Rappers Reppin' Their Hometown NBA Squads

From Travis Scott to Cardi B., from Houston to NYC, @DragonflyJonez examines how well today’s hottest rappers represent their cities.
photo of Dragonfly JonezDragonfly JonezContributor IART BY RYAN HURSTOctober 17, 2017

Rap and the NBA are so intertwined at this point that they practically occupy the same space. Besides sharing a lot of the same fans, their stars attend the same parties, date the same celebrities and suffer from the same vices and insecurities. Rappers play terrible basketball, (most) NBA players record terrible raps and both get these jokes on Twitter.

Rappers have even managed to become cultural landmarks in the same way NBA teams have. The Nets, Lakers and Raptors represent their cities in the same way their hometown rappers do. Jay-Z is Brooklyn. Kendrick is L.A. Drake is Toronto. (And Kentucky. And Houston.)

But, like any old married couple, after a while the sides become annoyingly similar. Rappers and their hometown teams have been linked for so long they even share the same storylines. What—you didn't know Big Sean was the Stan Van Gundy of hip hop? From J. Cole to Cardi B, these are the links between today's top rappers and their hometown squads.


J. Cole

(Ryan Hurst / Bleacher Report)

Everyone loves an underdog. Well…until that underdog isn't an underdog anymore. Then things get complicated. No rapper better embodies this dynamic than self-made, odds-defying success story J.Cole. He was once the people's champ on social media, but that same machine that supported him at every turn now never seems to miss out on an opportunity to ridicule him.

And it's through no fault of J.Cole's. He just put in the work to separate himself from a lot of his contemporaries.

The Charlotte Hornets have an underdog all their own in six-foot Kemba Walker. In this golden age of point guards, Kemba isn't discussed nearly as much as his peers.

And it's through no fault of Kemba's. He just has to put in more work to separate himself from a lot of his contemporaries.

Kemba is a one-time All Star. Point guards such as Stephen Curry, Russell Westbrook and John Wall are just flat out in another stratosphere. Those guys are All Galaxy. But luckily for Kemba, this is the way the whole underdog thing works in his favor. Public sentiment gets poured into those who appear to be fighting an uphill battle. Kemba should enjoy this status while it lasts because it won't last forever. There's no telling when the tide will turn. It could be selling 800,000 copies of an album in its first week that does it or something like Dwight Howard joining your team that turns public opinion against you. Because nobody likes that Dwight Howard guy. Nobody.


Big Sean

(Ryan Hurst / Bleacher Report)

I honestly never knew what to make of Big Sean. He confuses me so much. There are times when I hear Big Sean rapping and I think, "Oh shit. This guy is spazzing," then he'll say some shit like "banana nanna fo fanna" and I'm just bewildered because I have no idea what the hell just happened. Big Sean once said, "I just give 'em line after line after line after line after line *dramatic pause* barcode…" and to this day I still don't know if that is clever or terrible. That shit keeps me up at night.

I've kind of reached this same crossroad with Stan Van Gundy lately. Much like I'm confused on if Big Sean is a good rapper or not, I'm confused on if SVG is a good coach or not.

To be clear, my expectations for SVG were never through the roof for this subpar Pistons squad. SVG took over a 29-win team. In his three seasons there, Detroit has averaged 37 wins.

That eight-win increase is a Big Sean line. I can convince myself that it's respectable or terrible depending on how much thought I put into it.

I also understand Van Gundy is coaching a lackluster roster. Detroit's president of basketball operations deserves some blame for that. His name is Stan Van Gundy. (To SVG's credit, Avery Bradley was a great pick up. However, if "Is Avery Bradley the best player on this roster now?" is a question that has some merit, then you've got a lot more work to do, buddy.) To be clear, I'm not burying SVG. I'm just unsure of him. I understand these things take time. SVG just seems a bit behind schedule.

Maybe things will fall into place in Detroit for SVG. He's just waiting for his stars to align so he can do like the solar system and plan it (planet) out. (Big Sean actually said that. Why did he say that? Can someone please explain to me why he said that?)


Travis Scott

(Ryan Hurst / Bleacher Report)

Travis Scott is not your typical Houston rapper. The 25-year-old Mo City native is cut more from the cloth of Kid Cudi and Future than from that of Z-Ro and Lil Keke. This also is not your typical Rockets team. A franchise that has historically anchored itself to dominant big men such as Hakeem Olajuwon and Yao Ming is now letting all the chips ride on the all-world backcourt of James Harden and Chris Paul. However, Travis Scott's sound and these new-look Rockets are not anomalies as much as they are adaptations to the evolution of their respective crafts. The seemingly invincible Warriors have caused the league to fall ill with a widespread case of desperation, apathy and panic. We'll see if Mike D'Antoni will be able to cook up an antidote to that with this revamped roster. (Narrator's voice: He won't.)


Rick Ross

(Ryan Hurst / Bleacher Report)

Rozay's career arc is one of the most fascinating in the history of rap. There's so much we can extract from it, but perhaps the greatest lesson in all of it is that in certain instances, the quality of what you produce will speak louder than anything that is said about you. Rick Ross expertly navigated through a minefield of incidents that would have ended the careers of lesser rappers and came out largely unscathed and even more powerful and popular for it.

Perseverance coupled with complete disregard for anyone or anything seeking to undermine or derail you pays off. This is not only the mantra of Rick Ross but also of Miami Heat president Pat Riley.

There are plenty who will say Rick Ross is a fraud. There are plenty who will say Pat Riley's 2006 ring is tainted. Neither one could care less. They've got victory cigars to smoke on their yachts in Biscayne Bay.



(Ryan Hurst / Bleacher Report)

Jay-Z, an artist renowned for being extremely private and guarded, recently gave us the most introspective and open album of his career with 4:44. In summation, the premise of 4:44 was basically: "I messed up, man. Bad."

This should also be the motto for the Brooklyn Nets. Verbatim.

Put that shit at half court in Barclays.

While Jay-Z has come to terms with his indiscretions and has sought to mend the rifts his actions caused, the Nets are still reeling from being on the short end of perhaps the worst trade in NBA history. The story of 4:44 is that of an old dude who risked everything and almost lost it all. The Nets' story is that of a franchise that risked everything on a bunch of old dudes. And lost it all. However, in 4:44, Jay-Z emphasizes that it's never too late to get your shit together. And for this Nets franchise, there's some reason for optimism. The Nets will finally have a first-round pick in 2019 (lolololol). Just make sure to keep owner Mikhail Prokhorov far away from it. He'll fuck up a good thing if you let him.



(Ryan Hurst / Bleacher Report)

Cornrow Kenny told us on "The Recipe" that the three W's are what he loves the most about Los Angeles. Three W's might sound like preseason predictions for the Lakers' win total for the previous few seasons, but it's a new day for the Lakers now. They have a promising young core with a promising young coach. They drafted a good kid who was caught in the middle of a m.A.A.d city of media coverage and otherworldly expectations created by his father and threw him the keys to this Lakers caravan. The days of the Lakers being humble might be over.



(Ryan Hurst / Bleacher Report)

Some say Drake's music is whiny. Some say Drake's music is vulnerable. The truth is probably somewhere in the middle. A recurring theme in Drake's music, however, is him still feeling empty while being wildly accomplished. The "feeling empty" aspect lends to the case for his music coming across as vulnerable to many. The "wildly accomplished" aspect lends to the case for his music coming across whiny to many. I'm totally not a "both sides have a point" guy unless both sides legitimately have a point. This is one of those instances. Drake is the mature, introspective, self-examining young man reflecting on coming into his own on "Look What You've Done." Drake is also the whiny, guilt-trip inducing, immature jerk ranting at the end of "Diamonds Dancing."

Sometimes there are gray areas.

And few NBA teams know this better than the Toronto Raptors.

The Toronto Raptors are in that gray area where they're good enough to be a perennial top-three seed in the playoffs yet not good enough to win the Eastern Conference. The past four seasons the Raptors have averaged 51 wins. However, their playoff record in this span is 17-24. With two first-round exits. The Raptors are a team destined to inhabit that gray area of being a pretty good regular-season team and an early-exiting playoff team. Basketball purgatory.

Momma hit my phone and said Raps no good.


2 Chainz

(Ryan Hurst / Bleacher Report)

2 Chainz is the most Atlanta person in the history of Atlanta yet he embodies everything that Atlanta sports aren't. In a city with an extensive sports tradition rooted in meteoric rises and calamitous nosedives, the College Park representative's career arc is the exact inverse. Rather than skyrocketing and fizzling out just as rapidly, 2 Chainz rose to rap prominence in his late 30s during the second act of what once appeared to be an ill-fated career.

Atlanta's sports tradition is steeped in crashing and burning. 2 Chainz is a phoenix.

A handful of factors contributed to the unforeseen resurgence of The Artist Formerly Known As Tity Boi, but hands down the most prominent factor was him shedding that aforementioned moniker. (I personally think Tity Boi is an awesome nickname; there's so much character and such a backstory there, but there's no question it would be, and proved to be, a hindering rap name). Chainz shedding his Tity Boi nom de plume proved to be one of the greatest instances of addition-by-subtraction rebranding in rap history. 2 Chainz's hometown Atlanta Hawks appear to have taken a similar addition-by-subtraction approach for the 2017-2018 season by letting Paul Millsap walk and trading Dwight Howard in the offseason. We'll see if this proves to be the Hawks' best move, but it's highly unlikely that they will reach the heights of success that 2 Chainz has ascended to. Success stories like 2 Chainz just fall out the sky. You don't just bump into them.



(Ryan Hurst / Bleacher Report)

The best player on this Bulls roster is Justin Holiday. This team needs all of Chance's prayers. That's all I have to say here. This is a very solemn matter.


Cardi B

(Ryan Hurst / Bleacher Report)

Summer 2017 will go down as the summer of "Bodak Yellow." It was a huge song. Infectious, inescapable and only dwarfed by the larger than life, charismatic persona of Cardi B. I can bore you with detailing the aesthetics and intricacies of "Bodak Yellow," but none of that shit matters. It's just a fun song.

Cardi B is as unconventional a rap star as we have seen. Although we've seen plenty of rappers utilize their music to grow their social media presence, Cardi B utilized her social media presence to build a platform for her music. It was a minor detour that placed demand before supply in an extremely oversaturated market. In the age of the social media rapper, Cardi B introduced herself to us first through Vine and Instagram, not Soundcloud and YouTube. She had already done the legwork of cultivating a following. So many people were already Cardi fans before they ever even heard her rap a single bar. They just didn't know it yet.

While Cardi B had familiarity working to her advantage, the franchise player of her hometown New York Knicks experienced the complete opposite. There was no warm, open embrace for Kristaps Porzingis during his introduction to most Knicks fans. The Knicks fans who booed Porzingis on draft night never even saw him dribble a basketball. But they were Porzingis fans. They just didn't know it yet. 

DragonflyJonez is kind of a big deal on Twitter. His tweets on rap, Washington football and the sad state of the New York Knicks probably end up in your timeline whether or not you follow him. Catch him on Twitter @DragonflyJonez or on the Jenkins & Jonez Podcast.