Unless you’ve been trapped in Oliver Miller’s cleavage for the past decade, it won’t be news to you that hip-hop and hoops go together like European players and suspect facial hair. Fresh releases are often to be found in an NBA locker room long before they hit the record store, and there’s a discernible buzz on the blacktops when a hot new track drops.
After years of marinating in rap culture, basketball’s relationship with hip-hop is so obvious, well detailed and integral to the respective fields that it’s unlikely ever to dissolve, even if the league will occasionally try to part the pair with an Elvis commercial, Dixie Chicks cross-promotion or anti-ice dress code clause.
Over the years, the two games have grown closer as they’ve grown up, with rappers buying into franchise ownership groups and numerous players investing the dollars they earned on the court in start-up record labels. Every once in a while a baller will show up in the booth himself, and, even less frequently, an M.C. can be found lacing ‘em up and taking to the courts.
If I were to say that the results of these crossover attempts are usually more disturbing than the thought of Greg Ostertag in a thong (I apologise), I’d still be understating it; anyone to have heard Kobe on the mic or seen Master P on the hardwood will doubtless affirm this.
All of this superfluous preamble brings me to the question at the heart of today’s feature, one you’ve doubtless raised in conversation in the past: Which players remind you of which rappers? I’ll be comparing certain NBA ballers with their counterparts in the rap game, continuing the concept in a later article if I receive a decent response.
Let’s get right into it.
Shaquille O’Neal and Jay-Z
Shaq might physically be significantly bigger than Jigga (which is why some feel the Notorious might be a better comparison), but they’ve had a similarly sizeable impact in their respective fields over the past decade, both dominating year after year. Both have held it down on the block while making money off the masses (compare Kazaam to any number of Jay’s club records), and both have had their own shoes with Reebok (Shaq with the “Shaqnosis” and Jay with the “S. Carter” line). What’s more, they’ve both had high-profile beef with arrogant characters, later reconciling in public.
Shaq: “most dominant ever”
Jay-Z: “greatest rapper alive”
Kobe Bryant and Kanye West
It’s only natural that, with Shaq playing the part of Jay-Z, Kobe and Kanye should be equated with one another. After all, both cocky youngsters joined an established presence (Shaq/Jay) on what was soon to become a dynasty (the Lakers/Roc-a-fella), playing a secondary role in the early days. However, following what some thought could be a career-ending incident (the Colorado drama/car crash), they stepped out of the shadow of their (teammate/labelmate) to put up the best numbers of their career as a solo artist. Despite this, they both continue to split public opinion, seemingly having as many diehard fans as violent haters.
“Everything negative – pressure, challenges – is all an opportunity for me to rise.” – Kobe Bryant
“Now I can let these dream-killers kill my self esteem, or use my arrogance as steam to power my dreams.” – Kanye West
Ron Artest and the late Ol’ Dirty Bastard
It’s not hard to see the likeness between these loveably nutty New York natives, two troubled individuals frequently under fire from the authorities for doing as they do. Where Big Baby Jesus made history by becoming the first individual arrested in California under the law prohibiting convicted felons from wearing bullet-proof vests, Ron-Ron was handed down an unprecedented penalty for his part in the infamous detRIOT. As proud products of the projects, neither have a father to their styles, and neither could be accused of forgetting their street roots.
Ron Artest: “…there’s a lot of kids who look up to me. For that, I’ll change.”
ODB: “Wu Tang is for the children.”
Ron Artest: “I’m going to continue playing hard and out of control, like a wild animal that needs to be caged in.”
ODB: “I’ll f*ck yo’ ass up.”
Kevin Garnett and Mos Def
Intelligent, focused and versatile, the Big Ticket has more in common with Mighty Mos than you might think. K.G. used his training as a point guard to become one of the top forwards on the planet; Mos incorporated his skills as a slam poet into his music to develop a reputation as one of the sharpest rhymesayers around. They’re also alike in their roles as figureheads of growing movements within their respective games: K.G. as the prototypical point-forward, and Mos as the foremost conscious rapper.
Kevin Garnett: “I’ve never been one to hold my tongue, and I never will.”
Mos Def: “So much on my mind, I just can’t recline.”
Tony Parker and Tony Pizzle
They both get to do Eva Longoria.
Grant Hill and the late Big L
While their personalities couldn’t be more different, the careers of Grant Hill and Big L share a number of notable features. Grant left Duke for the NBA in 1994, with L moving away from the other members of Children of the Corn later in the year to work on his first album, which was eventually released in March ’95, in which month Hill was named to his first All-Star team. Although recognised for an undeniable talent early in their careers, their skills were not matched by those around them (the Pistons for Grant; record executives for L), and as a consequence neither had the success for which they could have hoped. Unfortunately, their windows for achievement were closed prematurely at around the turn of the millennium, with Big L being gunned down in 1999, and Hill’s ankle injuries being diagnosed towards the end of the 1999-2000 season.
Grant Hill: “I grew up to always respect authority and respect those in charge.”
Big L: “Fuck the po-po.”
Julius Hodge and 50 Cent
(Seriously, Jules, good luck with the recovery.)
Vince Carter and Cam’ron
Vince: Part of the ’97 UNC squad along with two other players selected in the ’98 draft (Antawn Jamison and Shammond Williams).
Cam: Part of group Children of the Corn along with two other rappers later to sign major record deals (Big L and Ma$e).
Vince: Popularised purple with the Toronto jerseys.
Cam: Popularised purple with his custom outfits.
Vince: Widely panned for his lack of effort in the ’04-’05 season.
Cam: Widely panned for his lack of effort on the album S.D.E.
Vince: Allegedly assaulted Sam Mitchell.
Cam: Allegedly assaulted several employees of Sony Records.
Vince: Requested a trade from Toronto.
Cam: Requested to be released from Sony.
Vince: Came to be referred to as “Air Canada” less frequently.
Cam: Came to be referred to as “Killa Cam” less frequently.
Vince: Returned to form following his move to New Jersey, putting in some of the strongest performances of his career alongside Jason Kidd and Richard Jefferson.
Cam: Returned to form following his move to Roc-a-fella, putting in some of the strongest performances of his career alongside Juelz Santana and Jim Jones.
That’s all you’re getting for the moment. Let me know which NBA players you think have a doppelgänger in the rap game, and I may bite your idea for the speculative second half of this piece. As it is, I have more than enough left up my sleeve for another feature of this size, so keep your eyes peeled.
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