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The 2017-18 season mixtape: Today’s NBA teams and their hip-hop counterparts

lebron james drake

This past July, Nielsen Music released a report stating that hip-hop has become the most popular music genre in the United States. Hip-hop/R&B accounted for a over a quarter of the music consumed (25.1 percent) between January and June of 2017, overthrowing the rock genre (23 percent) for the first time in history and ending rock’s long-running reign which began way back in the early 90’s.

Thanks to the prominence of online music streaming platforms such as Spotify and Apple Music, as well as the wide exposure of the genre on social media, hip-hop is now at the center of the sonic universe.

The NBA has gotten a lot more attention thanks to the internet and social media as well, making basketball arguably the most popular sport in the world second only to soccer. Although basketball may never reach the global impact that soccer has had since the very beginning, there’s no denying that NBA teams and their players know how to make the most out of the digital age. Considering that the league is predominantly composed of African-American personalities, it’s understood that hip-hop culture played a huge role in the rise of basketball’s fame, and vice-versa.

That being said, we’ve decided to have some fun by associating 10 NBA teams with some of the biggest names in contemporary hip-hop and citing their rather striking similarities. Our analogies will surely draw ire from a lot of readers — especially given the geographical disparity between the rappers’ origins and the team cities – but if they hate, then let them hate.

Golden State Warriors: Kendrick Lamar and Kanye West

Kanye West Kendrick Lamar

Twitter/Kanye West

It’s rather unfair to associate the Warriors with not one but two of the best rappers alive, but there’s an obvious reason why there are no more parties in L.A. basketball-wise.

The Dubs have soaked up all the attention and accolades in Cali and the NBA as a whole with their prolific brand of offense. West’s masterful and avant-garde production embodies how Golden State’s high-scoring, jump-shooting prowess — the likes of which the league has never seen before — is executed to perfection. Meanwhile, Lamar’s renowned triple-time flow on the mic serves as the statistical proof of the team’s offensive barrage, particularly from three-point range.

Even the Warriors’ superstars can easily be linked to the two modern-day rap greats. Splash Brothers Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson are relatively mild-mannered like the humble K-Dot, whereas Yeezy’s brash attitude is more akin to Kevin Durant and Draymond Green’s polarizing personalities.

Cleveland Cavaliers: Drake

Drake LeBron James

Jesse Grant/WireImage

These days, Drake doesn’t appear to be the Raptors fan he claims to be. Heck, just the picture above (among many others) goes to show that Aubrey’s NBA affiliation has steadily leaned more toward the Cavaliers.

On the Cavs’ side, having LeBron James alone already speaks volumes of how similar they are to October’s Very Own. James has the NBA titles, MVP awards and widespread popularity tantamount to that of Drake’s Grammys won, certified-platinum records, and commercial/critical acclaim. Drizzy even put his name on the map with the track “Forever“; his breakout single that initially served to promote the LeBron James documentary More Than A Game.

San Antonio Spurs: Nas


Matt Salacuse

Some fans regard the Spurs’ style of play as boring, and yet their approach to the game has led to multiple championships and a lengthy streak of 20-straight playoff apperances (and counting). In relation, Nas doesn’t have as wide a fanbase as other rappers either, given that he makes use of little to no hip-hop slang in his bars. However, he too receives a ton of praise from music critics and puts out consistent material to this date.

Despite criticisms, the Spurs actually have some bark before they deal a punishing bite. Leave it to mastermind Gregg Popovich to provide the ether with his sensible yet snark-toned quotes that have given his team more personality than what’s being displayed on the courts.

Boston Celtics/Los Angeles Lakers: JAY-Z/Eminem

Here’s where two storied NBA franchises and two rap legends coalesce. The Celtics and Lakers have had huge success when it comes to winning titles, albeit not in recent memory. The same could be said about Jigga and Em, who’ve taken a backseat of late to allow younger hip-hop artists to take over the airwaves.

This 2017, though, Boston made it to the Eastern Conference Finals and appears poised for an even better title push given its marquee offseason moves. Earlier this year, JAY-Z also released 4:44, with music publications heralding the album as Jay’s best work in nearly a decade. On the opposite end, Los Angeles continues to recuperate and rebuild from life after Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant, which fittingly puts the team in the same vein as Slim Shady’s Relapse/Recovery phases.

Philadelphia 76ers: Odd Future

Odd Future

Terry Richardson

Young and rambunctious describe both the Sixers and the Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All squad. We even made analogies for all four of the Sixers’ notable upstarts in relation to Odd Future’s own standouts.

Joel Embiid is Philly’s most outspoken figure (and an often foul-mouthed one at that), which strongly associates him to OF ringleader Tyler, The Creator. Ben Simmons has a ton of promise and is just waiting to break out, much like Earl Sweatshirt and his current lack of mainstream appeal despite underground success. The wild card of the group is Jahlil Okafor, who has the skill set to become successful if perhaps he played for a different team, making him the pre-solo-career Frank Ocean.

Dallas Mavericks: Ghostface Killah


Michael Loccisano/Getty Images

Dirk Nowizki’s one of the NBA’s last standing old heads, and so is Ghostface Killah in the rap realm. Both of them are still putting up terrific production to this day, albeit that their primes are well behind them already. Nowitzki’s best stretch in the league can also be associated with 47-year-old Dennis Coles’ best three-album run as a solo artist. Consider the all-time Mavs great’s first trip to the NBA Finals in 2006 as Supreme Clientele, followed by 2007’s 67-win season as The Pretty Toney Album and the 2011 championship run as Fishscale.

Too bad we can’t directly tie Nowitzki’s career exactly like that of GFK’s. Dirk played for only one team his entire career, so he doesn’t really have a Wu Tang Clan of sorts to have broken away from. Well, maybe if we count his entire stint in Europe as the virtual Wu, but none of his previous teammates from across the Atlantic warrant enough recognition to be considered as the ODBs, Raekwons and Method Mans of the Shaolin cast.

Washington Wizards: Rae Sremmurd

The 2016-17 season was when the Wizards finally broke out as a true playoff contender, and we can’t help but see the backcourt tandem of John Wall and Bradley Beal as the spiritual kins of Swae Lee and Slim Jxmmi of Rae Sremmurd. These two pairings are young and dynamic, with Wall and Beal becoming real crowd pleasers in their own right.

(On a personal note: I’ve actually named my fantasy team last season as Black Beals in the City. You guys are free to use this bonkers SremmLife reference I’ve come up with to throw sum mo spice into your league.)

Memphis Grizzlies: Run the Jewels


Timothy Saccenti

Often overlooked are the Grizzlies, whose style of grit-and-grind basketball doesn’t really incite thrills amongst the NBA fandom. The indie rap duo of Killer Mike and El-P, known collectively as Run the Jewels, also suffers the same under-the-radar recognition in the music industry, dealing with more serious themes behind cutthroat verses and grimy beats.

Killer Mike Conley and El-Patron Marc Gasol have been doing amazing work together in Memphis, and they certainly deserve more followers.

New York Knicks: R. Kelly

R. Kelly

Gary Miller/Getty Images

Talk about dysfunction.

The Knicks were once a respectable and relatively competitive franchise. Nowadays, they’re pretty much a toxic wasteland. Same goes for R. Kelly, who was a bona fide hit-maker in the 90’s through the early 2000’s before legal issues stemming from his myriad of indecent acts — helming a sex cult of potentially underaged women (again) being his latest dastardly deed — derailed his career.

Linsanity is the most memorable highpoint of the Knicks these past few years, and the team was lucky to have Jeremy Lin turn his ignition on for his coming out party to give a brief ray of hope to the folks in the Big Apple. But right now, every fan basketball fan in New York just wishes that their team could somehow turn back the hands of time and not hire Phil Jackson and Isaiah Thomas to upper-management positions.