and I was on to other nineteen-year-old-in-2003 things like buying polo shirts and fitted hats. I never attended another And1 Tour.
I’m pretty sure I can still do that Hot Sauce move I pulled on those kids though.