Basketball enthusiasts from all over the world who grew up between the end of the 90s and the beginning of the 2000s were inevitably touched by the phenomenon of “And 1” mixtapes, these hyper spectacular basketball condensations from organized “streetball” matches. all over the United States.
The “hype” had even prompted the brand to organize tournaments across the country to recruit the best streetballers. Among the most memorable “characters” like “The Professor” or the imposing “Escalade”, Rafer Alston, alias “Skip to my Lou” had a very special place, inspiring in particular a certain Jamal Crawford, future king of “Shake & Bake”. By his pure talent on the one hand, then because he was a pioneer in the matter, becoming the first “streetballer” referenced to join the NBA.
“Through all stages of my career, the NBA has always been the ultimate goal, from the moment I discovered basketball. When I was alone on the playgrounds, I imagined myself being Doctor J, Isiah Thomas, Larry Bird or Magic Johnson ”, he recalled in a long interview for VladTV. “I wore number 11 all my life because I wanted to be like Isiah Thomas. The NBA has always been my thing, and I have always known how to play basketball in the best possible way. Streetball is just what we used to do in New York, because all the tournaments in the city were held on the outdoor playgrounds. It was only when I went to other cities, and other states, that I saw that most of the tournaments were held indoors, even in the summer ”.
Drafted in the second round in 1998
Despite his unacademic style, closer to that which made the success of the Harlem Globetrotters than to professional basketball standards, the playmaker was able to show Fresno City College and then Fresno State that he had the fundamentals necessary to evolve in the biggest league in the world.
“In 1998, we weren’t coming out of a stellar year as a team with Fresno, but I was shooting over 10 points and around 7 assists, so from a college point of view it was more correct. I was among those leaders whose talent should be recognized by the NBA scouts. I went to the Chicago Draft Combine, as we still do today, and was picked by the Bucks in 39th place. It was a dream come true ”, he added.
Rafer Alston went back to that famous evening of June 24, 1998, when his life changed when the Bucks selected him in 39th position in the Draft.
“I was in Los Angeles, in a bar in Marina Del Rey, I wanted to be alone. I ordered a cheeseburger and a coke, and I sit in front of the TV. I signed up for the Draft from my junior season. The first round passes, and I then say to myself: ‘Oops, maybe I made the biggest mistake’ and I start to think of a plan B, between the CBA, because there was no of G-League at the time, or abroad. The commercial arrives shortly after the start of the second round and when the air resumes, they come back saying, ‘Meanwhile, the Bucks have chosen Rafer Alston’. And I just screamed with joy ”, he continued. “You see how people react to Marina Del Rey, and people around me start to wonder what’s going on, to think I’m drunk. The person next to me was starting to get annoyed, so I paid for my order and paid for his for bothering him by yelling in his ear. I got back to the hotel, called a friend, and the Bucks called me next, and that’s how my Draft day went. I was not with my family, much less in the Green Room or in the room while it’s happening in New York and I’m from NYC. I should have been there, even if I was not sure to be in the first round ”.
“You and your basketball career are going to end up like them. Those who could have, those who should have … “
Even though he was still far from assured of seeing the NBA, Rafer Alston was already relieved to have accomplished this first step, suddenly setting himself apart from other New York streetball legends.
“All my youth, I was told about the Pee Wee Kirkland, Joe Hammond, Earl Manigault… I learned from them, not only by playing in Rucker Park, but because I took the same path as them. I wasn’t as involved in streetball as a Pee Wee, far from it. But since I hadn’t been up to it in high school, the New York basketball community warned me: ‘You and your basketball career, you’re going to end up like them. Those who could have, those who should have … ‘Even if in New York, we continue to glorify their career. When I was in Rucker Park, I always saw Joe Hammond, we said hello, because the legends of the playgrounds respected each other. I had grown up in an environment that helped me understand what they had been through, ”said the kid from“ Jamaica Queens ”, recalling that Pee Wee Kirkland, also a drug lord, had refused a contract offer. in the NBA, by the simple fact that he earned in one day what the NBA could offer him in a month.
The Draft was therefore a particularly intense moment for him, even his selection in the second round did not guarantee him anything concrete, perhaps even more than today.
“When we call your name, you see all the flashes that have brought you there, all the stages, the ups and downs, even if you are still young and even if I knew that I still had a lot of work to do. do at this time. At the time, the second round did not guarantee you anything financially, the salary had to be 200-230,000 dollars. At that point, you still have to join the team. Despite all this joy, I had to go down quickly and tell myself, we will have to go there and show what you can do ”.
Leader in the NBA final against the Lakers of Kobe Bryant
Rotational player during his early years in Milwaukee, Rafer Alston gave his full potential from the 2003/04 season in Miami then the following season in Toronto where he became the holder. After just over three good years in Houston, he is sent to Orlando, the Magic being in urgent need of reclaiming a 1 position as Jameer Nelson has just suffered a serious shoulder injury.
The one we then nicknamed “Skip to my Lou” acclimated perfectly to the squad then led by the Turkoglu-Lewis-Howard trio, which he participated in taking until the NBA Finals, in 2009! The Magic then found themselves facing the Lakers of a Kobe Bryant then at the top of his game and motivated as never before to add a new line to his record, a year after failing at the same stage against the Celtics.
“As with the Draft, it’s a dream come true. When I was younger on the playgrounds, I saw myself scoring the basket of victory in the NBA Finals with the buzzer and being carried in triumph as Isiah Thomas had been in 1989 and 1990. So I said to myself “Wow, finally j ‘am there’. And I am a holder! We find ourselves having to face one of the greatest players in history with Kobe Bryant. He was just phenomenal. No matter what defense we decided to put in place on him, whether it was one, two or three guys, his will to win, to win a title and to do it under all possible circumstances took over. They were also very tall, with Kobe, Lamar Odom, Trevor Ariza, and Pau Gasol. People underestimated how tall they were. It was one of the best moments, playing an NBA Finals. The whole world is watching you. They kicked our ass but we should have won the match where Courtney Lee misses the lay-up on the buzzer. If we had won a game in LA, it would have changed the dynamic of the series ”.
Jameer Nelson’s luxury replacement
Particularly valuable during the various series of playoffs, Rafer Alston was particularly distinguished by slamming 20 points in Game 3, the only one won by the Floridians in the series.
“Before Game 3, Coach Van Gundy calls me into his office early in the morning, asks me how I’m doing and asks me to play my game… And I finish at 20 points. Everyone is going crazy in Orlando and my phone just keeps ringing. It’s the only game we’ve won ”.
During the final, Stan Van Gundy had notably had to manage the reintroduction of Jameer Nelson, back from injury, into his roster. Rafer Alston’s playing time had then logically decreased, even if he had remained in the major five, no doubt to take some pressure off Jameer Nelson, among the major players of the team.
“The coach simply cut my minutes. Like every time people talk to me about the finals, I just answer: ‘Put yourself in the shoes of the coach and ask yourself what you would have done when your titular point guard is back in good health. What would you have done? ‘. The coach handled it in the best way, and even we as Jameer’s teammates wanted to see him come back. The opportunity to play an NBA Finals doesn’t come every day. We weren’t Bob Cousy’s Celtics, you may never go back, and we never came back, whether it was me or Jameer. We wanted to see him play. This is also what made the beauty of this team, this coach and this franchise. We wanted everyone to participate and try to get that ring. If that represented today we would have acted the same way. And if I had been a coach, I would have even put him back in the five major, so that he found rhythm ”.