Balling All the Way to the Stars
I Wonder If Heaven Has a Full Court
Prince began trending last week when a clip surfaced of him on stage, spinning a ball on his index finger for four (count ’em) seconds, then dropping a quick jumper before strutting back to his day job, that of bringing the funk.
Anyone still unaware of the Purple Ones skills on the court also got confirmation of the veracity of Charlie Murphy’s hilarious “True Hollywood Tales” account of the day the blouses beat the shirts at Paisley Park.
It got me thinking about ballers and artists and the connections (and legends) that come out of the urban experience.
Nipsey Hussle checked all the boxes. Urban legend. Fan of the game. He had game. The day before he died, at the height of a transcendent rap career, he was in Anaheim watching basketball, a March Madness game between Texas Tech and Gonzaga.
He would be amused to know USC made it to the Elite 8 this year, to face Gonzaga. In another time, he’d likely be court-side. Like at Lakers’ games, where he was a perennial favorite of NBA elites. All-Star Weekend, he’d show up to play in special event games down the block at historic Shrine auditorium.
Nipsey had some game, and even more he understood the role the court played in the community. After his tragic death, a memorial court was commissioned at Crete Elementary to honor his legacy. Before, he refurbished the court at 59th Street Elementary, in his old neighborhood.
Not everyone can ball and If you can’t, you just don’t. No one steps up for three-on-three, let alone a full court five, if they’re all knees and elbows. You can’t hide a lack of skills in this game.
But you don’t need much to get started. My brother Keith once schooled me: You don’t even need a ball! Just a spherical-shaped implement and you can drill the rim accurately. Anyone who’s crumpled discarded paper to take aim at the trash basket can attest to the delight of sinking one. Or two.
Most every neighborhood has a court, where you don’t need expensive equipment or training to make a name off your game. A lot of great players started on those courts.
It’s funny, the things you miss when you don’t play. I have watched my three brothers Nerf balling in Mom’s kitchen myriad times, getting sweaty trying to cram a competitive game into the corner behind the dining table, where they’d hung the plastic rim on the door out to the garage.
These little dustups (12 and 14-year-old boys), crashing into chairs and reaching across the table were so intense, I swear it wasn’t until I actually bought a Nerf set, on a whim, really, for my 2-year-old granddaughter, that I realized for the first time — the Nerf ball doesn’t even bounce! They were only shooting and defending.
Nipsey protégé Roddy Ricch coined the phrase, getting it “out the mud.” It’s what basketball and rap have in common — making something out of nothing. Harnessing the sheer force of the will in defiance of a lack of material resources.
Achieving daring things on a slab of concrete, and yes, even with just a crumpled piece of paper.