Artists don’t get off-seasons. And unless you’re Allen “Practice is a State of Mind” Iverson, you usually don’t make the NBA Hall of Fame without spending summers locked in gyms, weight rooms, and hyperbolic elasticity chambers only accessible by staring into a mirror at midnight and chanting “Steve Nash” three times in rapid succession.
In the hip-hop world, originality is synonymous with obsession. The worst-kept secret of most great MCs is that they are usually Thesaurus-obsessed rap nerds, who spend more nights in the studio than at home sleeping on a pile of money surrounded by many beautiful women. See also, Devin the Dude’s “What a Job” or the quantity of rap songs titled “No Days Off.”
This partially explains why the NBA has never produced a transcendent musical talent. Plenty of outstanding athletes have bars and Shaq conjured a handful of classic singles, but none ever inhabited a singular character, personality, or originated a style. In the meantime, I keep a candlelit vigil for Nick Young to start recording freestyles over “Duffle Bag Boy” during timeouts. (Javale & Swaggy is the frontrunner for the 2019 Grammys.)
We can blame the 10,000 hours theory, but also need to assign guilt to David Stern, who reigned over the league with the joyless Puritanism of the minister in Footloose. The ex-commissioner’s threats to Iverson over “40 Bars” created a cloud of censorship that still endures under his successor Adam “Stretch Armstrong” Silver. As the Rick Ross exception attests, you can produce excellent rap music without honesty, but it certainly helps. And no NBA player is about to risk sponsorship deals or suspension to spill the tea about the conflicts, groupies, and frustrations that occur behind closed doors (unless D’Angelo Russell films it).
Nonetheless, rapping NBA players remain one of the most joyous peripheral quirks of the league. Pro ballplayers have recorded songs since Wilt Chamberlain cut “By The River” in 1960, but the onslaught of modern social media and ease of streaming allows us to bypass the fact that none of it is really worth paying for — save maybe for The Best of Shaquille O’ Neal, complete with a bonus “Kobe, tell me how my ass tastes” freestyle cassingle.
With the beckoning of Christmas, a holiday unofficially consecrated to hoops, it’s only fitting to examine the greatest and weirdest moments in NBA rap history.