Every March Madness, I would look forward to doing an NCAA Tournament preview and radio show with my friend Malik Taylor “AKA” Phife Dawg, who tragically passed away on March 22, 2016. Being that one day is not enough to celebrate the legacy and impact of one of Hip-Hop’s legendary pioneers and true sports gurus, each day I will post one of Phife’s sports stories that we collaborated on for The Shadow League over the years prior to his transition.
Originally Published, March 25, 2014
I caught up with my Fanalysts partner and former Sports, Rap Radio co-host Phife Dawg to talk NCAA basketball. Known for being part of one of the most successful music groups in history – A Tribe Called Quest – Phife is equally respected in the sports world for his endless basketball knowledge. Whether it’s the pro game or March Madness, the true hip-hop hoops head is a walking encyclopedia on b-ball history and he recently dropped a few gems on The Shadow League.
Though he grew up in Jamaica, Queens as a huge Big East fan, Phife’s first love has always been the UNC Tarheels. In fact, he has an entire UNC shrine in a room in his Oakland, California home dressed with everything from Tar Heel sneakers to jackets, to signed basketballs to any powder blue accessory a fanatic would have.
With UNC suffering a tough 85-83 loss to Iowa State on Sunday, you know Phife is going through it. His saving grace is that he is focused on completing his anticipated solo project “MUTTYmorPHosis, so emotionally he has to keep it moving, but he’s never too depressed to just kick it about the rock and the rim. For the five-foot assassin that comes as easy as spitting a legendary 16.
PHIFE DAWG’S TOP TOURNEY TEAMS
1982 UNC TAR HEELS
“Most people would have assumed that I’d pick UNC due to my well known, unwavering allegiance to the arch enemies of the Dukes Blue Devils. Let’s not forget my admiration of the “The Legend” Dean Smith. True indeed, but I became a fan of the ’81 squad that lost the championship to the Indiana Hoosiers led by coach Bobby Knight and an afro-wearing youngster from Chi-Town, Illinois named Isiah Lord Thomas. I loved all the UNC players; James Worthy, Al Wood, Bronx native Jimmy Black and the Brooklyn-born Sam Perkins.
This was a squad for the ages and after beating Virginia and Ralph Sampson in the Final Four, I knew we had the championship in the bag. It didn’t work out as planned, but the very next season was our year and we defeated another great team that featured a hungry Patrick Ewing and the Legendary John Thompson-led Hoyas of Georgetown, the most culturally influential college squad of that decade.
Georgetown was seen as an unbeatable, physically-dominant machine and introduced the Big East as the up-and-coming elite conference. All thanks in that victory goes to a skinny freshman by the name of Michael Jeffrey Jordan.”
1990 UNLV RUNNIN’ REBELS
“This team was the most exciting team that I ever saw play college basketball.
Many would argue why or how could I place them before those great Lewis Alcindor or Bill Walton-led UCLA teams of the late ‘60s/early ‘70s, or the ’74 NC State Wolfpack, or the undefeated Indiana Hoosiers squad from 1976! Simply put, I was too damn young and this is what I know.
Stacey Augmon’s defense, Greg Anthony’s defense and leadership, Larry Johnson’s power, rebounding and scoring prowess all led to them being first-round NBA picks in the summer of ’91. Add the iconic, towel-slurping coaching of Jerry Tarkanian to a cast of leapers who defied gravity on a daily basis, and I’d have a huge problem if the Rebels weren’t on this list.”
1991 & 1992 DUKE BLUE DEVILS
“Many would think that I hate Duke being that I’m a wannabe UNC alum, but I don’t hate Coach K & Co. I’m just in love with the rivalry that is Durham vs. Chapel Hill, NC. Before I’m a Fan, I’m a realist. An analyst. Just call me the PHanalyst from the Fanalysts, and it has always been my duty (as rapper or sportswriter) to call a spade a spade.
Bobby Hurley and Christian Laettner weren’t the best of friends, but they understood what it took to win and what it meant to have a common goal. That goal finally came to fruition when freshman phenom Grant Hill came into the fold and made life easier for the point guard, legendary coach and the versatile forward/center.
Back-to-back titles followed and they became the first team to repeat since UCLA. They earned their place on the Mount Rushmore of college squads and at times have surpassed UNC as the toast of Tobacco Road. I’ve never been so reluctant to admit something, but real recognizes real and always will.”
Honorable Mention: ‘96 KENTUCKY WILDCATS, ‘92 MICHIGAN WOLVERINES (Fab Five), ’83 HOUSTON COUGARS (Phi Slama Jama), ‘79 MICHIGAN STATE SPARTANS (my introduction to college basketball), ‘79 DEPAUL BLUE DEMONS (led by Mark Aguirre), ‘83 NC STATE WOLFPACK (Jimmy V & the miracle that was)
PHIFE’S TOURNEY TITANS
“Let me first say that Lew Alcindor, Elvin Hayes and Pistol Pete Maravich were all before my time, but they were TSL Tourney Titans without a doubt.”
RALPH SAMPSON, VIRGINIA CAVALIERS: “He stood a towering 7-foot-4 and was a three-time College Player of the Year. It’s not his fault that he had zero help while at UVA. The ACC Conference had teams that were loaded, while Sampson carried the Cavaliers on his revolutionary back.”
EARVIN “MAGIC” JOHNSON, MICHIGAN STATE SPARTANS: “Who else could take over a game without scoring a single point? Who made his teammates better than Magic? Who else won a title in high school, college and his rookie year in the pros? A 6-foot-9 point guard with ridiculous handle and incomparable court vision and passing skills, that’s who. Need I say more?”
PATRICK EWING, GEORGETOWN HOYAS: “The Jamaican-born big man put Georgetown University on the map. Can you count how many youngsters would proudly wear those vintage Hoyas Nikes or Hoyas starter jackets and caps? Ewing was a 7-foot-tall, black and ornery impenetrable force. Georgetown was the first all-black team with a black coach, who dominated college basketball throughout the mid-80s. In four years Patrick participated in three Final Fours, winning in ’84 over Houston which featured Clyde “The Glide” Drexler and Hakeem Olajuwon. Ewing could have just as easily snagged three rings. Fred Brown’s brain freeze led to a crushing loss to UNC in ’82. Losing to Ed Pinckney and that miracle Villanova squad in ’85 was unfathomable.
We probably wouldn’t have heard of Alonzo Mourning, Mount Mutombo or the great Allen Iverson tearing up DC, if it were not for the mythical exploits of Pat Ewing and crew. Pay homage to the Hoya Paranoia!!”
HONORABLE MENTION: TIM DUNCAN (WAKE FOREST), MARK AGUIRRE (DEPAUL), KENNY ANDERSON (GEORGIA TECH), CHRIS PAUL (WAKE FOREST),CHRIS MULLIN (ST.JOHN’S), CHRIS WEBBER (MICHIGAN), ALLEN IVERSON (GEORGETOWN), RAY ALLEN (UCONN), KEMBA WALKER (UCONN), HAKEEM OLAJUWON (HOUSTON), ANTWAAN JAMISON (UNC), BOBBY HURLEY & CHRISTIAN LAETTNER( DUKE), SHAQUILLE O’NEAL (LSU), MIKE JORDAN & WORTHY (UNC), DAVID THOMPSON (NC STATE), DAVID “THE ADMIRAL” ROBINSON (NAVY), CHRIS JACKSON (LSU), PEARL WASHINGTON (SYRACUSE).
PHIFE DAWG’S TOP NCAA TOURNAMENT COACHING KINGS
JOHN WOODEN (UCLA): “He’s The G.O.A.T. Period.”
RICK PITINO (PROVIDENCE, KENTUCKY, LOUISVILLE): “The coaching wizard led Providence to a Final Four in the ‘80s with point guard/now Florida HC Billy Donovan. Pitino then led Kentucky to two Final Fours and produced a slew of pros. He just led Louisville to two Final Four appearances, winning the title last year after learning of his Hall of Fame induction. Need I say more?”
BOBBY KNIGHT (INDIANA): “Has anyone else gone undefeated like Indiana in 1976? Most don’t agree with The General’s behavior and questionable shenanigans, but not only was coach Knight a winner, but most of his players graduated as well. Three titles say it all baby.”
JOHN THOMPSON (GEORGETOWN): “He was known for giving kids a chance when certain coaches had already discarded them as unsalvageable casualties of urban America. Thompson took those rough pieces of coal and made diamonds – winners on the court and graduates. When coach spoke, everyone listened, from the players to politicians to The President. No one commanded more respect than Big John Thompson.”
DEAN SMITH (NORTH CAROLINA): “Words can’t express the admiration I have for Dean Smith. There may be better coaches with more wins, championships and the like, but how many can you say were better teachers and executers of the game? Not only has Smith coached countless NBA players, but he also birthed a long lineage of successful coaching disciples. George Karl, Doug Moe, Larry Brown, Billy Cunningham and current UNC general Roy Williams (titles in ’05 and ’09). Let’s not forget players like Mitch Kupchak, who’s gone on to become a top executive. Influential basketball minds and Hall of Fame coaches and players all came out of UNC, under the tutelage of this brilliant maverick and trailblazer.”
LARRY BROWN (KANSAS, SMU): “Who else has won an NCAA title (1988) and NBA Title (2004 Pistons), only to recently return to the college ranks and turn the SMU Mustangs into winners?”
COACH K (DUKE): “The West Point alum is one of the only coaches to repeat as NCAA basketball champion. He has four titles and a host of former players who have gone on to coach (Johnny Dawkins at Stanford, Collins at Northwestern and Tommy Amaker at Harvard). Countless All-Americans have graced Cameron Indoor Stadium and led to an outstanding career for a Bobby Knight pupil who has risen past the level of his teacher.”
HONORABLE MENTION: PAT SUMMITT (TENNESSEE WOMEN), C.VIVIAN STRINGER (RUTGERS WOMEN) TARA VANDERVEER (STANFORD WOMEN), SYLVIA HATCHELL (UNC WOMEN), GENO AURIEMMA (UCONN WOMEN), JIM CALHOUN (UCONN), JIM BOEHEIM (SYRACUSE), TOM IZZO (MICHIGAN STATE), LOUIE CARNESECCA (ST.JOHNS), RAY MEYER (DEPAUL), BILLY DONOVAN, FLORIDA (last to repeat).