I'm not sure those who hung out at Rucker Park in the late 1960s and early '70s imagined such a transformation. I'm not sure those who watched Earl "The Goat" Manigault play against Wilt Chamberlain on steamy weekend mornings ever envisioned a day when Mr. 720 was dunking off a lob from Main Event, competing to a background of blaring music and the screeching voice of an announcer's play-by-play call vibrating indoor arena seats.
I'm sure of this: Streetball might have been born on the playgrounds of New York decades ago, but it has for years now been part of a global following developed by a hip-hop generation of basketball fans with their own language and artistic standards and fashion statements.
It's not real basketball but doesn't have to be for its intended effect.
You can't promote the game intelligently now and not target that hip-hop faction, a large gathering of which was at the Orleans Arena on Wednesday night to cheer those dunking and trash-talking and posing in the Ball4Real Streetball Tour. To see Mr. 720 and Main Event and AO and Half Man Half Amazing and all their other nickname-celebrated teammates beat a side of local streetballers, 119-82.
(A major point of unhappiness: The Ball4Real team comprises talent from the more established AND 1 Mixtape Tour, but it appears as if two of our all-time favorite streetballers did not make the switch. And a streetball game without Hot Sauce and The Professor is like a list of the all-time best sitcoms without Seinfeld. Sacrilegious.)
The big story, though, is not which players didn't join the new tour. The real story is the brains behind it.
Lisa Fusco gets the irony. She understands the weirdness. She is a 41-year old suburbanite from Glen Mills, Pa., complete with husband and two children, who just happens to think more about the next high-flying, no-look passing, fundamentally lacking player she might discover than attending any Friday night social.
If you give her the choice of seeing another one-handed dunk or winning a lifetime subscription to Better Homes & Gardens, it's no contest.
Keep the magazine.
"I'm not the typical soccer mom from my neighborhood," Fusco said.
One of the more influential faces of streetball today is not who you might imagine. But it was Fusco, the woman with a masters degree in sports management and former AND 1 general manager for its Mix Tape Tour division, who approached several of the more well-known streetball players about joining her newly formed company and being included as owners of Streetball Entertainment.
"Lisa has our back and we have hers," said the one they call Main Event, known to family and friends as Waliyy Dixon. "We all shared her vision of what this could be by having a part of the ownership rights and having a big say in how streetball is portrayed to the public. Most of us didn't even get serious about this until we were 24 or 25, until we had taken other forms of basketball as far as we could."
I assume he means the forms that actually promote fundamentals. One of the best things about a streetball tour is that no one tries to sell the actual game as something it isn't. It's not for the purist. It's loose and fun and entertaining. It's not scripted like a Harlem Globetrotters game but also not anything so complex it would stretch the ability of an elementary school coach.
It might be an extreme sport in hightops, but all you need to know about its influence is how many millions of streetball DVDs and video games are sold annually.
Streetball has become big business with prominent sponsors such as Mountain Dew, and each tour stop (Las Vegas was the second of 30 for Ball4Real) includes a block party and car show and opportunity for one local player to possibly join the team and compete for a $100,000 contract.
It still has enough of a niche feeling in that you might have only a few thousand show up to watch a game such as Wednesday's, but there is an audience for it. There is that youth culture that relates to streetball far more than any other form of basketball, a culture that matters more than most realize.
"Each community we go into, you will see our bus pull up to schools and recreation centers and Boys & Girls Clubs and anywhere else where our players can offer a positive messages to kids," Fusco said. "We're about giving people second chances. I have no doubt we're just going to continue growing."
Maybe, but let's be honest: How far can you really go without Hot Sauce and The Professor?
Ed Graney's column is published Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday. He can be reached at 383-4618 or firstname.lastname@example.org.