The And1 Live Tour is officially back in effect, but those familiar faces that took the brand to global prominence in the early 2000’s, like Skip to My Lou, Main Event, The Professor, Hot Sauce, Spyda, 50, AO, High Octane, The Pharmacist, Escalade (RIP) and The Black Widow (RIP) are ghost.
Plus Tour & Events Director Linda Hill, a holdover from the old AND1 regime, says it was a no-brainer to reintroduce the streetball aspect of the brand with fresh faces and a new direction laced with the same trash-talking, sky-walking, Rucker Park-wrecking, hip-hop connecting essence.
“I have great relationships with all of those cats. I’ve know them for ten years, but they’re almost 40 years old,” Hill told theshadowleague.com. “There’s a new regime of basketball players that bring that same flair and excitement. We are really branding the new direction.”
(Helicopter is the only cat from the old gang still playing AND1 streetball. He’s been part of the action since 2003 and the 32-year-old spends his summers with the tour, but plays in a professional league in Japan the rest of the year.)
The first step towards future branding was locking down NBA players Lance Stephenson (Indiana Pacers) and rookies Jamaal Franklin (Memphis Grizzlies) and Isaiah Canaan (Houston Rockets) to be the new “pro” faces of the AND 1 brand.
"They came to me just after I was with the Pacers,” Stephenson, who coached his Born Ready squad to a tournament victory and is no stranger to playground smackdowns, told theshadowleague.com. “And 1 made me feel like I was a part of the brand...they kept me involved every step of the way, and that was really important. They also helped fund some young programs I am working with on the grassroots level.”
The second step towards future branding was the AND1 Summer Remix Tournament at Temple University's Liacouras Center in August, which played host to the twelve-team, single-elimination basketball event, boasting a purse of $100,000 for the winning team.
Ex-NBA dunk master, Shawn Kemp had a squad called Kemp All-Stars. Harlem spitter Juelz Santana performed on the tourney’s opening night, but his Skull Gang squad took an early L to Grammy-winning producer Jermaine Dupri’s Global 14 team. Songwriter Rico Love (Division 1) and music mogul Mike Bivins (Biv 10) both had teams named after their record labels.
Despite a light turnout of about 1500 people for the four-day event, the on-court action was a long-awaited glimpse into the new And1 Tour. The old tour was followed in cult-like fashion. The new set-up has a ways to go.
“We were hoping for a little more, said Lloyd Mintz, Head of Licensing and Business development for AND 1, “but this is the first time we have done this in a long time. I think people had to see that it’s for real.”
If the six-figure purse wasn’t real enough, then at the very least, the celebrities in attendance gave an impression that this was a big deal. Philly resident and platinum songstress Marsha Ambrosius was courtside, rooting for a Philly All-City team that featured ballers Dionte Christmas, Hakim Warrick, Mardy Colllins and Philly Legend Flip Murray. There was also drama and controversy, as Ambrosius’ boys lost on a last-second shot with .5 seconds left in the semifinals.
“I was like noooo... when that shot dropped,” Ambrosius told theshadowleague.com. “I’m a basketball fan first and music was second for me. When I’m in town, I like to revisit my glory days. I’m cool with ballers period! It only happened by accident that I got into music. My father was a basketball coach, my brother played and I played for England. Only torn ligaments crushed my hoop dreams.”
Hoop Dreams is what this brand was built on.
Stephon Marbury was the first big fish for AND1, signing in 1996 with the sneaker company, but his campaign never really popped.
In late 1998, a grainy videotape of a young, skinny streetballer named Rafer Alston, displaying basketball wizardry with hip-hop music blaring in the background, was given to AND1 by a coach at Cardozo High School in Queens, NY.
The videotape, which would soon be known as the "Skip tape," referring to Alston's streetballer nickname "Skip to my Lou," hit the streets like China White in the '70s. It made Alston, who was already a Milwaukee Buck’s draft pick, a hoops legend. He bagged And1’s first endorsement deal.
The burgeoning company distributed 50,000 copies of the tape across basketball camps, clinics, record labels and other providers of dope urban content. When AND1 became a product partner with FootAction in 1999, a free AND1 Mix Tape was given with any purchase and about 200,000 tapes were distributed in the span of 3 weeks. Alston became was the first world-renown, commercial streetball legend and the focal point of the marketing campaign.
Once ESPN got involved, the product took off. Filmmakers were then sent across the country to find the next streetball legend. Television exposure, combined with constant touring, sparked the AND1 brand and made the players international rock stars.
That is, until 2008, when the tour stopped, ESPN walked away and the company was between sales. The chain of events led to And1 basketball’s slow dissipation from America’s athletic conscience, and sparked a legion of copycats. Ball Up, a streetball tour put together by Demetrius Spencer is holding it down with many of the familiar faces from the old tour.
Despite being in no man’s land, the AND1 machine didn’t stop moving. ”Ownership came to me and told me they weren’t spending any money until the company was sold,” Hill recalls, “but they want me to continue to help brand AND1 so the company’s worth could increase to attract new buyers”
So from 2008 to 2011, when Galaxy finally purchased the company, Hill continued to tour about 40 small market and international cities a year with the squad. “That way we could still promote the AND1 brand and the players still got paid,” Hill said.
With Galaxy at the controls, And1 has already restarted talks with ESPN, and ABC Sports. After spreading the brand to more than 60 countries internationally the past four years, a US high school tour is in the works and Hill says AND1 is returning to the old formula of touring major cities.
There’s most likely no amount of marketing or money that can recapture the magic or equal the global influence of the original AND1 tour, mostly because you can never go back in time.
However, having some captivating talent is a good start. The Slam Dunk contest on the final Sunday featured what Hill says are her top two And1 Live dunkers and the 2014 faces of the brand, Werm and Guy Dupree “AKA” Frequent Flyer.
Frequent Flyer crushed the competition with an array of dirty dunks that had the crowd wilding.
“We’ve been working and building this brand non-stop,” said Dupuy a 26-year old from France. “We do the same things that professional players do, plus we have to entertain the crowd and win the game.”
As long as cats pound leather basketballs on hardtop courts, there will be a market for the best streetballers, and if the past is any indication, the AND1 brand depends on it.
“Without the streetball AND1 Tour there’s no AND1 brand,” Dupuy told TSL. “It started with it and it's going to end with it.