And 1 Tour takes hoops back to the streets

The first sentence of the And 1 Mixtape tour game rules reads: "this is not your typical basketball game."

And it isn't. The And 1 Mixtape Tour is streetball at its finest, basketball dripping with the hip-hop influence.

While the NBA has invoked a dress code, in what many believe is a direct attack on the hip hop culture, the And 1 tour has done the opposite.

One of its slogans, "The United Streets of America," speaks to the very core of urban America. This year, the steady flow of hip-hop and basket-rattling dunks goes down where the game started -- outside.

"We're taking the game back to the streets. It goes back to when you first started playing ball in the park," says tour member Phillip Champion, better known as Hot Sauce.

"Everyone would come out in their cars and bump music and share drinks. That's what we're all about."

Last weekend, the south parking lot of Soldier field served as the seventh stop on the league's ten-week, ten-city tour of the country. The tour is set up for the And 1 team to play hometown street-ballers from the various cities it visits.

Those players compete for a spot to play again on the tour's final stop in Los Angeles later this summer. One player from that group will be offered a contract to tour with the And 1 team.

The competition is fierce. All but two of the 11 traveling players are veterans of college or foreign pro leagues. Coach Mike Ellis compares it to an NBA All-Star game.

"Streetball is always right there," he says. "We've had so many NBA guys play, like Ricky Davis, Rafer Alston and Carmelo Anthony, that you know it's a high level."

With highlight reel videos and a show on ESPN, the And 1 tour gets plenty of publicity. But it's not competing with the NBA. It isn't a league, but a tour specializing in spectacular plays, which draws the inevitable comparison to the Harlem Globetrotters.

"I think that's a bad example," says player Grayson Boucher a.k.a. The Professor. "Everything they do is scripted. We're out here playing hard, playing defense. Everything we do is freestyle."

Therein lies the contradiction at the heart of the tour. Without the highlight reel acrobatics there is no And 1. The drawing card is the higher ratio of dunks per minute and dribbling displays not seen anywhere else. And yet, the players insist winning is the most important thing.

"I'd say it's seventy-thirty in terms of winning the game and putting on a show," said The Professor. "We're on our seventh city and we're looking to go undefeated."

But for And 1 fans, the final score doesn't seem to be that important.

"I'm here for the dunks," said Bill Earl, who was at Soldier Field to see Chicago's team beat the And 1 team.

Even in the rulebook the stress is on a free-flowing game, with an emphasis on letting players play. There are no free throws and referees have whistles, but rarely use them. Announcer Duke Tango is nowhere near the press box, not there is one. He is running up and down the court all game, looking and sounding like Dick Vitale on speed.

During timeouts, Tango dons a wig and rides around the court on a pink Schwinn.

Despite all that, Coach Mike insists this basketball is no different than any other kind.

"I'm never going to say it's a different game," he said. "It's just played in a different place."