A flashy basketball tradition is resurrected with barnstorming team’s stop in Greensboro

by Christian Bryant

And1, the once wildly popular streetball tour, stopped at Dudley High School in Greensboro for Part 1 of a three-game exhibition at local high schools this past weekend. Much like the flashy ballhandling and alley-oop dunks that helped bring the tour national fame, the event seemed to come out of nowhere.

“I didn’t know this was going on and I work here,” said Dudley Basketball Assistant Coach Derrick Partee.

“I just found out about this two days ago,” said Jarret Johnson, a Greensboro native, student ath lete

at Anderson University and one of the many local basketball players chosen to compete against the And1 team.

The And1 Live Streetball Tour, formerly the And1 Mixtape Tour, has been resurrected as the hip-hop inspired streetball competition and exhibition after what Robert Martin, AKA 50, describes as two years of “layoffs.”

“We’re trying to get it back like we used to have it,” Martin said. “We’re trying to travel to places we’ve never been before… keep this going as long as we can.”

Martin, a 38-year-old Atlanta native and one of

the only original members still touring with And1, graduated from High Point University in 1995. He expressed excitement about future plans for the team to travel to Africa and Saudi Arabia — previously uncharted territory for the tour.

The game opened with little pomp as the And1 players, some new and some old, stepped onto the court to warm up. There was no huge announcement and no initial cheers from the scattered crowd in the less-than-full gymnasium; just the And-1 players with un-tucked jerseys and quickly executed layup lines. Although some of the appeal from the previous era has diminished, the players and the trash-talking MC respectively wowed onlookers with athletic prowess and kept the crowd in stitches.

“Yo, Mr. Ref.,” the MC quipped. “You ain’t got no socks on? Your feet are going to smell like movie popcorn!” From the moment the scoreboard started counting down, an air of excitement suffused the gym and kept fans in a repetitive squatting motion. They sat down during dull periods of the game only to stand back up again whenever a player made a hard cut to the basket. Every expression of amazement that the crowd gave the local players for a good play was quickly silenced by an alley-oop dunk with “Africa,” a new And1 player nicknamed after his continent of origin, flushing it through the rim.

Besides a few blatant dribbling violations from known ballhandling maestro “Hot Sauce,” AKA Philip Champion, and some cherry-picking on both ends, the competitors showed they were fundamentally sound — in some respects. Lock-down, one-on-one defense was played for a chance to get a steal during an over-animated crossover or an above-the-rim block on an attempted dunk. On several occasions, men dove on the floor for loose balls.

“I was ready to watch them,” said Denika Harden, a senior at Dudley and former point guard for the school’s women’s basketball team. “They should do stuff like this more often.”

Everyone’s eyes followed the competitors with an unwavering gaze in anticipation for the next display of skill — everyone, that is, except for Michael Curtis.

Curtis walked up and down the side of the court in a Carolina Blue shirt and a dangling lanyard hanging around his neck. He moved from the floor level, up the stairwell to the entrance and back again scanning the gymnasium and to make sure things were going as they should.

Curtis, an employee at Crescent Ford in High Point, helped make the event possible. For the past eight years, he and his two brothers have owned and operated Youth & Family Transitions, a non-profit organization aimed at safeguarding at-risk young men.

“We were in the group-home business and we wanted to do housing beyond the group homes,” Curtis said.

He and his brothers proposed a short-stay group home for “cooloff” periods. This home would serve as a respite from the typical group homes and soon develop into a youth center for tutoring and after school programs.

“If you keep the mind and the body involved, it keeps the kids out of trouble,” Curtis said.

Six months ago, he saw an opportunity to do something for those same children as And1 began its quest for new life, but he didn’t do it alone. He reached out to friend and former sports rival Aziel Fhalem of God’s Divine Grace, a grassroots outreach ministry.

Fhalem, along with his wife, Rhonda, and daughter, La’el, started God’s Divine Grace in an attempt to “use different vehicles to get out into the community,” Fhalem said. Those vehicles include the Bible Study League Showcase — a basketball league that produced some of the talent for the home team, an entrepreneurial training program, a variety show and a basketball skills training camp that uses Biblical principles to instruct children on the nuances of basketball.

Fhalem said many of the local players play or played high school or college basketball in the area.

The two reconnected through Donzell Owens, an assistant basketball coach at Oak Ridge Military Academy, and began putting the pieces into play.

The And1 players won in a 125-91 blowout and besides a few notable plays from the local team, the streetballers stole the show with unparalleled athletic acuity. And1 newcomer “High Rizer,” AKA Marvin Collins, asserted some authority during the final seconds of the game by executing a perfect between-the-legs slam. Following the sound of the buzzer, fans cleared the bleachers and headed toward their favorite players for photo opportunities.

Curtis began cleaning the gym and gauged the success of the event.

“I enjoyed it but I think sponsorship would’ve made it go a lot smoother,” Curtis said.

Even so, he still recognized the impact of the game.

“It’s something that draws the teens in,” Curtis says. “It’s all about giving.”