What is your first significant basketball memory?
The very first one I had was in San Antonio. This was when the Spurs were really bad and they were straight up giving tickets away for like a dollar or two. My dad works at Via, which is the metro bus system in San Antonio. He would get tickets through his work, so he would take me to games every so often. That’s the first thing I remember about basketball, going to those games with him when I was 6 or 7.
In “The Rap Year Book,” you ranked the most important rap songs for each year from 1979 to 2014. In rap, there are albums that you might love because they are technically good, and there are others you love because they’re connected to specific memories. Does that work the same way for you with basketball players?
Absolutely. There’s a chapter in the book called “Who Is Your Memory Hero?” It’s about that exact thing. Like, who is a player that you remember when you were a kid and were like, “This is the best basketball player in the world,” and when you got older you realized that person was actually not that good? For me, it was this guy who played on the Spurs named Vinny Del Negro. For some reason he was just a lovable guy. Part of it was there was a rumor going around that he was actually Mexican, so me and my friends were like, “He is the M.V.P. of the league because of that.” I got older and looked him up, he bounced in and out of the league, he was never an All-Star, wasn’t that great, but I’ll love him forever. In that chapter, I had some other basketball writers write about people they thought about in that same sort of way. That’s probably one of my favorite chapters, too.
If you were to betray the Spurs and take on a new favorite team, what team would it be?
This year it would be the Oklahoma City Thunder. It changes based on the year. This year they have Russell Westbrook, he’s a very intense point guard for them. They became one of my favorite teams last year because Kevin Durant, who was his main partner, left for a better team. I’m drawn to the teams that I know aren’t going to win a championship but are still going to fight for it. And that’s very much what the Thunder are right now.
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If you could build your perfect player using the skill and athletic ability of various players, which players would you choose?
Give me Jason Kidd’s vision; Steph Curry’s shooting ability; 1994 Hakeem Olajuwon to protect the rim; Larry Bird’s chin (he’s gotten punched in the face several times and never gone down); 2010 Dwight Howard’s shoulders, which are beautiful; Russell Westbrook’s pettiness; Dirk Nowitzki’s one-footed fadeaway (it’s impossible to block); Tim Duncan’s end-game demeanor (he just never gets flustered); Gary Payton’s trash talking ability; and Reggie Miller’s late-game heroics.
Do you have any basketball memorabilia with sentimental value? What’s the story behind it?
I have a basketball signed by David Robinson, who was one of the greatest Spurs of all time. He came to Sam Houston State when I was there. I had never met him before, and I got a phone call one day from a buddy of mine, and he was telling me, “David Robinson is here and he’s giving a talk.” I went to go try to get in, but it was already full. I saw the high school basketball team hanging around, so I assumed their coach had set up a meet and greet with David, so I just hung out with them. The coach noticed me and told me I had to leave, so I was bummed out. As I’m walking down the hall, David Robinson came out of one of the rooms. In my head I thought I was going to have all this charming stuff to say to him and we were going to become friends. I panicked. I didn’t say any words at all. I just handed him the ball and the marker and mumbled my name. He wrote a Bible passage on it; he’s very religious. He gave it to me, and I just walked off.