Playground Legends: AND 1's Mix Tape Tour

Harlem's Rucker Park is only 7 miles from Madison Square Garden, but the styles of basketball played on their respective courts are worlds apart.Whereas the NBA demands team-oriented gamesmanship from its elite athletes, playground basketball allows for greater self-expression. Players instinctively attempt and develop new dribbles, fakes, cuts to the hole, shots, dunks, etc., and then rightly incorporate whatever works into their arsenal.

Winning, as always, is the goal, but a close second is making your opponent look like a chump.

By talking trash and then backing it up, players earn reputations. And so playground ball resonates with anyone who's ever laced up high-tops on a gravelly blacktop.

Basketball footwear and apparel company AND 1, recognizing this relationship, has grown rapidly by offering customers what they covet: ballers battling and pulling off larger-than-life plays at street level.

AND 1, founded in 1993, would love to say its marketing reps planned their approach from the beginning, but they didn't think up the catalyst for their company's success. It was handed to them.

In 1998, Ron Naclerio, the coach of New York's Cardoza High School and summer coach for AAU kids, gave an AND 1 rep a home video of one Rafer Alston, then finishing his junior season at Fresno State. Through jerky camerawork and poor resolution, the tape showed Alston, a speedy point guard, beating players on New York City courts with insane moves, including his signature, high-stepping dribble that earned him the nickname Skip to My Lou.

As the legend goes, AND 1 employees loved to entertain themselves and office guests with "the Skip tape," going nuts whenever Alston embarrassed a defender, but they were at a loss for what to do with the crude footage.

The significance of the tape became apparent, however, when AND 1's roster of NBA endorsers (Darryl Armstong and Rex Chapman among them) came to shoot an ad campaign. The players, without exception, spent their off-set hours watching the Skip tape — over and over — then imitating his moves in the shoot.

After much debate, AND 1 adopted the model of early skate videos by editing the tape and adding a hip-hop soundtrack to what was then dubbed the Mix Tape.

AND 1 circulated a limited run to basketball camps, clinics and record labels before partnering with FootAction to do a gift-with-purchase program. Everyone who bought something, anything, no matter what brand, received an AND 1 Mix Tape. In three weeks, 200,000 tapes went out the doors of FootAction stores and there was resounding demand by customers for more.

A star was born in Alston, whom the Milwaukee Bucks drafted 39th overall later that year. The first basketball shoe endorser to get a sneaker deal without an NBA contract, he now plays for the Toronto Raptors. And the company that discovered him went on to launch nationwide tours to find the next Skip — sending out convoys of interns in rented Escalades to urban playgrounds in New York City, Chicago, Detroit, Washington, D.C. and Philadelphia — promoting along the way.

AND 1's Mix Tape Tour, the latest incarnation of this grassroots (or rather cement) marketing campaign, comes to the USF Sun Dome on Sunday, Aug. 3, featuring playground legends Main Event, Hot Sauce, Skip and more.

The Bay area's best amateur basketball players are invited to play in an Open Run tryout outside the arena from 4 to 6:30 p.m. From those competing, the AND 1 players select up to two ballers to come inside and run in the big game.

The game starts at 7:30 p.m. with a half-time show by rappers Grandaddy Souf and Pastor Troy. Tickets to the game cost $15 to $50, but the Open Run is free and open to the public.

If you've got game, step up. You might earn the right to grandstand in front of your hometown crowd. If the Mix Tape crew is convinced that a player's game is nice, they'll be invited to join the tour as a member of the JV Squad. Members of the JV Squad play against each city's finest and vie among themselves for an AND 1 endorsement deal. ESPN is on hand at each stop, filming the action for the TV series Streetball.

This might be your big shot to star on TV. Be careful, though; "star" might also mean "get schooled."

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