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The real story behind Prince’s famous basketball game starring Charlie Murphy



In 1985, Micki Free was at the center of television history: a pick-up basketball game with Prince and Charlie Murphy. It’s a game that got immersed in pop culture thanks to 2003 Chappelle’s show Sketch depicting Prince as a basketball-crushing animal that ran Charlie and his famous brother Eddie Murphy off the hard court.

“Being with Prince was surreal,” recalls Free, a 61-year-old blues rock guitarist who is about to drop his next album Tattoo Burn Redux in May. Free was one of the few allowed in the closed entourage of the late music superstar. It was the decade of decadence, and Prince was on one of pop̵

7;s most famous runs with albums as groundbreaking as Dirty thoughts, 1999, and Purple Rain. Meanwhile, the Grammy-winning Free had revived R&B group Shalamar and given the act a rock and roll swag, which began with the 1984 top 20 crossover single, “Dancing in the Sheets.” Peaked.

In Prince, Free found a crazy kindred spirit. They both wore makeup and high heels and absolutely torn guitars. The couple clicked immediately, and when Prince held court in Los Angeles, the multi-platinum giant made sure Free was in the mix. From 1983 to 1989, when Prince was on the west coast, he called Free. “But I knew he was on another level,” Free admits that Prince’s musical gifts are immensely deep. On April 21, 2016, Prince tragically died of an accidental drug overdose at the age of 57.

“It was a loss of one of my idols,” said Free, who attended SXSW’s May 17th tribute to Prince with bandmates Andre Cymone and Dez Dickerson of The Purple One last March. “Prince was like a shining star in the universe of music. I was blessed just to be around him.”

Free shared some of his favorite stories with Esquire.com.

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To Prince’s fashion tips:

Hanging out with Prince was like hanging out with Jimi Hendrix. It was [that] insane. Prince had a house in Beverly Hills. He would come to town and his bodyguard Gilbert [Davidson] I would call myself and say “Prince wants you to come to Tramps” or whatever club he was in. If Prince and I were hanging out in the clubs, we’d be surrounded by a million girls.[[[[L.laughs]I would go out and meet him and he would have already done it [early 12-inch pressings] from his new songs like “When Doves Cry”, “17 Days” and all of the killer B-sides. And he would play them at the club to see what they would sound like.

There was one time I came to this club and I had my suits made by the same people who made his suits. And I had my boots made by the same guy who made Prince’s boots. So I came to the club with my then wife, Teri Copley, an ’80s actress who had her own TV show. Prince left the club and walked over to me – I thought I looked hot! And he looks straight at me and says, “Hmmm … there’s only one thing missing.” And Prince took a pair of red panties out of his suit that I still have today and put them in my pocket! He patted her and said, “Now you look good.” And he strutted on. Crazy times.

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Sunrise in Princes Studio

The Prince staff called me and said, “Meet Prince at Sunset Sound,” a very famous recording studio in LA. I would go to the studio and he would already be jamming with his band. Once I went in and there it was [Morris Day of the Time], Sheila E., Prince … and Miles Davis were there! And Prince gave me the bass and said, “You play bass tonight.” And I say, “Prince, I’m not a bass player.” And he just turns to me and says, “I need that butt, Free, I need that butt … Come on.”

You need to understand that Prince literally slept in the recording studio. He had a bed in Sunset Sound so he worked and slept there all night. His cook was on call – the girl who made his famous pancakes.[[[[Laughs]I remember it got so late when Prince was jamming one night and I was so tired. It was probably four in the morning and Sheila was playing timbales and Prince was playing drums. And I played bass and started to slack off. Prince looks at me and says, “Uh, I need that butt. Free, give me that butt!”

It was exhausting. I wanted so badly to go home and go to sleep. But that’s the guy he was. I was hit by the star. In a moment Sheila would play the drums during a jam and then Prince would say, “Oh, let me show you … No, not like that.” He would get on the drums and forget about it. He could record anything: keyboards, guitar, bass, play piano, timbales … and be that bad.

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Basketball games and blouses

Charlie Murphy didn’t lie. Everything that happened there [“True Hollywood Stories” sketch] was real. After the club we went back to Prince’s house. It was 1985 and there were a lot of girls with Eddie [Murphy]Myself, Charlie – rest in peace – and some other people. And out of nowhere, Prince says, “Do you want to play basketball?” Me and Charlie and Eddie look at each other, how the hell? And Prince says, “Me, Micki and Gilbert against you, Eddie and Uncle Ray.”

We played three against three. I don’t remember if we changed, but I know for a fact that Prince didn’t change his. He didn’t prepare to play. If anything changed beyond the blouses, it was his heels. Prince put on tennis shoes. All I remember was when Prince took that first shot, it was just a net. I look at him doing shot after shot like “What the hell?” In the end, they really made us pancakes – blueberry pancakes. And they were good! Hanging out with Prince was magical.

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