Allow me to introduce myself. I'm your typical thirtysomething white guy from the suburbs. OK, I'm a little more than that. I'm also a husband and a father, but for the most part I've pretty much just been a white guy from the suburbs.
That's all about to change.
It started innocently enough during a meeting with some people at Midway. We were discussing their latest game, "NBA Ballers," where you play one-on-one street ball against other NBA stars. Now, capturing the standard NBA experience in a video game is pretty clear: if it's Kings at Lakers you need to get the players, the Staples Center and the uniforms. But "NBA Ballers" is a little different, so I had a couple questions: How do you capture the street ball experience? Is it just the moves? The clothes? I mean, can anyone be a street baller?
The folks at Midway figured it would be best not to explain it to me, but to show me. I was told to meet them in New York City, dressed to play basketball. Now, I hadn't played serious hoops in several years, but I thought I would be ready for whatever they would throw at me.
Enter Luis DaSilva Jr., or, as he's more commonly known, Trikz, Street Ball Legend. If you don't think you know Trikz, believe me, you do. Remember the Nike commercial a couple years ago? The one where all the music was made from the sounds of dribbling and sneakers squeaking on the court? Yes, that one. Great commercial. Anyway, if you thought Grizzlies guard Jason Williams was performing all sorts of sick tricks you need to take a closer look. It wasn't White Chocolate ... it was Trikz. But this intro for Trikz doesn't really do him any justice. To get a taste of what I'm in for, let's let Trikz introduce himself:
"Yo ESPN! They call me Trikz because I'm a whore on the court. I give it to so many people. 'Elvis' because I keep my blocks rockin' and rollin' while cops is patrollin'. 'Snax,' 'cause I take all ya goodies. 'Full-Time,' cause I never check out. And they call me 'Halle Berry' cause my handle is so beautiful."
Now that we've been introduced Trikz has a question for me. "Are you ready?" Trikz asks. "'Cause I'm gonna make you one hardcore gangsta street baller. Are you ready, fam?"
Even I have to admit, my "before" look was pretty sad. You don't have to be P-Diddy to know that a Chatham, Cape Cod sweatshirt and my lawn mowing/basketball playing Nikes are the opposite of street. I guess acceptance is the first step so ... yes, I'm ready.
Trikz assures me I'm in good hands as we head off to the first stop of my extensive makeover -- Niketown.
But before we go, Trikz gives me my first lesson. Not only do you have to have game on the court, and the right clothes, but you need a ride, too. So we head out on our trip in style -- a Yukon Denali, fully equipped with PS2 and killer sound system. Trikz personally drives a Porsche Boxster with doors that flip up like a Lamborghini, but today we opt for the SUV with a driver.
As we fight through New York City traffic, Trikz explains why we need to first go to Niketown. "You gotta make sure your gear is hot. Your ballin' gear. You can't come on the court thinking your game is hot and your gear is all wack."
Trikz is so excited today I didn't want to comment on whether or not I think my "game is hot."
As we walk into Niketown we're greeted with a large display of retro Syracuse gear -- the final honor for the 2003 NCAA champs since we're still a couple days away from the crown being passed to UConn. On special today, The General, Sherman Douglas. The Derrick Coleman jersey is notably absent.
Anyway, Trikz is leading the show here so I follow him upstairs.
"We're going up to the second floor, where they have all the hoop gear," Trikz tells me. "My man Alex will hook us up."
Alex, or Big Al as he is also known, is ready and waiting for us. Now, since I am just beginning this transformation and still lack the proper street language, I once again defer my introduction about Big Al to Big Al himself:
"This Big Al representin' boogie down Bronx, New York City. Also known as: DJ N.O.E. Style. Nine years strong! Almost have my bachelor's degree from Boston College. Three and a half years play ball on the field, starting right tackle. That'll be the truth."
You can't argue with that.
Big Al starts in right away with, "You da' man, Mike. Representin' ESPN, you lined 'em up, knocked 'em down. Then you got the big money."
Now it slowly dawns on me that Big Al thinks I'm Mike Hall -- winner of ESPN's "Dream Job."
"Um, Big Al. I'm not the guy who won 'Dream Job.' I work for ESPN.com."
After a quick bout of disappointment, Big Al bounces back when Trikz lets him in on the game plan.
My street stylist team has decided to go with the LeBron James red and black velour sweatsuit. As for sneakers, Trikz pointed out that you want to do two things. First, and most important, they have to match the outfit. And second, you need to get the hottest, hippest shoes out there. So we passed on the LeBrons and went to Nike's latest and greatest, the Hurrache 2K4s.
Off to the fitting room. I'm a little nervous when I come out but Trikz reassures me when he says, "Now that's a good look right there. Now that's gangsta. That outfit there is the best thing since pants with pockets."
Even Big Al approves. "Here at Niketown. Deuce floor. Basketball. Very serious. My man Mike is representing ESPN. 2K4 Hurraches, lightest sneaker in the building at the moment. Do what you do best, and that's what it is."
One more important lesson when it comes to your hoop gear. When you're clubbin' or hangin' out -- it's boxers. When you're ballin' it's boxer briefs -- because if you don't switch you'd definitely be a baller, but it wouldn't have much to do with playin' hoops.
OK, so we have the outfit, finish it with off a matching headband and bid farewell to Big Al. Now it's time to play some ball, right? No, thank God.
Apparently we've only just begun, as Trikz says we need some other street ball essentials, and Trikz can think of no better place to get it than his old stomping grounds of Elizabeth, N.J.
We hop back into the Denali and head to Jersey. On the way Trikz realizes that all the courts are wet and we might not be able to find a game.
If we do get a game I ask, how to you get on a court where no one knows you? Well, this won't be a problem in Jersey, because we will soon discover that everyone knows Trikz. However, if you do find you're looking for a game and you aren't at a place where everybody knows your name, you need to bring your attitude.
"You can't bring your C game to an A court," Trikz explains. "That's not gonna work. So you say real bold and loud -- 'Yo, who got next?' Somebody says they got next, then you ask, 'You got your squad? No?' Then say, 'Holla, then put me on.'"
Now that I'd become fast friends with Trikz I was secretly glad that our game might get rained out. I haven't played basketball of any kind in this century so I wasn't exactly brimming with excitement to show off my rusty skills. In fact, I was so nervous that I was fully prepared to roam the sidelines talking trash. Let's just say "Yo! I'd be droppin' 47 on yo' ass if it weren't for this diarrhea!" was part of the arsenal I was ready to use. I know, don't even say it.
Luckily, we aren't ready to play yet. There's still more work to be done. First stop in Elizabeth is a store about the size of an airplane bathroom. See, we need two more essentials -- the mix tape and the white T-shirt. Of course, Trikz is like royaly in these parts so there's no charge. Anything for Trikz.
"Make sure your collar is thick on the white T," he advises. "Very important. So, thick collar. 4X or better. Crispy white T. After you're done with the white T during the day pimpin', that's when you play ball in it. Sweat it out and throw it away. White T is only good for one day. Wear 'em one time and you throw 'em out. That's gangsta. Then you need some jewels. Coupla dog tags, a little spinner with diamonds. Watches. Rings. Earrings. Whatever you decide to rock."
After I slip on my new crisp 4X white T, the fine folks at Midway unveil their addition to my new look -- some bling bling they had left over from the making of "NBA Ballers." It's not what you think. These guys aren't the Harry Winston of hip hop. It's all fake, but it definitely helps.
Before I could even ask, Trikz explains why we also need a mix tape. "See, every city has their little local spots where they got the white Ts and mix tapes. Mix tape is so you can bump and listen to in your system. Or while you're on the court, have a little boom box -- take it back to the eighties when you played ball listening to your CDs in your boom box. Freestylin'. Holla!"
Our next stop is Scheme, a clothing store right down the street.
"Scheme is where you're gonna find your one and only best threads in hip hop wear. Throw on some Dickies, or a Dickie button up or a Mesquine T-shirt. Should match the Dickies, and throw on a fittie. Can't go wrong with that. Never gets played out. Holla!"
"A fittie?" I ask.
"Yeah, a fittie. A fitted hat. You gotta go with the fittie."
All this talk of playing (or not playing) ball has made us quite hungry. But what does a street baller eat? Whatever he can, but Trikz lets us know that since we're in Jersey there's only one place to go: a diner. Jersey is famous for them and there certainly isn't a shortage.
At lunch, with a game now unlikely, Trikz fills me in on the last stop of the day -- the barbershop.
"OK, anything that matches your outfit is a plus. But after that, you gotta make sure your haircut is cris. 'Cause when you're playing ball you gotta take off the fittie, and if you take off the fittie and your top look like Don King, that's not a good look. So we gotta get you a cris cut."
"OK, but what's cris?"
"Cris is somethin' looks good it's crispy. Short for that is cris. Without a P. On point, phat, good."
Now I'm starting to catch on. Also, I'm starting to get some second looks by people. I'd like to think it's because of how cris I look, but I get the feeling it might be something else.
We wrap up lunch and head to the barbershop, Klippers in downtown Elizabeth.
If you've ever seen the movie "Barbershop," the guys at Klippers should be getting a fat royalty check. It's truly a community within a community. Everyone here looks out for each other and if you come in as a friend of Trikz, well, then they look out for you, too.
Still, you get the vibe that these guys aren't afraid of anything. You could come in here with your hardest look and your worst intentions and they'd probably laugh you out of the building. But you want to know what makes these guys jump? What sends them running into the street, barber aprons and all? The meter maid.
Someone spots him writing tickets down the street and it's a full recon for quarters and a race to beat the clock. Some guys see they already have tickets, accept their fate and sit back down, while others come back victorious, knowing they staved off a ticket for another day.
Besides all that, what does a barbershop need to have to be part of the street ball circuit? Once again, I defer to Trikz.
"A shop gotta have your mix tapes. Selling white Ts. The bootleg DVD movies. The fitties. So after you get your cut your finished, you don't have to go get 'em over here, then go over there, and over there. No, you get your white T and throw your 4X on, grab a fittie, grab a movie, grab your chick and you're ready to rock. Holla."
Now to the haircut -- and where I let you down. No, I didn't get a cut or a shape up. I left that to the designer of "NBA Ballers," John Vignocchi.
We all decide it would be appropriate for John to get the logo that inspired our trip today. So, Danny, the owner of the shop, takes a look at the "NBA Ballers" logo and goes to work.
After about an hour with a straight razor and some hair dye to help it stand out, Danny's masterpiece is complete.
I have to say, it's pretty impressive. Not just the job Danny did, but that John was willing to have the logo shaved in the back of his head. Even though I was the one standing there in my LeBron sweatsuit, new Nikes, bling bling and 4X white T, John was more street baller than I ever was going to be.
At that point it was getting late and the weather had helped me successfully avoid my biggest fear of the day -- actually playing street basketball. I would save my "self-deficating" trash talk for another day.
With Trikz's blessing I was off to the real world with my new look, my new vocabulary and my new attitude. It was time to put it to the test.
I think the fine people of Elizabeth, N.J., accepted me -- so I was ready for a bigger challenge. I would pick up my wife at the train station not as preppy Michael, but street baller Mighty Mike, the nickname Trikz bestowed on me.
I saw her coming my way. I knew she would be impressed.
"Check me out. Is this a cris look or what? Baby, maybe we should hit the clubs tonight?"
After a brief silence I was ready for her to pour the adulation on the new me.
"That's great, but we need to pick up our son so he can eat before it gets too late. Did you buy more formula yesterday? Plus, it's garbage night and we really need to put out the recycles this time."
You did your best, Trikz. If you need me, I'll be in the suburbs.
Mike Philbrick is an editor for Page 2 when he's not planning a nice little Saturday picking out flooring at Home Depot and going to Bed, Bath and Beyond if he has time. E-mail him at email@example.com