Speaking for hoop junkies everywhere, And1 basketball was must-see television in the early 2000s.
It was all of the things. Pure competition from guys who were hungry to show each other up. Raw passion for the game. It didn't matter how big or small you were. It didn't matter how you tested. It didn't matter where you came from, what your background was or where you learned to play.
It was all about basketball and unbelievable origin stories.
But for me personally, it was all about The Professor.
When I watched Grayson Boucher—aka The Professor—play, I saw more than just basketball. I saw someone who embodied a dream for folks like me.
He taught me that you didn't have to be the biggest guy on the court. You didn't have to be the guy with the most muscles. All you had to do was know how to play the game and be willing to work harder than the guy you're going up against.
|What||And1 Summer Remix Tour|
|When||Thursday, Aug. 29 thru Sept. 1|
|Where||Philadelphia (The Liacouras Center at Temple University)|
|What's At Stake||Winner-Take-All Streetball Tournament, Grand Prize of $100,000|
"They said I was schooling people on the court."
Boucher, better known as "The Professor" by fans of streetball everywhere, explained how he first got his nickname. It's not every day you see a basketball player earn an academic nickname, but it wasn't because of something that happened in the classroom.
"The way I looked at the time, because I kind of looked like a college professor would—a nerdy white guy. The game, the way I looked, it all weighed into it."
And1 and The Professor were synonymous. If you watched And1 players ball, you saw The Professor mixing it up with guys who were bigger than he was and making them look absolutely foolish in the process.
Reflecting on his time on tour, Grayson had an immediate answer for when I asked about what stood out as a memory.
"Obviously when I won a contract," he said with zero hesitation.
Grayson, from Oregon, attended the And1 Mixtape Tour when the team stopped in Portland for a visit and wound up earning a role on the team. Imagine that.
It took less than a full year for him to be featured at the epicenter of the tour and be recognized as one of the most popular ballers. He went from being a nobody to a somebody after he had spent his entire life trying to prove the basketball court is where he belonged.
"I had a battle with (Hot) Sauce midway through the summer of 2003, and that's when I realized this was my calling. This is what I was supposed to do."
As an undersized baller, Grayson faced a longer road to recognition on a national stage. Others could point to their size, their strength, their highlight tapes and the accolades they had earned as professional basketball players. The Professor didn't have that.
"Before I got to And1, it was all doubt."
Grayson's voice inflection changed with this response. He suddenly became very serious, and it was easy to tell how proud he was of what he had been able to do.
"In high school, I was 5'0" tall and 85 pounds on the freshman team. Nobody took me seriously as a major threat."
How could they?
"Junior year, I had a lot of setbacks. I was still on JV, so that was a big hit for me. I had a lot of pride. College ball was looking less and less realistic, and I was cut from my AAU team as well."
Imagine being nearly 18 years old and knowing your passion. Imagine working tirelessly on that craft and nobody giving you a legitimate chance. The walls of access were being raised, not lowered.
All Grayson wanted to do was play ball, and nobody would give him a chance. It seemed like the end of the road, and it would've been for a lot of other people.
But those people aren't made from the same cloth.
"My senior year, I transferred to a small Christian school and got second-team all-state, but I had no college offers. I was still too small and not as physical as I wanted to be on defense."
So where does a baller go after high school with no offers and no opportunities?
"I walked on to a JUCO [junior college], got no playing time. Maybe five, seven minutes per game, if I even got into the game."
It was at that point when Grayson made the biggest commitment of his life to the game he loves so much.
"In between freshman year of college and sophomore year, I made the biggest improvements in my life. I was in the gym every day, hit the weights consistently, was playing against D-I and D-II players as a JUCO player, and my confidence really got up.
"In one summer I went from being regarded as one of the worst players on the team to one of the best guys in every open gym I went to.
"A lot of people were probably surprised when I got on to And1, but I made massive improvements."
Grayson couldn't carve out a path in the traditional fashion, so he re-wrote the script. He found a new way to define himself as a basketball player.
Since he took an untraditional path to success, I asked him how he modeled his hoops game. His answer, considering his style of play, came as no surprise.
"It would have been Jordan, but it started in middle school, and it was Allen Iverson. The first time I did his crossover in the gym was when I had people going crazy. I was kinda like known as the white kid with the AI crossover. Also Tim Hardaway, too, I used to hit people with the killer crossover."
The Unseen Side
There are elements of life as a baller on the road that go unseen.
"People might not realize we tour all year. Some months might be a couple of weeks out of the month, other months it might be the whole month. The travel can definitely be a grind."
Traveling from country to country and going from place to place where people love you and admire what you do sounds like a life many would love to live, but it definitely doesn't come without hard work and a lot of sacrifice.
"A family away from our family," Grayson described when I asked him about how he viewed his teammates.
Editor's Note: Bleacher Report caught up with other former And1 ballers to discuss their time on tour.
Life on the road doesn't come without its challenges. It means often leaving loved ones behind, even if it's only temporary. It often means going outside of your comfort zone, even somewhere where everyone is chanting your name.
Nothing worth anything is supposed to come easily, and Grayson made that clear when talking about the level of competition he's facing regularly.
There was something that particularly bothered him about how some people viewed streetball.
"The big thing for us on the street level is a common misconception that the defense 'lets' us do things. People have big egos who play with us, they want to be on the tape making us look bad with their D. And it happens.
"We play regular ball."
It makes sense. Remember, these guys earned what they have and were given nothing, and Grayson is the best proof of exactly that.
Now with Ball Up, Grayson has continued his career in streetball with resounding success.
"Overall, it’s more like a franchise than And1. And1, the apparel was the main entity, and the tour was a marketing tool. It wasn’t emphasized as much.
"The tour developed into its own thing and was bigger than the apparel at one point, so with Ball Up, they wanted to make the tour the main thing and then market everything around that. In doing that, they also want to make it like a sports franchise, and in the long run, they’d like to make it a league—kind of like a streetball league."
He's traveled nearly everywhere around the world. From Australia to Brazil, basketball is truly a global game for The Professor.
"Australia is amazing—it’s Americanized down there. South America and Brazil are both incredible. The islands are amazing. Dubai was very cool to visit...Dubai is like a Las Vegas in the Middle East. That was very cool."
That does sound pretty cool.
Social Media and Globalization of the Game
The globalization of the game has become a very real thing.
You don't need to speak the same language to share a court. You don't even need to speak at all.
"When I started, I had no idea how international the sport was," Grayson said. "Everywhere you go, there is a decent level of competition in the world. You can go anywhere, and there will be decent hoopers. The islands, Japan, China, South America...it’s crazy. Poland. Anywhere, you know?"
You can be from any kind of background. You can be any color of skin. There are no prerequisites for what works and what doesn't.
With the growth of social media and the globalization of the game virtually coinciding with each other, it's become so much easier for anyone from anywhere to follow the game.
"The Internet has had a big impact as well. I don’t think about that much, but YouTube is so accessible, and you can watch basketball from anywhere. Highlights from just about anything."
That includes looking up The Professor's highlights, as well as his specific YouTube page.
"It’s been huge, man. The fact that And1 has been off ESPN since 2008, the company [And1] didn’t market after we were off ESPN. Just did one-off games. The digital stuff really helped us hold it down.
"I started making mixes in like 2006, cutting up different episodes and have editors make mixes for me. The videos get millions of hits and have a huge impact around the world. You can access them from anywhere. It got me my acting parts, it helped me land clinics, and now people have a higher regard for my game."
After dishing on his past, we focused on the present. Still not even 30 years old, The Professor is a veteran of the streetball game.
"When I first got in, I wasn't as focused on branding as I should have been."
I asked if he could further explain what he meant, and he did.
"My goal now is to bring streetball to the forefront through Ball Up, expand my brand digitally and in general, and really be a good example to the kids.
"Have a great message to the kids and make an effort to spread the word of God through basketball. I gave my life to Jesus Christ in like 2009, so I really try to use my career and everything for the kids and anyone else who wants to follow me."
We often discuss athletes being role models in today's society, and The Professor has embraced that role. The importance of it can't be overstated.
Life After Streetball
A lot of people don't contemplate their futures until they're well into their 40s or later, but that's not Grayson.
"I'm kind of leaving doors open, no set plans right now," he said.
I pressed him for some more detail, and it's clear he's got a few different paths to potentially walk down.
"I train people, I have a few clients [kids] I train individually. I’ve done clinics for three, four years. I really enjoy that. I’ve done some acting since 2007 and still embarking on that a little bit, which I like."
It makes sense since Grayson is a role model for the children, and that's never going to stop being a big part of what he does through basketball.
The conversation led to us talking about which kicks he likes to wear on the court, a natural exchange for two hoop junkies.
"I grew up a huge Jordan fan, a lot of the retro stuff. It varies, though, because a lot of the time I’m affiliated with brands, so I wear whatever apparel they give me. Next year, Ball Up could very well have its own apparel line, so I’d be doing more of that at that point."
But what about when he's lacing 'em up and getting ready to ball?
"For hoops, I like the new HyperFuse and HyperDunks with Nike. They’ve come a long way with performance. The HyperDunk looks tight, and I like it a lot. It’s not the dopest shoe of all time, but it’s light and just feels incredible when I play."
But his favorite shoes of all time?
"The Jordan 11s with the patent leather, the original Space Jams, the Jordan 3s are some of my favorites. The 4s are also really dope."
Pretty difficult to argue with a man of such sound knowledge when it comes to sneakers.
How far have we come that streetball can lead to legacy? That's how important basketball has become. It's more than just a game.
"Legacy wise, I’d like to be remembered as a guy who was always an underdog but always held his own and always put on an incredible show on the court.
"And a role model for kids who was positive and led people toward the direction that honors God. That would be the ultimate legacy for me."
Sounds simple, right? It wasn't. This was earned, not given. The Professor knew what it took to achieve his biggest goals.
We talked a little more about what he'd like to do with his future, and in speaking with him, it became obvious that he wanted to stay involved in basketball for as long as he possibly could.
"If Ball Up takes off, I’d love to do something bigger. Maybe something in the sneaker business, I know a lot of people in that business. I’m just trying to leave doors open and see where things may lead.
"Now that my game is global, my brand can be, too."
There is nothing stopping The Professor's audience from continuing to grow, and it's only a matter of time until it does.
Already an established hooper in the streetball community, Grayson is preparing for the next chapter of The Professor's textbook.
There is still plenty to be written.