On Saturday, May 15, 2021, the Naismith Basketball Hall Of Fame will enshrine its 2020 class. The storied list of inductees includes NBA legends Kevin Garnett, Tim Duncan, and the late Kobe Bryant. Bryant, who died in January 2020, will be inducted by none other than hoops icon Michael Jordan, with Kobe's widow, Vanessa Bryant, accepting in his honor.
Back at the beginnings of their NBA journeys, young Kobe and Duncan were two of the league's brightest prospects. Kobe was the flashy teenage phenom of the Los Angeles Lakers; Duncan the quietly dominant big man for the San Antonio Spurs. In 1998, Bryant and Duncan were tapped to star in a Sprite commercial alongside Hip-Hop hitmaker Missy Elliott. The ad would be an homage to the classic "Basketball Throwdown" scene from 1982's Hip-Hop classic Wild Style. And in the scene, legendary crews The Cold Crush Brothers and the Fantastic Five square off on the court.
To recreate the scene's energy, Sprite recruited Prince Whipper Whip of the Fantastic Five and Grandmaster Caz of the Cold Crush Brothers to lead Duncan and Kobe's bball crews in a freestyle.
"I am blessed to have been included in that," Caz tells RTB. "Sometimes we take things for granted and we figure 'yeah, well if you do somethin' about this, I know Imma be in it.' But it was a lot of people in that movie. For them to single two people out, I feel honored. "
In the ad, Caz and Kobe face off against Duncan and Whipper Whip, with Caz rhyming "KO-BE BRY-ANT/Slam dunk GI-ANT/Outplay the Kobe? Son, don't try it" as Kobe calls for the ball and he and Duncan take it to the court.
"I knew the director, and my music partner Parker Lee was buddies with the director who gave Sprite the idea to use the Wild Style concept in the first place. So it was kind of a no-brainer: We're gonna get one out of each group. Get Caz, the leader of the Cold Crush, and Whipper Whip was out there already."
"We got together and we made it happen."
In the early 1980s, Caz saw the making of Wild Style as affirmation that Hip-Hop wasn't just being dismissed. In the late 1990s, when Sprite sought to channel that movie's spirit, Caz saw another moment where Hip-Hop's voice was being affirmed.
"That was just another stamp of validation that this is real," he says. "The NBA came and embraced it."
As for working with two soon-to-be NBA legends who were still on the front end of their careers, Caz cherishes the memory.
"I'm a basketball fan. I'm a basketball historian," Caz explains. "I study basketball. I can tell you player's numbers from teams back in the day. And to be on the court, practicing, just playing around with Kobe and Tim Duncan -- even when I look back at it now. Damn."
Kobe and Duncan would both go on to win NBA championships, MVP awards and a place in the upper annals of basketball greatness. In 1998, it was all only just beginning.
"They was the young stallions back then!" Caz remembers. "That's why they got picked for the commercial. I was at the NBA 50 Greatest All-Star game and that's when Kobe was mad young. He was going with Brandy!"
The Jan. 26, 2020 death of Bryant, his 13-year old daughter Gianna "Gigi" Bryant and seven others in a tragic helicopter crash casts a somber cloud over his legacy and makes his enshrinement in the Basketball Hall Of Fame bittersweet. But Kobe has always meant a lot to Hip-Hop, and vice-versa. Caz marvels at how much both he and Duncan were able to accomplish.
"Kobe's gone, but look at what he went on to achieve!" Caz says. "Look at what Tim Duncan went on to achieve! These guys are in the Basketball Hall Of Fame."
Bryant, Duncan and Kevin Garnett are being inducted alongside LSU women’s coach and former Baylor coach Kim Mulkey, former Bentley coach Barbara Stevens, four-time Olympic gold medalist Tamika Catchings, two-time NBA champion coach Rudy Tomjanovich, three-time Final Four coach Eddie Sutton and former FIBA secretary general Patrick Baumann.