Ballplayers want to be rappers and rappers want to be ballplayers. It’s an age-old adage. The NBA has long been a core piece of hip-hop culture – from Allen Iverson heralding a new era of emphatic urban style to rappers being fanatical about basketball sneakers. And of course, rap songs are often laden with references to the game’s most iconic players.
“Which park are y’all playing basketball/Get me on the court and I’m trouble/Last week fucked around and got a triple double/Freaking niggas every way like MJ/I can’t believe today was a good day” – Ice Cube
“Real quick, real sick, raw nights, I perform like Mike/Anyone—Tyson, Jordan, Jackson, action, pack guns” – Biggie
“But I’m limitless mentally, I’m lyrically ZMT/Lebron shit, I was in that 6 after 23” – Wale
“Went from most hated to the champion god flow/I guess that’s a feeling only me and LeBron know” – Kanye
NBA stars have attempted to crossover into rap with great regularity. Shaquille O’Neal dropped four studio albums (although he’s not quite as dominant in the booth as he is on the block) and Ron Artest even started a record label. And whether its Stephon Marbury in Big Pun’s “Whatcha Gone Do” video or LeBron popping up in Jay-Z’s “D.O.A” visual or, let’s not forget, Ray Allen’s unforgettable cameo in Public Enemy’s “He Got Game,” Ballers haven’t ever been shy about popping up in rap videos. MC’s are mainstays at NBA games; if you turn on a Hawks game, you’ll often see Gucci Mane sitting court-side or Ice Cube on the hardwood at Laker games. Given all the crossover and cultural importance these two share, I thought it was only right to draw some comparisons.
Trae Young (DaBaby)
New on the scene but with an adept game and a lot of swag. Their moves on the court/stage get the crowd going. Both are more than willing to provide a good assist. DaBaby with a host of saucy features, including Megan Thee Stallion‘s “Cash Shit” and Quality Control‘s “Baby.” Trae with the frequent no-look pass or alley-oop. Young Ice is Top 5 in the NBA in scoring and assists. Neither’s success has come without hate. People criticize DaBaby over his singular method of flow. But those nay-sayers may be missing the actual bars he’s spitting. Like, are you even listening? Not to mention he’s got a chart-topping album. The same goes for Trae. People talk about the Hawks record but overlook the fact he a). Has 0 help and b). Is putting up historic numbers for an NBA sophomore.
Anthony Davis (Meek Mill)
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It always seemed like one thing after the other for these two. Nick-nack injuries, an incompetent General Manager – probation, legal fight after legal fight, beef. Neither could ever quite seem to get over the hump but now they are in significantly better situations. Davis is a Los Angeles Laker; running flank to LeBron James. Meek has rebounded from being the target of maybe the biggest hit diss record ever and has been released from prison. With monkeys off their back, Davis is vying for a title this season and Meek is eyeing his first Grammy for Album of the Year. These two have the potential to be the best in the game. Before his coup to exit New Orleans, Davis was pegged as next in line to take over the league while Meek was pinned the new Jay-Z. They have the talent but questions still remain about whether they can elevate their game even more to reach their potential.
Luka Doncic (YBN Cordae)
Young but polished. These guys both burst onto the scene looking to compete immediately with absolutely no fear – I’m sure to the surprise of many. Cordae’s delivery as velvety and fluid as Luka’s step-back jumper. Each has his eye on running the game for years to come. they’re also not afraid to go at the neck of an all-time great. YBN responded to J. Cole’s “1985” while Luka has dropped a 30-point triple-double on LeBron’s head top. Bright futures await this pair. Both will be hoisting trophies in the years to come.
Damian Lillard (Dame DOLLA)
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There’s not a better comparison for Damian Lillard on the court than Damian Lillard in the booth. He plays the way he raps. Even keel. Consistent. Sharp. And they’ve been underrated for a long time. Another similarity, they both need to get out of Portland! Neither is willing to back down from a challenge. Damian went nose to nose with Russell Westbrook who barked and barked at him during the first round playoff series – sending OKC home with an elimination-game buzzer-beater. Dame DOLLA is no stranger to beef wither. He’s battled rapped the likes of Marvin Bagley III and Shaq, taking home victories in both bouts.
James Harden (Travis Scott)
Their numbers are as gaudy as their eye for attention-grabbing ensembles and jewelry. To go along with their creative fashion choices, each posts flashy numbers. Stats tell you they’re two of the best in their individual games. But success hasn’t just come on a silver platter. Harden began his career as a 6th man, coming off the bench in OKC. Then transformed in the virtually unstoppable scoring machine we see today. As shown in his recent documentary, Travis had a steep climb up the mountain as well. A video that went viral shows Scott performing for a few dozen people in 2013. Compare that to La Flame selling out the AstroWorld festival just 6 years later. Harden went from 6th man of the year in 2012 to NBA MVP in 2018. An equally impressive rise.
Jimmy Butler (Pusha T)
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These two do so much for their team. Jimmy is Mr. Everything for Miami while Pusha T is the President of GOOD music with the second most releases under the label. Neither puts up the splashy numbers but they’re incredibly effective in big moments. While their stats won’t jump off the page, they consistently deliver. Both are winners. Put them up against anybody rapping or hooping and they have the ability to come out on top. Of course this pair is not afraid of a little beef. Pusha and Jimmy have regularly had spats with peers. Butler can trash-talk with the best of them while Pusha diss records are the stuff of legend.
Nikola Jokic (Jack Harlow)
At first glance and maybe even second, most people wouldn’t recognize them on a city block. But these two are erudite in their craft at the highest level. Harlow and Jokic can hold their own against some of the best in the game. In the basketball community, Jokic gets mad love but the casual fan may not fully appreciate his ability. The same could go for Harlow who isn’t as well known as he should be.
LeBron James (Drake)
The numbers say they’re the best ever, but both have their doubters. Harshly criticized by the general public each just keeps on compiling milestone after milestone. Drake and LeBron have had their forgettable moments that amount to tiny stains on Rushmore resumes. The fact is, you can’t tell the story of hip-hop without Drake and you can’t tell the story of the NBA without LeBron James. The pair have single-handedly changed the culture of their respective industries. LeBron ushered in positionless basketball while Drake took the role of rapper-singer to new heights. Label them, all-around players, because of their versatility. Lebron can do just about everything on both ends of the court, while Drake can rap, sing, act, do comedy. Hell, I’m not sure if there’s anything this guy can’t do. To top the comparison off they are both chasing legacies many feel are untouchable no matter what they do (Jay-Z & Michael Jeffery Jordan).
Kawhi Leonard (Kendrick Lamar)
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Both L.A. guys. Both don’t quite get the recognition they deserve but are arguably the best in the game. The only question left about them is, how much longer will the run continue. Mild-mannered and unassuming off the court or stage their performance has a mercurial nature about it. Oh, and they make greatness look effortless. Two defensive player of the year awards, two finals MVPs and two championships versus 37 Grammy nominations and 13 wins. All since 2013. They’ve got the hardware to back up an all-time resume. Each has accomplished a lot in a short period of time. Both had to pay their dues before having the breakout year that changed their careers.
Giannis Antetokounmpo (J. Cole)
Giannis and Cole are humble superstars, true to their roots and the soil that bred them. Both possess a tremendous work ethic and the ability to make those around them better. Giannis is one of the only players in the NBA averaging more than 10 rebounds and 5 assists per game. Cole dished out plenty of assists on features in 2019, including some fire bars on Jay Rock’s “OSOM.” He’s even featured on what may be the Grammy winner for Song of the Year – 21 Savage’s hit, “A lot.” But don’t let the smile and even temperament fool you. If you push them far enough, they’ll get gully on you real quick. These stars are giving but they don’t have a problem shouldering a superstar’s burden. Giannis has been vocal about not wanting to team up with other marquee players in the league, rather wanting to beat them. Similarly, Cole had an album go platinum with NO FEATURES.
Kevin Durant (Wale)
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Some things just write themselves. There’s the obvious DMV connection. Both are constantly in their feelings, funny and candid on twitter. Seems like they’re always at war with themselves. Neither is afraid to speak their mind and go after their critics. Wale and Durant seem to search for the validation and praise they feel aren’t justly given. Wale has classic mixtapes but people say he doesn’t have a classic album while Durant has two rings but doubters say he rode the coattails of the Warriors big three for those. Durant left Oklahoma City for Golden State – Wale left Atlantic Records for Warner. Both are cemented in the eyes of some but personally feel there’s something left to be proven.
Steph Curry (Young Thug)
Their Innovative styles changed the game. Curry virtually eliminated traditional centers and is single-handedly responsible for the rise of 30-foot chucks in the game. Few have influenced this era of rap like Young Thug; BBC named him the 21st Century’s most influential. Curry attracted KD to join him in Golden State. Thug attracted some of the game’s hottest new artists like Gunna and Lil Keed to YSL records, his label. Curry has kids everywhere emulating his style. Thug has kids everywhere dressing like him and rapping/singing auto-tuned.
This article is sure to stir up some heated debate, but I SAID WHAT I SAID! Sound off in the comments with your opinion.
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