Teams, Leagues etc
And1 LogoThe Mix Tape series and the tour it spawned are the result of a collection of random events that, taken separately, wouldn’t have amounted to much-and almost didn’t. But accidents happen, and those that produce positive results are given the gloss of serendipity. Thank God for it.

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The origin of the And1 Mix Tape collection came in the guise of a lowly videotape given to And1 in late 1998 by Ron Naclerio, the coach of New York’s Cardoza High School team who spent his summers coaching AAU kids, including Rafer Alston, whom And1 would soon sign the first basketball shoe endorser to get a deal without a contract from the NBA. The tape was home-video quality–jerky camera moves, poor resolution and nearly indecipherable audio-showing young Alston on the playgrounds and hardwood in and around New York doing, among a host of insane moves, his own signature move from which he earned his nickname “Skip to My Lou”.

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At the time Naclerio gave And1 the footage of Rafer, the founders and early group of employees at And1 were busy plotting the strategy the company would take to sign NBA endorsers for its burgeoning footwear division, and young Rafer was on the cusp of a checkered college career that would turn out to be almost useless in giving him a leg up to the League. To say that the futures of both the company and the scrappy playground legend merged at this point would be untrue, too good a story to be believed, but the fortunes of both certainly collided. The legend goes that the people at And1 first used the Skip tape, as it became known around the company’s corporate office just outside Philly, merely to amuse themselves and people who came to visit the office. With just one or two tv’s in the company’s small office, it was easy to gather everyone to watch the tape over and over and over again, accompanied by groans and screams and “no he didn’ts” every time Skip embarrassed a defender. While the marketing people at And1 intuitively knew the tape had some value beyond personal amusement, they didn’t quite know what to do with it. It wasn’t until the company shot a series of commercials and print ads at nearby Haverford College in the summer of 1999 that they fully realized the potential of the footage they owned.

And1 gathered its current roster of NBA endorsers at the college to shoot the “Moves” campaign. Over a period of three days, NBA athletes Darryl Armstrong, Rex Chapman and the just-drafted Larry Hughes, Raef LaFrentz, Toby Bailey and Miles Simon came to Philadelphia and labored in a hot gym while the company’s advertising agency, Crispin Porter + Bogusky captured their signature moves on film. And1 had attempted to make the shoot as comfortable as possible for the players, and created a “green room” in the bowels of the gym where the players could chill out and wait during set-ups. The room was stocked with every snack and beverage imaginable, and was outfitted with a few leather recliners, a Playstation, a big screen TV and a VCR. Interns scrambled the day before the shoot to track down the video games and the movies it was thought the players would like during their down time. Turns out, that was a waste of time and money.

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The players, to a man, watched the Skip tape over and over and over again in those three days of the shoot. Shunning the more traditional entertainment, each player grabbed a recliner and started the tape again whenever they weren’t needed on the set. And on the set, the players started imitating Skip’s video moves and trying to perfect a new skill set. When the legend himself arrived on the commercial set on the last day of the shoot, Skip was essentially anointed king of the court, and the And1 onlookers crystallized their thinking about the tape.

With a lot of “what if we…” and “we could…”, And1 ultimately adopted the successful model of early skate tapes and decided to edit the Skip tape, add some music and give the first Mix Tape away to basketball players all over the country over the summer of 1999. The company printed a limited run of tapes, 50,000, and sent them to camps, clinics, record labels, influencers and hoop heads over a period of about eight weeks. The response was swift and unanimous: give us more! The tape made Skip an overnight sensation with a wider audience and created a scramble among ballers to get their hands on their own copy.

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It was then that And1 took the Mixtape property to FootAction. Looking for a wider distribution network and a way to tie the tape to the new footwear, And1 partnered with Footaction to do a gift-with-purchase program late that summer. The beauty of the program was that every kid who bought something-anything-in Footaction got a Mixtape from And1. So a kid who bought a pair of Jordans or Iversons would walk away with a free And1 Mix Tape in his bag as well. 200,000 Mixtapes flowed through Footaction stores in less than 3 weeks, the most successful promotion ever for the national retailer.

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And then, the truth became painfully clear. And1 had used the best footage they had to make this first tape and realized pretty quickly that in order to create a franchise out of this Mixtape concept, they would need a lot of footage pretty quickly. The best way to get that footage, or at least the kind of footage they needed to make more tapes-full of crazy moves but featuring competitive play-was to find the best games to film or throw a game on their own. And1 decided to do both.

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Together with its advertising agency, And1 sent shooters out across the country like a virus to document summertime ball and find the best moves (and subsequently the best ballers) they could capture on film. In August 1999, And1 grabbed local legend Main Event and threw a game in his hometown of Lynden, NJ with the areas best streetballers all coming in to play (Waliyy Dixon). In that game, Main Event leapt over a motorcycle to dunk the ball, one of the earliest such moves captured for posterity by AND 1′s film crew. And1 immediately reached out to Main Event to get him on board-doing what, at that point, wasn’t clear.

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What was clear however was that And1′s had made it’s decision: keep the cameras rolling wherever there’s great ball that needs to be seen, and start building relationships directly with the heart of what was happening on the streets, the players themselves.

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The Mix Tapes were about opportunity. The opportunity to bring a style of ball to people who would have no other way of seeing it, and the opportunity to get great ball players the exposure that they would have no other way of getting but richly deserved.

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That same summer, And1 announced plans for its own “Platinum Player” game, to be held at the end of October at Hunter College in New York. With just a couple months to plan and execute the event, the marketing team turned to Skip and Main Event to help pull together a squad in New York for the game. At the same time, And1 reached out to record labels for entertainment at the game and started thinking of ways to tell people about the game. It’s one thing to gather footage of great ball, they realized, but it’s quite another to advertise the game, sell tickets, find a rapper for post-game entertainment and fill an arena. Thus was born the And1 Mix Tape Tour, really. The group of people at And1 who threw the Hunter College game became the same group who put together the first summer-long tour in 2000 and the second, larger tour in 2001.

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October 31, 1999 was a cold and gray fall day in Midtown Manhattan and a stiff breeze was blowing by the time the And1 crew rolled into town, piled in their own cars or via the train from Philly, to get ready for the game. That early winter chill didn’t stop the crowd (sigh of relief that there was one) from lining up hours before the game, a line that eventually stretched down three sides of the Hunter College building that housed the gym, declaring for one and all the success of the game before it even began. Inside, the gym was packed to the rafters, the game went off without a hitch and Mos Def wowed the crowd at the end of the game with an inspired performance.

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It seemed that this little basketball company could throw a game after all.

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Earlier that same month And1 had released the second Mix Tape, again with Footaction as its retail partner, with footage focusing mostly on what were to be And1′s team of streetballers, including Main Event, Headache, Future, Air Craft, Half Man, and Shane. Again, the tapes flew out of the stores, leaving both And1 and Footaction wondering what was next. Meanwhile, kids from all over the world were calling, emailing, sending letters-doing anything they could to beg a Mix Tape out of And1. The supply at Footaction went so quickly that enterprising young ballers starting selling the tapes on EBay, and Dr. Jay’s in New York was making $25 off each tape they sold under the counter. By the following June, in 2000, the anticipation for the next tape, Mix Tape 2: The Remix, was so strong that every Footaction in the country was in line to distribute it and reap the benefits of the gift-with-purchase program And1 created to introduce its first off court shoe, the Tochillin.

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Even with the first couple of tapes and a sold-out game behind them, And1 still thought of throwing additional games as essentially a way to gather content for tapes tapes (and discover new players!!), and not necessarily as a potential marketing tool or effective revenue generator for the brand. The tapes, they thought, were the real marketing opportunity, and giving them away reinforced the brand’s commitment to its grassroots ideals. With a huge hunger for content and plans for future Mix Tapes (and a curiosity to see if this Streetball style of game was being played elsewhere in the country and by whom), And1 started planning what would become the first Mix Tape Tour.

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Using rented Expeditions and free interns, a crew of five full-time staffers from And1 traveling with the players hit the road in August and put on the first tour, ghetto fabulous-style. In Chicago, Atlanta and Los Angeles, this rag tag bunch (the players were out there promoting as well!!) stapled posters to telephone poles, did radio station call-ins, stopped by local retail stores and dropped off flyers at every barber shop, nail salon, record store and ‘hood corner they could reach. They hit off hot girls in the mall and dj’s at the local stations. To near capacity crowds they hosted demonstrations at local charities and youth facilities with the players, held open runs and threw a game in each city with the And1 Mix Tape Tour players and the best of the local talent culled from the open runs (including current Mix Tape Tour players Hot Sauce and 50, found in ATL). In so doing, players like Headache, Main Event, Shane the Dribblin’ Machine, Air Craft and Future were given a much bigger audience and were on their way to becoming legends far beyond their home courts in New York and New Jersey. In addition, And1 started meeting new players and bringing them along with the ride, offering them the opportunity to take advantage of this new spotlight that was developing.

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In February of 2001 And1 released Mix Tape Volume 3 featuring the footage gathered the previous year including new players that were picked up on that year’s Tour, AO from Philadelphia and Hot Sauce from Atlanta. There simply weren’t enough tapes to satisfy the demands of ballers worldwide, and that’s just the way it was supposed to be. Because by now it was clear that a tour was valuable in and of itself, as a way to reach into a community to showcase this unique, and up until now uniquely inner city, style of basketball and build names for the players And1 had found. After throwing a game in DC during All Star Weekend, And1 announced plans for its second summer tour, with a format slightly different from that of the previous year. The 2001 tour would feature full-length games in four cities but add stops in 18 other cities so the players could host demonstrations and open runs (and And1 could gather more footage!).

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In June of 2001, the Mix Tape Tour kicked off its second season. Gone were the Expeditions (although the interns were still around), replaced by a big ass tour bus with all the amenities a traveling team of playground legends could hope for, and some we shouldn’t mention in print. The bus itself was wrapped with artwork similar to that found on the Mix Tape boxes and nearly impossible to miss as it rumbled through some of the hardest neighborhoods in America that summer, 21 cities in all. Camera crews hired by And1 followed the players the entire summer, catching compelling game footage but also the private, behind-the-scenes footage that helped And1 expand the content of future tapes and continued to turn players previously known to those lucky few hundred who got into Rucker Park into minor celebrities in their own right—and major celebrities among basketball players and fans. At the end of the 2001 tour, it was clear to And1, and its competition, that the burgeoning ball company had the real deal going.

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Things got a lot hotter after that second tour. Nike and Reebok both tried to go playground in their advertising and even approached some of the And1 players to be in the spots. But despite the many pretenders to the throne, And1 was holding it down on the playgrounds and got much love for it from ballers, fans and retailers alike. When And1 released a compilation DVD, its first DVD, “Four Volumes One Love”, its place as the authentic playground ball company was cemented, and the pressure to bring the tour to more people and places became even more extreme.

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In the spring of 2002, the planets aligned. Video game company Activision and And1 announced they were collaborating on a playground ball game that would feature the And1 street ballers, called Street Hoops which, after its release that summer, would become the third most popular basketball video game to hit the market that year. In June And1 announced that ESPN would be creating a show about the tour called “StreetBall: The And1 Mix Tape Tour presented by Mountain Dew Code Red” which, when it premiered in September for its 8-week run, was one of ESPN’s highest rated original program in the history of the network. And AND 1 began selling its tapes for the first time, in both VHS and DVD format, at retailers Circuit City, Blockbuster and Best Buy. Volume 5, the first to be available at retail, went on to become the #1 selling sports video in the country upon its release in July 2002. When Ball Access was released on video in November 2002 it also reached the number one selling sports video in the country.

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The 2002 tour itself was a much more professional affair. Two tour buses now carried the players, camera crews and And1 staff through the 24 cities of the tour while ESPN cameras were at each of the five major games shooting the entire thing for the show. The crowds were standing room only no matter where the players went, and fans were asking for autographs, pieces of clothing, game shoes and sweaty headbands from any player on the And1 squad. It was controlled bedlam at open runs where ballers who thought they had game had to make it through two hours of the local talent before getting a shot at the Mix Tape players, only to be soundly embarrassed for all the world to see (remember the white dude in Boston on the ESPN show?).

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That summer also marked a rite of passage for Skip, who joined the tour at the conclusion of his season with the Bucks and celebrated the launch of a first shoe, named for a playground legend, the Skip Mid was released not during the NBA season but in the summertime to celebrate Skip’s legendary role in bringing playground basketball to the masses.

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When “StreetBall: The And1 Mix Tape Tour” aired on ESPN for the first time in September of 2002 shortly after the tour wrapped for the year, the ratings were through the roof. All eight episodes have since re-aired so many times that fans who’ve only seen the show and never been to a game feel like they know the players personally, and many more ballers are confounding their coaches with a new repertoire of moves never meant to see the light of day on a high school gym floor. So popular was the series that ESPN renewed it for a second season with a neat little twist. After each show, the And1 squad brought along up to five players (players must be 18 years or older) on Tour to . At the end of the tour Grayson Boucher, aka The Professor, walked away with an endorsement deal from And1 and a spot on the ’04 tour roster.

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As the company prepares for its fifth summer on the road, this time hitting 30 cities, it’s remarkable that the essence of that first summer still permeates the tour and everything around it. Corporate partners have recognized the impact of the And1 Mix Tape Tour and as a result help share what has become astronomical tour costs, but And1 has still kept the focus on playground ball and on the universe of hip hop, young kids and self-expression that has informed this style of the game. And1 still hosts free clinics in every city it stops in, still holds open runs for kids to showcase their own talent and still makes donations to worthy groups in each tour city. The ghetto fab style of rolling into town in Expeditions and rolling out the same way may be gone, but even with a tour bus and an entourage, the And1 Mix Tape Tour is still keeping it real.

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