by M. Solis
When it comes to NBA playoff basketball, it’s all about the superstars. San Antonio’s first-round series against the Memphis Grizzlies was defined by the ascendance of Kawhi Leonard to A-list status, but no man is an island, even if he happens to be named after one. The Spurs leaned heavily on Leonard to crack the 60-win plateau this season, but in Tim Duncan’s absence, it was truly a team effort that included strong contributions from a diverse group of reserves referred to simply as “the Juice Crew.”
The origins of San Antonio’s Juice Crew can be traced back to 2015 in Las Vegas when Spurs Assistant Coach Becky Hammon led the franchise to the Summer League title. During halftime of the tournament’s penultimate game, Hammon implored her exhausted squad to “Bring the juice!” Kyle Anderson and Jonathon Simmons took their coach’s favorite phrase to heart, with Anderson earning the league’s Most Valuable Player award and Simmons taking home MVP honors in the championship game.
The trio joined the Spurs for the 2015-16 regular season, and apparently brought the juice with them. After losing key members of the 2014 title-winning Foreign Legion to free agency, San Antonio’s bench was primed for a new identity. That it would invoke an influential East Coast hip-hop collective from the mid-'80s was a welcome surprise from what many outsiders generally describe as the most vanilla franchise in the league.
Best known for hip-hop icons Marley Marl, Biz Markie and Big Daddy Kane, the original Juice Crew took its name from pioneering DJ Mister Magic, aka Sir Juice. With producer Marley Marl manning the boards and lyricist MC Shan and Roxanne Shanté rocking the mic, the Queens collective forged its own path in the same borough that birthed Run DMC, Salt-N-Pepa, and LL Cool J.
Prior to the Juice Crew, the closest the Spurs had previously come to Queens was courtesy of the classic 2012 NBA playoff promo that expertly utilized Mobb Deep’s infamous “Shook Ones (Part II)” to showcase San Antonio’s no-nonsense game. Up until then, San Antonio’s hip-hop pedigree consisted of Stephen Jackson’s Port Arthur-infused rhymes and Tony Parker’s forgotten turn as a chart-topping rapper in France.
“It’s a word that is used especially for the bench guys to pick up the energy, to fill the energy,” Patty Mills told Spurs correspondent Cayleigh Griffin earlier this season. “Obviously, we play a whole different style to what the first group does. It’s our job. It’s no secret that we gotta bring energy when coming off the bench so the word juice has that kind of feeling of intensity and an energy to it.”
“You get those little things that get you through the year and it’s something that’s really brought us together as a team,” added Mills. “It’s good to see everyone buying into such a little thing but I think it goes a long way and everybody’s having fun with it.”
The Juice aka Sir Juice
One of the signature plays of San Antonio’s young postseason came in Game 1 versus the Grizzlies. With the Spurs in the midst of a 29-point rout, Jonathon Simmons obliterated Wayne Selden’s layup attempt with an emphatic chase-down block. For those watching from home, the play was punctuated by Spurs play-by-play announcer Bill Land bellowing, “The Juice not to be denied!”
Like Sir Juice before him, Simmons has become the physical embodiment of his spirited squad. A deft combination of speed and athleticism, Simmons plays with a hunger accumulated from reaching the NBA through the rigors of the D-League. Much like Mr. Magic reaching the masses on WBLS, The Juice is always in attack mode, on both sides of the hardwood.