Catching up with God Shammgod on his 40th birthday

AP Photo/John Hayes

God Shammgod. A name that rang bells in neighborhoods nationwide. Kids wanted to imitate his legendary crossover move, but not many were able to execute it the way he could.

From playing pickup games in New York to thriving at Providence College, Shammgod -- known as Shammgod Wells in high school -- built a legacy for himself in the world of basketball. He even became a trendsetter overseas, where he spent several years after playing one season in the NBA for the Washington Wizards. To this day, NBA luminaries say he had one of the best handles they've ever seen.

For his 40th birthday, we caught up with Shammgod and learned that he's more than a basketball icon. He's a father, trainer, coach and mentor -- someone whom kids look up to, and NBA point guards idolize.

When did you first do the "Shammgod" move?

The first time people saw me do it was in the NCAA [tournament] against Arizona. [Check out the highlights here.] It was just something to do. I didn't do it saying, "This is my move." One day I heard somebody say, "This is the Shammgod." Wasn't like I said it. Kids started saying it, another person started saying it, then another person started saying it, and it took on a life of its own. You can say you're good, but when other people start saying you're good, that's when it counts.

How does it feel to know you have this move that will live forever?

Of course it's an honor, because this is something that's going to be here when I'm dead and gone -- which I hope is a long time from now. It'll leave something here for my kids, and their kids. The reason why people gave it a name was because I could really dribble. My 11th-grade year going into my 12th, I got MVP that summer at Five-Star camp. That's when I blew up. In the all-star game I had 17 points and 17 assists, and Howard Garfinkel [co-founder of Five-Star Basketball Camp] said, "he's the best dribbler I've seen since Marques Haynes." Then Isiah Thomas said, 'Man, he's the best dribbler I saw, probably ever.'

Who do you think has the best handles in the NBA right now?

Kyrie [Irving]. By far.

So who would you say is your top three ball handlers?

Kyrie, Chris Paul and Steph Curry. It's a difference between somebody dribbling to run an offense and somebody dribbling to get their shot off. That's the difference between the [people] that dribble in college and the person that's on And1. If you would say who's the best at breaking down their defender, I would say Kyrie, Jamal Crawford and Steph. But it's a difference between a dribbler and someone who can break down their defender. Allen Iverson had his crossover, but I wouldn't consider Iverson a dribbler. Isiah Thomas could dribble. Guys like Jason Kidd and Magic [Johnson] aren't considered dribblers. So it's a misconception, because you can't just crop them all together.

What do you like so much about Irving's game?

I was never the scorer he is, but I just think he has all the tools for a perfect point guard. He shoots the 3, he shoots the mid-range, he has a great layup package and he can really dribble. I'm a big fan of Chris Paul. I think Chris Paul plays the way the point guard should be played, both offensively and defensively. But I'm a fan of all of them, also a big fan of Russell Westbrook. No matter what happens, good or bad, you know what you're getting -- on both ends of the court. If I had to start a team with one player right now, I'm taking Westbrook.

What do you think prevented some "playground legends" from getting to the NBA?

Being from New York, you're a star before the money. It's the mecca of basketball, so it's so many people in New York. It's a place where you see stars all the time, so you feel like a can't-miss. When you come from other places, it may be nothing but basketball. But in N.Y., it's so many other things going on. Like when I was coming up, my best friends were rappers. Like Mase, Cam'ron, Loon. I been around Puff [P. Diddy] since I was like 14, been around Jay Z, and Dame Dash is from the same block I'm from. Been around these people since I was like 15-16. Growing up, Mase and Cam are my best friends, so half of the time I'm playing basketball, half of the time I'm going to the studio, half of the time I'm just hanging out. In other states your friends may be all about basketball, so you're always playing basketball, talking basketball or relating to basketball.

Was there a playground legend you idolized growing up?

I fell in love with basketball because of a guy named Malloy Nesmith [also known as The Future] and Mike "Boogie" [Thornton]. When I moved to Manhattan, my friends took me to a game at 55th street. It was the first time I'd ever been to a park to watch a game. It was like I was at Madison Square Garden, it was so many people. I was sitting in a tree on a big branch just watching Mike Boogie dribble between The Future's legs; it was so much of a show. I was just like, "Man." I was amazed.

You met Kobe Bryant when he was in the 11th grade and taught him how to dribble?

I was taught how to play, so I'm always up for teaching. When I first played basketball, I couldn't even dribble. Somebody took me under their wing. When I met him, his father asked me to help, and I said, 'Yeah, no problem." I didn't do it with the intention of thinking he would end up being who he was. I tell people he's my favorite player, and everybody always [says], "Oh, 'cause you helped him learn how to dribble." I'm like, "Nah." But you know why? When I first met him, he thought he could be better than Michael Jordan. People thought he was crazy. They were laughing behind his back, saying, "Who do he think he is? This dude's crazy." But he believed in himself and he did what he did. Most people would've crumbled because of that.

You're a graduate assistant at Providence right now. Is your plan to become a head coach?

A head coach, [or get into] player development in the NBA. I just want to have an impact on young kids. I feel like I have a lot of knowledge. I can help them with their game, but I can help mentally because I've been where they want to go. I treat kids like they're my own kids. I really believe coaches should go the distance. You should help the kids become men and help reach their dreams.

You've been training Kris Dunn (projected to be a top-10 pick in this year's draft). Do you think he has what it takes to be a superstar on the next level?

Absolutely. He should be the No. 1 pick in the draft. The way the NBA is built now, he's the prototype point guard -- size, speed, quickness, vision. On the defensive end, there's no one who can touch him. He's a great kid, coming from a wonderful family. He's not the kid that's going to get in trouble. He's going to represent whatever organization he goes to the right way. The way the NBA is set up now, if you don't have a great point guard, or you're not training a point guard to be great, I think the team struggles. Period. The point guard position now, is like the No. 1 position in the NBA. If he's not the No. 1 pick, two years from now anybody that passed on him is going to regret it.

You're the big 40 now. How does it feel to be considered the "old head" to the young guys?

Man, I'm blessed. For me to still be relevant right now, I'm blessed. They say great people have one name. Right now I fit into that category. Nobody can ever mistake Shammgod for somebody else. You know, like a Kobe, a Jordan, or a Tupac. I'm honored, I'm blessed. They did a poll asking kids under the age of 14 who they would remember most from the 1997 NBA draft, and I was a close second, behind Tim Duncan.

How do you want people to remember you 20 years from now?

I want to be remembered as one of the guys that sparked the mindset of the new generation. I don't [have] to be the greatest, or any of that. I just want to be remembered as someone who changed the culture of how basketball is played. But it's not just me, it's [Allen] Iverson and Kenny Anderson -- trendsetters. Iverson is a year older than me, and he changed a whole culture. To be mentioned as a part of that is great. I'm just happy I had my own niche. It's only one Iverson, but it's only one Shammgod.