Ball Don't Lie

A brief remembrance of the Beastie Boys’ Adam Yauch, aka MCA, who was one of us

Dan Devine
Ball Don't Lie

You might think this callous right about now, in the short period after the news broke that Adam Yauch — better known to millions as MCA, one-third of the Beastie Boys — died Friday at the age of 47. I can understand that, but in all honesty, it's not clickbait; it's just sort of working it out.

What you see above is an archived video of an event streamed on the Internet last year, when the Beastie Boys debuted their most recent album, "Hot Sauce Committee Part Two," at center court of an emptied Madison Square Garden, just hours after a blowout loss to the Boston Celtics in the first round of the 2011 NBA playoffs. The headline on Y! brother site The Amplifier read, "Beastie Boys Outplay the Knicks at Madison Square Garden." Whether or not you like the record, that basically couldn't have been wrong, if you watched the Knicks' home games last postseason. Let's listen to it, together, and remember not only the art that Yauch made while he was alive, but the way it interacted with and was informed by his love of the game we love.

The Beasties referenced the Knicks a fair amount over the years — "I'm Clyde and I'm rockin' steady" from "Pass the Mic," Mike D's Hawthorne Wingo drop on "B-Boys Makin' with the Freak-Freak," the immortal "I got heart like John Starks" line from "Get It Together," the Latrell Sprewell namecheck and MCA's own "Would someone on the Knicks please drive the lane?" on the "Hello Nasty" track "Unite," and probably a ton of other NBA references I'm blanking on as I work this all out — and it made sense, because the Beasties were, are and will be as New York as the name on the front of those Knicks jerseys. Jay-Z's squad can reference Beasties songs in their merch all they want, but you'll have a hard time convincing me MCA, like all Knicks fans, would have ever rooted for the Nets, no matter what ZIP code they occupied.

That the Beasties played many times at Madison Square Garden must have thrilled Yauch to no end, considering how much he loved basketball; Howard Beck of The New York Times shared a brief remembrance of meeting Yauch at the NBA draft, which is not exactly the kind of thing you go check out to be seen and marveled at as a celebrity. It's a place to go if you love ball, love the prospect of seasons changing for NBA teams starving for talent, and can't wait to boo whoever the Knicks pick. It's a place for basketball fans, for diehards, and MCA was there. Talking to a beat reporter. It's perfect.

The report of MCA's death — carried first by GlobalGrind, a website whose majority shareholder worked with Yauch, Michael Diamond, Adam Horowitz and Rick Rubin for years to help make hip-hop A Real Pop Cultural Thing, then trumpeted 'round the world by TMZ, as all things are — sent shockwaves through a lot of folks. But from what I've been lucky enough to see Friday afternoon, it's been taken especially hard by a particular cohort — one that loves rap music and its culture, and/or alternative rock and its culture, and/or the difficult-to-suss-out bouillabaisse of musical, iconographic and cultural elements that went into defining what it was to be a mass-media-saturated young person, in America or elsewhere, in the last part of the 20th century and beyond. A lot of those young people like basketball. You may be one of those people. I damn sure am. And so, we mourn.

Quickly, here's mine: Matt LaCava taught me every word to "Paul Revere" when I was 14. (Maybe 15.) I'm not kidding; he was a year older than me, we played lacrosse together in high school and he literally let me borrow his "Licensed to Ill" tape to listen to it, until I had my own, until I knew the words, until I'd proven I'd practiced in my Staten Island basement. I was a kid who liked Nirvana more than anything, but a friend I liked told me that this was important, so I listened, and he was right. That voice, barreling through the speakers — "My name is MCA, I've got a license to kill / I think you know what time it is / It's time to get ill" — stayed on repeat in my head for weeks. MCA's voice, the verse, the song, the album, the sound ... it opened doors, it taught me things and it helped me have fun. The Beastie Boys were, and are, important — musically, culturally, individually. They had stories to tell. Later, I'd learn, so did I. Mine haven't had much to do with horsies, guns and brew yet, but I'm only 29 and life's long.

One of us has died. Remember him how you see fit, or don't, but know that he was one of us. Rest in peace, Adam Yauch. I really, really wish you would have gotten to see another playoff win before you went.

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