You’ll have to excuse me, let me just say that ahead of time. A little about me: I’m an avid sports and pop culture fan (like most people surely).
During this time of year the game of football dominates not only our minds but also our attention and in some cases our wallets.
But when you have to wait 5-7 days because there are no more football games to place wages on Draft Kings in your futile-my cute way of dressing up ‘degenerative’-attempts to make quick money, your brain begins to drift into fantasyland.
I took a random trip into fantasyland recently and came up with this scenario of a question: If hip-hop legends of past and present were compared to the NBA greats of the same time range, who would be who?
These types of sophisticated and philosophical quandaries are usually reserved for expert debates amongst the most respected griots of both hip-hop culture and sports— so I went to the barbershop to call and consult my grade-school buddy Lawrence “Low-P” Pickett from “the Chi.”
In conjunction with an eighth grade South-Side of Chicago hoop legend, here is the Rapper to Basketball Player Conversion Table.
Jay-Z: Michael Jordan
Just as MJ transcended and elevated a league he inherited from two legends (Magic and Bird) that revived the NBA in their own right, so did Jay-Z for hip-hop after the untimely departures of B.I.G and Pac. There are so many similarities the icons have in common, most notably dominating their professions and parlaying that dominance into the business world. Let Jay tell you “…I’ve got more rings than Michael Jordan has.”
Memphis Bleek: Scottie Pippen
Scottie was lucky to catch the M.J. wave and smart enough to not only compliment MJ’s basketball prowess, but also defer and be subservient to his Airness. It’s true M.J. didn’t win a ring without Pip, but M.J. was also M.J. before Pip’s arrival in Chicago. Conversely, Scottie was brutally exposed as a mediocre player (at best) during his post-MJ career in Houston and Portland.
Like Pip, Bleeks best career work can be attributed to or assisted by Jay-Z. With the exception of his first album, Bleek’s solo career never really took off and primarily tours now as Jigga’s hype-man.
Lil Wayne: Kobe Bryant
One thing I’ll credit Lil Wayne is his candor and willingness to acknowledge his musical influences. Weezy has previously stated that Hov was his lyrical idol and someone he studied.
It’s blatantly obvious that Kobe got his mannerisms, game, intangibles, work ethic and style of play from M.J. but always said he studied Bird, Magic and Mike equally. Okay.
I was always taught to never emulate someone because the best you can be is number two. The emulation formula has worked well for Kobe and Wayne’s career thus far. If Jay is Mike then Weezy has to be Kobe.
B.I.G & Pac: Magic & Bird
The parallels were too obvious for this one. Two MVPs from opposite coasts battling for championships compared to two MVP rappers from different coasts battling for the throne. I suppose Magic is Pac and Bird is B.I.G.
They both made their professional debuts in ’94 (Grant with the Detroit Pistons & Nas with his coast changing, transcendent opus of a debut album “Illmatic”).
Nas changed East Coast rap as we knew it and helped give birth to a new type of hip-hop on the NY scene (along with Jeru, B.I.G and Wu Tang) when hip-hop was dominated by the West Coast. He garnered comparisons to Rakim and the reluctant star could’ve easily ran the East Coast, but his humility and unwillingness to oversaturate the game with public appearances and endorsements allowed Big and Jay to lay claim to the crown. Nas has had a successful career and his resume is highly decorated, but one can’t help from being overwhelmed with the “what if?” question when discussing the career of the Queens legend.
I’ve already compared Pip to Memph Bleek under a Jordan/Hov umbrella, but when it comes to modern ball handling, scoring and defensive SF’s, Pippen was Rakim to Grant Hill’s Nas.
G-Hill helped revive an NBA that was fresh off of M.J.’s first retirement and was left wondering who would secede the King.
Hill was Scottie Pippen 2.0 and was supposed to be what LeBron is today if you looked at the trajectory his career took on in Detroit but a couple of ankle/foot injuries later, his career had more subpar seasons then sensational ones. In short, “he started with a spark but ended up garbage.”
Eminem: Isiah Thomas
Zeke is considered the best little guard in NBA history and although Eminem is arguably a top 5 rapper of all-time, he’s definitely the best rapper ever that isn’t of color!
Both of these guys represent Detroit’s blue-collar work ethic and their tough “Bad Boy” image encapsulate the spirit of the city.
Drake: LeBron James
Drake and LeBron didn’t become the men they are today until they took their talents to South Beach.
Before signing with Young Money Records (I wrote Miami because that’s where Weezy and Birdman live) Drake was basically an obscure, unknown rapper in Canada that was best known as playing a high school boy in a wheel chair for a television show.
LeBron, on the other hand, was a high school phenom whose career was being crippled in Cleveland because he couldn’t get over the hump and win a championship.
LeBron came to Miami, commandeered D Wade’s team and became an MVP/Champion before returning to Cleveland. Drake came to Young Money and arguably became that franchise’s most valuable component before dipping out (for all intents and purposes) on Young Money and returning to his roots as the 6 God and arguably the MVP of rap.
*That Blake Griffin/Drake comedy sketch from “The Espy’s” years ago almost had me compare Blake to Drake but Blake is “ring-less” where Drake has multiple rings in the music industry
Kanye West: Dwyane Wade
So basically it boiled down to Russell Westbrook and Dwyane Wade when it came to matching up with Yeezus.
Like Kanye, Westbrook and Wade are #2 sidekicks that have proven to be self-sufficient and legitimate #1 options in their profession.
Both Westbrook and Wade have led the league in scoring at some point in their careers and can takeover a game at any given point but they both have played with a player that has overshadowed them as a league MVP or better overall player (LeBron, Kevin Durant).
Because of his Chicago roots, flare for outrageous style (Westbrook is crazy with it too) and because he won a ring before LeBron, I’ll call Yeezie the rap version of D-Wade.
By himself in Miami, Wade was “808s & Hearbreaks” but when the King came to Dade County, everybody “Watched the Throne.”
*be on the lookout for LeBron/Kyrie Irving to be “The Throne” this season, btw.
Ol’ Dirty Bastard: Dennis Rodman
Rodman & the Dirt Dog were two rebellious and unpredictable outcasts on not only championship winning teams, but on teams that transcended, revolutionized and made history when you juxtapose the Wu-Tang Clan with the “Bad Boy” Detroit Pistons and ’96 70 win Chicago Bulls.
Prodigy of Mobb Deep: Allen Iverson
These two inked up urban legends played the game of life according to their own rules. True Iverson never won a ring or Prodigy enjoy platinum success as a solo artist, but they both garnered respect amongst their peers and did it their way.
Suge Knight: Shaq
I know Suge wasn’t a rapper, but he loomed large in the hip-hop community during the “hey days” of Death Row. Shaq and Suge were larger than life figures in L.A. during their primes and were known to smack around well-known players/rappers.
50 Cent: Charles Barkley
Considering that the “Round Mound of Rebound” never won an NBA title, I’m indirectly insulting 50. Even though he’s fallen off musically (shout out to the Starz original series “Power”), selling more that 10 million albums your first go round is almost equivalent to winning back -to -back titles in one season. But the parallel I’m going for is “a bullying figure that nobody wanted to try.”
That aforementioned title could also be reserved for incarcerated rapper Gucci Mane. Unfortunately for Guwop, you’re “out of sight and out of mind” when you’re serving time in jail.