Banging with Mbenga and Chris "Hoover" Rankin

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TheNewNo2 live in Brooklyn

Hoover, in Lakers jacket, prepares the stage for TheNewNo2 in Brooklyn

“Fan interactivity” could be described as the conversation that takes place after or even during the event.  With sports, this is a critical part of the experience for most of us, and is a big reason people wear hats and jerseys – to show their support for the team, and engage others.  Through social media, traditional “fan clubs” go beyond state lines and can unite people in the most remote places.

Chris “Hoover” Rankin is an expert in all aspects of rock touring in his various professional areas, including road manager, sounds and vibemaster for countless artists over the years.  You could say he was well-steeped in “fan interactivity” just from his work delivering music and musicians, around the globe for the enjoyment of hundreds of thousands of people, year after year.  In fact, Hoover would often take set list suggestions from fans with the same diligence he used keeping baseball scores, down to the pitch counts.

An insane Laker fan, Hoov is a season ticket holder who has taken up the cause of a recent Laker acquisition, DJ Mbenga, by creating a “Banging with Mbenga” t shirt. After outfitting his entire section, it first was noticed by the LA Times bloggers Andrew and Brian Kamenetzky, who then brought it up to DJ Mbenga himself.

Andrew and Brian Kamenetzky’s Preview featuring Hoov’s “Banging with Mbenga” shirt

DJ Mbenga gets emotional when presented with the shirt:

Considered “the strongest player in the NBA,” DJ M’Benga really seemed to appreciate the shirt and said he would send it to Africa. The Kamenetzky blog also wrote about Hoover a bit:

“The Celebrated and T-Shirted

DJ Mbenga: During the game, a bunch of us couldn’t help but notice the first four rows in section 104 chock full of with fans donning gold T-shirts featuring “Banging With Mbenga” across the chest in purple. As most of y’all know, I’m incapable of just shrugging my shoulders and looking the other way over such an oddity. So after the game, I talked with their leader “Hoover,” a 26-year season ticket holder and long-time advocate for the A.C. Green and Kurt Rambis types. “The guys who did the dirty work down low in the post and don’t get recognized,” smiled Hoover. “That’s the part the casual basketball fan doesn’t see.”

As the Lakers’ resident mbanger, DJ Mbenga has naturally caught Hoover’s eye. He’s been pleased with the Congolese center’s “quality minutes” since Andrew Bynum’s MCL gave out, and recently found himself yelling “Banging with Mbenga!” after a great play, a reaction that “just came naturally”. This ran so smoothly off the tongue, in fact, that Hoover decided to make a few dozen shirts blazing the phrase that pays.

With Yao Ming in town and Mbenga likely to get some run to battle that 7’6″ girth, Hoover and the Gang decided this was an ideal night to debut the custom tee. Mbenga had no idea these guys were in the house cheering him on, but you wouldn’t have known it by the way he played. 4-7 shooting for 8 points (easily the most productive bench player in this respect), plus a pair of swats in just under ten minutes of highly energetic play. Naturally, the night was all that and then some for Hoover, and he gave me a t-shirt to present to its namesake.

Only one problem. He worried that their biggest size (XL) might not fit. And I’m guessing it won’t. But judging by Mbenga’s surprised and touched reaction, that ain’t an issue in the slightest.

Told about his fan club, Mbenga looked absolutely blown away, then made no secret that he wanted one of the shirts. With that, I handed over the gift. “Banging with Mbenga!” exclaimed DJ with a grin the size of his biceps. “I’m so excited. I like it!” From there, the moment seemed to really register, and containing his emotions required some effort. “You know what I’m going to do,” noted DJ after a pause. “I’m gonna send it to my foundation in Africa. That’s really nice. I’m really happy to have this” When I told Mbenga about section 104’s appreciation of his hustle and balls to the walls, the pride DJ takes in grabbing their applause was evident.

“The love they give to me, it’s because they see something. And I appreciate this. As a player, you don’t pay attention to what’s going on, because when they call your name, you gotta be ready to do what you gotta do. After the game, you hear about what they say, and that’s when you find out about stuff like this.”

Moments like these are honestly quite rewarding to be a part of. I’ve expressed doubts that DJ can play this well 10-15 minutes per night on a regular basis. Often with players of a limited skill set, increased time equals diminishing returns. But that’s also irrelevant, because I’ve also made no bones about how much I respect Mbenga’s work ethic, attitude and the tribulations conquered to even reach the NBA, much less stick. If anyone deserves a night like this, it’s DJ.” (from Andrew and Brian Kamenetzky’s Lakers blog)

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