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Angel of Harlem

June 25, 2007
June 25, 2007

Table of Contents
June 25, 2007

SI Players: LIFE ON AND OFF THE FIELD
SI Bonus Section: Golf Plus
Pro Basketball
GOLF
BASEBALL
TENNIS
Jason Taylor

Angel of Harlem

A rap mogul helps a hoops event grow

RAP IMPRESARIO Damon Dash, the cofounder of Roc-A-Fella Records, is Harlem born and bred, so he knows what plays on the streets. "It's how you act," Dash says. "Harlem guys are cocky. We think we're super cool. That's your swagger."

This is an article from the June 25, 2007 issue Original Layout

The Kingdome Classic, a storied streetball tournament that Dash began sponsoring in 2004—this year's edition kicks off on Friday—is steeped in that kind of attitude. Held at a public court at the corner of Manhattan's 115th Street and Lenox Avenue, the Kingdome was founded in 1985 by Terry (Huncho) Cooper, a lifelong Harlem resident. When it started it was little more than a grudge match between teams from rival apartment buildings.

Over the years, though, the tournament became a highlight on the Harlem summer calendar. In the late 1980s and '90s hundreds of people would watch NBA players like Malik Sealy and Conrad McRae play. Dash began sponsoring the event in 2004 and added some Hollywood flair to the Harlem flavor. He supplied new uniforms and fiberglass backboards. The field grew to 20 teams, and more NBA talent joined: The Kings' Ron Artest (11, left), the Knicks' David Lee and the Rockets' Rafer Alston played in 2006 and are expected back this year. Several teams are sponsored by Dash's pals, including Diddy, Jim Jones and the Ruff Ryders.

The Kingdome's popularity has exploded; last year some games drew crowds of 5,000, with a courtside emcee heckling struggling players. Despite the presence of hip-hop royalty, Huncho, 47, still the commissioner, has limited the corporate influences he feels have corrupted street-ball events like the Entertainer's Basketball Classic at Rucker Park and the AND1 Tour. He has turned down several lucrative offers to change the Kingdome name. "Sponsoring this is a dream come true," says Dash (left). "Rucker is cool, but it's corporate. A lot of that swagger has left. You get that old school feeling here."

What's the deal with ...

Comerica Park's Seagulls

ANYONE WHO saw highlights of Justin Verlander's no-hitter on June 12 probably noticed that Detroit's Comerica Park had more fowl territory than usual. For much of the Tigers' home stand against the Mets and the Brewers, the place looked like the set of a certain Hitchcock movie: Scores of seagulls buzzed players and waddled in the outfield. At one point Detroit pitcher Jason Grilli had to shoo one off the mound.

It turns out the Tigers had a bug problem, not a bird problem. Storms blew thousands of armyworm moths into Detroit from the southern U.S., and the bugs fell in love with Comerica's lights, which they could see from miles away. The moths alighted in the stadium's grass, where they were easy prey for seagulls.

Plastic owls and dogs were used to try to scare the gulls away. Neither tactic worked, though as the moth population dwindled, the seagulls dispersed. If they return the best bet to get rid of them might be a Tigers winning streak. "They moved when the crowd roared," says team spokesman Rob Matwick. "They'd get scared and scatter."

Is There a "Power Gene"?

DO YOU HAVE what it takes to be a topflight powerlifter? You could spend thousands of hours in the gym to find out. Or you could send a saliva sample and $92.40 to an Australian lab. For that price Genetic Technologies, a DNA-testing firm in Fitzroy, Australia, will tell you if you are carrying a variant of a gene called ACTN3, which scientists believe helps control a person's aptitude for sports that require explosive muscle movements. People who have a certain version of the gene are able to produce actinin, a protein found only in fast-twitch muscle fibers. If your muscles are rich in actinin, you're more likely to be good at sports like weightlifting and sprinting than someone who lacks actinin.

In 2003 an international team of scientists studied the DNA of 107 top Australian sprint athletes. Ninety-five percent had actinin in their systems. Of 32 Olympians in the study, all had the ACTN3 version that produces actinin. Preliminary findings in a forthcoming study by University of Maryland kinesiology professor Stephen M. Roth suggest that most elite powerlifters—for example, 2004 Olympic gold medalist Hossein Reza Zadeh (left)—carry actinin too.

Some pro teams are taking notice. In 2005 the Manly Sea Eagles of Australia's National Rugby League began checking ACTN3 variants and tailoring training for players predisposed to more weightlifting. Someday such tests may be used by teams trying to decide which players to draft. Still, as Manly's team physiologist Steve Dank said then, "Gene tests don't measure the passion that makes players great." Not yet, anyway.

PHOTOMARK CUNNINGHAM/MLB/GETTY IMAGES (SEAGULL ON FIELD)PHOTODUANE BURLESON/AP (SEAGULL)PHOTODUANE BURLESON/AP (SEAGULL)PHOTOBOB MARTIN (WEIGHTLIFTER)PHOTOLITTLE TONI (DASH)PHOTOLADY SAM-O (ARTEST)PHOTOCEO .RO. (SIGN)