Long before Charlie Wilson was crooning his way to Grammy nominations and lifetime achievement awards, before he was making the term “Ooh-wee” legendary and being honored on stage by the likes of Justin Timberlake, Pharrell and Snoop Dog, Wilson was a preacher’s kid earning his stripes on the hardwood under the tutelage of Harlem Globetrotters legend Marques Haynes.
“He taught me how to dribble,” Wilson said of Haynes. “And I got pretty good at it. I was a bad man on that court.”
Though sure, Wilson’s well aware that it’s cliché for has-beens to rave about the guts and glory of their athletic heyday, and, yeah, he opted for drum major over basketball/football star in high school, but Wilson maintains that if he wasn’t selling millions of albums worldwide, he would’ve been lacing ’em up for a living.
“I wasn’t regular good,” Wilson said matter-of-factly. “I was good, Jason. I could play.”
Jason Jordan: Everyone knows you’re a legend on the mic, but, as an Oklahoma native, how’d you measure up athletically?
Charlie Wilson: I was a really good basketball and football player. I was MVP in basketball all the way from the little league level up to junior high school. I was going to play high school ball too, but the coach was always drunk. It was crazy. When I got to high school it was the same coach and I was like “Ah man!” I went to tryouts and didn’t have any gym shoes or anything like that then a guy made a comment like “Yo, Wilson we’re not here to teach you how to play basketball!” So I went over near halfcourt and took one jump shot and it was nothing but net. Then I turned around and walked off the court. I couldn’t deal with all that. But I was pretty good. I could dribble really well. Ya know, Marques Haynes actually taught me to dribble?
JJ: Wow, the Harlem Globetrotters legend?
CW: Yes! He was from Oklahoma too and I’ll tell you the story. I was really young and one day I was looking in this backyard, like young boys do, and the grass was nice and green and way off in the yard was a basketball court. One day I was there early for church, because my father had a church there in Sand Springs, Oklahoma, and I just climbed over the fence, and walked all the way down to the basketball court. Then I picked the ball up and was dribbling and trying to go through my legs while I was on my knees and all of that. Then I went to shoot the ball and, true story, someone grabbed the ball from the back. I turned around and it was Marques Haynes. He asked me what I was doing there and why I was dribbling all wrong. Then he just taught me some of his techniques. I’ll never forget that because when I started playing I loved dribbling so much my coach would always yell “Wilson! Pass the ball!” I’m like “Marques Haynes taught me how to dribble so I’m gonna dribble!”
JJ: Ah ha, well what about football?
CW: I played all the way up until high school and I was really good too, but then I saw how much all of those guys had grown over the summer I was like “Maaaaan, I’m not playing football anymore!” I looked down and I saw some guys marching below on another field and that’s when I decide to join the band!
JJ: A few of the celebs on the Chop-Up have that same story?
CW: (Laughs) Yeah man, but I was really good though. I could catch anything. If it was short I’d dive for it. I almost broke all of my fingers one time diving for a catch.
JJ: What’s your best football story from your playing days?
CW: Well, I played safety, receiver, quarterback… I played them all except lineman because I wasn’t big enough. But I was definitely a beast on defense. I was like Deion Sanders; if you chuck it back there in the wrong spot, I got it. I would snatch so many balls on defense that this team set me up one time. They sent three guys over in one area and when I went up for the interception all I heard was BAM! All I saw was sky, ground, sky, ground, sky, ground because I was flipping. I knew I was coming down, but I didn’t know how. I remember tucking my head in my shoulders and coming down on my head. It knocked me unconscious. I did catch the ball, but when I hit that ground I was out! They had to bring the smelling salt to wake me up, the girls were crying on the sidelines and everything. Then when I got up and went to the sideline all they said was “Dallas Cowboy!”
JJ: Which one was your favorite?
CW: I’d say both of them, but I think if I wouldn’t have ended up in music I would’ve played basketball. I was really good.
JJ: Who would you have wanted to play for?
CW: In basketball, I would’ve wanted to play for either the Knicks or the Lakers because of their rivalry back when I was coming up. In football, I would’ve been a Dallas Cowboy.
JJ: Let’s switch gears to the random: Blindfolded can you tell the difference between Pepsi and Coke?
CW: (Laughs) No.
JJ: Interesting, you’re my first “No.”
CW: (Laughs) Whoever says they can tell the difference is full of it.
JJ: Out to the movies or Netflix?
JJ: At Rucker Park in N.Y. – you earn a streetball name for your skills when you play there. What would your name be?
CW: (Laughs) Hmm… Lil Blanky Baller! That’s the only thing I can think of right now. They’d say, “Keep on shooting Lil Blanky Baller!”
JJ: That’s definitely original! What’s your best high school memory?
CW: Just having a lot of control. I could really make the whole school walk out. Me and my friend had control like that. I could go pick up that microphone in the office and say “Yo, we’re out of here.”
JJ: You were the big man on campus, huh?
CW: (Laughs) Man the teachers were like, “You’ve gotta get him out of here!” It was a great experience for me in high school. I had a lot of friends. I was really popular because I was a drum major. I loved high school.
JJ: Who would win a one-on-one tournament between the current NBA stars?
CW: It would come down to LeBron James and Kobe Bryant. And, people would probably pick LeBron to win, but I’ve gotta go with Kobe to win it if they’re both healthy. They’re both great, but, in the past LeBron has shown that he can fold in crunch time. So, yeah, I’d have to go with Kobe.
JJ: Both in their primes, who wins between Muhammad Ali and Mike Tyson?
CW: That’d definitely be Muhammad Ali. Tyson wouldn’t be able to swing like that and get Muhammad. You know how he used to knock people unconscious in the first round. Tyson might catch Muhammad one time; maybe even break his jaw, but after that he wouldn’t be able to hit him anymore.
JJ: Name a song you know every word to?
JJ: What are you working on music-wise? What can fans look forward to?
CW: Right now I have the first single off of the Best Man Holiday soundtrack called “I Still Have You.” Currently, I’m in the studio with Kanye West working on the next Charlie Wilson project so I’m really excited about that.
Follow Jason Jordan on Twitter: @JayJayUSATODAY