When former NBA star Kenny Smith taught dribbling skills to children at basketball camp, one of his methods was to show off his handles to the rhythm and beat of various music genres.
"When I found out there was a game in development where you dribbled to music, I knew I had to be involved," Smith said after another long day of basketball camp.
The only difference is, these days, the kids are dribbling using an Xbox 360, the Kinect and the upcoming game "NBA Baller Beats," which Smith has adopted into his lectures.
"The reaction has been incredible. I've never seen a game like this," said Smith. "You had 'Guitar Hero' and 'Dance Dance Revolution,' and you had the Wii games where you bowled with no bowling ball or played tennis without a tennis racket, but this is the first game where you're not only dribbling a real ball, you're dribbling to the beat of the music. You're dribbling between your legs and behind your back, and the kids are just astounded by the fact that this is a game that helps you learn the real game and helps you get better."
ESPN Playbook: How advanced of a dribbler do you have to be to jump in and play "NBA Baller Beats"?
Kenny Smith: It's all skill levels. I keep comparing it to "Dance Dance Revolution" because I'm not a great dancer, but when that game comes on, there are dances I can do and have fun with it. It's the same concept. There are skill levels for great ball handlers and skill levels for those who are still learning. Even my wife played the game, and she was dribbling the ball around for a half hour. It has that family atmosphere where you can play it casually or you can put it on baller and go all hard-core.
How valuable do you see this game when it comes to teaching kids how to dribble?
I used to dribble the basketball to a beat at my camps, and the kids used to have to sing along to whatever song I was dribbling to. So all of a sudden now, we have the hottest music already in the game and the kids are dribbling the ball to the beat of that music. So it's a concept that I’ve been using for 20 years; it just was never a video game. Now that it's a video game, I wanted to be in 100 percent because this is exactly how I've been doing my lectures for the last 20 years.
What’s your favorite song to dribble to in the game?
I like to dribble to Queen's "Another One Bites the Dust." They have that old-school Queen in there along with some stadium anthems and some new school music from the Kanye Wests of the world. But I still like to play to that old-school music I grew up on.
Is it crazy for you to see the evolution of video games from when you first started playing Atari to where now you're dribbling a basketball in your living room?
I never thought that you would be able to do this. I never envisioned that. It was my lecture! I was actually just thinking about how they pick up the basketball in the game, because it's not a heat-bearing object, and they told me that was the hardest part about developing this game. But once they figured out how to pick up the ball, they were off to the races.
What happens if I have carpet in my living room? How am I supposed to dribble on carpet?
You can dribble on carpet. I grew up in Queens, and we had carpet in our living room. And actually, even in some of these gymnasiums where we're playing the game, we're on carpet. If you're 12 or 13 years old, you've dribbled on the carpet in your mom's house. [Laughs.]
Are you a big video game player in your spare time?
I grew up playing the traditional games. These new-age games are just so much more in-depth. Games like "Call of Duty" and "NBA Baller Beats" have so much to them. I was more of the "Pac-Man" generation where we were excited to play table tennis on the TV.
Your video game persona made a cool comeback in the "NBA 2K" games now that legends are included. Is it fun to see kids playing as your character in the game after all these years?
I became the man again. I get people tweeting me how I just scored 40 points against the Lakers. So for sure, it was fun seeing that revisited. I'll tell you what, a quarter of the fans who watch our show don't know I played. They just know me from the show.
My son is 16, so he doesn't know me as a great player. He knows people think I was a great player when we go back to Chapel Hill where I have my basketball camps, but he doesn't know me as a player. I get sneakers from sneaker companies and Nike will send me some sneakers, and my son will be like, "You have plenty already. Why are they sending you basketball shoes? You don't even play."
I always liked some of the innovation you brought to the slam dunk contest. You had some really creative and underrated dunks back in the day.
Funny thing is, I coach AAU basketball teams as well, and I was talking to one of my players the other day about the dunk contest. I was telling him, "When I was in it back in the day," and he was like, "You were in the dunk contest?" I had to go Google it and show him on YouTube that I was actually in the dunk contest, and this kid has been playing on my basketball team for the past three years. They knew me more for being an announcer in the dunk contest than for actually being in it.
2K Sports is bringing back the dunk contest in the video game this year, so I can match up a player like yourself or Jordan against new guys like LeBron or Blake.
I don't know how they're going to do the game without my voice in it, but we'll see.
Switching to the real NBA, which team do you think has had the best offseason so far?
The offseason is still working, but the Miami Heat probably had the best because Dwyane Wade is getting healthy, and so is Chris Bosh. That's a great offseason to me. But I do like a lot of the moves people are making around the league. Teams are being active and proactive instead of being reactive. They're going for what they think is good for them, and I like that approach.
I'm surprised that the Knicks didn't match the offer for Jeremy Lin. I was really surprised by that. New York has never really paid attention to the salary cap, so to speak, in trying to be a good team, so I was really surprised they didn't match his offer.
Seems strange that the first time the Knicks try to be financially responsible, they use that as an excuse not to sign the one guy who breathed new life into their franchise.
Before he started playing well, the team wasn't in the playoffs. Then he started playing and made them a playoff team. Then when he got hurt, they really weren't playing like a playoff team again. If I was Jeremy Lin, I'd have such a big chip on my shoulder thinking that, still, people don’t believe. No matter what he's done, they still don't believe that he can get it done. So he should have a huge chip on his shoulder, regardless of the fact that he got a nice contract.
I knew he was going to be great because the Warriors got rid of him. Anyone the Warriors get rid of always seems to become a huge star somewhere else.
[Laughs.] It's like a prerequisite.
With your camps continuing, and the continued introduction to dribbling using "NBA Baller Beats," what advice do you have for kids out there who are trying to perfect their dribbling?
The game will definitely help you become a better ball handler because you have to look at the screen when you play; you can’t look down at the ball. One thing about being a great ball handler is not looking at the basketball. So that's the first part, and the second is the simple fact that there is just no substitution for hard work. With this game, you can have fun with it or you can work hard with it, and hard work is going to make you a better ball handler and a better basketball player for sure.