Did a bunch of interviews last night at the Sixers/Raps game–everyone from Jermaine O’Neal to Alex English. Dig the one with Kamal of the legendary Roots crew. Click on the pic to access the link or read the story below.
by Michael Tillery
OK, yeah so, Philly lost to the Toronto Raptors last night 95-84. Elton Brand’s debut was decent with 14 points and 13 Mo Malones. As a writer and not a fan, there were a couple things I noticed about the Sixers.
The first was if they aren’t somehow playing to passing lanes and creating fast break opportunities, they might have trouble converting in the half court off the double teams Elton will command. Thaddeus Young began the game with a three but it seemed like Toronto was on to something as the first quarter ended. Sammy Dalembert had a tough go of it early on even though his stats were 9 points and a league-high last night of 17 rebounds. There were a lot of missed shots around the basket that honestly were more of his timing being off. There were many times where you thought he was going to shoot from about 16 feet and the crowd, his teammates and press collectively let out gasps.
It was the first game of the season and most in attendance cared less about the outcome because of what was going on in Citizen Bank Park. The Phillies were on the brink of a World Championship and the crowd wasn’t really into a game they normally would have been into because of the promise this season gives the city.
Neither team shot well as expected because both teams put a premium on defense, but 34 percent from the Sixers is not gonna get it done. The Raptors shot 44 percent. Play was sloppy but seriously the Sixers looked like the road team. With the exception of Louis Williams’ late-game pimpin’, the Sixers had a difficult time scoring the ball. There are stretches in this game where it appears as if a crab basket lid fills the rim over, around and even under. You just have to shoot out of it. No haps last night. The Raptors were the better team in every phase except rebounding and stole the Sixers home opener.
Andre Miller was first on the mic. He had 13 points, 5 Magics and 4 rips, but he needed 16 shots.
Michael Tillery: Being this is the first game of the season, it showed tonight that you haven’t played a lot together. What are the challenges before you?
Andre Miller: Well it’s a long season. We’ll just learn from it and move on to the next game.
MT: What goes through your mind having a player like Elton down low with the constant doubles and how will his presence help the young fellas mature into a top-tier NBA team?
AM: We have to help each other out and play solid defense so the athletes we have can get going. It’s going to be a long year, so we’ll have our ups and downs.
MT: Does this change your game where you don’t have to necessarily score?
AM: Not at all. It adds to it. I have another weapon to work with.
As I mentioned earlier Sammy Dalembert didn’t have a good night. In hindsight I should have asked him if he felt the burning eyes of Leo Rautins but hey I can’t get it all. He knows he didn’t have a good game, but he knows it’s early.
MT: What happened tonight brothaman?
Sammy Dalembert: I think our offense wasn’t there. They put a lot of pressure on us by driving and kicking the ball out. It wasn’t just one thing. If we want to be successful, we have to do the things necessary to achieve our goal of having a winning season. We made it difficult on ourselves tonight.
MT: Obviously it was the first game, so expectations shouldn’t have been heightened by anyone but does this type of game challenge you to focus on your deficiencies?
SD: I would say this type of game creates a statement for us as a team. It’s a test to see where we are. We know what it’s about now. We have to go at a team, make adjustments if need be and keep fighting.
MT: Critics are going to say this team lacks shooters to seriously do some damage in June.
SD: Personally, I think we have the team. We have guys who can shoot the ball. If guys don’t have open shots, then pass it to someone who does. We have to create pressure on both ends of the floor and tonight we didn’t do that.
MT: What do you have to do to become the player you want to become?
SD: I want to be a tremendous force on both ends of the floor. I will do whatever it takes.
Bosh went off and continued the stellar play he exhibited this summer in the Olympics. He had 27 Michaels, 11 boards and 4 dimes. I thought he could have had 40 if he really tried. Damn he looks good…
MT: Comment on your teammate in the post. You both look pretty fluid especially being that both of you haven’t had a similar talent playing next to either of you in your careers.
There is something to be said for Bosh’s admiration of J.O. As we spoke and he obviously towered over the thong of reporters before him, Chris would just stare in space and smile. He knows deep down Toronto pulled off a coup by acquiring O’Neal. The League and its fans slept on what type of talent Jermaine O’Neal really is. You could sense the camaraderie and it seems like they’ve established a brotherhood very quickly.
Chris Bosh: It’s not easy. It’s taking a lot of work. We still have a long way to go. I think we’re doing good to have gotten together so early. We are just trying to build on taking advantage of the opportunity that we have.
MT: When I spoke to you before the Olympics in New York we kind of joked around a little but I can sense your focus. You did the damn thing in Beijing. Was there something that’s given you an extra determination to become the great player you were tonight?
CB4: That’s what I aspire to be (laughs). I just have to keep working. The Olympics did give me confidence. I was in a lot of high pressure situations and I played with the world’s best players inside and outside of the United States. I really wanted to take something from it and I’m trying to carry that momentum into the season.
MT: Olympic experience. Go.
CB4: It was wonderful. I wish I could live it over again. It was one of the best experiences of my life. I cherish and treasure it. I hope I remember every second for as long as I live.
Jermaine O’Neal started slow but when the crowd began to absurdly heckle him with ill-conceived taunts brought on by Phillie beer goggles, he began to go off. He had a blow-by dunk on Dalembert plus the bump and looked straight at the crowd like he was the Nature Boy Ric Flair about to strut. It was something Bosh and I spoke of off the record. Bosh did offer “I wish they would do more of that.” I thought it was something very uncharacteristic of J.O., but dude is ready to reclaim what he thinks is his, and it may be something Toronto benefits greatly when the sun begins to shine in the middle of 2009. No homo, but check his biceps and tell me if this cat isn’t serious…
MT: Remember we talked at the end of last year when Indiana was making a late push to get into the post season and you were icing everything but your face post game?
Jermaine O’Neal: Yeah, of course.
MT: I see that swag in you once again and you let Philly know it huh? Ay man, you look like a grown-ass man on the floor once again. It’s good to see you back, bruh.
JO: Thank you. As far as the fans, it’s not something I normally do, but it was fun. I had a great summer. I told you what I was going to be doing and I made sure I had the right people around me to ensure I did everything right–down to my diet. I didn’t take two months off and then rehab. I took two weeks off and worked out. I went to Vegas and went back to basics. I worked out the entire summer to get my strength back to were I felt I was ready to do some damage. I took four days off the whole summer.
MT: Damn. I guess the League is about to find out for sure. The advantages of having Chris Bosh with you on the floor reminded me at first glance of the high/low Michigan ran with Chris Webber and Juwan Howard but on a bigger scale because you are professionals. You can run any offense you wanted to with the skill sets you both possess.
JO: Exactly. High/low, both of us can shoot the ball. In special situations you are going to see that. You don’t see it that much where you have two guys who can score, rebound, dunk, block and pass with the best of them. It’s just not about us. We have players all over the floor who can do things besides just shoot. Andrea Bargnani can play like a seven-footer. It’s tough to be guarded. We are reading each other really well. We didn’t really play that much together during the preseason. It’s gonna be interesting to see what type of year we are going to have.
MT: I noticed a smile on his face the entire time we talked. When you see a player of like skills playing in the Olympics is that extra motivation?
JO: I was asked a couple of years ago before the three-year commitment, and I couldn’t do it physically. I really supported those guys. I got a home out in Vegas and invited them over to dinner after training to let them know I supported them in what they eventually brought back to our country. I was proud Chris Bosh did his thing and brought back the gold. That has nothing to do with my motivation. My motivation is to prove to myself that I can get back, be strong and play the way I’m capable of playing. I had to learn to take care of my body and stay on my diet. Those are the things I thought I really knew, but I didn’t.
MT: What is it gonna take for this team to become special in your eyes?
JO: Consistency. If we remain consistent and stay focused, the sky is the limit. This team has all the ingredients. I told the guys I’ve been on some Conference Finals teams–a couple of them. I know what it takes and this team has it. The sky is the limit.
Jason Kapono was killing the Sixers with jab step pull-ups or open threes that rained like October World Series water. When the Sixers doubled J.O. or Bosh, he or Calderon was the answer.
MT: Jason your jumper is one of the purest I’ve seen. You’ve hit so many shots over the course of your career. That little jab step or whatever it was on the left elbow followed by a dagger J was big.
Jason Kapono: I think I slipped and almost fell. I almost twisted my knee and somehow made the shot.
MT: Where did you learn to shoot so well?
JK: In my driveway in sunny California–all year round.
MT: What would you tell that kid who admires your shot who wants to fire with similar precision?
JK: Just work on your skills. Never practice bad habits. Always practice the same shots. I’m not big into quantity. I don’t normally shoot 100, 200, 300 or 400 shots. I’d rather go out and shoot 25 quality shots and then shut it down. Too many guys focus on quantity. It doesn’t really help because you are practicing the wrong thing.
MT: I know it’s kind of early, but does this win make you smile?
JK: Oh for sure. This is a big win. Everyone played a part in the victory. When you have guys taking their time to contribute then it becomes fun.
During the game, I noticed a familiar face. It was none other than Alex English who is an assistant coach for the Raps. During his heyday he was one of the premier scorers along with George Gervin, Joe Barry Carroll, his teammates Dan Issel and Kiki Vandeweghe, Marques Johnson and of course Julius Erving. Man, you think these cats now put up numbers? Check the record.
MT: Coach, you have this monster squad that everyone better pay attention to with Jermaine O’Neal and Chris Bosh the anchors. This team is gonna wreak havoc on the league. Obviously you don’t want to look ahead, but are you seeing something that could potentially be magnificent?
Alex English: I do. I think if we can stay healthy, we have two of the premier big men in the post and also one of the premier point guards. The people we have around them do a great job. With those two inside, it’s gonna be tough for a lot of teams. Tonight, you didn’t really get a chance to see Andrea Bargnani play because he didn’t do well at all. He made some big rebounds for us but he has improved as well. We feel that we have a little quiet excitement going. We don’t want to get overconfident. Again, if we stay healthy, we can make a little noise.
MT: Could you tell our readers what kind of committed athlete Jermaine O’Neal is? That knee was bad, and he looks like he’s almost the same dominant force he not too long ago was.
AE: Yes. He puts in a lot of extra time in the weight room and on the floor working on his game. He wants to win. He wants to prove he is the All-Star player and Olympian that he was. With that kind of passion and determination…(Although the game is over the place is still packed with fans watching the Phillies game, the crowd erupts as the Phillies score to go up 3-2.)…I think he will show up and do some things.
MT: That’s an understatement, but I understand the chill vibe. Growing up, I was a Dr. J fan (Coach English smiles the competitor smile). It used to bug me to no end on most days reading the scoring averages in the paper that your name would always be one notch again of Doc. Those were the days where you, Kiki (Vandeweghe) and Dan (Issel) were scorching the League from everywhere on the court. Was it the coaching style?
AE: It was the flavor we played. We had a motion offense and guys knew their role. My role was to score points. I worked hard at it. My role was going to help the team. I knew that. Dan Issel knew that. Kiki Vandeweghe knew that and were proud of working hard.
MT: Is there a player currently in the league where you might see flashes of yourself?
AE: I say Tayshaun Prince because of his body style. As far as my style of play–I was a thin guy–I played in the post so I haven’t seen anyone who played that style. Now, guys are so powerful and there are a lot of players who have beautiful games.
Kamal from the legendary Roots crew was next on the mic. I’ve been trying to get a clean 15 with either him or ?uest for a minute. He sat directly adjacent to me during a time out to get a better vantage point on the cheerleaders so I pounced like a Raptor on some Sixer-area scrapple. I found out later why and who he was trying to see…
MT: Kamal, I see you at all the games–in different sports. What makes you the total Philly fan?
Kamal: I’m just a Philly fanatic of any sports team in Philadelphia. I’m born and bred like that. I’m even down for the Flyers–which is something you might not think I would check out. I’ve been coming to Sixers games since I was a little little boy. It’s always been amazing to me. I’ve watched all the ups and downs–mostly the downs, but hope for the ups. You know what I’m sayin’? The past couple of years my fiancée Nina has been a Sixers dancer, so I’m completely involved.
MT: I see and talk to ?uestlove occasionally when he’s here. Is this something the group does together?
Kamal: You know what? When we started gettin’ money we bought season tickets. It’s somewhere to be where you have camaraderie with people who are of like minds and therefore have the same interest in Philadelphia sports–particularly the Sixers.
It’s something we make sure we do every year. We get our tickets and we come out and support.
MT: You look at this organization now and you see a team in definite positive transition–specifically going out and getting Elton Brand. What are your thoughts and hopes for the season?
Kamal: Being that this is a transitional season, you might not want to put all your eggs in one basket yet. You are talking about a bunch of personalities that basically were thrown together. The Sixers have a lot of good and some great players. We have to understand here that there is going to be a period where the team has to gel. I’m hoping that by the middle of the season that period is complete and we can really start to fall in. There’s a lot of new faces on the team. This is a good team. We have bonafide big men playing the game for us. If we focus and buckle down, this could be a great season.
Everyone has to put all their ego aside and play like they’ve never been on a team before.
MT: What do you have to say about what is going on across the street?
Kamal: This is amazing. I’m looking for it to be over tonight. I was looking for it to be over the other night. I’m 32 years old, Mike. The last time the Phillies won a championship, I was four years old.
That’s nothing I can really remember. This right here is amazing. The excitement–the Sixers went to the championship (in 2001) but we didn’t win this much. This is the furthest I’ve ever seen a Philadelphia team come with my own eyes (besides the old Sixers and as a grown man) to be this far and this close to gettin’ a chip.
I’m looking forward to it. I want to go to a parade. I’ve never been to one of them. In my lifetime there’s been a Phillies championship and a Sixers championship, but I’ve never been to a parade. I want to be out there on Broad Street and all of that with all the hoopla and the thousands–and the noise. I want to see that.
We’re right there man, we’re right there. We’re three and a half innings away. This could be in tonight. The city is going to be on fire.
MT: What’s going on with the group?
Kamal: Right now, we are still on the road grindin’ from our last album Rising Down. We are always working in the studio staying on our show grind. We are at the end of a tour we just did with Estelle and Gym Class Heroes. We have two weeks off and then we head over to Europe. We’re coming back for Christmas and New Years and then Japan and also hit different parts of Asia we’ve never been to before.
After that, there are definitely things in the works that I can’t put out there, but it’ll have you seeing us on a night-to-night basis across the world. I’ll just say it like that.
MT: Who caught your eye in your early development that helped advance your thought and talent?
Kamal: As a keyboard player, I watched and listened to all kinds of stuff. I was brought up listening to jazz and classical music. My roots was truly Hip-Hop. I lived, breathed and longed for it as a child and chased it.
On the other side of it, my Dad kept me grounded on where it all came from. It all came from soulful Black music. That’s my influence. You know…Thelonius Monk, Herbie Hancock, Horace Silver. Those cats. Jimmy Reed on blues guitar. People you really aren’t going to know unless you’ve been there listening to it and experiencing it. Bob Marley…Prince. The ones who gave me the drive to actually want to do this.
Everybody got a story. Everybody comes from something. I have two small children–a son and a daughter and right now, that’s the influence. That’s what keeps me going and moving.
MT: When did it all come together for the Roots?
Kamal: Well ?uest and Thought (Black Thought) knew each other from high school. I’m the young boy of the group. After about ‘93, everything started coming together. I got a call from my manager–my manager since I’ve been eleven–who also managed the roots and said they needed a keyboard player.
Next thing you know I was there. I graduated in ‘94 and went straight to live in London. That was how the Roots, as you know it today, was formulated.
MT: What was the whole London vibe?
Kamal: Different for a young dude who never been anywhere by himself. I didn’t really know Tariq (Black Thought) and Amir (?uestlove). I was just meeting them and living with them at the same time. We lived in a two bedroom flat with like seven of us. We were grown men all piled up. Here I am moving in with people I didn’t know but who had like minded goals and purposes.
It was quite an experience because I had to learn how to grow on my own with no money. To say we started together and went on our grind together is an understatement. We ate fish and chips every night. That was how we lived.
Look where we are now with it. We just kept it going.
MT: What is your personal favorite Roots crew album? I’ve spoken with many artists and most are apprehensive to put their favorites out there.
Kamal: My personal favorite is illadelph halflife. That’s our second major release. That was where I had my biggest (initial) influence. WhenDo You Want More?!!!??! came out, Scott Storch had done most of the music. The album was done completely at the end of ‘93. I didn’t get to play on the album. I got to play on all the remixes. Then came illadelph halflife. I made tracks that meant something on a record. It’s songs on there we still play today. Next Movement was on that record. It’s not a show we play without that song. That’s one of the first joints I did.
MT: Speaking of…what’s your favorite track?
Kamal: My favorite track…is Break You Off because of how it came together. It was a song that wasn’t supposed to happen, but just happened. It was the first song I got to put my name on as producer without it being all of us. It’s a song we all came up with together at a sound check but nobody really put forth the effort to make it happen. When I did it, I saw light in it.
Smiley, the comedian, said during the sound check that that was a hit we were playing. I told him we were just messing around. That’s nothing. So, I was like damn…Is that a hit? I went to the studio and called everyone in individually. I put the whole beat together by myself because I remembered it. We put everything down (on the track) and it became what it was. Just the experience of somebody seeing something and me taking it and running with it and making something happen. That’s what made it important to me.
MT: I remember watching both You Got Me and Break You Off and seeing the vast differences in the videos. Who was the creative mind behind both video hits?
Kamal: Chuck Stone did You Got Me.
MT: I thought You Got Me was underrated because in my mind it captured the sign of the times being it was so close to the Millennium and everyone was wrapped up in the conspiracy theories of that big number–the year 2000.
Kamal: See, that video I never really had an answer for. Break You Off I did because the video was about the song. You Got Me was something you actually had to think about and do some brain work. It was masterful, but it was more for the arts targeted. You know the people who would sit down, think about it and make their synopsis of what it was supposed to mean.
MT: Last question bruh. Where did the priority on the live performance come from. You always give an excellent show. The Roots are Hip-Hop mos def, but transcend musical boundaries and advance thought. Thank you for that.
Kamal: No doubt. That came about because if you look at the history of Black music, the ones who’ve lasted are the ones who could do shows.
If you can’t stay visible to the public eye and build a core audience by doing shows every single time you are supposed to do them–and not the big money tours because everybody can’t get there–then you are gonna have problems. It’s about keeping it small and consistent. It just developed over time. Next thing you know, we were doing 200 shows a year. It’s what we knew how to do. That was what got us fire…how we ate.
We didn’t make ourselves by selling records, we made ourselves by making good records for the people who search for us. We have to make sure we gave them that show and gave them that heat every time we walk on that stage. That’s the lifestyle we live.
One last bit of business is to give you a sense of the pulse before the Phillies won the chip. I rode the EL to 30th street station and it was a crazy. They announced on the train the Phillies won, and happy drunk Philly folk were on top of the world once again. The streets were packed, passers by blew their horns and everyone got along.
Nick Hess of Allentown PA offered these words: “This is a huge morale booster. We’ve been around to see some truly bad times here. Every year we’ve been used to something happening like missing the playoffs by one game or making it and getting swept out like last year. This feeling is incredible and I’ll never forget it how this moment feels.”
His buddy Jeremy Kappes also from Allentown commented on the stop start playing of the last couple of days because of the rain: “I wasn’t worried, but I was a little frustrated. I thought our bullpen was set up better to win under such circumstances. Our bullpen has been strong so I had confidence we would get it done. We’ve both played a lot of baseball so we knew it had to be called and while it was poorly handled, Bud Selig made the right decision–although he could have called it before the Rays tied it.”
Congratulations Phillies. Now about that other team…