We love that “Basketball”: Kurtis Blow scores extra points in “Take Off to Sports Rock II”

By on February 5, 2018

Now that Super Bowl LII is in the history books, all of you pro sports fanatics can fully divert your attention back to watching all those NBA games you’ve been missing, and we thought it’d also be a great time to to share this 1988 episode of Night Flight’s “Take Off to Sports Rock,” which features the music video for Kurtis Blow’s “Basketball,” a heartfelt tribute to the party rapper’s favorite sport (“I like the way they dribble up and down the court”).

Watch it now on Night Flight Plus

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1984’s “Basketball” wasn’t the first rap devoted to pro basketball, but Kurtis Blow’s video may have been one of the first to feature a quickie cameo by the Fat Boys, who by the end of 1985 were MTV darlings on a Swatch-sponsored tour with Kurtis Blow, Run-D.M.C. and Whodini (read more here).

Harlem-native Kurtis Blow’s “The Breaks” was one of the great hip-hop songs booming out of oversized boom boxes back in 1981, the year that MTV launched, but network weren’t playing any hip-hop or rap artists videos back then.

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In fact, MTV execs were getting a lot of heat from David Bowie and other artists for not playing any black artists’ videos, and in 1983, Michael Jackson‘s record company told MTV they were withholding his full-length “Thriller” video from the network unless they started playing more videos by black artists.

So, in 1984, when Polygram presented MTV with the video for Kurtis Blow’s novelty rap track “Basketball” — a single from his fifth album, Ego Trip – the network were only too happy to oblige by airing it (“Yo! MTV Raps,” an entire show devoted to rap videos, didn’t begin airing for another four years, in 1988).

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Blow — one of the first to include choruses in his raps — has said the original idea for the song came from his girlfriend (now wife), who pointed out to him that basketball was the #1 sport among black Americans and yet no one had done a rap song about the sport (apparently she didn’t know about Las Vegas-based b-ball fan Hurt ‘Em Bad’s “NBA Rap,” released in 1982).

Blow (real name: Kurtis Walker) loved the idea and ran it by his producer, J.B. Moore, and his lyricist, William “Billy-Bill” Waring, telling Waring that he wanted to name all the great pro basketball players.

He specifically wanted the first player mentioned in the track to be Julius “Dr. J” Erving, his favorite player.

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The track — recorded at the Power Station studio in NYC — features the voice of John Condon, longtime voice of the New York Knicks, who also appears in the video (he died in 1989).

The participants also ad-libbed talking about their favorite players, including Michael Jordan, who was still playing college basketball at the time (a year after “Basketball” was recorded Jordan won NBA Rookie of the Year honors).

Read more about Kurtis Blow’s “Basketball” below.

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NY filmmaker Michael Oblowitz — originally from Cape Town, South Africa — has admitted that he “knew next to nothing” about basketball at the time he directed the video.

His personal music interests were more aligned with NYC’s “No Wave” movement, preferring punk rock and experimental recordings to Bronx-based party rappers.

Oblowitz — who these days self-describes himself on Twitter as “1970’s surfer and New York New Wave award-winning film-maker. Appears in the documentary Blank City. Columbia U grad” — had already directed a few music videos as well as an experimental avant-garde punk film called King Blank, which had a sequence set to rap music (the film played as part of a midnight movie double feature with Eraserhead at the Waverly Theatre in NYC).

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Michael Oblowitz

Oblowitz came up with a lot of edgy images he’d seen beyond the chain-linked fences on playgrounds and basketball courts in neighborhoods in the Bronx, mixing up “gnarly dudes” (his description) who were Kung Fu fighting and swingin’ nunchucks around with other gang member types slam-dunking in a basketball hoop about eight feet off the asphalt.

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Oblowitz tossed in any idea that seemed like it would be fun or surreal to include in the video — trampolines, an oversized chicken mascot, and a man eating a giant mustard-covered hot dog — while splashing around a lot of color and giving the “Basketball” video a Pop Art aesthetic with “Batman”-style visual effects.

Blow says he didn’t understand all the martial arts stuff Oblowitz had done but was happy the Fat Boys and Whodini could be included.

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His label Polygram had only one request: they wanted the cute cheerleaders seen in the video to be white girls (“blonde MTV babes” Oblowitz called them).

The video was shot without any participation from the NBA, who didn’t initially agree to give clearances for any of the 25 players Blow mentioned in the song, including Wilt Chamberlain, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

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These days, Kurtis Blow is focused on the long post-rap career he’s had performing Christian music. He leads a music-oriented youth ministry called the “Hip Hop Church” which teaches kids about the gospels, Jesus, and salvation.

Night Flight’s “Take Off to Sports Rock” — collected with our other “Take Off” episodes over on Night Flight Plus — also features sports-themed videos by Dire Straits, Dazz Band, the Wrestlers (“Land of 1000 Dances”), George Thorogood, New Edition, Cheech & Chong, Manfred Mann’s Earth Band, Meat Loaf, John Fogerty, Van Zant and the Chicago Bears Shufflin’ Crew (“The Super Bowl Shuffle”), as well as interstitial scenes from German director Leni Riefenstahl’s Olympia, documenting the 1936 Summer Olympics.

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.