Soon it will be upon us, that apocalyptic day when some And1 Mix Tape Tour ballplayer pulls a yo-yo, stiff-leg, boomerang, Flintstone Shuffle combo move so profoundly off the hook that basketball civilization itself collapses in a heap of broken ankles, its definition of fundamentally sound smashed to pieces. Whereupon the archaeologists will move in. They'll sift through the rubble, searching for clues to how a company that began by selling T-shirts out of the trunk of a car could become the leading basketball-exclusive footwear and apparel brand in the world and remake the game in the process. As they adjust their pith helmets and lift their shovels, the diggers will want to keep an eye out for two artifacts. Today one hangs framed in the office of cofounder Jay Coen Gilbert at And1's headquarters in Paoli, Pa., a leafy suburb of Philadelphia. It's the company's Rosetta stone: the two napkins on which Gilbert and partners Seth Berger and Tom Austin, outside a convenience store in Center City Philly, scribbled the first insults to grace the line of trash-talk T's that brought And1 into the consciousness of young basketball players in the early '90s. The shirts bristled with attitude: I'M THE BUS DRIVER. I TAKE EVERYONE TO SCHOOL; IS IT HOT IN HERE, OR IS IT JUST ME?; and PASS. SAVE YOURSELF THE EMBARRASSMENT. Those napkins are so essential to the spirit of the brand that, Gilbert says, "if this building were on fire and I could save only one thing, they're what I'd go after."
But it's another item that largely explains why And1 now ranks second only to Nike in the number of NBA players who endorse its products: a VHS cassette of grainy video, shot with a handheld camera, that became the basis for The And1 Mix Tape, Volume One. Although And1's copy of that seminal 1994 cassette has been lost, Volume One and its six successors have done their work, enshrining the tight handle as the most coveted of basketball skills. Volume Eight will drop on July 26, and the And1 Mix Tapes Tour, now in its sixth season, opens this week in Oakland with the first of 30 stops. All the while the Mix Tape aesthetic bubbles up from the playground, turning the no-look into ya-gotta-see-this and leaving the hidebound basketball establishment to look on in horror.
As the Mix Tape Tour adds stops each summer, and wintertime and international circuits turn And1's marketainment franchise into a year-round global enterprise, the 15 tour players have become the equivalent of major league professionals. They pull down salaries and per diems, and some even do marketing work with tour partners. They play in NBA-quality arenas and bunk in hotels whose lobbies are clogged with adoring fans of both sexes. They're up-close-and-personalized on ESPN2's Streetball reality series, which begins its fourth season on June 22, and are rendered in the forthcoming video game And1 Streetball. They have, it goes without saying, shoe deals. So much for living on the margins and playing on the asphalt for love alone. Their status was writ large last summer on the back of the tour's $115,000 motor coach: STREETBALL IS OUR JOB.
At the same time, streetball has become And1's meal ticket. The company now counts 165 employees and $180 million in annual revenue, and sells its products in 125 countries. Last month American Sporting Goods, the Irvine, Calif.--based company that owns such brands as Avia, Ryka, Nevados, Yukon, Turntec, NSS and Apex, added And1 to its portfolio. The fact that Nike developed its 2001 Freestyle commercials and its own Streetball property, the Battleground Tour (which began in 2002), may be the best measure of And1's impact.
"We're not trying to be a big behemoth," Berger says. "We're trying to be a basketball brand." Young ballplayers got the distinction almost immediately after And1's launch, in 1993. Many tattooed onto themselves the company's raceless, faceless icon, known in-house as the Player, who holds out a basketball as if to say, "Show me what you got." (Only a hoophead understands the company's name: "If you don't know what it means," And1 says on its website, "we don't want you wearing our shoes.") Where other shoe companies try to woo consumers by paying millions to elite endorsers and hoping the aspiring masses will follow, And1 traffics in simple street cred. If you're a guy in your teens or 20s and you play ball, And1 is determined to reach you. Approaching their 40s, the founders make sure to hire young staffers and listen intently to their recommendations. And1's new headquarters includes an indoor court that fills up over the lunch hour, after which, employee Taylor Duffy says, "guys go back to their cubes talking smack."
In the early days Berger and Gilbert, who were childhood friends in New York City, enforced a rule that no one could come to a staff meeting without five potential T-shirt slogans. By the late '90s And1 had further positioned itself as basketball's enfant terrible by releasing a commercial in which the game's great untouchable, coach-choker Latrell Sprewell, declared (with The Star-Spangled Banner playing in the background), "I am the American dream." But with Mix Tape, Volume One, no one could accuse the company of cynicism or exploitation.
In the fall of 1994 someone associated with the Entertainers Basketball Classic, the summer showcase run out of Harlem's fabled Rucker Park, wanted to thank And1 for providing T-shirts and a trophy for its recent all-star game. The gentleman--whose name is lost to history--tracked down Berger and Gilbert in the lobby of a downtown Manhattan office building, where the two were to meet with a Foot Locker executive, and pressed a videocassette into their hands. "Thanks for the gear and the big-ass trophy," Gilbert remembers him saying. "You gotta check out the game. Skip and Alimoe really went at it," the man added, referring to a duel between streetballers Rafer Alston and Tyron Evans. Moments later he was gone--"a ghost," Gilbert says.
That night Berger and Gilbert watched the tape with a couple of buddies. "There were four of us jumping up and down, rolling over, spilling food and drinks, yelling 'Damn!' and 'No he didn't!' and 'Wait, wait, rewind that,'" Gilbert recalls. One kid caused most of the commotion. He wasn't much more than a jumble of arms and legs and barely-filled-out T-shirt and shorts, yet he seemed to control the ball by force field. This was Alston, then a 16-year-old from Queens already known to streetballers throughout the five boroughs as Skip to My Lou.
OVER THE YEARS RON Naclerio, Alston's coach at Benjamin Cardozo High, had made an avocation of reclaiming playground legends for the organized game, beginning with Lloyd (Swee' Pea) Daniels, who went on to play for six NBA teams. Naclerio was steeped in the mystique of Rucker, having played and then coached there. So he enlisted friends with handheld video cameras to document Skip's moves. "You know how having an iPod is the hot thing now?" Naclerio says. "It was the handheld then, and my people would bring them up to the parks because so many guys wanted to see Rafer but couldn't get in." A member of Naclerio's video brigade almost certainly shot the footage on the VHS cassette that had found its way to Berger and Gilbert. For five years "the Skip tape," as it came to be known around the And1 offices, sat on a shelf. It occasionally came out to impress a visitor or amuse employees, and it looped at the And1 booth during the 1998 SuperShow, the annual sporting goods industry expo in Atlanta, attracting throngs that stopped traffic. But for the most part, says director of marketing Errin Cecil-Smith, "We had the golden egg, and we were using it as a doorstop."
ULTIMATELY IT TOOK pedigreed ballplayers to help the company come to its senses. In July '98 And1 brought together a handful of its NBA endorsers for a three-day TV shoot for an ad campaign, setting up PlayStations and a VCR to keep them amused during downtime. As it turned out, the endorsers--Rex Chapman, Larry Hughes and Raef LaFrentz, among others--wanted to do nothing but watch Alston show off his handle. When Skip himself arrived on Day Three, they greeted him as a rock star, even though as a lowly second-round draft choice of the Milwaukee Bucks he had yet to play an NBA game and And1 had only just signed him. At a lively off-site meeting in the spring of 1999, the company decided to redouble its efforts to identify with the grit and fearlessness of the playground, and vowed to put the Skip tape at the center of that campaign.
A team composed of in-house marketers and account executives at And1's ad agency settled on a tactic that had worked in the skateboard industry: braid the video with music, then go with a limited release to generate buzz. More specifically, they proposed that the tape become a video version of the audio mixes that have long been a promotional staple in the hip-hop world. (A "mix tape" allows an independent artist or on-the-make deejay to bypass the gatekeepers at commercial radio stations and find an audience in dance clubs and on street corners; to this day most of the artists that play over the moves on the And1 Mix Tapes are as emerging or as regional as the ballplayers themselves.) And1 then contacted Naclerio, who supplied several more Rafer tapes. While Volume One includes a high schooler from South Carolina named Scotty Scott, whose tape had come in over the transom, most of the footage features Alston as captured by Naclerio's people--at the Rucker, at Lincoln Park in Queens and indoors at Manhattan's Riverbank State Park and at the Cardozo High gym.
Though it ushered in basketball's brave new world, Volume One is disarmingly old school. Alston cuts a figure that, as fellow Rucker regular and And1 Mix Taper Anthony (Half Man, Half Amazing) Heyward puts it, makes him look "like a guy who goes out to the park after all the good ballplayers finish up." He isn't wearing ridiculously baggy shorts. His artistic influences are a couple of old masters, Isiah Thomas, whose number 11 graces Alston's back, and Pete Maravich, whose moves Naclerio introduced him to, appropriately enough, on videotape. At one point Skip uses an Isiah rollback dribble to shake loose for a three-pointer; elsewhere, at the end of a break, he unfurls a Gervinesque finger roll. Even his nickname has a nursery-rhyme innocence. (Rucker man-on-the-mike Duke Tango coined it, shouting out "Skip, skip, skip to my Lou!" after Alston embarked on an exuberant, high-stepping gallivant in the open floor, an example of which is a high point of Volume One.) Berger and Gilbert love a Reebok commercial featuring a fictional Chicago playground legend named Lamar Mundane, and an And1 TV ad based on the Skip footage paid homage to that sensibility: A fenceside spectator describes Alston as being "soft as medicated cotton, tender as a mother's prayer and cold as a pimp's heart."
"The first Mix Tape is still my favorite," says Bobbito Garcia, the Manhattan-based deejay, performance dribbler and sneakerologist whose basketball footwear show, It's the Shoes, will debut on ESPN2 this summer. "Nobody was playing to the camera. It was ballplayers in their element, being creative, and it captured on film for the first time everything that had been going on in New York City for all those decades with [playground] ball handlers like Pablo Robertson, Pee Wee Kirkland and Disco Fred Brown. What Skip did was so beautiful, because it was all within the rules."
And1 punched out 50,000 copies of Volume One and distributed them to so-called "influencers" in the worlds of sports and entertainment, and the blurred borderland between the two: summer league operators, hip-hop moguls, editors at Slam and The Source magazines. That brought a first wave of buzz, whereupon the company cut a deal with the FootAction chain, offering a free tape simply for trying on a pair of And1s. Berger realized something was up when he ran into a neighbor in his town-house complex, NBA player and Philly native Doug Overton, who said, "Dude, I'm mad at you. I'm trying to get my kid to do his homework and work on his jump shot, and all he wants to do is watch that tape and do Skip's moves." Waliyy Dixon, who goes by the nickname Main Event and who benefits from Alston's passes in the original Skip tape, got the same message when he walked into Dr. Jay's, a sneaker store in Newark, and saw bootlegged images of himself looping behind the counter. Says Dixon, "You don't go bootleggin' somethin' that's nothin'." FootAction moved 200,000 pairs of footwear in three weeks, and BrandWeek named And1 its Guerrilla Marketer of the Year.
Naclerio remains peeved that the company, though true to its word that Volume One would be a giveaway, turned subsequent Mix Tapes into "gifts with purchase" and ultimately retail items. "I handed them millions of dollars," says Naclerio, who pocketed $2,000 for providing the footage of Alston. "I'm not looking to bust anyone's chops here. I did it to help Rafer. But the Mix Tapes didn't just help And1. Minus the tapes, how many people would have even heard of And1?"
It's fitting that a bootstrapping company should be so closely identified with one of the NBA's most Algeresque players. The usual snares that await playground legends dogged Alston, from a junkie father to chronic truancy to jail (as a result of a probation violation on an assault charge). After kicking around a couple of California jucos, he landed at Fresno State, where even that school's famously indulgent coach, Jerry Tarkanian, wound up suspending him. The Bucks nonetheless drafted the 6'2" guard, but after he spent three years languishing at the end of coach George Karl's bench, they let him go, forcing him into a humiliating six-game turn with the Mobile Revelers of the NBDL, the minor league known among players as the Down Low. That hegira only makes Alston's current four-year, $29 million deal with the Toronto Raptors all the sweeter. The day Alston finished logging a third full NBA season to qualify for his pension, Gilbert says, "It was like a holiday around here. Not every kid believes he can be Michael Jordan. But do you believe you can be Skip? He's my size, from my place, and went through a lot of s---."
TO GENERATE FOOTAGE for a sequel, And1 authorized Main Event to put together a game at a park in his hometown of Linden, N.J., in the summer of 1999. Before tip-off, Dixon jumped over a motorcycle and dunked; in the game Tim (Headache) Gittens spun the ball on a defender's head. A year later, at Manhattan's Hunter College, Alston and Dixon captained opposing sides in what was billed as the Platinum Player Game. That footage anchored Volume Three, which hints at the future of the Mix Tapes franchise by introducing and developing personalities, such as Atlanta's Philip (Hot Sauce) Champion ("Everybody else is like water; I'm like sauce") and Philadelphia's Aaron (AO) Owens ("I'm the clown, the Clown Prince").
The next summer seven of the And1 players embarked on an experimental tour through Los Angeles, Chicago and Atlanta. They flew into town a few days in advance, rented several white Ford Excursions, then fanned out into the inner city with staple guns and packing tape, hanging posters on telephone poles and in barbershops. "We was our own street team," says Owens, referring to the marketing squads that use audio mix tapes to flog new rap releases. "We hit community centers, radio personalities, black colleges--anything for word of mouth. Can't get more street than that."
Says Heyward, "We'd go to a park and say, 'We gonna tear your city up!' They'd be, 'Oh, yeah?' We got a lot of guys to champ at the bit. If we riled 'em up, they'd turn up."
The following summer, which was chronicled in Volume Four, the Mix Tape Tour introduced a bus; traveled to New York City, Philly, L.A. and Chicago; and hosted the first auditions--"open runs"--to more thoroughly flush out local talent to take on Team And1. ("We're lookin' for handles, we're lookin' for hops.") By Volume Five the tour had begun to spill over the chain-link fence. In Venice Beach, Calif., with tip-off at 1 p.m., the crowd around the court stood three-deep by 6 a.m.; in North Philly 5,000 people turned out, and the fire department had to get a kid down from a tree. The Mix Tapes, by now available at retail stores and on DVD, would fail to reach No. 1 on Billboard's sports DVD chart only when other, related And1 releases (such as Ball Access and Skip vs. Alimoe) sucked up the oxygen.
Since 2003 concerns about overcrowding at playgrounds have forced the tour to take refuge indoors. Tango, the old Rucker Park emcee, now weaves in and out of the action with a cordless mike, goading, upbraiding, sometimes even calling for a clear out so two guys can settle some issue one-on-one. At each stop locals compete in the open run in a parking lot outside the arena, hoping to be "voted into the building," as they put it, while a select few get invited to join the tour, Magnificent Seven--style. At the end of each season at least one wannabe lands an And1 endorsement deal. Documenting it all is Streetball, which has turned "voted onto the bus" into a phrase almost as recognizable as "voted off the island."
In June 2003 the tour stopped in Portland, Nike's backyard. At first, paranoid roadies surveying the thin crowd worried that the Swoosh had sabotaged the turnout. But soon they became too mesmerized to be bothered. A 5'10", 140-pound white kid from Salem, Ore., was dominating the open run. Grayson Bouchér, then 17, had bought Volume One off eBay, disappeared into his basement and emerged worthy of his own nickname, the Professor, a moniker courtesy of Tango. By the end of the summer he had sunk the buzzer-beating three-pointer that defeated the And1 team in Madison Square Garden, and thereby nailed a trifecta of another sort: into the building, onto the bus, on the dotted line. Today Bouchér, a onetime benchwarmer at Chemeketa (Ore.) Community College, is better known than many NBA players.
SINCE THEN, DEVOTED Streetball followers have seen John (Helicopter) Humphrey play his way into a contract. Volume Eight will introduce the players who signed deals as a result of last summer's tour: Dennis (Spyda) Chism, Eric (Spinmaster) Holmes, Hugh (Baby Shack) Jones and Jamar (the Pharmacist) Davis, a roly-poly guard from Mount Vernon, N.Y., who, while keeping his dribble, "shirts" Hot Sauce, pulling the tail of Sauce's jersey up and over Sauce's head. Alston has noticed how the Mix Tapes feature more and more illegal moves and Globetrotterish japery, and he doesn't entirely approve. "Everything I did on Volume One was legal," he says. "O.K., maybe a palming violation or two--but 98 percent of the players in the NBA palm to get from one place to another. Now the Tapes are more about trying to do tricks."
But as with the Trotters in their prime, the showmanship only stokes interest in the tour, especially in Europe and the Pacific Rim, both of which will host And1 teams this summer. Members of the entourage are astonished to see how well players in such far-flung places as Japan, France and the Philippines adopt and adapt Mix Tapes tricks. "You used to be able to tell when someone was from New York City," Garcia says. "Now you can be from Wichita and have that little bit of pancake syrup. A kid from Harlem on the sidewalk in front of a storefront window or the Professor in his basement in Oregon--kids all over the world are freestyling, and that's great. It blows the roof off the s---. People love it, just like people love the Globetrotters. Nobody has ever said the Globetrotters were bad for basketball."
Where Garcia parts company with And1 is in the hype, which bills players as "living legends." "Just because you get into the building doesn't make you a streetball legend," he says. "Seventy percent of the guys in the open runs are scrubs. To mention some of those guys in the same breath as ['60s and '70s Brooklyn playground legend] Fly Williams, that's sacrilegious. What Hot Sauce does is entertaining and beautiful but totally illegal. And [recently] they've been out of their element, in arenas. They call it streetball, but it's really organized unorganized basketball."
Indeed, on the Mix Tapes defenders sometimes look like complicit statuary, as the team on offense channels Marques Haynes, the Jesse White Tumbling Team and random kung-fu movies. The result is a pageant descended from the old blues-joint rite of "cuttin' each other up" and, more recently, break dancing. Moreover, as the tapes reveal, a dozen years ago kids wanted nothing more than to dunk over an opponent; now they'd rather beat 'em off the bounce. (For evidence that the crossover dribble has eclipsed the dunk in status, just look at the proliferation of synonyms for the former. Where once dunk had the longest entry in the hoop thesaurus, the array of words and phrases in current usage for Mix Tape--worthy dribbling moves is at least as extensive: break ankles, crack ankles, skate, boogie, bop, etc.) The object now isn't to posterize but to Klotzify.
Several times on each Mix Tape the action goes into rewind and super slo-mo, so anyone can study, practice and master a move. For all the protestations of the And1 players ("This ain't no do-how tape," says AO), scores of Middle-American Mittys have treated them as just that, taking the moves from the rec room to the rec center. The atypical basketball body types on the tapes and the tour--the Professor; his protector, Troy (Escalade) Jackson, who tips the Toledos at more than 400 pounds; and the almost-that-rotund Pharmacist--only underscore how, with work, Everyman can play the Mix Tapes brand of ball.
Its credibility on the streets smooths And1's task at the top when the company hunts for NBA endorsers. "We have an easy entrée," says Ron Skotarczak, vice president for marketing and entertainment. "Young players coming into the league are immediately interested in talking to us." Nike still has slightly more than half of all NBA players under contract, but And1 now services 21% of the league, more than Adidas, Reebok or Converse.
"WHEN THEY FIRST CAME to me, I was like, Have you seen me play?" says Kyle Korver, the jump-shooting Philadelphia 76er by way of Creighton and Pella, Iowa. "But a lot of other companies make you go through catalogs or [allow you to] order only two times a year. And1 takes care of what you need right away."
Korver doesn't doubt that today the Mix Tapes are getting worn out even in places like Pella. And, of course, they remain the bomb in the big city. And1 constantly takes the measure of its target demographic: frequent ballplayers aged 11 to 17. In 2000 its market research in Houston found that Main Event and Hot Sauce enjoyed higher name recognition than Steve Francis, then the starting point guard for the hometown Rockets.
While no NBA team has drawn a bead on any Mix Tapes player since Alston, the tour's success is changing kids' aspirations. "The goal was once to go to a major college, get drafted and make the league," says Alston, who pronounces the company's name as most New York players do, AND-one, with the stress on the first syllable. "Now it's dribble a hundred times, lay on your best move and get picked out of the open run."
As he plies the summer camp circuit, Brian McCormick, a 28-year-old coach who runs basketball clinics on the West Coast, hears colleagues blame the Mix Tapes for everything from Why Johnny Can't Shoot to the U.S. Olympic team's failure to win the gold medal in Athens. But McCormick takes a different approach. As a counselor at various venues, including his own Hard 2 Guard camps, he turns the Tapes to his advantage, using them to get kids to approach drills with a concrete goal. "Being able to measure improvement keeps them motivated," he says. "A kid can set a goal when he practices shooting, like 80 percent from the free throw line or three of five from beyond the arc. But it's much harder to quantify improvement as a ball handler. Once you've mastered a Mix Tapes move, even if you never use it in a game, you've done the work, and that gives you a confidence that makes you more assertive with the ball."
In 2001 the directors of the Hoopmasters Camp in Los Angeles entrusted McCormick with a nine-and-under boys' team. He screened an early tape for the squad and, to make drills more fun, spent part of every practice working on a Mix Tapes move. At the AAU nationals two coaches told him he had the best ball handling team in the age group. "I got into this business when kids were losing interest and the NBA was almost unwatchable," McCormick says. "Teams were either pounding the ball into Shaq or running triple screens for Iverson along the baseline or clearing out for T-Mac on the wing. Then this came along, and it was something new, something to do besides a dunk. A kid who can't dunk can have a tight handle. The problem comes when kids think they can pull a move off and don't realize that Hot Sauce spent 15 years working on it before going on tour. But generally too much time is spent saying the And1 stuff is bad and not enough figuring out how it can be used."
Smart coaches realize that the beat-'em-off-the-bounce mind-set dovetails with the prevailing rules, especially at the high school and college levels. The shorter (compared with the NBA) three-point shot throws a huge advantage to a team with a point guard who can penetrate and pitch to a teammate out at the arc. Coaches may win points with their colleagues for devising an offense full of motion and screens, but players ultimately have to make shots, and it's much harder to sink a jumper after curling off a screen than by simply catching and shooting.
Bashers of the Mix Tapes are known around the And1 offices as "the haters." When And1 marketing manager Chris Hightower goes into locker rooms to look for endorsers or to sign up college teams, coaches rag on him. Maybe they shouldn't; the majority of the Skip clips on Volume One end with a pass. "When Rafer finally got off the bench, he had one of the highest assist-to-turnover ratios in the league," Berger says. "In streetball the best plays are crossovers, dimes [assists] and [alley-] oops. Only the crossover is 'about me.' The other two are passes."
But, of course, "the haters" give And1 an opportunity to practice more marketing jujitsu. When Owens took heat for speaking heresy to The Boston Globe over the winter--"This ain't 1950, Bob Cousy running around," he said, and went on from there--And1 pounced. Never mind that the Cooz introduced behind-the-back and through-the-legs moves to the basketball mainstream; the company turned AO's comments into the basis for an ad campaign in Slam and Dime: "You think I'm messing up the game," the copy read. "I don't give a damn. This ain't no mom and dad white picket fence basketball. 1950 is over. You got a problem with it, call AO." The ad included a phone number (Philly area code, of course) on which more than 7,000 callers left messages in the first two weeks. Messages of solidarity, it's safe to assume.
"I'm tired of us being [labeled] 'ambassadors of negative basketball,'" Owens says. "In the NBA you've got Tracy McGrady taking 40 shots a game, and Steve Nash doesn't even run plays for the Suns. Dick Vitale's doing Mix Tape tricks in that DiGiorno [pizza] commercial, and nobody says Dick Vitale hates the game." Owens believes players on the tour should be accorded more respect, not less, because they're essentially being graded on a curve: "The opposing team only has to score. We have to score and entertain. It's like starting out 20 points behind."
In fact, even the game's establishment has been forced to take seriously its obligation to entertain. "The game has changed," Naclerio says. "The Phoenix Suns don't come down and do Mix Tape moves, but they play a very entertaining style. They've made basketball fun again for basketball people. NBA coaches were overcoaching, calling every play."
As Naclerio drifted through St. Louis hotel lobbies at this year's Final Four, acquaintances began to needle him, calling him "power guy." Yeah, right, he thought to himself. Some power: At the time he was trying to hook on as an assistant at St. John's and couldn't even get an interview. He didn't yet know what those friends knew--that the St. Louis Post-Dispatch had just named him one of the 50 most powerful people in college basketball for having midwifed the Mix Tapes and "changing the way kids play."
Told that Volume Eight will include an in-transition, behind-the-back, bounced alley-oop for a dunk, Naclerio lets out a cackle. At the 2002 Final Four the National Association of Basketball Coaches honored him, along with John Wooden and Dave Gavitt, for being a "Guardian of the Game." The irony is enough to make an old coach feel skated and boogied and bopped on, not to mention crossed over and crossed up. But on balance--remember balance?--quite happily so. "It's like a buffet," he says. "You offer kids everything and hope they're smart enough to take what works. This stuff is dessert. You just hope they won't eat too much of it."