‘Star Stories With Touré’: That time I played basketball with Prince
OPINION: Playing a game of hoops was one of the best ways to see the many sides of the music legend.
Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.
It was probably the greatest moment of my life. I was in Paisley Park playing basketball with Prince. He was then a living legend who was so mysterious that people knew very little about him beyond the fact that he was one of the greatest musicians, songwriters and performers of all time. I was dying for a way to get him to open up. We had already had an interview that felt like talking to someone wearing a mask. I wanted to get a glimpse of the real man. I had heard that he loved basketball and so I asked if we could play and he said … yes. The story of me playing basketball with Prince is at the heart of the episode of “Star Stories With Touré” titled “Chappelle Was Right: Prince Got Game.”
I did not know that he was then growing so tired of interviewers that he had said he wasn’t interested in talking to anyone who couldn’t play music or basketball. Those were really the only two things he cared about so if you wanted to relate to him, it had to be one of those two topics. Lucky for me, I asked if we could play basketball. He loved the request.
One thing I have always known throughout my journalism career is that sometimes people lie with their mouths but they usually can’t lie with their bodies. I mean, you may be able to present a fake version of yourself when you’re talking or doing an interview, but when you’re in action doing something, it’s hard to maintain a façade. I did an interview with Prince where I got very little because he was totally behind his mask. I was hoping that a game of basketball would open him up. It did.
As soon as we started playing one on one, I started to see the real Prince or at least one of his sides. Call this the boyish competitor side because it took me back to being a kid and facing off against another kid, both of us trying to establish dominance. I mean, as soon as he got on his sneakers — red and white Nike high tops — he started talking trash and making faces at me that said “I’m gonna kick your ass.” He was supremely confident, and he wanted me to know. He was going to win, and he had to tell me all about it before it happened. He was that sort of guy. It was funny but it was also pure masculine bravado — I’m better than you at this, and I’m about to prove it.
I welcomed Prince’s arrogance because it made him seem like one of the boys, and it helped explain his success. He was incredibly competitive, and he believed in himself immensely. He took both of those notions into his musical career — he wanted to be better than everyone, and he knew he could be.
Our one-on-one game lasted about 15 minutes and then we played two on two. Me and Prince against his bassist, Morris Hayes, and the magazine’s photographer (who was not allowed to take photos of my game). When we got into two on two, I saw more of Prince’s bravado — he was never afraid to shoot or to drive to the hoop even if it meant both guys were covering him. But the more interesting moment was when I had to use his name. See, this is back when Prince was going by an unpronounceable symbol. People said, what do you do if you have to call out his name? Well, I passed him the ball, and he didn’t know it was coming. I had to yell out his name, even though I was told to never do that. What happened? Check out “Chappelle Was Right: Prince Got Game” on “Star Stories With Touré.”
Touré is a host and Creative Director at theGrio. He is the host of the docuseries podcast “Being Black: The ’80s” and the animated show Star Stories with Toure which you can find at TheGrio.com/starstories. He is also the host of the podcast “Toure Show” and the podcast docuseries “Who Was Prince?” He is the author of eight books including the Prince biography Nothing Compares 2 U and the ebook The Ivy League Counterfeiter.
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