For the last couple months, I've run an after school basketball program at a middle school. Much as I'd like to say I Phil Jacksoned 'em into a championship caliber squad, that they've grown from piddly-poop to a run 'n gun offensive juggernaut with impenetrable defense, the truth is that the team — one athlete and a bushel of big-brained hobby players — is atrocious.
It's like somebody told them all that the epitome of a basketball possession is staring at the ball while you slap-dribble, peaking up to see which of the four guys shouting your name is closest to you, making an annoyed face at him, then bouncing the ball out of bounds off your own chin.
Only one kid on the team has ever even played organized basketball before (you're really fucking up, America's Dads). They're affable, energetic, endearing young teenagers, but they'll never be on anyone's scouting report.
We've played exactly one game this year; an unofficial matchup against the school's proper basketball team. It was a suicide mission. “We got this, coach,” spouted one of our players before tipoff. And for a moment, we did: We scored the game's first two points (holy shit, can this happen, can we beat them?). Then we all watched haplessly as the basketball boys responded with a 40-0 run over the next two quarters (nope).
In any case, prior to a recent practice we talked about what NBA players listen to before games to get pumped up. This turned into a conversation about what our guys will listen to when they make it to play in the Finals. Responses from our six best players:
Bio: Superwill is a football god. During a football game this past fall, he literally jumped over another human being en route to a 40 yard run. He is a gifted athlete. High schools fell over themselves trying to persuade him to come to their school. Sadly, it does not translate to the hardwood. He is absolutely devastating as the last man in a 2-2-1 full court press, but that's it. He's our best player.
His Pregame Hype-Up Song: DJ Khaled, “All I Do Is Win”
Why: “I like it. It's, like, my song. All I do is win. That's what I do. You know that, coach.”
Why It Works: One, because it's a perfectly appropriate basketball song. Two, I don't imagine life will be too hard for Superwill. Beyond being a living superhero, he's smart (enrolled in Pre-AP classes) and handsome. He's already won quite a bit, and will continue to do so, I imagine.
Why It Doesn't Work: Because a basketball court isn't a football field.
Player: Little Waka
Bio: Little Waka's dad is a basketball coach, so Little Waka thinks Little Waka is fantastic. But Little Waka isn't. He has a big heart, and that's a great characteristic for basketball, but he's short and round and slow, and those negate his ticker. He likes to drive into the lane and fall down. That's basically what he does the entire time he's on the floor. He wears an arm sleeve, so he's our second best player.
His Pregame Hype-Up Song: Drake, “The Motto”
Why: “'Cause I'm the man, coach.”
Why It Works: I went to a Drake concert last week. He saved this song for second last. When it came on, the place fucking exploded. It's an unforgivably bouncy, kinetic song. You can pretend like you don't like it, but your dislike will only ever be pretend.
Why It Doesn't Work: Little Waka is, in fact, not the man.
Player: All Day
Bio: Most think he earned his name because his jump shot, which, if taken from inside the three point line, is unassailable. Really, though, it came to be because everything he does takes allfuckingday. He moves in s…..l…..o…..w m…..o…..t…..i…..o…..n. No skinny kid has ever moved slower than All Day. He has scored exactly zero fast break points this season. He might as well not even have legs.
His Pregame Hype-Up Song: Bachata Heights, “Me Puedo Matar”
Why: “I like their music. They're good. It makes me feel like, [eyes squints, head nods] yeah.”
Why It Works: Because “me puedo matar” translates to “I'm a basketball machine*.”
*That's not true. It's actually closer to “I can kill,” though that's no less an effective attitude for a knockdown shooter to carry.
Why It Doesn't Work: All Day is just about the sweetest player on our team. I'm not certain he's committed a foul this season, let alone murdered anyone. If they had a song called “Me Gusta Las Mariposas” (I like butterflies) or “El Sol Me Hace Feliz” (sunshine makes me happy), it'd be way more appropriate.
Player: Chuy (pronounced Chewy)
Bio: Chuy looks like he'd be a brilliant basketball player, which is a coded way to say that he's a tall, thin, mixed race kid. His potential is undeniable. Unfortunately, prior to this year, he'd never once considered the idea of putting a ball in a hoop. He leads our team in steals (his hands are remarkably fast, and his arms are as long as Mr. Fantastic's), but he also leads our team in running right the fuck out of bounds with the ball. It's uncanny. He'll steal the ball, jet forward on a fast break, then either (a) hold onto the ball all the way past the goal, or (b) throw it as hard as he can at the backboard. I asked him why it always happened like that. His response: “I just get excited, coach.”
His Pregame Hype-Up Song: South Park Mexican's, “You Know My Name”
Why: “It's 'Free SPM' til I D-I-E.”
Why It Works: SPM is a rapper from Houston. Few have ever garnered the loyalty among impoverished Latino kids that he has. He's Mexican rap's Jesus, really; a cult personality figure that, according to his most fervent zealots, became a martyr and will forever remain the pinnacle personality of the Mexican rap genre. People LOVE him.
Why It Doesn't Work: Probably that whole pedophile thing. In 2002, SPM was convicted of aggravated sexual assault. He was sentenced to 45 years. Chuy, like many young rap fans, has heard the “Free SPM” refrain shouted here and there. Conversely, Chuy, like many young rap fans, never bothered to find out why he was locked up. Still, he had just about the best response when I asked him about supporting a guy that had been convicted of child molestation. The conversation:
Me: Do you know why he was locked up?
Him: No, not really.
Me: Because he thought it was okay to sleep with middle school girls.
Him: …So do I.
Bio: Baldo is another new-to-the-game player. What's interesting about Baldo is that he is a monster brainiac. His IQ is probably around 190. I think I saw him move a jug of water with his mind once. He works through the game like a math problem, calculating proper angles and risk percentages on defense. He once accused our point guard of playing the game in an “anti-meritocratic” fashion. Nobody knew what he meant. The point guard responded, “What? Stop being gay.” Everyone laughed.
His Pregame Hype-Up Song: Los Tigres Del Norte, “Camelia La Texana”
Why: “It gets me excited. They've been one of my favorite groups for a long time.”
Why It Works: Have you ever been in a room full of Latinos when this comes on? They go FUCKING YO-YO. For some Mexican kids, LTDN is basically ONYX x 1000. Baldo is one of those kids. Theirs is no doubt in my brain that if Baldo listened to this before an actual NBA basketball game he'd grab 45 rebounds.
Why It Doesn't Work: Norteno music has as much to do with basketball as basketball has to do with flautas. Were we getting ready for a quinceneara, then yes, Los Tigres Del Norte is that shit. Basketball though?
Bio: Hair is the aforementioned point guard. He's about two feet tall but wears a size 10 shoe. The second week of practice, I was trying to show him the proper way to shoot a layup. I said, “Plant your left leg, gather the ball with both hands strongly, bring your right knee up, explode towards the rim, then lay the ball into the goal.” There were a thousand questions. “I can touch the ball with BOTH hands? What happens if there's someone else there? Are we going to be here much longer? I'm hungry.” It was like I was trying to teach my dog how to make a pizza. The highlight of his season came when he hit a running, one-legged three pointer. Now he thinks he's LeBron James.
His Pregame Hype-Up Song: Bone Thugs-n-Harmony, “1st of da Month”
Why: “I love that song. It's smooth. Like me. [laughs]”
Why It Works: Bone has somehow earned a staunch following among the teenagers in the neighborhood near the school. It's almost like they think it's new. It remains one of the few things we can talk about on the same level. They genuinely appreciate it.
Why It Doesn't Work: Hair thinks his job is to get the ball, dribble towards the right corner of the court, get trapped, pick up his dribble, then travel as he spins in a circle trying to find someone to save his life. Not that smooth.