Unlike other American professional sports, basketball requires branding at a young age to become successful.
There is a lot of money to be made with basketball on and off the court compared to other sports through lucrative shoe deals, leading NBA players to be some of the richest athletes in the world.
One of the best ways for young boys in high school to separate their talent from other basketball players is to release a “mixtape:” A highlight reel of dunks, ankle-breaking crossovers, and contested layups at the rim played over music. Not every mixtape goes viral, but the ones that do can change the lives of young athletes.
While mixtapes usually showcase the brightest upcoming talent, not every player succeeds at the next level after high school. Some players struggle with arrests or fade away after spending their adolescent years in the limelight, and others never make it because of outside factors.
Two of the first “mixtape legends” were pictured in SLAM Magazine, a popular basketball publication, in 2004. On the right, four-time MVP and 19-time All-Star LeBron James, one of the greatest to ever play—who still plays at the elite level at 38. On the left is Sebastian Telfair, currently serving three years in jail on weapons charges.
Sebastian Telfair is a cautionary tale of a bright star that burned too quickly, but he made it to the NBA, which is better than other mixtape legends who came after him.
Julian Newman became a mixtape legend after scoring 91 points in a middle school game as a fifth grader. He then got promoted to the varsity basketball roster, playing against 18-year-olds as an 11-year-old standing 1.35m and weighing 31.75kg. He appeared on Ellen, Steve Harvey, and Good Morning America.
With such a high pedigree at such a young age, why did Newman never even sniff the NBA?
A famous quote in the basketball world is, “You can’t teach height.” There is only one player currently in the NBA under 1.8m, and he has only ever played in one game. He went to a small school, and he went undrafted. Basketball is a cruel game in that regard.
Julian Newman only grew to 1.7m and never got a serious college offer. Due to his viral mixtape success, he created a merchandise label, Prodigy, and has his own reality TV series.
Viral basketball mixtapes have done more than just help the athletes that are featured. In one specific instance, it helped the entire city.
Aquille Carr, another victim of only growing to 1.7m, attracted so much attention with his mixtape that he was given the nickname “the crime stopper” after his coach said, “The crime in east Baltimore probably goes down during our games.”
His high school had to move their games to the local community college to accommodate all the fans who wanted to see him play.
Every year, new mixtapes go viral on social media. It is always fun to see how the next group of high schoolers up their game over their predecessors. Nothing gets a city more united than watching a local kid go big, but time will tell if it will lead to long-lasting success.