Air West doesn't feature ballers, they're special forces that inhabit a secret location in South LA on Wednesday nights.
When is Game time?
7 pm on the oversized clock hanging around Flava Flav's neck. That's when dudes pound the rock and shoot artillery from 3 - just like hip hop Public Enemy blasts dope lyrics.
Imagine Terminator X of the rap group Public Enemy dressed in camo tearing down rims, both A/W ballers and Public Enemy are running the floor like rebels, who just can't be paused.
Who is Public Enemy you say? Chuck D, Professor Griff, Flava Flav, Terminator X ruled radio waves in the late 80's & 90's as music’s hardest rap group supreme.
Why am I comparing them to Air West ballers?
PE made hit songs like He Got Game and Air West only invites the best ballers. If You Have Enough Game, ask a b-ball insider and they'll say the Air West name speaks for itself as the best open court game in the world.
You doubt this?
The week before, James Harden and Nick Young swagged out modern warfare, lit up this court with moves that are usually only seen by NBA combatants. A/W ballers told me how the bearded one "was on a whole other level”, upping his game to as he strives to be next year's NBA MVP.
If Chuck D saw J-Harden play he'd surely use the lyrics from Rebel Without A Pause to describe it:
"When I'm on fire
Juice on the loose - electric wire
Simple and plain - give me the lane
I'll throw it down your throat like Barkley."
Yup, that's A/W on a good day: untouchable run supreme. But who is the supreme commander of A/W? Colin Powell?
The man who co-founded A/W and organizes the teams to be balanced is none other than the best "hype man" since Flava Flav: Keion Kindred.
He's so loud you can hear him talking over DJ Young Free, who is blasting tunes all night, pulsating mad energy into a scene that's already a total frenzy.
Each A/W game is short and intense and you can hear Kindred's booming baritone voice. Keion is constantly reshuffling rosters, writing down names on a yellow paper pad that match his Bruce Lee Kyrie Irving sneakers, the rare ones with red blood claw marks on them.
He keeps the games perfectly balanced. K-Kindred shouts out count downs and shot clocks that a bullhorn would envy. He also blasts out motivational phrases, props and disses where deserved.
Like when he shouted, "There's Carl Lewis of Compton, that 11th grader who the best big man best in his class." Truth is born.
The A/W games this night were dope as I sat with Californiapreps.com Editor, Dave Keefer. Ridiculous gameplay, sensational players like 6-10, 260 lb Carl Lewis going all out, throwing grown men around like bowling pins, until he ran into Chuck.
Chuck D, E-Woods?
Nope, Chuck Garcia, a super emotionally charged up and talented player. C-Garcia stands 6-10 himself. Barely out of college, he balled out for the San Antonio D League team last year.
Chuck D described his rap style on the Rebel track, Hard, my calling card. You could easily say that's he describing C-Garcia's style as well.
Incredible A/W regulars like Antonio Biglow and Shannon Sharpe, who I've written about in the past, were throwing the ball up towards the rim for alley oops, just like special forces throw grenades onto to the field of war: the Result?
If you're a defender who lets these guys partner up and throw an alley oop on you, be ready to get plastered on what is known as "a lullaby poster."
What's a lullaby poster you ask? Getting dunked on so hard, it puts you to sleep with a nursery rhyme that sings, "Pocket full of posies, ashes, ashes, we all fall down!"
How can I justify calling A/W ballers commando soldiers? Can you imagine an average person lifting themselves 36 inches off the floor, rising up gracefully like Cirque du Soleil style entertainers that attack the rim over and over?
That's Air West.
Or better yet, how many people can forcefully meet a player at the rim who is trying to dunk, swat back the rotating ball fifty feet into the stands? Few on earth can, but at A/W, that's just a common play.
If an Air West baller plays in a regular parks and rec game, in say the San Fernando Valley, Inland Empire, or even my sleepy home of Ventura County, they'd average like a 40 ball game.
They'd look out of place, prolly get bored as they dish out destruction. So these Air West soldier ballers need to find that comp to improve themselves.
When you say that you ball at A/W, it really means something in the hoop world.
American armed forces have Navy Seals, Army Rangers, Marine Green Berets. It's the same in elite hoop leagues in the country such as LA's The Drew League, Seattle’s Pro Am, or NYC Ruckers.
If you ball in one of these elite leagues, it's like you're a special forces unit of the hoop leagues fosho.
Me personally, E-Woods, when I see a man or woman in uniform, I salute them and say "Thank you for your service."
I salute Public Enemy as one of the best rap groups of all time, I salute A/W as the best b-ball league. They entertain like no other, it was worth driving in rush hour traffic for 3 hours one way to bear witness to this glory.
What was a highlight of this Wednesday for me? Seeing premier guard Bobby Brown of the NBA Rockets going up vs one of the very best soph prep guards in the country, Josh Christopher of Mayfair High.
One learning from the other what it takes to make it to the L, a passing of the guard from one generation to the other. Super dope trainer K-Kindred had this this say, "I believe Josh and Carl [Lewis] have very bright futures; it was great to have everyone here tonight to Celebrate Chris."
# Beyond Dope
How intense does it get on the court? Let Public Enemy paint the A/W vibe from the fore mentioned Rebel Without A Pause tune:
"Suckers - don't last a minute
Soft and smooth - I ain't with it
Hardcore - rawbone like a razor
I'm like a laser - I just won't graze ya."
Air West hits you straight on, it doesn't pull punches. Like Navy Seals endure agonizing training because that very training might save their lives in battle, A/W ballers hone their skills here that will help them be successful overseas professional ball players.
A/W training will prolong their basketball lives.
Defenders will play smothering defense at A/W, with outstretched hands. As an A/W player you ask yourself, will I settle for taking that 30 footer jumper because I'm not given an inch of space to shoot?
If you do and miss, you will be hounded by your teammates who can't fathom the idea of losing. As they say "Why'd you settle for a 30 footer bro?"
This is Air West, it's all hustle, no breaks. The fittest man might survive but you need to work together to outsmart the other team.
You know your opponent has been working on his jumper all week. Oh no, you didn't put up 400 made jump shots a day this week like your opponent? Good luck trying to win, just hope you're invited back next week to participate, partner.
My dude back in the day, Master P, the legendary rapper and his no limit soldiers would say, "Make em say ughhh!" The real masters of Air West realize you need to
make the comp say "ughhh."
There's no limit to how hard you you need to play at A/W. You need to be a real soldier to the game. Prepare yourself 100%, because if you only give 97%, someone will give 3% more, and it's game over bro.
#no half steppin
The most touching moment of the night was at the half time of all the games when Air West's co founder and 4-star general in charge Chris "Ghetto Bird" Young had his birthday party.
There were two courts playing upstairs all night at the gym being used. But for C-Young on his B-Day, it's cease fire time, all soldiers put down their weapons, everyone wished Chris well, shared a hug, and all the many attendees grabbed a slice of cake.
Extremely touching, because Air West can be war but it's also love for everyone involved, a special place filled with joy by ballers playing as hard as if they were military special forces.
WWII hero General MacArthur said, "Old soldiers don't die, they just fade away."
Air West makes memories so intense and great. By the time you get old and look back on the specialness of balling there, it's not just games that you won or lost that you'll remember. What will be etched in your head is how you competed.
You can tell these guys will treasure these memories and friendships forever, and they won't ever fade away.