If there’s any genre of music that relates directly to the sport of basketball, it’s hip-hop. Like hip-hop, basketball is predominantly ruled by African-Americans, its legends often come from having nothing before eventually reaching superstardom, and it’s most popular in the inner cities of America. And just like rappers, there are great NBA players, bad ones, overrated ones, underrated ones, controversial ones, and plenty of others.
So, let’s take a look at 15 NBA players and their hip-hop artist counterparts.
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KEVIN GARNETT is EMINEM
Since he burst onto the scene in 1999 with his first major album, The Slim Shady LP, Eminem has been about as polarizing a figure in the hip-hop community as there could be. He has often been the subject of criticism due to his perceived homophobic and misogynistic lyrics, but after becoming the best-selling artist of the 2000s and producing three critically-acclaimed albums, the Detroit rapper has also proven himself to be one of the greatest emcees in the history of the music.
Sharing Eminem’s combination of controversial-tendencies and pure greatness is Brooklyn Nets power forward Kevin Garnett. Over his 18-year career, Garnett has become recognized as one of basketball’s most notorious trash-talkers. In November of 2010, he was accused of calling Charlie Villanueva (who suffers from alopecia universalis) a cancer patient, and just last January in a game between his Celtics and the Knicks, rumor had it that Garnett told Carmelo Anthony that his wife, La La, “tastes like Honey Nut Cheerios.” This is also the guy who got down on all fours and barked like a dog at Jerryd Bayless before he made Glen Davis — his own teammate — cry during the same game.
But KG isn’t just a trash-talking punk; he’s also one of the best players of this generation. He’s a former MVP, an NBA champion, a 15-time All-Star, and one of the greatest defensive players to ever step foot on a basketball court, even winning the NBA Defensive Player of the Year award in 2008. It’s just another case proving that no matter how controversial or classless an athlete is at times, it can all be forgiven and forgotten with success on the field, or in this case, the hardwood.
CARMELO ANTHONY is JAY-Z
Right now, Carmelo Anthony is the king of New York basketball. Born in Brooklyn in May of 1984, the Knicks superstar takes plenty of pride in playing for his hometown city. But while he’s surely one of the sport’s current great players, there’s something that’s missing with Anthony, something that separates him from the likes of Kobe Bryant and LeBron James. He’s a six-time All-Star and captured the league’s scoring title last season, but he’s never made the All-NBA First Team and he’s never played in the NBA Finals. ‘Melo is one of the most talented players in the league, but at least in comparison to the other superstars, it feels like he’s somewhat overrated.
Like Carmelo, Jay-Z loves to make it known that he is one of New York’s own. He was born in Brooklyn in 1969, and in 2009 he released “Empire State of Mind” — a song about his love for the Big Apple. Jigga is also a lifelong Yankees fan and was influential in the Nets move from Newark, New Jersey to Brooklyn. Like Anthony, Jay is clearly one of the most gifted stars in his field, but most fans have a propensity to overrate him solely based on the fact that he is Jay-Z. From Reasonable Doubt to The Blueprint to The Black Album, Shawn Carter has several classic albums, but he’s also had his share of duds — see Kingdom Come and Dynasty.
KOBE BRYANT is 2Pac
There are so many parallels between Kobe and ‘Pac. They are two of the most renowned names in their respective fields; when you think rap, you think Tupac, and when you think of this generation of basketball, you think Kobe Bryant. Tupac, who resided in California, was the king of West Coast hip-hop and, obviously, Kobe has spent his entire professional career in the Golden State as a Los Angeles Laker.
Simply put: these two are legends. Bryant is a five-time champion, a former MVP, and one of the greatest players in the history of one of basketball’s greatest franchises. Tupac, meanwhile, has become widely-recognized as not only one of rap’s all-time greats, but also one of its most influential artists.
KYRIE IRVING is J. COLE
When it comes to the best athletes under the age of 25, each of the three most popular major sports seems to have one that stands out above the rest. The NFL has Andrew Luck, the MLB has Mike Trout and the NBA has Kyrie Irving. (I’d throw Russell Westbrook in there, but he’ll be 25 in a matter of weeks.)
Irving, the 21-year-old point guard for the Cleveland Cavaliers, is entering just his third professional season, but he’s already beginning to make a case as one of the league’s elite point guards. He’s young, sure, but there’s not much he can’t do. Last year, Kyrie had averages of 22.5 points per game, around six assists and 1.5 steals per game. He was drafted in 2011 by a terrible Cavaliers team and since then, he has quickly become the face of the franchise as he slowly but surely returns it to relevancy. There’s just so much upside with Kyrie.
Similarly, rap has its own up-and-coming superstar: J. Cole. With the release of his second album, Born Sinner, in June of this year, it sort of feels like Cole is about to become the next superstar in hip-hop. Like Irving, J. Cole doesn’t appear to have the potential to become a legend, but it’s certainly not impossible.
DERRICK ROSE is KANYE WEST
These two seemed to fit together for a couple of reasons. The obvious one, of course, is that they’re two of the best doing it right now and they both come from Chicago.
So, yes, Chicago had something to do with my decision to pair Rose and West together, but that wasn’t the only reason. As a person, Kanye is perhaps best known for being one of the most outspoken, cocky, egotistical celebrities in today’s world. He often refers to himself as a genius and on his latest album, Yeezus, he even had a song titled “I Am A God.”
Now, you won’t find Derrick Rose calling himself a god, but in late July of this past summer, he claimed in an interview with CNN that he is the best player in basketball, despite having missed the entirety of the 2012-13 season. The confidence is nice, but someone might want to remind Rose of everything that LeBron has been doing over the past two years. And, oh yeah, they’ve both gained a lot of haters over the past year.
LeBRON JAMES is NAS
This one is really based on subjectivity, meaning that it depends on whom you consider to be the greatest rapper ever when you compare LeBron to one. For me, Nas is the greatest of all time. Again, these are all based on my personal views, but here’s a quick summary of why I believe Nas to be the best: Illmatic is the greatest rap album ever, Stillmatic and It Was Written are both classics, and even now, at age 40, Nas has barely lost a step. His most recent album, Life is Good, was released in July of 2012 and — at least in my opinion — it’s one of his top-five albums to date.
With LeBron, there’s simply no debate. The four-time MVP and back-to-back Finals MVP is clearly the league’s best current player.
TIM DUNCAN is LUPE FIASCO
This one was pretty simple: Tim Duncan is one of basketball’s smartest players and Lupe is the most intelligent rapper. Constantly showing off some of the cleverest worldplay ever displayed on the mic, Fiasco might be one of the best lyricists of all time, and he never shies away from giving his opinion on important current events, something that most rappers aren’t educated enough to do.
Similarly, Tim Duncan is just a smart dude. He could have entered the NBA Draft at the age of 18, but instead elected to attend Wake Forest University and stay there for four years in order to earn his degree. Seriously, what basketball superstars have ever done that? Well, Duncan has. And, on the court, he’s every bit as savvy. Nicknamed “The Big Fundamental,” Duncan has made a career off of 12-foot bank shots and using his perfect basketball IQ to outsmart and outwit his opponents, resulting in five appearances in the NBA Finals, four championships, and twice earning the league MVP award.
And is there any superstar more underrated than Duncan? Is there any rapper more underrated tan Lupe? Duncan is a two-time MVP and a four-time champ, and somehow Kobe is consistently crowned as the best player of the generation before Duncan is even considered. Duncan had great teams, but he didn’t have Shaq to essentially lead him to his first three championships. Lupe, meanwhile, has put out two of the best rap albums of the past decade — Food and Liquor and The Cool — yet he’s rarely put in the conversation when it comes to today’s best rappers.
KEVIN DURANT and RUSSELL WESTBROOK are OUTKAST
Composed of rappers Andre 3000 and Big Boi, Outkast has become respected as the best hip-hop duo of all time. The group has won six Grammy awards and has sold over 25 million albums.
In today’s NBA, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook have separated themselves as the league’s best duo of teammates. They’re two of the NBA’s top seven or eight players, they’ve both made the past three Western Conference All-Star teams, and though Westbrook wasn’t a member of the All-NBA First Team in the last three seasons like Durant was, he did make the All-NBA Second Team each season. If Westbrook hadn’t torn his meniscus during last year’s NBA Playoffs, chances are that the two would have led the Thunder to a second straight NBA Finals in 2013 and maybe a championship.
KWAME BROWN is SOULJA BOY
Alright, nobody wants to read about Kwame Brown or Soulja Boy, let alone read about the two at the same time. I certainly don’t want to write about either of them, so let’s keep this short: Soulja Boy has always been an utter disgrace to real hip-hop and he’s probably the worst rapper ever. In comparison, Kwame is one of the most disappointing players in the NBA that has any degree of relevancy.
RAJON RONDO is KENDRICK LAMAR
Rondo and Lamar have more in common than being two young, talented stars; they’re also two of the most overconfident. Rondo has always had attitude problems; he beefed with the great Ray Allen, he was called cocky by Kendrick Perkins, and he and head coach Doc Rivers always had a rocky relationship — it was even reported that Doc Rivers tried to fight him at one point.
Despite all of that, there’s no denying how sensational of a point guard Rondo is. He just makes passes and crafty plays that others can’t. If it weren’t for Derrick Rose, I’d probably make the case that Rajon is the best in the league, even better than Russell Westbrook and Tony Parker.
On the other hand, Kendrick Lamar is one of the best up-and-coming rappers, but he’s probably most known for his recent verse on Big Sean‘s song “Control” in which Lamar called out seemingly every one of rap’s young stars, including Wale, Pusha T, Big Sean himself, ASAP Rocky, Meek Mill and Tyler, The Creator. I, for one, loved it; I admire the fact that Lamar is challenging his competitors. Sure, it was brash and arrogant, but it was probably also good for hip-hop.
JaVALE McGEE is TYLER, THE CREATOR
JaVale McGee defines fun. He has alter egos, he retweets himself and refers to himself as the “innovator of the self-retweet” and he has a full YouTube clip of bloopers. He’s just goofy. Would I want him on my team? Probably not, but I sure as hell love having him in the NBA.
Tyler, The Creator has a different kind of humor than McGee, but he’s just as entertaining, especially on social media. Most of his tweets are in all caps, his Twitter profile photo is of Beans from Even Stevens, and his Instagram username is “feliciathegoat.” Trust me, I could go on about Tyler, but you get the idea: like JaVale, he’s a goofball.
STEVE NASH is DR. DRE
Okay, comparing the Canadian Steve Nash to the “Straight Outta Compton” Dr. Dre might be a bit of a stretch, but work with me. Let’s just look at Nash’s legacy in basketball in comparison to Dre’s legacy in hip-hop. A top-10 point guard of all time, Nash made a career out of making those around him better. He’s averaged just under nine assists per game in his career, he led the league in assists in five different seasons, and he’s one of only five players in NBA history to reach the 10,000 assist mark.
Sharing Nash’s ability to make others better is Dr. Dre, probably the best hip-hop producer ever. Without Dre, there would be no Eminem, 50 Cent, Snoop Dogg, Game, or Kendrick Lamar, and there never would have been an N.W.A. Other than a few names (Rakim, Tupac, etc.), there hasn’t been anyone in the history of rap to have near the influence that Dre has had on the genre. Like Nash, Dre has been around for a long, long time. And also like Nash, it still feels like Dre has something spectacular left in the tank, even if it’s been a while since he’s seen the spotlight.
MONTA ELLIS is LIL WAYNE
If you’re looking for something to sum up Monta Ellis, take a look at his 2012-13 shot chart, courtesy of Grantland. As you can probably interpret from the key in the graphic, red and orange colors mean a player is really efficient from that spot on the court, while those green, turquoise-ish colors signal inefficiency. So, yes, that means that Monta Ellis was essentially inefficient from every area on the court during last year’s regular season. And if there’s one thing that really jumps out from the shot chart, it’s that Ellis should never be taking three-pointers, yet he averaged four attempts per game from beyond the arc.
Sure, Ellis is talented, but for a guy that some want to already deem a star, he’s one of the league’s most overrated players. To me, that sounds just like one rapper in particular: Lil Wayne. Weezy has skill, but there are so many younger generation fans that try to compare him to the likes of Nas and Eminem. In fairness, maybe the reason his fans are so willing to consider him a legend is because Wayne himself has never shied away from the discussion. On his track “Mr. Carter” he demands that his name be mentioned with guys like Tupac, Biggie and Jay-Z. And if that weren’t bad enough, Wayne had the audacity earlier this year to claim that he’s the “Next ‘Pac.”
That’s what brings me back to Monta. If you ever find yourself looking for comic relief, please just watch this video. Yep, that’s Monta with a completely straight face saying he’s in the same category as Dwyane Wade as a basketball player. Confidence is half the battle when it comes to success, but how can Ellis legitimately believe that he’s even close to Wade? It has to be for show, right? Ellis isn’t half the scorer that Wade is on an efficiency level, he’s not half the passer that Wade is, and he’s certainly not half the defender that Wade is. Maybe Monta just lives by a “fake it until you make it” attitude. Yep. That’s what I’m choosing to believe.
PAU GASOL is DRAKE
Soft. Soft. Soft. Soft. Soft. Fair or not (alright, it’s actually really fair), that’s how Pau Gasol is viewed. He’s one of the biggest floppers in the NBA, he’s 7-0 but never dunks, and Kobe has even had to tell him to put his “big boy pants on.” When healthy, Pau’s still a great player and one of the league’s best power forwards, but he’s still soft. He just is.
Likewise, if there’s one rapper that’s often mocked for being soft, it’s Drake. Drizzy sings way too much for a rapper and has more than his fair share of emotional, sensitive lyrics in his songs. I’ll leave you with this.
ANDRE IGUODALA is ROYCE DA 5’9″
I’m about as big of an Eminem fan as you’re going to find, but even I’ll be the first to admit it: his performance on Hell: The Sequel was pretty evenly matched by Royce da 5’9″ — the second half of the Bad Meets Evil rap duo. Throughout the EP, Royce showed off just as many “wow” moments as did Eminem, and it really made me reconsider Royce’s place as a rapper. When his fifth album — Success Is Certain — was released just months after the EP, it felt like a real statement from the Detroit rapper. It was one of the best rap albums of the past five years, but there still never seems to be any talk about Royce as one of today’s best rappers. He’s great, and he’s also the most underrated rapper out right now.
Let’s quickly transition to the NBA. I’m a Knicks fan, and from when Carmelo was traded in February of 2011 until the conclusion of the 2012 season, there was one team that I always dreaded watching New York play: the Philadelphia 76ers. It wasn’t because the Sixers were an all-around better team than my Knicks that they always seemed to give us trouble… it was because they had the perfect answer to our best player. I’m talking about Andre Iguodala and his ability to always give Carmelo Anthony fits when the two faced off in those Atlantic Division battles. Anthony was never comfortable against Iguodala. It was like it wasn’t even Carmelo on the floor.
‘Melo shouldn’t feel bad about it, though. Iggy gives those types of problems to his opponents on a nightly basis. He can guard almost every position on the floor, and he might be the league’s best perimeter defender. In today’s world that’s obsessed with guys scoring 50 points and the three-point shot, nobody really appreciates or understands great defense, but that’s exactly what Iguodala gives a team. If he were as good on offense as he is on defense, he’d be considered a top-15 player in the league. But defense is his specialty, not offense, and therefore he doesn’t garner that type of respect. We’ll see what kind of effect he has on Golden State, but if the Warriors go from being a really fun team to being true contenders, it’ll be because of Iguodala’s impact.
What do you think?
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