Retired NBA star Kevin Garnett came to Oakland last Friday. That's right: KG, the Kid, the Big Ticket. The former first-round draft pick straight out of high school, who went on to do just about everything in his basketball career—except get inducted to the Hall of Fame, which people are expecting to happen next year.
And as he walked through West Oakland’s DeFremery Park, a.k.a. Little Bobby Hutton Park, I wondered if the young folks in attendance, most of them from grade schools in Oakland, even knew who he was.
Garnett was joined by a number of notable rap artists—E-40, Jadakiss, ALLBLACK and SOBxRBE—for the unveiling of a freshly painted set of hoop courts. The event was sponsored by Kevin Garnett’s TV show Area 21, which is under the TNT network’s umbrella, in collaboration with the And1 brand—you remember them?
In the late '90s and early '00s, And1 was a street basketball brand that hosted games at urban courts all across America; they also produced video mixtapes of the games, and had a line of athletic sportswear. Intertwined with hip-hop culture, the brand had a crazy amount of influence on the way the game was played when I was a kid. They had young ballers across the nation double dribbling, trying to imitate moves like the “Slip-n-Slide.”
It was a horrid time for fundamental basketball, and a glorious time for highlight reels.
Evidently, there are forces trying to revive that era, as And1 is making a comeback. And with that comeback, they may be bridging the gap between two generations of ballers and hip-hop artists. I mean, there weren’t any young hoopers of note from the Bay Area on stage with Garnett & Co., but the young artists exchanging convos with the elder statesmen was a good sign.
I’m sure older hip-hop heads would appreciate that the “elements of hip-hop” were also present. Young people danced as the DJ played hit songs, the emcee did a slight call-and-response as the sponsors passed out basketballs and shirts. And the element of graffiti—in the form of a mural, at least—was front and center.
The Illuminaries, a Bay Area-based collective of artists composed of Tim Hon, Steve Ha, and Romali Licudan (who was out of town for this project), worked with Steven Anderson and Eric Nodora to lay down a few layers of paint on the hoop courts; and, as usual, incorporated local flavor into their art.
There’s a Hieroglyphics emblem in one corner of the court. MC Hammer’s signature is in another spot. Not too far from Hammer is the name of Darryl “Lil D” Reed, the former drug kingpin-turned-author, who was pardoned under the Obama Administration after serving 26 years.
“This is history right here," E-40 told Steve Ha, as he pointed to Reed. "You need to take a picture with him!”
Ha told me that Reed applauded the efforts of the artists, shaking their hands and telling them, “It’s all about doing something positive for the community.”
And the Illuminaries have been doing it for the community for years—putting paint where it ain’t, as some might say.
Ha told me that their first big piece was in 2012, when they did a mural featuring the 49ers, which was signed by Vernon Davis. The piece made it to the local news.
I first saw their work in 2015, when I took this picture of their portrait of Steph Curry, painted in the likeness of Mac Dre. The pic blew up, and since then I’ve seen the Illuminaries work all over town.
There’s another one of Steph alongside the 980 freeway, on the side of the Jamtown building. There's a big piece on the side of the Marriott in downtown Oakland, a promo piece for the city. And there’s the enormous mural of Stomper the elephant in downtown Oakland, on 19th and Webster, the biggest homage to the A’s being rooted in the Town.
The Illuminaries have found a niche, and painting sports and hip-hop culture seems to be working; not just for them, but for the community as well.
“There’s so much overlap between sports and art. And they both have the ability to put hate and prejudice aside, and allow people to come together,” Ha told me. “This might be our path.”
The Illuminaries’ finished work will be shown during the Warriors game on Tuesday night, as part of TNT’s broadcast for the start of the NBA season. And throughout the season, the group will continue to paint community courts in four more cities across America between now and the NBA finals.
As And1 makes its resurgence, I think it’s cool to note that the overlap between hip-hop and sports hasn’t gone anywhere since I was a kid—in fact, it's grown. Migos songs are played prior to MLB playoff games and YG is the (unofficial) spokesperson for the L.A. Rams.
And on top of that, all the classic elements of hip-hop—the emcee, the DJ, the dancer, and the graffiti writer—are all still present.
But I still wondered about the fifth element. You know: knowledge. Knowledge of the history of legends from years ago, their accomplishments and what they said when they reached the top of their game.
My question was answered when Garnett made his way from the stage for the ribbon-cutting ceremony at the newly painted basketball courts. He hurried through the crowd, but crossed the path of a young man who screamed, “Anything is possible!” at the top of lungs as the seven-footer walked past. The quote, of course, is Garnett's classic exclamation of joy after winning the 2008 NBA championship with the Boston Celtics.
I laughed as I took a photo of the moment. I guess they do know who KG is after all.