Hustle and Flow

With the Final Four brackets set, March Madness is hitting a crescendo of excitement. The San Antonio Spurs have used this month to create a little hoops frenzy of their own, streaking to an impressive 13 straight victories before dropping two in a row. On March 23, the Spurs engaged in a rematch of the 2005 NBA Finals with former champs the Detroit Pistons, whose latest major acquisition is credited with introducing hip-hop swagger to the college game.

Despite consecutive runs to the Final Four in the early 1990s, Chris Webber’s Michigan Wolverines never cut down the nets after the big game. In ’92, they were defeated by Coach Mike Krzyzewski’s bland-but-focused Duke Blue Devils, and the following year they succumbed to Dean Smith’s North Carolina Tar Heels, thanks, in no small part, to Webber. The now infamous timeout play cost Webber his best chance at a championship but not before he and the rest of Michigan’s Fab Five had cemented their college hoops legacy. Webber, Jalen Rose, Juwan Howard, Jimmy King, and Ray Jackson were devastating when they were winning, and somehow still looked good even when they weren’t.

“The difference between the Fab Five and everybody else, so let me put any theories to rest, is that we changed the game,” Rose recently said about his days at Michigan. “Big shorts, black shoes, black socks, and we started five freshmen.”

The Fab Five arrived at a unique cultural moment, when hip-hop and hoops were consummating a marriage that continues to flourish. By ’91, Michael Jordan, the archetype of hip-hop style on the hardwood with his bald head and baggy shorts, was busy winning NBA championships, wearing suits off the court, and completing his crossover into mainstream America. Allen Iverson, the embodiment of hip-hop in a basketball jersey (or Tupac with a jump shot), was still six years away from the NBA, where his anti-hero personality would quickly emerge. The young Wolverines, with their on-the-court confidence and style, bridged the gap between Jordan and Iverson in this regard and no one soaked up the spotlight more than Webber.

Standing at 6-10, Webber, a Detroit native, had an explosive inside presence and could shoot and pass exceptionally well for a big man. During his two years at Michigan he averaged more than 17 points and 10 rebounds a game, and bolted to the NBA soon after the timeout debacle. In his rookie year with the Golden State Warriors, a signature around-the-back fast break dunk over Charles Barkley was featured in a Nike campaign and signaled that the hip-hop generation of players had finally arrived.

After one year in Golden State, Webber went on to stops in Washington, Sacramento, Philadelphia, and most recently Detroit. His best years came when he led the Kings out of obscurity to the brink of the NBA Finals, before a debilitating knee injury sapped his athleticism. The Pistons are currently the best team in the East and represent Webber’s best shot at a ring since his days in Sacramento. His passing and post game have helped spark a Detroit team that seemed to be trapped in a lull, and earlier this month he put up 37 points in a scoring duel with former teammate Iverson, proving that there is still a bit of spring in his 34-year-old legs. Around this time of year though, he’s usually remembered for his brief run with the Fab Five and a famous mistake.


Tony! Tony! Tony!

Throughout his career, Chris Webber has shown an honest interest in hip-hop, particularly the work behind the boards. Most recently he produced a track called “Blunt Ashes” for Nas, which made the final cut on the Hip Hop Is Dead album. Following in Webber’s footsteps, Spurs point-guard Tony Parker continues his quest to balance basketball and a fledgling career in music as a French rapper.

A few weeks ago, Parker shot the video for his new single “Balance-toi” in various locations around San Antonio. The video is now available for viewing at Visually, it’s a big improvement on Parker’s clip for the song “Top of the Game,” which showcased, of all things, Brent Barry in a skully. Commercial rap clichés — including flashy rides, gyrating females, and glow-in-the-dark dance sequences — abound, but somehow it all works. Eva Longoria makes an obligatory appearance and the track itself features a nice display of various styles, including Parker doing his best “Whisper Song” imitation. The most memorable parts of the entire production are the banging intro and the debut of young b-boy Voodoo Child Jr., who steals the show.

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