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NBA Athletes and Their Hip-Hop Counterparts

Written by Guest Author Marcus Banks

Executive Editors: Nicholas R. Hector & Andrew Fine

About the Author: Marcus Banks graduated from Franklin Pierce University in 2010. He has previously worked for the National Basketball Association, THG Sports and Entertainment, Turner Sports, and Turner Broadcasting and Entertainment. He is now attending New York Law School and hopes to pursue a career in entertainment/talent and sports management.

I would like to first give a shout-out to Nick and Andrew for allowing me to share my thoughts. Second, what follows consists solely of my thoughts and nothing more.  If anyone disagrees with me, please don’t take offense and feel free to provide me feedback through comments.  Now without further ado, I present to you my first article for THIRDandFOUR, “NBA Athletes and Their Hip-Hop Counterparts.”

Over the past couple decades, The NBA has been infused by hip-hop culture, notwithstanding Commissioner David Stern’s disdain towards a comparison of his “white-collar” league to a group of talented yet sometimes rebellious individuals.  Nonetheless, many of the league’s players have embraced the analogy.  As a result, I shall attempt to write about something that, based on my knowledge, has never been previously addressed; I will draw strict comparisons of influential NBA Athletes to their hip-hop counterparts.

I’ll start with my God-father Jay-Z and his counterpart Kobe Bryant. I recognize that this comparison is not obvious, but hear me out.  In my opinion, Kobe is arguably the best individual to ever play the game and Jay-Z is the best individual to ever pick up the microphone. For those asking, what about Jordan or Magic, don’t worry, we’ll get there.  People have argued that Kobe is good, but the reason that those same people will never consider him the singular greatest basketball player of all time is because he never played against Jordan—the greatest NBA player in most people’s eyes during his prime.  During Jordan’s prime, Kobe represented the kid with the afro who ran around the court and shot air balls, all the while veterans like Nick Van Exel gave him dirty looks.  In contrast, Jordan was a star on the court. When Kobe eventually hit his prime, or at least commenced his ascension towards it, Jordan’s career was essentially done and he had commenced his ebb towards retirement.

Likewise, Jay-Z spent most of his career battling “ghosts.”  I consistently hear he will never be better than Biggie and/or Tupac, but truth be told, you can never make a legitimate argument regarding that comparison because he never had an opportunity to battle either one of them. Just like Kobe and Jordan, when Biggie held the throne, Jay-Z was running around in Hawaiian shirts attempting to make a name for himself.

When he hit his prime (aka “took over the rap game”), Biggie and Tupac were gone.  R.I.P.

Additionally, for the lack of better words, Kobe Bryant is starting to appear worn-out. His performance in the 2010-11 playoffs was not too impressive; though, he got very little help from Pau Gasol.  However, the Kobe we all know and love and/or hate, would’ve put the Lakers on his back and pulled them through the challenge to complete the three-peat. The same performance withdrawal has plagued Jay-Z.  Every Jay-Z album has been a great compilation of music. But his last performance on the album “Watch the Throne” was far from his best work. As a whole, the album was a masterpiece, but it often sounded like a Kanye West album featuring Jay-Z, rather than a compilation. Now, don’t get me wrong, I still regard Jay-Z as the best lyricist, but he seems either a little disinterested or repetitive in his flow. Maybe that’s just what happens when you’re worth half of a billion dollars. Whatever the reason, he no longer provides the same level of aggression and rawness that we have grown accustom to experiencing and appreciating. And when I say, “we,” I mean the real Jay-Z fans and not the ones who just started listening to him upon his release of The Blueprint album. You can possibly make the argument that Jay-Z is more like a Bill Russell, primarily because of Russell’s eleven rings and Jay-Z’s eleven number one albums.  You can also make the argument that Jay-Z is more like Jordan because he’s the greatest NBA player of all time. Whatever your argument might be, more power to it.  I would love to hear it.  But, as I previously mentioned, my argument is based primarily upon the fact that Jay-Z will never have an opportunity to go up against Biggie or Tupac, particularly when all three artists were in their prime; nor will Kobe ever have an opportunity to go up against Jordan or Magic when all three athletes were in their prime.

Next on my list is J. Cole and his counterpart Derrick Rose. There are many reasons why these two individuals mirror each other, so let’s start at the beginning: Derrick Rose is slowly taking over the game of basketball. But what I love most about him is the way he is doing it. He has attacked the sport like a snake lying in wait for his prey. He has not made a big spectacle out of it nor has he been abrasive.  Moreover, he’s quietly becoming an on-the-court assassin. When Derrick Rose steps on the floor, you know he’s bringing 100% effort and heart, much like a modern day version of Allen Iverson who can also pass the ball exceptionally well.  D-Rose may not have the best jump shot, but it’s improving.

To further touch upon D-Rose’ assassin mentality, in the 2008-09 Bulls vs. Celtics playoff series, many of you probably recall that Ben Gordon was clutch and that John Salmons had his coming out party. What many people fail to notice is that Derrick Rose—as a rookie—had a solid 16 points and 6 assists per game.  Derrick Rose is considered the future of the NBA, particularly for those fans who like gritty and aggressive basketball players, rather than a bunch of “pretty boy” jump shooters. Derrick Rose serves as a reminder of when some of us adults were kids playing basketball in the park: when you got the ball and if you were man enough, you drove to the basket, took the hit, probably switched hands and maybe even impressed yourself with a lay-up that miraculously went into the basket.  Finally, Derrick Rose is very reserved and smart, doing his best to protect his brand and professional image.  You won’t find him living too lavishly or beyond his means or in the streets with an entourage.

The same sentiments translate to J. Cole.  I remember the first time that I heard J. Cole rap.  I experienced the same feeling that I received when I first saw Derrick Rose play basketball at Memphis as a freshman. I just knew that if he fell into the right environment and remained focused, he would take over the industry as a hip-hop artist one day. J. Cole is slowly becoming the most relevant rapper in the industry. He paid his dues, took his time and is progressively getting better. Just like Derrick Rose, J. Cole is taking over his profession quietly and strategically. His growth is most evident if you listen to his first mix-tape through his current album. He is not the best lyricist, but he’s certainly getting there.  He has become more versatile, developed a better flow, displayed more charisma, expounded on genuine issues, and become a better performer.  If you enjoy real hip-hop music—not the nonsense that we’ve dealt with for a while now—J. Cole is your guy.

Moreover, J. Cole, similar to D-Rose, is also very reserved and smart and is doing a good job thus far of preserving a solid image.  For instance, J. Cole has both turned down a limo ride from P. Diddy and a diamond chain from a jeweler. Why? Well, because at the time, he had just signed his record deal with Roc Nation and didn’t want to promenade around New York City as if he was “the man.”  Most importantly, he knew that he had not reached that level yet.  J. Cole is a breath of fresh air, a sign that good music is still possible, a sign of better days to come.  Last but certainly not least, J. Cole’s debut album hit number one on the billboard charts, which was much deserved. When J. Cole creates lines like, “I promise baby you can bet the bank on me,” you can’t help but notice his humble confidence. These two words wouldn’t normally find themselves aligned, but when you consider Derrick Rose and J. Cole, the description fits them perfectly. They are both so talented, they know it, yet they don’t boast about it.  In fact, they are both extremely underrated. When Derrick Rose won the NBA MVP award this past season, the“naysayers” criticized the League’s choice, saying he was good but not good enough, or that he was not better than Chris Paul or Deron Williams during the season.  J. Cole, as well, still faces criticism about him not being better than Drake or other young hip-hop artists in the music industry. It still remains to be seen how good these two men can be, but what the World does know is that J. Cole has the number one album and Derrick Rose holds the MVP trophy.  In my opinion, the future of hip-hop and the future of the NBA are both in good hands.

Next up, I will discuss Earvin “Magic” Johnson and his counterpart Tupac.  In the infancy of their careers, critics viewed Magic Johnson as flashy yet fun, while they classified Tupac as rigid and rough around the edges.  Though the two stars may have been polar opposites in there respective fields, they are actually very similar because they always did things their way.  When Tupac came on the scene in the 1990’s, he was a young kid rapping about being on the wrong side of the law.  It worked for him considering he amassed an immense base of fans.  Then, Tupac diversified himself when he began rapping about his appreciation of females in one of his most popular songs to date, “Keep Your Head Up.”

Indeed, “Keep Your Head Up” conveyed a complete opposite message from what his fans were used to hearing.  Tupac transitioned his lyrics from “gun-busting” to “appreciating and loving your sister.” As a result of him making this transition, he obtained an even larger fan base.  This served as a successful tool for Tupac to grow his brand because critics no longer labeled him as merely a Death Row Records advocate.  He was versatile.  They labeled him as a poet from the hood, a gangster rapper and arguably, the face of hip-hop.  By both holding up and standing under both umbrellas, he drafted the blueprint for rappers that followed in his footsteps, such as Nas and DMX, who sought to deliver a versatile mix of hardcore gangster rap and poetic, thought-provoking rap.

Likewise, Magic Johnson represented similar versatility.  The NBA has been and is a game of drastically diverse styles: the LeBron James power game, the Allen Iverson street game, and the Shaquille O’Neal dominance game, just to name a few.  Very few NBA players since the Jerry West and “Pistol” Pete Maravich era have successfully emulated their flashy but conservative style of basketball.  Then, “The Magic Man” entered from stage left.  He immediately made the former style of flashy yet conservative basketball popular and extremely entertaining, so much so that he changed the name of his team.  Indeed, the Los Angeles Lakers were no longer just L.A.’s team, rather they were Hollywood’s team; they were nicknamed the “Showtime Lakers,” and mostly thanks to Magic’s no-look passes, fancy dribbling and all around entertaining style of basketball.  Lakers’ fans grew to love and anticipate this style of basketball every time they entered the Forum.  Though Magic’s style wasn’t as popular throughout the rest of the League, he continued to do things his way, and we can all agree that he was great at it.  Magic’s style of play spearheaded a basketball revolution, and not only did he gain a strong fan base in California, he was loved around the World, except for maybe in Boston.

Moreover, commentators considered Magic Johnson a “freak of nature” because of his excellent ball handling skills and court vision, despite his abnormally large 6’9’’ frame.  To Magic’s advantage, he was probably the most versatile athlete in the NBA during his prime.  He could play every position on the court, including Point Guard, Shooting Guard, Small Forward, Power Forward and Center at any given time.  It was not surprising to see Magic dribbling between his legs against the 6’1’’ Isaiah Thomas or shooting the famous hook-shot over the 6’10” Kevin McHale and the 7’0” Robert Parish.

Both of these well-accomplished and admired men shocked the world through their abrupt and controversial career-ending moments. Tupac was gunned down on the Las Vegas strip following a Mike Tyson fight in November 1996.  His murderer has yet to be captured.  Somewhat similarly, Magic Johnson retired during a nationally televised press conference just before the start of the 1991-92 NBA season after contracting HIV.  Not shockingly, the world was distraught, bothered, hurt, and upset by both of their departures.

Next, I will discuss Eminem and his counterpart Dwyane Wade.  I draw this comparison based on two factors: (i) their “business partners;” and (ii) the brief professional interruptions during their careers.  With respect to business partners—who are often referred to in the hip-hop and NBA cultures as “running mates”—Eminem teamed up with 50 cent to form Shady Records/Aftermath Entertainment.  When 50 cent stormed onto the rap scene, many people immediately crowned him as being great, forgetting about the enormity of his running mate.  Granted 50 Cent sold millions of records and garnered a grandiose fan base, he has shown that he is nowhere near as talented of an artist as Eminem, primarily because his tracks lack sincerity, originality and depth. Though the fans and critics momentarily disregarded Eminem and placed him on the back burner upon 50 Cent’s arrival, they have come to realize that Eminem is still the superior artist.

Eminem, accordingly, has come back with a vengeance.  His “Relapse” album wasn’t great, but “Recovery,” released on June 18, 2010, was a masterpiece.  In short, the album proved that Eminem remains a lyrical genius.

Similarly, Dwyane Wade, the star Shooting Guard for the Miami Heat, had to momentarily hand over the keys to Dade County when LeBron James took his talents to Miami at the commencement of the 2010-11 NBA season.  A large contingency of NBA fans immediately crowned the Heat NBA Champions, while they simultaneously crowned Lebron James the most talented and seasoned basketball player on the team.  Though LeBron James may be as talented as D-Wade, most NBA fans can agree that his performance in the 2010-11 Finals proved that Dwyane Wade dwarfs him with respect to veteran experience and an innate ability to take over critical games.   During the 2010-11 Finals, Wade was clutch, smarter with respect to his shot selection, a better defender, a true leader, and most importantly, Wade exuded professionalism and a drive to win at all costs.  Ultimately, Dwyane Wade displayed that Miami remains his team.

In final, Dwyane Wade and Eminem both took brief hiatuses from their professional careers, yet they weren’t missed.  Eminem took a leave of absence from the music industry because of his confessed drug addiction.  Dwyane Wade took an involuntary leave of absence from the NBA due to injuries and a personnel shakeup within his team.  When the two entertainers disappeared, rumors spread that their careers were complete.  Nonetheless, they both reemerged and exploded on the scene, reminding us fans why we should have never counted them out.

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Monday Musings

After taking a long hiatus, I’m trying something new this week with some Monday Musings on some hot topics in sports and entertainment.  Today we’ve got scandal, celebrity, and a little athlete career management.

Penn State, JoePa, Sandusky and Scandal

The biggest scandal of the weekend may be the biggest sports scandal and/or coverup we’ve seen in decades.  On Saturday, former Penn State Defensive Coordinator and longtime assistant to legendary Penn State Head Coach Joe Paterno, Gerry Sandusky was arrested on over 40 charges including many involving sex crimes against children.  The charges stem from a 15 year period from 1994 to 2009.  It’s important to note that Sandusky was a member of the Penn State staff until 1999 when he surprisingly resigned.  While all of the charges are heinous, the most shocking story may come from a 2002 incident when then graduate assistant and current Penn State assistant coach Mike McQueary observed Sandusky engaging in a sex act with a young boy (approximately 10-12 years old) in the Penn State lockerroom/showers.  McQueary, after consulting with his father, went to Coach Paterno the next day and told him he saw something, but according to Paterno and the Penn State administration, what McQueary told them wasn’t nearly as explicit as what McQueary later told the Grand Jury.  Paterno then told his Athletic Director Tim Curley who in turn shared the conversation with his boss and Penn State Vice President Gary Schultz.

And then…..nothing happened.  For 9 years, nobody came forward, nobody said a thing, nobody further investigated.  Both Schultz and Curley have been charged with perjury based on their testimony during the Grand Jury hearings.  And on Sunday night, Curley took a leave of absence and Schultz resigned.  But what about living legend Joe Paterno?

His son Scott, a former lawyer himself, claims that JoePa had no obligation to do anything but report what he had heard to Tim Curley because by 2002 Sandusky was no longer a member of Paterno’s staff.

“Unfortunately,” Scott Paterno said, “once that happened, there was really nothing more Joe felt he could do because he did not witness the event. You can’t call the police and say, ‘Somebody tells me they saw somebody else do something.’ That’s hearsay. Police don’t take reports in that manner. Frankly, from the way he understood the process, he passed the information on to the appropriate university official and they said they were taking care of it. That’s really all he could do.”

Scott is right that the testimony of Paterno would have been hearsay in a court of law, but as far as a police investigation goes, I’m sure they would have listened if Coach Paterno had picked up the phone.  What the police can investigate has nothing to do with what is admissible in a court room.  Forgetting the legality of it all, the bigger issue here is a lack of a moral compass by anyone.  If McQueary didn’t properly articulate what he saw, he should be ashamed of himself.  If he did, and Joe Paterno and his superiors didn’t aggressively pursue an investigation, they should be ashamed of themselves.  And even if he didn’t articulate it, but merely mentioned that he saw inappropriate behavior between Sandusky and a young boy in the Penn State locker room that should have triggered an outpouring of concern for the victim and contempt for Sandusky.   Yet nobody in State College felt compelled to pursue this.  Not McQueary, not Schultz, not Curley, and perhaps worst of all, not Paterno.  Perhaps he was protecting a friend, perhaps he was in denial about what he heard, but his actions were inexcusable.  And to now try to hide behind a legal curtain that doesn’t exist is shameful.

Joe Paterno spent over 60 years in college football, developing leaders and molding boys into men.  Yet his coverup and/or willful ignorance of this tragic scandal will not only end his football career, it will permanently tarnish his legacy.

Switching gears completely to last week’s news of Kim Kardashian’s filing divorce papers against hubby of 72 days Kris Humphries….

Here’s what I don’t understand – Kim Kardashian has made millions of dollars off of carefully protecting and shaping her brand.  Ever since the Kim’s sextape dropped and she became everyone’s favorite “celebrity”, she, with an assist from mother Kris, has done a better job than perhaps anyone in the world of managing her brand.  So how could she have so badly miscalculated the public’s response to her divorce just 3 weeks after her “fairytale” wedding aired on E! network?  There are a handful of rules you can never break in the court of public opinion, and rule #1 is never lie, or look as though you’ve deceived your fans.  Yet this “wedding”, that earned Kim an estimated $17.9 million dollars, did exactly that.  The hurried nuptials in time for the final season of her show, the immediate move to New York to film the next season with Kris, and the over the top media circus all reek of attention seeking.  And to make matters worse, Kim’s public statement did nothing to quell the rumors of a staged wedding when she refused to even acknowledge why people might think that would be the case.  Her love for Kris may have been genuine, but her defensiveness about the nuptials suggested otherwise.

Instead of telling the world that they were crazy to think she would marry for money or media attention, she should have been honest and open.   She could have acknowledged that perhaps she and Kris rushed into things, and that they realized they wanted different things.  She could have made mention that everyone makes poor judgment calls, and this was just one of those instances.  It may not have helped the diehard haters who had made up their mind, but for those fans (consumers) who still wanted to like Kim, it would have made her seem like a real person who is fallible, and not a media seeker who is beyond reproach.

Now we hear Kim went to Minnesota to talk to Kris and try to salvage things.  It sounds to me like just another way to get the cover of US Weekly again.  At some point Kim is just going to have to be honest with herself, and the world, about what’s really important to her.  Love, or fame.  Right now every action seems to indicate the latter, but if she gets too callous with the American public’s trust, she’ll end up with neither.

Finally, today marks’ the 20th Anniversary of Magic Johnson’s announcement that he is HIV positive.  While many today will comment about the great work Magic has done for AIDS research and awareness, or how far we’ve come in 20 years in our understanding, my take is a little different.

As an 11 year old in East Lansing, Michigan in 1991, the news about Magic was not just a global story, it was a local one.  Magic had attended Lansing Everett High School, not far from where I grew up and had attended Michigan State University in East Lansing.  As such, as a young kid, I had multiple opportunities to see Magic Johnson in person at basketball camps, MSU games, and local events.  And while he was always the star of the Lakers, he was also the local hero.   Even as an 11 year old, I immediately understood what the news about Magic meant for him.

Thankfully, we were all wrong, and Magic still continues to live a vibrant and healthy life as a businessman, entrepreneur, educator, broadcaster, and philanthropist.

And what occurred to me is that while Michael Jordan is the global icon for basketball, Magic Johnson should be the global icon for all aspiring athletes.  Sure, Magic made some awful mistakes in his youth and wasn’t a perfect human being.  And it probably took the HIV wakeup call to help him become the man he is today.  But Magic is exactly what every star athlete should aspire to be in the post playing career afterlife.  Magic wasn’t prepared for retirement when it hit him, but he adapted when he did.  He became an ambassador for a cause, he became a businessman who made hundreds of millions of dollars, he failed as a talk-show host but eventually succeeded as a broadcaster, and he is still involved in the sport he loves, basketball.

Now not every athlete will have the same kind of success that Magic has had off the court.  But if you’re an athlete who aspires to do greater things, Magic is the type of guy you’d want to emulate.  He’s taken advantage of the opportunities presented to him, and found a way to benefit the people he grew up with by involving his hometown in those business interests.  He’s a global ambassador for HIV, yet still does charity work in Lansing.  And most importantly, he’s found a way to stay relevant.  Many athletes are happy to just walk off of the court into a private life – and if that’s your preference, god bless.  But if you’re interested in still finding ways to still be in the spotlight and use your celebrity as a philanthropist, businessman, or even for fun, Magic has provided the blueprint.

Friday Morning Workout

Former UGA football coach Jim Donnan accused of making millions via a Ponzi scheme.

Mendenhall Sues Champion based on his terminated endorsement deal.

15 Popular Athletes who squandered their millions—many of whom you’d never guess.

Odds are good that Clemens will face another trial despite his argument regarding double jeopardy.

USC’s Kiffin suspends senior starting running back Marc Tyler for making inappropriate comments to TMZ.

Lance Armstrong fights back against prosecuting attorneys, claiming they leaked inappropriate grand jury investigation information to the media.

Laker’s Odom was a passenger in a vehicle that struck and seriously injured a motorcyclist and killed a young pedestrian in New York.

Bengals’ Cedric Benson jailed on assault for the second consecutive off-season.

Deron William and Zaza Pachulia officially sign contracts to play in Turkey contingent upon the NBA work stoppage continuing through the start of the season.

LA Lakers longtime trainer Gary Vitti recounts the days leading up to and after Magic’s announcement to the world that he had contracted HIV.

Once the NFL season commences, replay officials will automatically review every scoring play during NFL games, likely lengthening games considerably.

Insurance costs could hinder NBA player participation in the London 2012 Olympic games.  Stern and FIBA are scheduled to meet this coming Tuesday to discuss.

The Women’s World Cup final set the record for tweets per second.

Tiger Woods abruptly fires caddie Steve Williams after a 12-year relationship in which Tiger won 72 times and 13 major tournaments.

Rick Reilly’s suggestions to Tiger concerning how he can revamp his image and his game.

SEC Commissioner Slive opened the Southeastern Conference media day on Wednesday by pushing the NCAA to make extreme changes, including toughening academic requirements for student-athletes and broadening recruitment rules.  Interestingly, Slive chose to push for these changes in a year when more than one of his schools faces sanctions or an investigation by the NCAA.

Continuing to ride the comeback wave, Vick snags additional endorsement deals.

75 Ex-players sue the NFL and Helmet maker Riddell, claiming defendants intentionally withheld from players their knowledge about the long-term, adverse impact of multiple concussions on the brain.

Former NFL GM Vinny Cerrato offers five rules that the 32 NFL teams should follow when tackling this year’s abnormally short free agency period.  Can these teams feasibly sign hundreds of players in a number of days?

Ivy League football decreases full contact practices from five to two a week to limit the risk of concussions.

The NCAA strikes again, sanctioning the LSU football team after an assistant coach improperly provided a JUCO player transportation and housing.

A generation with a strong sense of self-entitlement is rewarded for pouting.

Chad Ocho Cinco, allergic to the sun?!?