About 18 years ago the energy drink that gives you wings hosted a 3on3 street ball tournament in Hyde Park. As much fun as it was to play in such was the standard of grassroots basketball in the UK at the time it wasn’t great to watch. It was all played at waist height by scores of enthusiastic ballers wearing Chicago Bulls jerseys and Air Jordan fives all trying in vain to recreate the moves they’d seen in White Men Can’t Jump. There were no refs, no females and, tellingly, no British basketball players in the NBA. There was, however, a laughable dunk contest with only a handful of entrants, not all of whom could dunk. The winner was the tallest bloke there who could do a standard one hand/one foot soft dunk most consistently and the only spectators were the players themselves.
Despite the lack of skills on show you could tell we were on the cusp of an explosion. The Dream Team’s dominance at the 1992 Olympics was fresh in the memory, there were a slew of basketball films and the legendary game NBA Jam taught a generation the meaning of the word ‘boomshakalaka’.
On Saturday the Nike World Basketball Festival showed us just how far UK basketball had come. Billed as a celebration, Hoops, Beats & Life the NWBF came to these shores for the first time bringing sport and entertainment to Brixton’s Windrush Square and 02 Academy. The enthusiasm of the ‘90s was still there but everything else had improved beyond recognition.
Sidelines filled with sweaty men were replaced with bleachers packed with fans of both sexes. Instead of players who couldn’t tell their ‘pick’ from their ‘role’ we were treated to highflying athletes who play above the rim
Where there used to be leaderless kids playing on instinct we now had top coach Herman Harried, Brixton’s Chicago Bulls All Star Luol Deng and NBA hall of famer Scottie Pippen putting on coaching clinics. Sidelines filled with sweaty men were replaced with bleachers packed with fans of both sexes. Instead of players who couldn’t tell their ‘pick’ from their ‘role’ we were treated to highflying athletes who play above the rim. Seriously, some of the moves pulled out in the 32-team 3on3 tournament wouldn’t look out of place on the computer game NBA 2k12. Killer crossovers, sweet dishes and ally oops were the order of the day, but for many the highlight was the dunk contest.
Five of the UK’s best dunkers put on a highflying showcase that would give The Royal Air Force Aerobatic Team vertigo. And for all those who claim basketball is a big man’s sport try telling Stephan Gill. The 5ft 7ins Mancunian flyer beat all comers to be crowned London’s WBF dunk champion with a series of gravity defying displays a man of 6ft 7ins would struggle to convert. The feats he produced were frankly ridiculous and anyone questioning whether ‘it’s the shoes’ had a chance to find out in the Nike+ technology trial centre. Here you could try out the new Hyperdunk+ featuring sensors that track every move you make on the court, measure your vertical jump, quickness & hustle and send all this info to your phone. They wouldn’t make you jump like Stephan but they’d let you know exactly how much worse you were.
With the Hoops taken care of the organisers pulled out all the stops in providing Beats and a bit of Life at the Brixton 02 Academy. Big Boi of OutKast, Dot Rotten, Angel, hip hop dance crews and dunkers all impressed on the stage that was converted into a half court. But they were all knocked into a cocked hat by the Miami Heat Street Band’s Michael Jackson medley. The jaw dropping spectacle of around 20 in suits and prison white sneakers playing Thriller on bugles, bass drums, trumpets and tubas while doing the zombie dance step for step kind of summed up the day. It was very entertaining, pretty inspiring and totally unheard of 18 years ago.
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