By: Jesse Taylor/ @GSW_JesseTaylor
“You on point Steph?”
“Yo, all the time Jack.”
29 games. 57 days.
After waiting 23 years, how could it have taken so long for me to realize that my two favorite things ever – I mean EVER, and I have two kids – were finally connected.
The realization came during a fight between the Golden State Warriors and Utah Jazz (and by “fight” I mean a basketball fight, which is not actually a real fight, it’s just a thing where guys pose like they are about to fight to look tough knowing damn well they’d rather watch David Stern having sex than throw a punch and lose a few hundred grand).
The game was December 26. Maybe it took my mind being in full Carrie Mathison breakdown mode in dire need of some shock therapy. See, I was in hour three of my 6-hour family caravan to Disneyland; a tedious drive that followed long exhausting days on both Christmas Eve and Day with both sides of my full extended family.
But here it was. Tim Roye was barely audible inside my car as fading reception was being replaced with children whining about their Nintendo 3DS’s running out of juice. Roye was describing a scuffle between Warriors guard Jarrett Jack and Utah forward Derrick Favors. Jack started the ruckus with the much larger Favors after coming to the defense of teammate Carl Landry. My first thought was that it was nice to finally have a ruffneck on the team.
My weary brain went right to my favorite use of the term ruffneck:
“Microphone check one-two what is this? The 5-foot assassin with the ruffneck business.”
If you listen to rap music and you don’t know that line, then you really don’t listen to rap music. As Jay says, you just skim through it.
My brain hit me with it again. “The 5-foot assassin with the ruffneck business.”
But I still didn’t make the connection. I started to drift. My kids were losing it without their 3DS’s. My wife was losing it because the kids were losing it. Finally my brain just came right out and said it: “Jarrett Jack is Phife and Stephen Curry is Q-Tip!”
At that moment, I’m pretty sure I hit the brakes fairly hard, stopping all the backseat whining but causing a “WTF!” from the wife.
What a discovery! How could I miss this? Steph Curry is Q-Tip to Jarrett Jack’s Phife Dawg!
What took me so long? Utah was the 29th game of the Jarrett Jack/Steph Curry partnership. I was simultaneously upset with myself and extremely excited about the breakthrough.
To appreciate my excitement around this you must understand that the Golden State Warriors and A Tribe Called Quest have meant more to me than anything; yes, even the two 3DS-addicted neophytes. I’d quickly exchange those little buzz-kills for a Warriors title or a new Tribe album on par with Low End Theory. I mean, those are two pretty awesome things, right? So you can’t blame me.
Before calling CPS, let me explain.
Of the two, the Warriors came into my life first. Around the age of 11, I became infatuated with this group of guys whose names all seemed to end with “y” (except the smooth-shooting Purvis Short): Sleepy, Mully, Terry, Joe Barry and Larry.
I begged my mom to buy me a basketball hoop so I could practice the moves of my heroes in the driveway. With a single mom working as a grocery store checker and a dad who disappeared like Harry Potter behind his invisibility cloak, I was pretty much out of luck.
It wasn’t until years later that I got my wish when my mom married some dude who figured out how to build a backboard out of scrap wood and affix it to the roof. I already had several rims from my nights out rim-ripping with friends (you know, when you and some guys go out at night in a nice neighborhood and rip the rims off driveway basketball hoops; then run away as parents chase you down the street. What? No? You didn’t do this?).
I’m convinced my mom only married this guy for his backboard-building abilities, because a short time later, she divorced him. Now armed with a hoop at home and my Warriors on TV, my fixation grew. The pain and suffering inflicted on me through the years of heartbreak and losing only strengthened my resolve.
Hip-hop was my life’s other love. I was hooked the first time I heard Rapper’s Delight, driving my mom crazy as I rapped every lyric word-for-word around the house; especially when we had chicken, even if it didn’t taste like wood.
This adoration reached a new level when I first heard Q-Tip and Phife in 1989, featured on De La Soul’s “Buddy.” Shortly thereafter, Yo! MTV Raps premiered “I Left My Wallet in El Segundo” and my life-long addiction to A Tribe Called Quest was cemented. They had me at rhyming “conduit” with “through it.”
I was the first in my high school clique to become hip to People’s Instinctive Travels … and whatever else the rest of that album title is called. I took pride in this. Tribe was my group. I discovered them and felt a sense of accomplishment every time I made a recommendation that created a new Tribe fan. I didn’t have a car, but pretty soon, everyone was asking me to bring my cassette tape on rides around town, making sure “Push It Along” was cued up.
I was so hooked I bought a Tribe shirt and had “Progressions Can’t Be Made If We’re Separate Forever” embroidered on the back. It was a shoddy job that caused my itching back to remain in a state of constant irritation, but I still rocked that shirt weekly for years.
So on that long drive down I-5 when my mind first thought of Jack as a ruffneck and connected it to Phife’s legendary line in “Buggin’ Out,” I immediately began thinking of all the Curry/Tip and Jack/Phife comparisons. The similarities came fast and easy, making absolute sense as I pieced my notes together like Tom Cruise solving a murder case on that screen in Minority Report.
Let’s start with Curry and Tip, the respective leaders of their team/group.
At first glance, these are the guys you like the best. They are both handsome; you might even say pretty boys. Curry with the green eyes, famous dad and mom with the movie star looks. It was Q-Tip who long ago was one of the first to sport the hip-hop nerd look you see Russell Westbrook, Dwyane Wade and other hipster athletes copying today. Tip wasn’t worried about portraying that tough gangster rap style and many times could be seen wearing feathered boas and gypsy hats to accessorize his wild outfits.
The corporate guys made them the face of the franchise/group. When it came time to edit down the 7-minute long “Buddy” that was to be A Tribe Called Quest’s breakthrough moment, it was Phife and his verse that got cut from the video, not Q-Tip.
Phife and Jack? They are not pretty boys. They are rugged. They have to work for theirs. Far from leading men, there are most often regulated to sidekick roles by corporate.
The Yin and Yang that is Q-Tip and Phife? That’s the Yin and Yang of Curry and Jack. Curry and Q-Tip are the soulful, nice and easy first half of Ike and Tina Turner’s “Proud Mary.” Jack and Phife are the rough second half.
When Jack enters the game for Curry, we go from a point guard with a jump shot possessing the looks of Adonis to one that’s closer to Gollum. As Jack readies himself to shoot, he takes the form of a rock climber, leaning back as he repels down a cliff. He then flings the ball so it arches high in the air, looking like it will never go in. But more often than not, it does.
As if their looks weren’t enough, Curry and Tip each have natural abilities. Ask Tip, who on his solo debut opens the song “All In” by stating how effortless things are for him compared to other rappers. Want effortless? Check out Curry’s jump shot. It is a smooth thing of beauty, like almost no effort at all is needed for him to flick his wrists and launch the ball through the air before it swishes through the net.
Jack and Phife came into the game without the God-given talent of their more famous counterparts; relying on grit and determination to make a name for themselves. Listen to Phife early in his career on Buddy (1:16 mark) and Push It Along (2:28 mark). His style is completely different from the “5-foot assassin with the ruffneck business” style he later developed. At first, his voice was much more soft and smooth. In Michael Rappaport’s “Beats, Rhymes and Life” documentary about Tribe, Phife admits that after the first album he realized he had to put in a lot of work to get better and make sure he was on top of his game; knowing that people were actually paying attention. He spent hours on the train going to-and-from the studio honing his craft. He came back on Low End Theory with a vicious rugged style that stole the show. He absolutely destroys the opening verse on “Buggin’ Out” – one of the few times he is allowed to lead off a song (because like Curry, Q-Tip is the starter). Phife’s rare start was definitely earned.
Jack is also someone who has been regulated to a non-lead off role this season and for about half of his career so far. Like Phife, he has made constant improvements to his game. Last season with the Hornets was his 7th in the NBA and by far his best up to that point, averaging career highs in points, rebounds and assists. And he has become even better this season with the Warriors. Despite reduced minutes coming off the bench, he has had more of an impact on games than any other player on the team.
A great example of Jack working to improve his game is his patented running floater. Short like Phife (by NBA standards at least), Jack’s rugged style often leaves him in the lane facing much taller players. To get his shot off, he has learned to lift the ball upward over the long outstretched arms of his opponents, pushing the ball high into the air before splashing down through the rim’s inner circle.
Because of their stature, these are guys you shouldn’t be intimated by. But because of their attitudes, much larger men back away from them. Just ask Derrick Favors.
With the stage to themselves, Steph and Tip are maestros; as Tip labeled himself, “A perfectionist at work.” There may be no more pure and simple song in hip-hop’s history than Q-Tip’s “Verses From The Abstract,” the song that inspired my scratchy T-shirt insignia.
Utilizing an uncontaminated jazz bass line, Tip folds his voice cleanly into the crevices of the instrumental creating a song that’s silky smooth like a Curry jump shot. Tip describes the song perfectly when he states, “Women love the voice, brothas dig the lyrics.” This also represents Curry, as women love the way he looks and dudes love his game.
When I think of Curry’s change-of-pace ball-handling ability, I think of Tip’s “Where ya at? …. To all my people with the funk” verse in “Hot Sex.” Tip’s voice speeds up, pauses and slows down throughout the verse, like Curry’s shifty dribbling around the edges of the 3-point line as he looks for an opening.
The key trait of a leader is the ability to get the most out of those you lead. I’ve seen Tribe in concert on three separate occasions, and Tip is the one controlling the crowd, leading them in chants and pointing the mic outward letting fans know when to take over for him. During songs, Tip guides the way for his fellow band members, giving cues on when to take things in different directions.
On the court, Curry is the Warriors player who routinely encourages the home crowd to cheer, waving his arms upward after made shots and big plays.
As the point guard and main ball dominator, it’s Curry’s job to decide how each offensive set should play out. His pick-and-roll decision making at the top of the key with David Lee has been sound. As Lee sets the pick on his man, Curry must read the defense. If two defenders attack him and the ball, Curry quickly dumps it to Lee, who then runs the offense. If a defender goes with Lee, Curry will have an opening and take the shot himself or drive and kick it out.
Taking over the role of team leader this season without the domineering Monta Ellis, Curry has shown a much-improved ability to get his teammates involved. He is more routinely getting in the lane and swinging the ball out to perimeter shooters or bigs down low.
As leaders, Curry and Tip find themselves with most of the minutes in games and on albums. At 38 minutes per contest, Curry sits for just 10 minutes a night. This is eerily similar to the amount of time Q-Tip puts into an album.
On People’s Instinctive Travels, Q-Tip had 10 of the 14 songs all to himself. On the other four songs, Phife was only allowed one verse to Tip’s two to three.
With Phife’s improved style, he received a little more play on future records, but rarely received a song to himself (three total on five albums) whereas Tip would get at least three to four to himself per album.
But what separates Phife and Jack from other bench performers is their ability to take over in limited time and make a memorable impact.
In addition to “Buggin’ Out,” here are some examples of songs that are best remembered for Phife:
- “Back in ’89 I simply slid into place / Buddy, buddy, buddy all up in your face” on “Award Tour”
- “I like ‘em brown, yellow, Puerto Rican or Haitian / Name is Phife Dawg from the Zulu Nation” and “Let me hit it from the back, girl, I won’t catch a hernia / Bust off on your couch, now you got Seaman’s Furniture” on “Electric Relaxation” (this was a line I didn’t fully appreciate until years later when I moved to the East Coast and realized there was an actual Seaman’s Furniture)
- “You know the style Tip / It’s time to flip this / I like my beats hard like 2-day old shit / Steady eatin’ booty MCs like cheese grits” on “Oh My God”
And who can forget Phife’s contribution to the star-studded “Scenario”? Tip and Busta Rhymes dominated the song, with Busta losing his mind at moments on his way to stardom (David Lee as Busta?). But leading off the song, Phife came away with the track’s best line (“I’m all that and then some / Short, dark and handsome / Bust a nut inside your eye, to show you where I come from”) and one of the most quoted lines ever (“Bo knows this and Bo knows that / But Bo don’t know jack ‘cause Bo can’t rap”).
At 27 minutes per game off the bench, it’s not about the numbers for Jack, but the impact he has on the game. It’s his timing, the clutch shots when the team needs a basket and his ability to instill confidence in his teammates. His presence on the floor makes everyone around him feel like every game is winnable.
Interestingly, two of Jack’s best games came in losses. Why? His teammates weren’t playing well, so he tried to take over to keep the team from losing. On December 22, the Warriors posted a big lead at home against the Lakers. During the inevitable Kobe Bryant comeback, Jack was the Warrior fending them off, scoring seven points with five assists in the fourth quarter. He finished the game with 29 points and 11 assists as the Warriors lost 115-118 in OT.
With the team playing lethargically three nights earlier in Sacramento, Jack teamed with Curry to spark a fourth quarter comeback that fell disappointingly short. In the final seven minutes of the game, Curry hit two big 3-pointers and Jack scored 13 of his 28 points. After taking the lead on a Jack 3-pointer, the Warriors couldn’t hold on, losing 127-131.
Jack is also at his best in big moments. Like Phife’s performance in “Scenario,” Jack was at his best in the star-studded game against the Miami Heat. Controlling the ball at the top of the key, Jack portrayed more courage under fire than Denzel as he tossed the game-winning pass to Draymond Green of all people in the Warriors 97-95 win.
It’s not always one or the other with these guys. Many times, Curry and Jack share the court together; especially during crunch time. Like Tip and Phife going back-and-forth on the mic, Curry and Jack take turns bringing the all up the court and initiating the offense. These hand-offs are the basketball equivalent of “You on point Tip?,” and “Aye yo, my man Phife Diggy, he got something to say.”
A Tribe Called Quest made it 10 years before Tip and Phife’s feuding forced them to call it quits. It was a great 10 years. With Curry and Jack together, the Warriors are off to their best start in over 20 years (21-10 going into tonight’s Clippers game), so I’m sure Warriors fans would take 10 solid years out of Curry and Jack (I’d even take half that).
Maybe it’s time to replace the embroidery on that old scratchy T-shirt. Maybe “Progressions can be made now that Jack and Curry are together” (that’s why I don’t rap).