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Basketball's Best-Kept Secret: Revealed!

To mark the start of a new NBA season, let's revisit Ethan Trex's review of the definitive basketball rap album. Good luck getting these rhymes out of your head.

While cruising Amazon one day, I found something curious: a 1994 hip-hop album from Immortal Records called Basketball's Best-Kept Secret featuring the flows of ten of the day's brightest NBA stars. Needless to say, this seemed like a good way to spend four dollars.

I was wrong, though. Buying this record was an outstanding way to spend four dollars. In the Pantheon of Hilariously Bad Athlete Rap, it's the missing link between "The Super Bowl Shuffle" and Kobe Bryant's abysmal "Thug Poet." Is there anything musically redeeming about it? Not at all. Is it worth listening to if you're an NBA fan? Absolutely.

The record is so riveting that I combed through it track-by-track in an attempt to find out what basketball's best-kept secret really is.

Track 02: Dana Barros "“ "Check It"

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Barros levels with the listener up front: "I gots many, many things on my mind." These things include: staying strapped, his 850 BMW, and his need to "slam like Onyx, puffing on chronic." The track actually sounds a little like Onyx, so half of that rhyme's appropriate. It's also great to visualize NBA commissioner David Stern hearing the "puffing on chronic" line and then wondering how many times he could possibly drug test Barros the next year.

Does it reference jump shots? No, but there is a nice shout-out to Celtics forward Reggie Lewis, who had died of a heart defect the previous year.

Sample Dana Barros:

Track 03: Malik Sealy "“ "Lost in the Sauce"

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The late Sealy turns in one of the better tracks here. DJ Alamo of Brand Nubian crafts a beat that allows Sealy to rhyme about his upbringing and the importance of being a decent human being over a simple wah-guitar and hi-hat. Big Malik "conquered the concrete with my sweet inside-outside game" and will "dunk it on you from the dotted"¦if you act like you want it, you got it."

Does it reference jump shots? As the chorus tells us, "Life's just one big jumpshot." That's the kind of profound revelation you're not going to find in your fancy college philosophy classes.

Sample Malik Sealy:

Track 04: Shaquille O'Neal "“ "Mic Check 1-2"

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Shaq has one platinum and two gold records to his credit. Such credentials might lead one to believe he can rap. "Mic Check 1-2" clears up that misconception in its first 30 seconds. Teaming with Brooklyn's Ill Al Skratch, Shaq turns in what sounds like a deeper-voiced version of the worst song Ol' Dirty Bastard ever recorded. O'Neal manages to cleverly work in a great bit of product placement as part of his Reebok endorsement, though, when he claims that he can "inflate rhymes with his InstaPump."

Does it reference jump shots? Sadly, no. Most of the lyrics are just Shaq or Ill yelling "Mic Check 1-2."

Sample Shaquille O'Neal:

Track 06: Cedric Ceballos "“ "Flow On"

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You may remember Ceballos for his blindfolded jam to win the 1992 NBA Slam Dunk Contest. One listen to this song, though, and you will always think of him as a poor man's Nate Dogg. Or Nate Dogg with a cold. Here on "Flow On," Ceballos even enlists frequent Nate Dogg collaborator Warren G. to handle production duties and back up his rhymes. The result is what you'd expect: a bland G-funk beat with female backing vocals encouraging Ceballos to "flow on" while he lets us know how smooth he is while eating chicken wings.

Ceballos earns extra points by constantly referring to himself by his jersey number, 23, as if basketball fans immediately think "Ceballos" when hearing that number. Take that, Michael Jordan!

Does it reference jump shots? Yep. "I gets high up off my jumpers and my dunks, you see." Oh, how we see, Cedric.

Sample Cedric Ceballos:

Track 07: Brian Shaw "“ "Anything Can Happen"

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Journeyman combo guard Shaw turns in a contemplative track about his family's deaths the previous year. Interestingly, though, Ant Banks' G-funk production doesn't accentuate basketball: it likens life to a game of pool. Shaw's big name-checks on the track are his niece and his girlfriend, who's "soon to be my future wife." In other words, he's nowhere near boastful enough and way too likable to appear on this record. Shaw's slow flow is nothing to crow about, but anything better than "absolutely horrid" sounds pretty good in this context.

Does it reference jump shots? No, but Shaw's always "grabbin' a ball and dunkin' it."

Sample Brian Shaw:

Track 08: Chris Mills "“ "Sumptin' to Groove To"

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"Here's a little sumptin' to nod your head to, a funky little groove that you can move to." I guess Mills' chorus is somewhat accurate; I was shaking my head "no" while moving to turn off my stereo. That counts, right? His clumsy flow isn't as honest elsewhere, though. Mills claims to be a "big ballplayer, a nice rhymesayer, and as you all know I'm fly-girl layer." I haven't checked with any fly girls, but I know that at least two of those three statements are patently false.

Words can't do justice to this track's rottenness. It's the aural equivalent of simultaneously seeing a train crash, being kicked in the stomach by a mule, and having the flu.

Does it reference jump shots? "I'm up in the gym"¦I play every day"¦I work real hard so I got a cool J"¦a jump shot"¦" Appreciate the clarification.

Sample Chris Mills:

Track 10: Jason Kidd "“ "What the Kidd Didd"

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No, that's not a typo. That's really the song's clever title. Surprisingly, the track itself manages to build on that hilarity. Starting the basic premise of letting us know what the Kidd didd, the point guard delivers rhymes in pretty much the same flat voice he uses to answer postgame questions. Kidd didn't even write his own subpar rhymes. The Digital Underground's Money B. penned them and saved the most amusing rap for his own cameo: "Steady flossin' with cash earned from hittin' (Jamal) Mashburn."

So what did the Kidd do(o)? "Ain't nothing going on but cash and b-ballin'." The boasting is especially enjoyable since those sweet passes to Mashburn led Kidd's Dallas Mavericks to a stellar 13-69 record the previous season.

Does it reference jump shots? Sadly, no, but Kidd clears up the situation with the ladies. He's "got more chicks than Kentucky Fried."

Sample Jason Kidd:

Track 11: J.R. Rider "“ "Funk in the Trunk"

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This track alone is worth the price of admission. Musically, it's nothing much, basically just a little piano loop over Rider's stilted flow. However, it takes the listener inside the mind of one of basketball's most notorious madmen. The 1994 dunk champion was known for his erratic off-court behavior, including drug suspensions, a kidnapping charge, and throwing a milkshake at a drive-thru worker.

Who could have seen these behavioral problems coming? It's not like Rider rapped about his motto for life: "keep one in the chamber." Well, he only did it once, anyway. This track would doubtlessly be more terrifying if Rider's delivery could remain intelligible for more than a few words at a time. "I'm going to protect"¦my defense's a killa," doesn't sound like it's about basketball, especially when it's preceded by lines that seem to be about cutting people open.

Does it reference jump shots? There's no time; Rider spends most of the last minute giving shout-outs to everyone he's ever met.

Sample J.R. Rider:

Track 13: Dennis Scott "“ "All Night Party"

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Dennis Scott likes to party. All night. Forget whatever you thought you knew about the sharp-shooting small forward who helped the Orlando Magic make the NBA Finals. The man known as 3-D only wants to party. Wedding receptions, bar mitzvahs, Chuck E. Cheese pizza bashes"¦it doesn't matter what kind of party. D. Scott will show up and bring the funk. He doesn't even care if there are women there, "all I wanna know is where the party at." Scott would prefer if the party goes "on and on and on and on until the break of dawn," but he's not picky. If there's a party over there, he'll rock it.

Does it reference jump shots? Scott's way too busy partying to worry about hoops.

Sample Dennis Scott:

Track 14: Gary Payton "“ "Livin' Legal and Large"

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The future Hall of Fame point guard's track isn't exactly good, but it's closer than anything else on this record. Payton acquits himself fairly well flowing over a bouncy West Coast funk beat. It turns out that the Glove's lifestyle is not just large; it's also legal. The rhymes are forced and feel even weaker when you find out that Payton didn't write them himself, despite his boast that "I can make my lyrics look better than a slam dunk." Apparently he threw home that jam on some other record.

Does it reference jump shots? Oh yeah. "Hit a three"¦talk a little junk" and then later "Who is that? G.P. is what they say as I hit my J in a vicious kind of way"¦" [Payton-as-Lego image courtesy of Supersonicsoul.com.]

Sample Gary Payton:

Conclusion: So what is the album's titular best-kept secret? After listening to the whole record several times, I can only draw three firm conclusions, none of which seem like particularly well-kept secrets:

1) Basketball players have very high opinions of themselves.
2) Despite this confidence, they can't rap.
3) You should never feel truly safe if you're in the same time zone as J.R. Rider.

Ethan Trex grew up idolizing Vince Coleman, and he kind of still does. Ethan co-writes Straight Cash, Homey, the Internet's undisputed top source for pictures of people in Ryan Leaf jerseys.

See also...

The Bud Bowl: A Definitive History
*
5 College Bowls With Peculiar Corporate Sponsors
*
How Sports Owners Made Their Money
*
An Unofficial Guide to Life as a Ref
*
All-Star Voter Fraud
*
Quiz: Mr. Burns' Softball All-Stars
*
Quiz: Where Are They Now? College Superstars
*
Quiz: Former College Nicknames

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25 Wonderful Facts About It’s a Wonderful Life
Paramount Pictures
Paramount Pictures

Mary Owen wasn’t welcomed into the world until more than a decade after Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life made its premiere in 1946. But she grew up cherishing the film and getting the inside scoop on its making from its star, Donna Reed—who just so happens to be her mom. Though Reed passed away in 1986, Owen has stood as one of the film’s most dedicated historians, regularly introducing screenings of the ultimate holiday classic, including during its annual run at New York City’s IFC Center. She shared some of her mom’s memories with us to help reveal 25 things you might not have known about It’s a Wonderful Life.

1. IT ALL BEGAN WITH A CHRISTMAS CARD.

After years of unsuccessfully trying to shop his short story, The Greatest Gift, to publishers, Philip Van Doren Stern decided to give the gift of words to his closest friends for the holidays when he printed up 200 copies of the story and sent them out as a 21-page Christmas card. David Hempstead, a producer at RKO Pictures, ended up getting a hold of it, and purchased the movie rights for $10,000.

2. CARY GRANT WAS SET TO STAR IN THE ADAPTATION.

When RKO purchased the rights, they did so with the plan of having Cary Grant in the lead. But, as happens so often in Hollywood, the project went through some ups and downs in the development process. In 1945, after a number of rewrites, RKO sold the movie rights to Frank Capra, who quickly recruited Jimmy Stewart to play George Bailey.

3. DOROTHY PARKER WORKED ON THE SCRIPT.


Getty Images

By the time It’s a Wonderful Life made it into theaters, the story was much different from Stern’s original tale. That’s because more than a half-dozen people contributed to the screenplay, including some of the most acclaimed writers of the time—Dorothy Parker, Dalton Trumbo, Marc Connelly, and Clifford Odets among them.

4. SCREENWRITERS FRANCES GOODRICH AND ALBERT HACKETT WALKED OUT.

Though they’re credited as the film’s screenwriters with Capra, the husband and wife writing duo were not pleased with the treatment they received from Capra. “Frank Capra could be condescending,” Hackett said in an interview, “and you just didn't address Frances as ‘my dear woman.’ When we were pretty far along in the script but not done, our agent called and said, ‘Capra wants to know how soon you'll be finished.’ Frances said, ‘We're finished right now.’ We put our pens down and never went back to it.”

5. CAPRA DIDN’T DO THE BEST JOB OF SELLING THE FILM TO STEWART.

After laying out the plot line of the film for Stewart in a meeting, Capra realized that, “This really doesn’t sound so good, does it?” Stewart recalled in an interview. Stewart’s reply? “Frank: If you want me to be in a picture about a guy that wants to kill himself and an angel comes down named Clarence who can’t swim and I save him, when do we start?”

6. IT WAS DONNA REED’S FIRST STARRING ROLE.


Getty Images

Though Donna Reed was hardly a newcomer when It’s a Wonderful Life rolled around, having appeared in nearly 20 projects previously, the film did mark her first starring role. It’s difficult to imagine anyone else in the role today, but Reed had some serious competition from Jean Arthur. “[Frank Capra] had seen mom in They Were Expendable and liked her,” Mary Owen told Mental Floss. “When Capra met my mother at MGM, he knew she'd be just right for Mary Bailey.”

7. MARY OWEN IS NOT NAMED AFTER MARY BAILEY.

Before you ask whether Owen was named after her mom’s much beloved It’s a Wonderful Life character, “The answer is no,” says Owen. “I was named after my great grandmother, Mary Mullenger.”

8. BEULAH BONDI WAS A PRO AT PLAYING STEWART’S MOM.

Beulah Bondi, who plays Mrs. Bailey, didn’t need a lot of rehearsal to play Jimmy Stewart’s mom. She had done it three times previously—in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Of Human Hearts, and Vivacious Lady—and once later on The Jimmy Stewart Show: The Identity Crisis.

9. CAPRA, REED, AND STEWART HAVE ALL CALLED IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE THEIR FAVORITE MOVIE.


Liberty Films

Though their collective filmographies consist of a couple hundred movies, Capra, Reed, and Stewart have all cited It’s a Wonderful Life as their favorite movie. In his autobiography, The Name Above the Title, Capra took that praise even one step further, writing: “I thought it was the greatest film I ever made. Better yet, I thought it was the greatest film anybody ever made.”

10. THE MOVIE BOMBED AT THE BOX OFFICE.

Though it has become a quintessential American classic, It’s a Wonderful Life was not an immediate hit with audiences. In fact, it put Capra $525,000 in the hole, which left him scrambling to finance his production company’s next picture, State of the Union.

11. A COPYRIGHT LAPSE AIDED THE FILM’S POPULARITY.

Though it didn’t make much of a dent at the box office, It’s a Wonderful Life found a whole new life on television—particularly when its copyright lapsed in 1974, making it available royalty-free to anyone who wanted to show it for the next 20 years. (Which would explain why it was on television all the time during the holiday season.) The free-for-all ended in 1994.

12. THE ROCK THAT BROKE THE WINDOW OF THE GRANVILLE HOUSE WAS ALL REAL.


Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain 

Though Capra had a stuntman at the ready in order to shoot out the window of the Granville House in a scene that required Donna Reed to throw a rock through it, it was all a waste of money. “Mom threw the rock herself that broke the window in the Granville House,” Owen says. “On the first try.”

13. IT TOOK TWO MONTHS TO BUILD BEDFORD FALLS.

Shot on a budget of $3.7 million (which was a lot by mid-1940s standards), Bedford Falls—which covered a full four acres of RKO’s Encino Ranch—was one of the most elaborate movie sets ever built up to that time, with 75 stores and buildings, 20 fully-grown oak trees, factories, residential areas, and a 300-yard-long Main Street.

14. SENECA FALLS, NEW YORK IS “THE REAL BEDFORD FALLS.”

Though Bedford Falls is a fictitious place, the town of Seneca Falls, New York swears that it's the real-life inspiration for George Bailey’s charming hometown. And each year they program a full lineup of holiday-themed events to put locals (and yuletide visitors) into the holiday spirit.

15. THE GYM FLOOR-TURNED-SWIMMING POOL WAS REAL.

Though the bulk of the film was filmed on pre-built sets, the dance at the gym was filmed on location at Beverly Hills High School. And the retractable floor was no set piece. Better known as the Swim Gym, the school is currently in the process of restoring the landmark filming location.

16. ALFALFA IS THE TEENAGER BEHIND THAT SWIMMING POOL PRANK.

Though he’s uncredited in the part, if Freddie Othello—the little prankster who pushes the button that opens the pool that swallows George and Mary up—looks familiar, that’s because he is played by Carl Switzer, a.k.a. Alfalfa of The Little Rascals.

17. DONNA REED WON $50 FROM LIONEL BARRYMORE ... FOR MILKING A COW.

Though she was a Hollywood icon, Donna Reed—born Donnabelle Mullenger—was a farm girl at heart who came to Los Angeles by way of Denison, Iowa. Lionel Barrymore (a.k.a. Mr. Potter) didn’t believe it. “So he bet $50 that she couldn't milk a cow,” recalls Owen. “She said it was the easiest $50 she ever made.”

18. THE FILM WAS SHOT DURING A HEAT WAVE.

It may be an iconic Christmas movie, but It’s a Wonderful Life was actually shot in the summer of 1946—in the midst of a heat wave, no less. At one point, Capra had to shut filming down for a day because of the sky-high temperatures—which also explains why Stewart is clearly sweating in key moments of the film.

19. CAPRA ENGINEERED A NEW KIND OF MOVIE SNOW.

Capra—who trained as an engineer—and special effects supervisor Russell Shearman engineered a new type of artificial snow for the film. At the time, painted cornflakes were the most common form of fake snow, but they posed a bit of an audio problem for Capra. So he and Shearman opted to mix foamite (the stuff you find in fire extinguishers) with sugar and water to create a less noisy option.

20. THE MOVIE WASN’T REQUIRED VIEWING IN REED’S HOUSEHOLD.

Though It’s a Wonderful Life is a staple of many family holiday movie marathons, that wasn’t the case in Reed’s home. In fact, Owen herself didn’t see the film until three decades after its release. “I saw it in the late 1970s at the Nuart Theatre in L.A. and loved it,” she says.

21. ZUZU DIDN’T SEE THE FILM UNTIL 1980.

Karolyn Grimes, who played Zuzu in the film, didn’t see the film until 1980. “I never took the time to see the movie,” she told Detroit’s WWJ in 2013. “I never just sat down and watched the film.”

22. THE FBI SAW THE FILM. THEY DIDN’T LIKE IT.

In 1947, the FBI issued a memo noting the film as a potential “Communist infiltration of the motion picture industry,” citing its “rather obvious attempts to discredit bankers by casting Lionel Barrymore as a ‘Scrooge-type’ so that he would be the most hated man in the picture. This, according to these sources, is a common trick used by Communists.”

23. THE MOVIE’S BERT AND ERNIE HAVE NO RELATION TO SESAME STREET.

Yes, the cop and cab driver in It’s a Wonderful Life are named Bert and Ernie, respectively. But Jim Henson’s longtime writing partner, Jerry Juhl, insists that it’s by coincidence only that they share their names with Sesame Street’s stripe-shirted buds. “I was the head writer for the Muppets for 36 years and one of the original writers on Sesame Street,” Juhl told the San Francisco Chronicle in 2000. “The rumor about It's a Wonderful Life has persisted over the years. I was not present at the naming, but I was always positive [the rumor] was incorrect. Despite his many talents, Jim had no memory for details like this. He knew the movie, of course, but would not have remembered the cop and the cab driver. I was not able to confirm this with Jim before he died, but shortly thereafter I spoke to Jon Stone, Sesame Street's first producer and head writer and a man largely responsible for the show's format … He assured me that Ernie and Bert were named one day when he and Jim were studying the prototype puppets. They decided that one of them looked like an Ernie, and the other one looked like a Bert. The movie character names are purely coincidental.”

24. SOME PEOPLE ARE ANXIOUS FOR A SEQUEL.

Well, two people: Producers Allen J. Schwalb and Bob Farnsworth, who announced in 2013 that they would be continuing the story with a sequel, It’s a Wonderful Life: The Rest of the Story, which they planned for a 2015 release. It didn’t take long for Paramount, which owns the copyright, to step in and assure furious fans of the original film that “No project relating to It’s a Wonderful Life can proceed without a license from Paramount. To date, these individuals have not obtained any of the necessary rights, and we would take all appropriate steps to protect those rights.”

25. THE FILM’S ENDURING LEGACY WAS SURPRISING TO CAPRA.

“It’s the damnedest thing I’ve ever seen," Capra said of the film’s classic status. "The film has a life of its own now and I can look at it like I had nothing to do with it. I’m like a parent whose kid grows up to be president. I’m proud… but it’s the kid who did the work. I didn’t even think of it as a Christmas story when I first ran across it. I just liked the idea.”

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Star Wars © & TM 2015 Lucasfilm Ltd. All Rights Reserved.
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Listen to What Darth Vader Sounded Like On the Star Wars Set
Star Wars © & TM 2015 Lucasfilm Ltd. All Rights Reserved.
Star Wars © & TM 2015 Lucasfilm Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

The voice of Darth Vader, provided by James Earl Jones, is one of the most iconic aspects of the original Star Wars movies. But James Earl Jones wasn't the actor wearing that outfit—it was British actor David Prowse, who was cast in part because he was huge (reportedly 6'5" and a former body-building champion).

George Lucas always intended to replace Prowse's voice, but it's still a bit of a shock to hear a muffled British voice coming out of Darth Vader's helmet. Here's video showing what Darth Vader sounded like on the set before James Earl Jones re-recorded the dialogue.

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