“Ya’ll think I’m Spelling Iverson when the Beefs all Done,
Cause you’ll be on IV in the ER, SON.”
Rappers have been linked to basketball ever since the earliest days of hip-hop when giants like Run-DMC and Kurtis Blow blessed the mic with hoops related lyrics.
Nowadays, the NBA and rap go together like groupies and 80s hair bands. Almost every rapper has made some sort of basketball reference in his lyrics. Some of the most common refer to Michael Jordan, the L.A. Lakers the New York Knicks, sitting courtside, slamming like someone or equating taking shots (hoops) with taking shots (guns).
I researched hundreds of songs that mention basketball and put together a list of the 21 greatest lyrics that make reference to current and former NBA players. A brief comment about the lyric and its selection appear below each entry.
The selection process was based on creativity, originality, accuracy, word-play and overall song quality. Overly profane language has been starred out (***) and a particular word not worthy of mention has been altered to “sucka” everywhere that it appears.
There were heaps of (James) worthy lyrics that I wish I could have included, but in the end, I had to narrow the list down to a manageable number. Please feel free to include any feedback or entries you feel could have been included.
(Note: Didn’t include the headline rhyme because it is not from a song but just a freestyle.)
Song Name: “Chillin’”
“Dark liquor ‘til we busted,
‘Til I got a buzz like that sucka Chris Mullin.”
Comment: Mullin is right up there with Johnny Unitas, Buzz Aldrin and Roger ‘Race’ Bannon from The Adventures of Jonny Quest for greatest buzz cuts ever. He was a perfect comparison for the double entendre regarding haircuts and the buzz that one gets from getting all liquored up.
Song Name: “The Glory”
Rapper: Kanye West
“In two years Dwayne Wayne became Dwyane Wade,
And Hey, Please Don’t start me.
I’m like Gnarls Barkley meets Charles Barkley.”
Comment: It sounds like Kanye is implying that he went from scholarly and awkward to suave and famous. You think Dwyane Wade ever watched A Different World? You think LeBron ever yells “DWYANE!” in that incessantly shrill Whitley voice?
Song Name: “Push”
Rapper: Pharoahe Monch
“My accurate jabs connect like rotary
Make you notice me,
Be like, ‘Damn, dudes on some totally
When he rides the bass line like Ginobili’.”
Comment: Crazy double meaning of the bass line. What if they switched roles, could Ginobili ride a rap bass line? That’s something I might pay to hear.
Song Name: “B-Boys Makin With the Freak Freak”
Rapper: Beastie Boys
“I get my hair cut correct like Anthony Mason,
Then I ride the I.R.T. right up to Penn Station.”
Comment: Anthony Mason had everything from "In God’s Hands" to "Knicks # 14" cut into his hair. I think he even had his complete current regular season stats carved in there one year. Fresh hair do’s are a big part of hip hop, and these lyrics paint such a vivid image of an event that countless fans can relate to; getting your haircut and going to a game.
Song Name: “Entaprizin”
Rapper: Big Daddy Kane
“Even the NBA make rap dollars
Shaquille, Chris Webber, Cedric Ceballos.”
Comment: Any rap that somehow include Cedric Ceballos in the company of Webber and Shaq deserves to make the list. I like the dollars comparison between the NBA game and the rap game.
Song Name: “Deadly Combination”
Year: 2000 (released post-humorously)
“A Rockefella like Shawn Carter
With more game than Ron Harper
The bomb sparker rapper slash armed robber.”
Comment: Uhh, that’s not that much game. Still a great line based on how it rhymes well with Shawn Carter.
Song Name: “Sum S*** I Wrote”
“Like Kareem I got the hook up.”
Comment: Simple, powerful. No-one before or since had a hook shot quite like Kareem. Has anyone before or since had a hook-up like Common?
Song Name: “Biscuits”
Rapper: Trife Da God
“I’m from a place where junkheads and zombies dwell,
And suckaz keep the heat blazin’ like Bonzi Wells.”
Comment: We all know that Wells was a huge pothead during his time in the NBA, probably hitting more J's off the court than on it. It would seem like “keep the heat blazin” refers to marijuana, but then again, it could be a gun reference. Either way, anything that rhymes zombies dwell and Bonzi Wells is the stuff of legends in my book.
Song Name: “Heard ‘Em Say”
Rapper: Kanye West
“And I heard em say, nothing’s ever promised tomorrow today
From the Chi, like Tim it’s a harda way.”
Comment: Amazing wordplay with Chicago (Kanye’s hometown) native Tim Hardaway’s last name. This is one of those songs that sent millions of listeners to the internet to look up the lyrics in order to decipher exactly what Kanye was saying; How many of you still think it sounds like he is saying Timister Hardaway?
Song Name: “Tough Guy”
Rapper: Beastie Boys
“Butcher me on the court,
Too many elbows to report.
Now you’re poking me in the eye,
Bill Laimbeer muthaf***** it’s time for you to die”
Comment: From the late 80s to the early 90s, anybody anywhere in America who fouled a player on the court was referred to as Laimbeer. He was like a walking domestic dispute on the court and probably racked up more fouls than made-shots over the course of his career.
Song Name: “Sonset”
Rapper: Ras Kass
“Imma make you see L.A. like Ed O’Bannon"
Comment: Make you see L.A. (UCLA)? Did you get it that time? It certainly took me a few listens before I finally grasped the ingenious word play at work here. On another note, I think Ed O’Bannon sells used cars now.
Song Name: “Street Dreams”
“She got me back livin’ sweeter, fresh Caeser
Guess, David Robinsons, Wally moccasins.”
Comment: The song which took the Eurythmics “Sweet Dreams” and famously flipped it to “Street Dreams” contains this lyric which rhymes Robinsons and moccasins. Pure genius even if it makes little sense. I wonder if David Robinson owns a pair of moccasins? He seems more like a loafers guy.
Song Name: “Pump It Up (Remix)”
“I’m the Mike Jordan of the mic recordin’
Hovi, baby you Kobe
maybe Tracy McGrady
Matter fact you a Harold Miner
JR Rider, washed up on marijuana
Even worse you a Pervis Ellison
You worthless fella
You aint no athlete, you Shawn Bradley”
Comment: I love how the quality of player gets worse and worse as the rap progresses. Poor Shawn Bradley, he had the girth of an unstrung guitar neck. I wonder if many people even know that Pervis Ellison was a basketball player?
Song Name: “NBA”
Rapper: Kool Keith
“Even if you have braids like Latrell
I got more numbers in my system than Pacific Bell
Pass the basketball around and go tell
Smoother than Rick Fox puttin on his hair gel”
Comment: No one came up with odd raps quite like Kool Keith, and no one put on hair gel quite like Rick Fox.
Song Name: “NBA on NBC Theme”
“Rasaq is like Ray Allen,
He got game.
My neck is like an outdoor net,
He got chains.”
Comment: An obscure song with mammoth lyrics. He got game refers to the name of the Spike Lee movie starring Ray Allen as Jesus Shuttlesworth, and anyone who has ever played outside has likely come in contact with a chain net (and possibly cut the hell out of themselves on it as well).
Song Name: “Cry Babies (Oh No)”
“I’m a Sac King like Chris Webber.”
Comment: As much as I don’t like the flow of Ludacris, his onslaught of punch lines could knock the wind out of almost any hip-hop fan. It is therefore fitting that he makes it onto the list with this Webber line. I wonder if Ludacris experimented with any other Sacramento Kings players? “I’m a Sac King like Reggie Theus or I'm a Sac King like Scott Pollard” just doesn’t seem to have the same ring to it. Who is the actual sack king?
Song Name: “Can’t Tell Me Nothing”
Rapper: Kanye West
“No, I already graduated
And you can live through anything if Magic made it
They say I talk with so much emphasis
Ooohh…they so sensitive”
Comment: Referring to Magic Johnson's HIV. Would have been nice to list a rhyme about Magic and his performance on the court instead of his disease, but at least it has a powerful positive message.
Song Name: “Triumph”
Rapper: RaeKwon (Wu-Tang Clan)
“Max mostly, undivided, then slide it, sickenin’
Guaranteed, made ‘em jump like Rod Strickland.”
Comment: I always thought Strickland was known more for his passing than his leaping ability. That aside, this epic track seems like it could go on forever (I think every rapper in Wu-Tang gets a full verse). Then all of a sudden with no warning, it ends with this monster lyric about New York playground legend Rod Strickland, like a game-winning shot with the clock running out. Perfect.
Song Name: “I’m the Man”
“You know how the man do,
Coupe is on Manu Ginobilis,
But the truck is on Kobes.”
Comment: Comparing rim size to jersey number. Ginobili rims = 20 inches while Kobe rims = 24. I assume he is talking about Kobe’s new uniform number. An eight-inch rim would be balling only if you were pushing something like a dessert cart around.
Song Name: “Encore”
“When I come back like Jordan wearing the 45,
It ain't to play games with you,
It’s to aim at you.”
Comment: The best rapper (in the opinion of many) loves rapping about the best basketball player (don’t think many can rationally argue this). Simply put, this is Jay-Z's greatest rhyme about him and is backed by a world-class beat by a young Kanye West. A flawless sports to streets analogy.
Song Name: “Gimme The Loot”
Rapper: Biggie Smalls
“I’m slamming suckaz like Shaquille,
S*** is real,
When it’s time to eat a meal,
I rob and steal.”
Comment: These lyrics are bigger than Biggie Smalls and Shaq combined. It is safe to say that nobody slams like Shaquille, and nobody rhymes like Biggie. I hated to edit them for content, but it was necessary. I am sure that the profanity lacing Smalls would not be too pleased, but he can rest assured that his combination of remarkable slow-flow and profound lyrics earned him the top spot in this list with ease.