- Aug 24, 2006
Skip had hell of a game.
The revolution was televised the day someone put a camera on a 12-year-old kid while he embarrassed pro ballplayers, local legends and D1 superstars on the corner of 155th St. and Frederick Douglass Blvd. The child's gift slowly sunk into America's hoop DNA, reshaping the way the game was looked upon, marketed, embraced and, at some point, loved. Many have seen this child over the years and told him, "You made me fall back in love with the game." Others have said something more important.
He plays on a one-year contact worth $612,435, of which he'll receive less than half due to his signing for the season in February. This in a game where the "average" salary is around $4 or 5 mil, in a "game" where companies make millions from the revolution he jumped off in Harlem. A generation of kids now follow his lead, without knowing that he is the leader. They think it's us, the exploiters, the ones who have brought the street game - the one Rafer Alston revolutionized 10 years ago - to your homes, placed it on your coffee tables, on your plasma TVs. You are wrong, So are we. He is the leader, the fellowship, the king from Queens. Unsaid, he's the most important, most significant, most revolutionary ball player of this generation; a generation that includes Al, KG, LBJ and Yao. And it is his prodigy that we pimp.
Yo Skip, we owe you our lives. We owe you this.
SLAM: I believe the greatest compliment you can give someone is to say, "Because of you, I…" Have you gotten a lot of that in your life?SKIP: Believe it or not, I have. A lot of people have come up to me, especially since the mix tapes have come out, and said I'm the reason they played basketball, or that I'm the reason they wanted to play basketball a certain way. And yeah, you're right, it's a great thing to hear. You never think in life that someone would ever say that to you.
SLAM: It's a comment reserved for greatness: Richard Pryor, Brando, Rakim. I heard Bill Clinton say that JFK had that effect on him. And I know, Dr. King, if he had the change probably would have said it to Gandhi.
SKIP: Yeah, but I'm not on their level.
SLAM: But the comparison can be justified. Look at the impact you have had. Seriously. Don't you ever sit back and think, damn, I started all of this?" To me, there are a whole lot of us that owe you checks.
SKIP: Yeah, it's a money game now. You told me that a long time ago. But I get mine from the respect I get from these youngsters who really appreciate the fact that they can say, "He made it out, so can I." That's enough thanks. To me, money, it's the root of all evil. A lot of people act like they can't function without some dollars. Where I came from, we found ways to have fun without a lot of money. Now don't get me wrong, I want to get paid, I want financial security. But right now, I'm in the NBA. I'm happy. I'm receiving my payback that way. I'll get my due in due time.
SLAM: Has the money that dudes are getting paid in the summer reached the point where it's keeping some of them that really can make it to the league out of the League?
SKIP: Definitely - but it's nothing that hasn't been there since the beginning of time. It's been going on since the Goat and Connie Hawkins days. It just make it an immediate thing, it makes you only think about the quick money. A lot of guys like to live for the summer. They're waiting all year long to get that $400 or $500 a game - "If I get 30, I'm going to get $1500." And that's all they live for. The chicks come around, then the summer's over. Now what? You have to wait the whole winter and spring for this to happen again?
SLAM: That goes back to what you said at the end of the And1: Streetball documentary. You're trying to educate some of them, but…
SKIP: Yeah. A lot of the guys look at me and say that I came from the playground. I came from the playgrounds, but I took the necessary steps that other players in the NBA have taken. I played for a major college, I showed I was able to run a team. They see those tapes and think I was discovered on the playgrounds. But I was one of the top nationally tanked players in junior college ball. I was sought after by major schools out of junior college. They think they can go play the playground, do the And1 thing and go to the League. It's not going to work like that.
SLAM: Throughout history, there have been less than a handful of players that have made it from the playground to the League. Do you ever think about your life like that?
SKIP: You know what? I always think about the playground guys that haven't made it: The Goat, Joe Hammond. People will tell you they were a lot better that I was scoring the ball, but that I may have been better at assign the ball, dribbling and electrifying the crowd. It's so common, [NBA people' think that we playground players just care about ourselves and that we're just selfish, and they don't want to give us a shot to play. There aren't many that have made it,. Connie Hawkins was one that was a playground legend, and I'm the one of the other few. It's a great feeling to make I to the NBA, but at the same time I try to humble myself everytime I step on the court and play for the guys that haven't made it from the playgrounds.
SLAM: Making that transition is serious isn't it?
SKIP: I can't lie, I expected it to be a lot smoother. But I'm still here and I think that's the key. A lot of players in the League are here to collect a check, that's what they do. I grew up in New York, I had to work harder, stay a little hungrier. I may have a different feel for the game, a different approach. I have an inner strength that I think may be different.
SLAM: Does it make you made that you can't be the "Skip" in the League?
SKIP: No…What's disappointing is how they go out of their way to no accept that style of play. They don't want to accept the fact that people don't want to see an ordinary game all of the time. I mean, the game is a fun game, but once it gets slowed down I can get methodical out there.
SLAM: But does it ever make you feel you have to hold back your talent?
SKIP: At times, definitely. Everyone wants to see [creativity]. I want to see it - before I can't do in anymore.
SLAM: Are there any players in the League that pop ship at you, that you wish you get them out on the playground?SKIP: No one in particular, but there are a lot of players where I'm like… because on the playground there's no favoritism, you're not getting them All-Star calls, none of that's going on. On the playgrounds, there are no 11-year vets that get calls that rookies can't get, you know what I mean?
SLAM: I think you sold out [laughing]. Seriously, though, I saw it coming way back. Before Fresno, before the tapes. I knew you when you were one of the first to have braids. You used to play with toothpicks in your mouth. You personified basketball's connection to the hood, to the parks.
SKIP: [Laughing] Man, everybody goes through changes. And I'm a big fan of change. Back then it was fun. I don't regret playing with my braids, you know, talking to the crowd during a break in the action, blowing bubbles while I'm taking someone to the hole, talking trash to people in the stands. That was fun. It mad me want to play every possession, made me want the ball, For me, those things just electrified the game.
SLAM: Did you have NBA dreams them? Or were you like, "I'm loving this hero worship I'm getting right here," on the block, in NYC?SKIP: Naw, I always wanted to play in the League. I always wanted to pay at a major university, take each level and move on. It just so happened that every summer I was able o go out there and hold my own. I became like the King of the Playgrounds. Everyone would go after me every summer. They found out how hard it was to defeat me out there, too.
SLAM: Did it make a difference to you who came after you? I mean, you had grown men, pros coming after you, trying to take your crown, trying to dethrone you. Rod Stricklnad, Anthony Mason, Mario Elie, Mark Jackson, every player from New York. Did you save your beast game for the higher competition?
SKIP: Not at all. Not at all. I did my thing every night. Like I said, the playground game was more of a crowd thing. I would always block out who I was playing against. I mean, I knew when I was playing against another guy that was outstanding, but I'm going to mentally block out who he is so that I can go out there and electrify the crowd. In the playground game, the players are more intimated by the crowd's perception of what's going on out there.
SLAM: And that's the second part to the question: Does it bother you now when you face cats that you used to dog out on the playgrounds, players that you know were straight scared of you out there, and they're not scared of you in the NBA game?SKIP: That's crazy, right? I just take it in stride. Because on the playground they know what I'm about to do the them is going to make everybody go crazy. But in a game or practice, they know I'm not going out there trying to bounce the ball off of their head. They know I gotta work hard to get around them, to get to the bucket on them to make the right play.
SLAM: Does that level the playing field for them?
SKIP: Yeah, because they know out there that I'm about to do some stuff on them. But they forget that I've always excelled at both levels. So hopefully the people that guard me are thinking about my playground game and I can sneak up on them with my real game.
SLAM: Here's my point: I've heard people call you the Julius Erving of this generation simply because Doc really invented another way to play. No disrespect to Elgin Baylor or Connie Hawkins, but Julius came up with a lot of his stuff on his own - he didn't have anyone to emulate. Jordan had to emulate. Magic had to emulate. Clyde Drexler, Dominique, even Kobe, Tracy and Vince had someone. You, like Erving, didn't really have anyone. The things you developed, you did with no one handing you a blueprint. Now, everyone from AO, Shane, Sik, Headache to Al, Stevie, Steph, they all in part come from you. That's why I ask - is it accurate to call you a prodigy?
SKIP: If you break it down like that, it pretty much is. Which is a good thing. The fact that I was able to change people's mindsets of how they want to play the game, how they want to have fun playing the game. That's the main thing about the way I played with so much flair, you know, with the fancy passes, the showboat type of style. It's all fun, people enjoy that. It puts a smile on a lot of people's faces.
SLAM: Speaking of the young cats, anyone got your crown? I mean, you are royalty on the concrete now. Retired at 26. Do you still have to hold it down every time you step on the court in the summer?
SKIP: I don't have to hold it down anymore because I did it for almost a decade. I started at such a young age, being able to destroy people older than me. My thing now is I wish I could keep on doing it, but sometimes you have to let things go and let the next person come up and set the mark for the next generation. Plus, that contradicts what I'm trying to accomplish in the NBA. Do I want to keep playing on the playground and have fun? Of course, I do. But I have to give up somethin'. It's like a relationship, like a give-and-take situation. I have to give up a little bit of my playground fame and game to solidify myself in the NBA, I'm going to have to do that if that's what I want. But I really, truly enjoy playing on the playgrounds. I got my heart and my confidence from playing out there. I would love to keep going out there to play. And that's the funny thing, that even if I do flop, I'll always have the upper hand because they'll always recognize. They'll say, "Skip, yo, he is one of the top dawgs out there. He'll always be a top dawg out here when he comes out."
SLAM: Is Rafer Alston one of the greatest playground players ever?
SKIP: You've known me for a while and you know I'm humble. I wasn't around for some of those guys, but I've heard the stories of Earl Manigault and Joe Hammond constantly, about how great they were out there. But I'd have to say yes, I'd have to be considered. Because in my generation, in my era, like them, I was the king.
Originally Posted by Mateen Cleaves
If it wasnt for Alston, i dont think the magic would be this far in the playoffs.