Basketball Meets Hip-Hop and the Result Is Krunk

Hopes are high for the newest franchise in the 60-year-old Continental Basketball Association. The Atlanta Krunk Wolverines are organized by former hip-hop star Duane Hughes, who wants to make every game a concert.

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FARAI CHIDEYA, host:

I'm Farai Chideya, and this is NEWS & NOTES.

Today, the oldest basketball league in the country starts its draft. Now over 60 years old, the Continental Basketball Association, analogous to the minor leagues in baseball, is looking to draw a new generation of fans.

Today, CBA franchises are hoping to learn from a brand new team under creation in Atlanta, which plans to make hip-hop a part of every game. Joshua Levs reports.

JOSHUA LEVS: If you're a hip-hop fan, you might know the name Spyder-D.

(Soundbite of song “Smerphies Dance”)

Mr. DUANE HUGHES (As Spyder-D, Rapper): (Rapping) Well, everybody get up it's time to work, from coast to coast they're doing the Smerph. It's a brand new dance...

LEVS: The 1983 track Smerphies Dance was a hit and helped him go on to sell two million records. He also has another love.

Mr. HUGHES: Music and sports has always been a part of my life and a way of life.

LEVS: In fact, when he was young, Spyder-D, with the real name Duane Hughes, played basketball. His love for it came from attending American Basketball Association games in Queens. He says it was more freeform and unpredictable than the NBA, and there was always a DJ spinning before, after and sometimes during the games.

Mr. HUGHES: The feeling that I saw and the looks that I saw on people's face in that atmosphere let me know that the two went hand-in-hand.

LEVS: In 1986, he organized a hip-hop concert at an Atlanta Hawks game to help fill seats, and it worked. Other teams around the country followed suit, but Hughes says it was with other kinds of music.

Mr. HUGHES: Shortly thereafter rap went through some concerts where people got stabbed and hurt at, so it didn't catch on as far as hip-hop. But people started doing it with rock groups, with country and western acts. It became a staple in sports.

LEVS: There have been some hip-hop performances at NBA games, but Hughes is looking to create something new. He's building a franchise for the Continental Basketball Association called the Atlanta Krunk Wolverines. He wants every game to include hip-hop performances before, after or at halftime. For tickets maxing out at $30, he says fans will get a game and a concert. He thinks it'll draw young people.

Mr. HUGHES: We're going to make every game an event. So you may not care anything about basketball but word of mouth in the street will already be spread - wow, that's going to be a hot event because the last one was.

LEVS: Atlanta is considered a hip-hop mecca, so Hughes is reaching out to hometown stars like Outkast, Usher and Jermaine Dupri. He expects artists to be receptive.

Mr. HUGHES: Promotion is promotion. As a recording artist, if you can go to a guy that has five or 6,000 people and sign a couple of hundred autographs, you've got a fan for life.

LEVS: Hughes was going to open a minor league team for the ABA in Charlotte, North Carolina, last year but that fell through. Then he got a chance to create a CBA franchise in Atlanta. It's based at Morris Brown College, so it's taken on the name Wolverines, the school's mascot. And Hughes says even though Atlanta is a major center of the hip-hop genre called krunk, some people have complained about using that word in the team's name.

Mr. HUGHES: There's a lot of negative connotations with the word krunk. And I'm like says who? Where did you get that from? It means whatever you want it to mean.

LEVS: The CBA had some concerns as well, says Operations Director Dennis Truax.

Mr. DENNIS TRUAX (Operations Director, CBA): We were just worried if that name might have become too regionalized. But he's assured us through his research that the name is out there and we will go with what his research says.

LEVS: Truax says the CBA encourages every team to build a strong entertainment component. Still, Hughes' focus on hip-hop and on making every game a concert is an ambitious plan. Truax says other cities are watching to see if it works.

Mr. TRUAX: We as a league feel that it will. And once it works in one market, just like anyplace else, it going to take off.

LEVS: Truax hopes the Atlanta Krunk Wolverines will help draw crowds back to the CBA. Hughes acknowledges it's a big challenge in a city that already has an NBA team.

Mr. HUGHES: It's a tough thing, but the CBA needs to move into more urban areas in order to grow.

LEVS: He can't be sure the Atlanta Krunk Wolverines will weather even their first year. The team has no players yet. After the draft, tryouts and practices, the league will have its opening night December 1st.

For NPR News, I'm Joshua Levs in Atlanta.

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