Street Smarts

When he left Mesa Community College for Chicago State back in 1999, Tony Jones knew in his gut that he'd be back in Phoenix as a pro baller.

Of course, he hoped he'd be wearing an NBA uniform.

But six years later, Jones, a.k.a. "Go Get It," is playing straight-up streetball and hoopin' it up on the AND1 Mix Tape Tour, which hips and hops into America West Arena on Saturday, June 18.

"I tried out for the [NBA] when I first came out of college, and thought I had a good shot at it," says Jones, who played at Marcos de Niza High School in Tempe before going to MCC and later Chicago State (where he averaged 20 points and nine boards a game in his final season). "I saw myself a little bit more professional than this. But I also saw myself doing basketball for a living, and that's what I'm doing. So I can't complain."

After all, it's not like AND1 players like Jones, Dennis "Spyda" Chism, and Robin "Syk Wit It" Kennedy don't get the rock-star treatment. Ever since ESPN's reality series Street Ball: The AND1 Mix Tape Tour premièred back in September 2002 (and became one of the highest rated ESPN Original Entertainment programs ever), thousands of fans have packed arenas across the country for the annual summer tour, now in its fourth year. It's become so big, in fact, that the sports journalism institution known as Sports Illustrated is featuring the story of AND1 and its touring streetballers on the cover of its current issue (June 13).

So what's the appeal of watching 10 ball hogs -- who mix the "oohs" and "aahs" of the Harlem Globetrotters with the chest-thumping of a street-court hustler -- at the same time the NBA tries to market the old-school team concept of the San Antonio Spurs, the defending champion Detroit Pistons, and the hometown Suns?

"AND1's all about entertainment, baby," says Syk Wit It, a Mix Tape veteran from Pasadena, California, who's been on the tour since 2002. "When they come out to the venue, the fans wonder why we aren't in the NBA. And then you throw in the music -- hip-hop and R&B -- with the moves . . . you know what I'm sayin'?

"We play a fun style of ball you can't get from the NBA."

But the NBA is still the dream -- for Jones, at least.

"I'm havin' a lot of fun with AND1," says Jones, who joined the tour back in 2003 when it made a stop in Phoenix. "But the ultimate goal is to be in that 'Superman' suit, an NBA jersey. It's hard to put it into words, but I don't think there's anything that can compare with wearing that NBA logo."

But say all things were equal: the endorsements, on-air interviews, personalized shoes, and, of course, the money (AND1 won't reveal how much its streetballers make, but admits that most earn well below a quarter of the NBA's minimum salary of just under $400,000). If AND1 were on the level of the NBA, then what?

"I'd wanna play for AND1 -- for one simple reason," says Spyda, a Mix Tape rookie with wisdom beyond his years. "It's only three months outta the year."

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Joe Watson