There are different ways for music and sports to collide. They range from simple (a high-school team bringing a boombox into a locker room and blasting classic rock) to extreme (Nancy Kerrigan trying to sing, Shaq trying to rap, Master P trying to play).
Somewhere in between is one of the defining looks in music from the ’90s on: rappers wearing basketball jerseys in music videos. Though not always a staple, jerseys became a trademark look for musicians who wanted to be fashionable without having to wear a suit. In outdoor videos, they were the perfect replacement for a tank top. No matter where they were worn, they provided the artist an opportunity to either represent where they came from or who they admired.
In some cases, however, the jersey choice didn’t always hold up over time. (Sprewell, Jay? Really?)
So here’s a trip down memory lane in the form of a wonderfully disorganized look at basketball jerseys in rap videos.
ONE OF MUSIC’S GREATEST MYSTERIES
You could tell from his fashion sense that Phife Dawg was a sports fan, just as you could tell from Q-Tip’s fashion sense that he was a khakis fan.
In A Tribe Called Quest’s 1991 “Check the Rhime” video, Phife Dawg could be seen sporting a Seton Hall jersey. But whose? No. 4 in the 1989 was Pookey Wiggington, but before you go assuming it could have been that little fella, consider that Seton Hall’s jerseys featured script, not block letters. Also, Wiggington went on to become a comedy mogul known best for his work with Kevin Hart, so that would have been hilarious.
So if it isn’t Wiggington, was it another player or just a generic jersey? We contacted the Seton Hall athletics department in an effort to pinpoint just when this jersey was from. Assistant athletics director for digital media & communications Thomas Chen’s best guess was the early ’80s, though Chen noted those jerseys featured a faint light blue stripe from the arms along the neckline and that it’s hard to tell if there is one on Phife’s jersey. Assuming it is, No. 4 from 1983-1985 was Mike Jones, making him a possibility, but not much more. Regardless, there’s still some mystery remaining.
Who cares, right? Well, this could very well have been the first basketball jersey worn in a rap video, as jerseys didn’t begin popping up with any sort of regularity until late ’91 through 1992.
THE GODFATHER, LARRY BIRD
Jeffrey Lane writes in Under the Boards: The Cultural Revolution in Basketball, that House of Pain’s “Jump Around” music video “offered white kids a point of entry” into hip-hop with one image: Everlast in a Larry Bird jersey. Whether House of Pain was trying to appeal to white kids or not, they did play a major role in making jerseys in videos a thing.
There was actually a time in rap videos where the jersey movement had yet to take place. Everlast was among the pioneers of the jersey movement, as he wore his Bird jersey about six months after another rapper wore one of the first basketball jerseys – and perhaps the very first NBA one — in a rap video.
The rapper? MC Brains. The video? Oochie Coochie. The jersey? Larry Bird.
EARLY ’90s MUSIC VIDEOS THAT SOMEHOW DON’T FEATURE BASKETBALL JERSEYS
DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince: “Summertime” (1991)
The whole thing is outdoors. People are wearing jerseys. They’re playing freaking basketball. Yet while DJ Jazzy Jeff can be seen wearing a Philadelphia Flyers baseball jersey, there isn’t a basketball jersey to be seen in the video’s 4:01 run.
Monie Love: “Monie in the Middle” (1990)
Another one with basketball and no jerseys. I get not wearing a jersey to just shoot around, but you’ve got to think that a jersey would be a more logical choice than a jacket, no?
COMPETITION FROM OTHER SPORTS
Speaking of Jazzy Jeff’s baseball jersey of a hockey team, it’s worth noting that in the early ’90s, baseball jerseys (of baseball teams) were waaaaaay more common in videos than basketball jerseys. Kris Kross wore ‘em, A Tribe Called Quest wore ‘em, Outkast wore ‘em, everyone wore ‘em.
And it wasn’t just a baseball thing either, as basketball had to fight other sports for second place. Don’t forget Snoop’s Pittsburgh Penguins jersey in the “Gin and Juice” video.
HOW TO GET SHAQ IN YOUR VIDEO
This video was great for its classic “there goes the neighborhood” tale, but it was star-studded as well. Dave Navarro, Travis Barker and Ben Stiller were among the celebrities to make appearances, but the biggest was Shaquille O’Neal. If you’re having trouble remembering whether this was during his Lakers days, Diddy found a perfect way to date the video.
This video wasn’t all about Shaq, however. Repeat jerseys in a video are a sight to be seen, and this one featured a team of Allen Iversons.
PLAYING FOR THEIR OWN TEAMS
Master P: “Make ‘Em Say Uhh!” (1998)
Who needs NBA or NCAA jerseys when you can make your own? While P and Co. wore No Limit jerseys in this classic, it wasn’t just about repping the label. During Mia X’s verse, other jerseys can be seen on the court, including “Hustlers” and “Pimps.”
Now I know you might think that all might be a little ridiculous, but try to keep in mind that there was also a gigantic golden tank in the middle of the basketball court. [Insert joke about tanking in basketball.]
Trick Daddy feat. The Slip-N-Slide-Express: “Take it to da House” (2001)
This was a little less apologetic with the label-pimping. All Slip-N-Slide all the time. Really doesn’t have the same effect without a tank though TBH.
RAY ALLEN MIGHT NOT HAVE EVER WORN THIS JERSEY, BUT NELLY DID
Nelly feat. Kelly Rowland: “Dilemma” (2002)
Was this ever UConn’s basketball jersey? Ever? It wasn’t while Ray Allen, the assumed player on this jersey given the number, was there. What we might have on our hands is a “fashion jersey,” which is kind of like the same concept as color-rush except they don’t even wear them in a game.
‘WEAR A JERSEY OF A PLAYER SMALLER THAN YOU’ DAY
Ludacris is 5-foot-8. Spud Webb played at 5-foot-7.
FABOLOUS’ DOUBLE DIP
“What’s better than one Doctor J jersey?” someone apparently asked Fabolous during preproduction of his “Can’t Deny It” video. You won’t believe his answer.
But Fabolous wasn’t done. He, Jagged Edge and some female pals had a big ‘ol basketball jersey party in the “Trade it All Pt. 2” video. Fabolous went with a Kobe Bryant throwback in that one.
SOME OF THE JERSEYS LIL’ DICKY WORE IN THAT ‘SPORTS’ VIDEO
Alan Houston, Shawn Kemp, Rasheed Wallace (Blazers), Michael Jordan (Wizards), Steph Curry (Davidson), Jameer Nelson (Saint Joseph’s), Jason Williams (Kings), John Stockton, Dwyane Wade, Allen Iverson, Gilbert Arenas.
THE ‘GUESS WHOSE JERSEY SOULJA BOY WILL WEAR IN THIS VIDEO ABOUT STEPHEN CURRY’
He went with Stephen Curry.
DJ Bean is a writer for CSNNE.com in Boston and co-host of Brunch. If you have a minute, he’d like to talk to you about Fleetwood Mac. Follow him on Twitter at DJ_Bean.