22 of the Best Sports Name-Drops in Music History
Music and sports were made for each other.
That duo interacts for the duration of any game, heavily intertwined the entire time.
In pregame stretches, in every break during the live action and finished off with tunes on the way out of the stadium, there is no escaping the sound system.
Musicians often tailor songs around the competitors. The list of songs made about athletes is extensive: "Hurricane" by Bob Dylan (about former boxer Ruben "Hurricane" Carter), "Tough Guy" by Beastie Boys (about former NBA enforcer Bill Laimbeer), "Warriors Code" by Dropkick Murphys (about former boxer Mickey Ward) and many more.
Instead of a list of songs made about the players, this piece is all about the lines in famous songs that explicitly mention specific athletes (or groups of athletes), immortalizing them no matter how obscure.
The following songs are in no particular order. Feel free to mention anything glaringly missed in the comments section. If worthy of making the cut, slides will be added to accommodate.
*Warning/parental advisory: Several of the videos include language that may not be suitable for minors and people with sensitivities to profanity. Those videos are marked NSFW.
Simon and Garfunkel: Mrs. Robinson, Joe DiMaggio
"Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio,
A nation turns its lonely eyes to you (woo, woo, woo),
What's that you say, Mrs. Robinson,
Joltin' Joe has left and gone away,
(Hey, hey, hey...hey, hey, hey)"
Sure, Joe DiMaggio was only a metaphor for the end of an era in this Simon and Garfunkel classic. That said, Joe DiMaggio was a freaking metaphor for the end of an entire era.
Here is what Paul Simon wrote about mentioning DiMaggio in an opinion piece in the New York Times just after the Yankees legend's death:
"Now, in the shadow of (DiMaggio's) passing, I find myself wondering about that explanation. Yes, he was a cultural icon, a hero if you will, but not of my generation. He belonged to my father's youth: he was a World War II guy whose career began in the days of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig and ended with the arrival of the youthful Mickey Mantle (who was, in truth, my favorite ballplayer).
In the 50's and 60's, it was fashionable to refer to baseball as a metaphor for America, and DiMaggio represented the values of that America: excellence and fulfillment of duty (he often played in pain), combined with a grace that implied a purity of spirit, an off-the-field dignity and a jealously guarded private life. It was said that he still grieved for his former wife, Marilyn Monroe, and sent fresh flowers to her grave every week. Yet as a man who married one of America's most famous and famously neurotic women, he never spoke of her in public or in print. He understood the power of silence."
The Transplants: Diamonds and Guns, Karl Malone
"Bombs going off in Sierra Leone,
Taken more shots than Karl Malone,
Battle looms, your doom, injustice entombed,
Who got the diamonds? Who gonna find them?"
The Mailman gets the love in this spastic tune by The Transplants.
Though it owns a catchy rift and seems like an upbeat tune, read the lyrics and you'll realize this is something else altogether.
It's mainly about dealing drugs, doing a trunk-full of heroin, trying to avoid getting shot and looking for some missing diamonds, all while dodging the cops...with a quick dose of Karl Malone to even things out.
Ice Cube: Today Was a Good Day, Lakers, Supersonics (NSFW)
I had the booze, she had the Chronic,
The Lakers beat the SuperSonics"
This is definitely one of the all-time best rap songs.
A Los Angeles-area native, Ice Cube was bound to give a nod to the Lakers.
And beating the SuperSonics in the Shawn Kemp-Gary Payton era, when this song came out, was no small feat.
The classic lines don't end there:
"Even saw the lights of the Goodyear Blimp,
and it read 'Ice Cube's a Pimp'"
"Called up the homies and I'm askin' y'all,
Which park are y'all playing basketball,
Get me on the court and I'm trouble,
Last week (messed) around and got a triple-double,
Freaking (brothers) every way like MJ,
I can’t believe, today was a good day"
"Drunk as hell, but no throwin' up,
Halfway home and my pager's still blowin' up,
Today I didn't even have to use my AK,
I got to say it was a good day"
Still, the man did make a lot of hit songs, and he has turned himself into a relatively in-demand actor.
Kurtis Blow: Basketball, Multiple Players
Because it is loaded to the brim with player references, Kurtis Blow's "Basketball" easily made the cut.
The names listed include: "Dr. J" Julius Erving, Moses Malone, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Bernard King, Rick Barry, Clyde Drexler, Pistol Pete Maravich, Isiah Thomas, "Iceman" George Gervin, Adrian Dantley, Dominique Wilkins, Ralph Sampson, Bill Russell, Darryl Dawkins, Wilt Chamberlain, Willis Reed and the Boston Celtics.
Honestly, it was just another reason to share this life-changing music vid:
If you want: the occasional karate fight mid-game in the middle of the court; the worst cheerleaders with equally-terrible rhythm; a cheap, fake, blue-sky background (because they couldn't go outside to shoot?); maximum J-curl; a hoop lowered to six-feet so that even the short dudes can dunk; Famous Chicken wannabe; fat guy loading up a gigantic hot dog with mustard; fat guys dancing.
It's all there for your viewing pleasure.
Don't thank me. Thank Kurtis Blow.
Steely Dan: Deacon Blues, Alabama Crimson Tide
"They got a name for the winners in the world,
And I want a name when I lose,
They call Alabama the Crimson Tide,
They call me Deacon Blues."
Considering this writer was raised on the Steely Dan, this song was a no-brainer for the list.
It's not just a single name of one specific athlete mentioned in this one. Instead, it mentions the fortunes of two college football programs.
According to Songfacts.com, Deacon Blues is in reference to the Wake Forest Demon Deacons football team.
The part of the chorus written above is contrasting Wake Forest's pathetic run in the early 1970s (they won a grand total of seven games in three years early in the decade) with that of Bear Bryant's perennial national power, the Alabama Crimson Tide, which were constantly in the championship hunt.
Plus, Crimson Tide is one of the greatest-sounding team names ever.
Jay-Z and Alicia Keys: Empire State of Mind, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade
"If Jeezy's payin' LeBron, I'm payin' Dwyane Wade"
Jay-Z is a rap mogul, an incredible businessman and an obnoxiously-proud native of Brooklyn. This song quickly took over as the unofficial theme song of the Yankees, Knicks and probably the entire city.
As for the lyric above, I had no idea what Jay-Z was referring to, so I did some digging. According to The Awl:
"In Young Jeezy's song "24-23 (Kobe-LeBron)," Jeezy uses the players' jersey numbers to articulate the price he's paying of a kilogram of cocaine.
The chorus of that song goes, "I used to pay Kobe , but now I pay LeBron ." This means that he used to pay $24,000 for a kilo of coke, whereas now he only pays $23,000, you see.
So: In 'Empire,' Jay-Z takes this one step further, so as to show his impressive status in New York. He suggests that, while Jeezy may be paying $23,000, Jay-Z is paying a mere $3,000 (expressed as Dwyane Wade's jersey number) for a kilo of cocaine."
That puts a whole new twist on that verse.
The sports references do not stop there in this smash hit. He mixes in a bunch of his New York-area clubs:
"Sittin' courtside, Knicks and Nets give me high-five,
N**** I be Spike'd out, I could trip a referee,
Tell by my attitude that I'm most definitely from...(New York)"
"Catch me at the X with OG at a Yankee game,
S***, I made the Yankee hat more famous then a Yankee can,
You should know I bleed blue, but I ain't a Crip, though"
Outkast: The Whole World, Randy Moss
"Glitter, glisten, gloss, floss,
I catch a beat runnin' like Randy Moss"
A freakish mixture of size (6'4"), speed (he allegedly ran a 4.25 before his freshman year at Florida State) and massive, soft hands, Moss-type specimens are a rarity and he is likely headed to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in spite of himself.
It is actually Killer Mike, not Big Boi or Andre, who raps the phrase about Moss in this Outkast hit from 2003.
As one of the most creative musical duos of this—or any—generation, Outkast owns another spot on this list.
Red Hot Chili Peppers: Magic Johnson, Magic Johnson (NSFW)
"L.A. Lakers, fast-break makers,
Kings of the court, shake and bake all takers,
Back-to-back is a bad-ass fact, a claim that remains intact,
M-a-g-i-c see you on the court"
I'm breaking my own rule (about listing songs written specifically for athletes) on this one, but I needed a reason to relive the greatness of this song.
A friend of mine from the L.A. area swears on everything holy that Magic is the best there ever was (yes, even better than Jordan), and being a West-Coast guy myself (though not a Lakers fan), I have the tendency to completely agree (trust me, I realize that is likely blasphemous to 90 percent of the reading audience).
And as Magic's tribute song, this one certainly dominates Jordan's.
From the early Red Hot Chili Peppers days (off of the Mother's Milk album), Magic Johnson and the Lakers are obviously the reasons this song came into existence, as Anthony Kiedis and Company are all huge followers of the NBA franchise.
Billy Joel: We Didn't Start the Fire, Multiple Sports Figures and Teams
This is another song loaded with sports figures. The vast bulk of the lyrics are one, giant list of famous names and events from a variety of spheres.
Among the athletes and teams mentioned are: Joe DiMaggio, Sugar Ray Robinson, Rocky Marciano, Roy Campanella, Brooklyn Dodgers, Mickey Mantle, Sonny Liston beating Floyd Patterson and the move of baseball to California.
It's probably just about time for Joel to add another verse to this song, to wrap up the 1990s-2000s.
Outkast: Spottieottiedopalicious, Evander Holyfield (NSFW)
"While this fine, bow-legged girl, fine as all outdoors,
Lulls lukewarm lullabies in your left ear,
Competing with (set if off) in the right,
But it all blends perfectly, let the liquor tell it,
(hey, hey, look baby, they playing our song),
And the crowd goes wild,
As if Holyfield has just won the fight(...)"
This one is completely timeless. Unsure of the meaning of that spiel? You're probably not alone.
Let me set the scene:
Andre 3000 is a young man rolling to a dance club in the heart of Atlanta. Wasted off the "Old E" and with beautiful women roaming all around, he stumbles upon a fight just outside, where three dudes end up getting hauled off in an ambulance.
They got pummeled like they got knocked out by Evander Holyfield, and the crowd roars in the aftermath.
That's what I made out of the whole thing, at least. Could be completely wrong, but that's just my "interpretation of the situation."
And next time you're looking to compliment the ol' lady, tell her she's looking "fine as all outdoors."
If Andre 3000 says it, it's bound to work like magic.
The Fugees: Ready or Not, Cassius Clay
"I refugee from Guantanamo Bay,
Dance around the border like I'm Cassius Clay"
Lauryn Hill, Wyclef Jean and Pras made up an insanely great, but short-lived, hip-hop trio, The Fugees. Hill owns one of the purest voices on the planet, but she occasionally sabotaged her career with craziness.
Wyclef, like Hill, went on to have a strong solo career post-Fugees, but then he destroyed his reputation by attempting to run for the presidency of Haiti, despite having absolutely no credentials to take on such a position.
Pras, the forgotten member of the crew, seems to have all-but disappeared.
The sports allusion to Cassius Clay (later known as the one-and-only Muhammad Ali) and the dancing he did around the ring is golden.
Beastie Boys: Sure Shot, Rod Carew
"I've got more action than my man John Woo,
And I've got mad hits like I was Rod Carew"
The legendary Beastie Boys were well known for mixing in the random athlete references throughout their albums.
Rod Carew finished his 19-year career with a .328 career average and with 3,053 hits. And the Beastie Boys are probably approaching the triple-digits in Billboard hits.
This was definitely not the only example of the Beastie Boys dropping sports stars into their lyrics. Other athlete mentions in Beastie Boys songs include: Anthony Mason, Patrick Ewing, John Stockton and Clyde Drexler.
The video, though simple in design, is just as entertaining as the music, another staple of the Beastie Boys.
Dr. Dre: Nuthin' but a G-Thang, Evander Holyfield (NSFW)
"That's realer than Real Deal Holyfield"
Evander Holyfield was the premier heavyweight champion (better longevity, but not as much hype/ferocity as Tyson) during the rise of gangster rap, which made him a popular name whenever trying to describe yourself as the champ.
That, and "The Real Deal" is a classic nickname.
This is the greatest rap song ever made. There are a slew of popular lines interspersed:
"Unfadeable, so please don't try to fade this"
"Well if it's good enough to get broke off a proper chunk,
I'll take a small piece of some of that funky stuff"
"Yeah and you don't stop,
I'm just like a clock when I tick and I tock,
But I'm never off, always on til the break of dawn"
And the video, though rugged, fits the song perfectly.
John Fogerty: Center Field, Joe DiMaggio
"So 'Say Hey Willie', tell Ty Cobb and Joe DiMaggio,
Don't 'say it ain't so,' you know the time is now"
Not that his solo career was awful, but John Fogerty needs to return as the rightful lead singer of Creedence Clearwater Revival, the band he split from in 1972 amid "personal tensions and financial mishaps," according to the Black Creek Festival site.
Every time you go to a Major League Baseball game, you're guaranteed to hear this song at some point during the experience. It has become one of baseball's go-to tunes.
Willie Mays, Ty Cobb and Joe DiMaggio are all mentioned. And the video is a quick trip through baseball lore.
Kanye West: Barry Bonds, Barry Bonds (NSFW)
"Here's another hit, Barry Bonds,
We outta here baby"
Pretty self-explanatory on this one. In this Kanye West and Lil' Wayne collaboration, they refer to themselves as the Barry Bonds' of rap, constantly knocking it out the park with their greatest hits.
And face it, while Kanye and Lil' Wayne are knuckleheads, they're extremely creative with what they produce from album to album—probably the current home run leaders of hip-hop, if you will.
I'd have to say that this was one of the weaker songs from the otherwise-strong Graduation album.
The Tragically Hip: Fireworks, Bobby Orr
"You said you didn't give a f*** about hockey,
And I never saw someone say that before,
You held my hand and we walked home the long way,
You were loosening my grip on Bobby Orr"
They're Canadian, not that I think we should hold that against them (thank you, Denis Leary).
As Canucks, it's a national mandate that you have to love hockey. And apparently, before a woman stepped into the way, the writer of this song owned an infatuation with Bobby Orr.
I didn't have any ideas for a hockey name-drop until one of the B/R content kings suggested this hit from the Tragically Hip.
Although I don't have a deep knowledge of the sport, I know the name Bobby Orr resonates as one of the greats of all time. This site (cleverly named bobbyorr.com) contains everything you ever wanted to know about the NHL Hall of Famer.
Lil' Wayne: D.O.A., Aaron Brooks, Deion Sanders, Tim Tebow (NSFW)
"Uh, Fiji water, OG kush, yeah, I drink verses and eat hooks,
Got the stove on my waist, and we cooks,
I’m in the way, you can’t pass like Aaron Brooks"
One of the more obscure athlete references on this list, former NFL quarterback Aaron Brooks garners a mention from Lil Wayne. Apparently Weezy didn't think much of Mr. Brooks' passing abilities.
I originally thought this referred to former Rockets and current Suns point guard Aaron Brooks, which would also have made sense because the Oregon-product is the epitome of a shoot-first point guard.
The sports star references don't end there:
"Uh, I’m about to go Planters,
I’m still in my prime, Deion Sanders"
Wayne throws in the allusion to Deion "Primetime" Sanders, a throwback to the former NFL great. Besides being a Hall of Fame cornerback, Sanders is also a complete fraud, one of the worst Saturday Night Live hosts ever and one of the worst rappers of all time.
Later in "D.O.A.," Tim Tebow makes an appearance, as Wayne talks about being a "team player," just like the Broncos QB. This is probably the first and last time Tebow will ever make his way into a gangster rap tune.
Wayne is at the forefront of rappers mentioning athletes. In a verse that stirred up recent controversy, from his song "Banned from TV," he mentions USC coach Lane Kiffin:
"Take that to the bank witch ya,
I rock my hat to the side like a paint picture,
Smoke weed, talk s*** like Lane Kiffin"
Pearl Jam: Not for You, Muhammad Ali
"Restless soul, enjoy your youth,
Like Muhammad hits the truth,
Can't escape from the common rule,
If you hate something don't you do it, too"
As perhaps the most famous athlete of all time, Muhammad Ali's name regularly makes its way into music. In this instance, it is Pearl Jam dropping the line.
Several members of the band are noted sports fans, as Pearl Jam's original name was Mookie Blaylock, after the diminutive former NBA point guard.
Trademark issues forced the band to shift names to the current incarnation.
Thanks to Noah Grant, of a Bay Area band on the rise known as Foolproof Four, for the heads up on this Pearl Jam classic.
Eminem: Just Dont Give a ****, Marty Schottenheimer (NSFW)
"I'm buzzin', Dirty Dozen, naughty, rotten rhymer,
Cursing at you players worse than Marty Schottenheimer"
Did you ever think you'd see the day that Marty Schottenheimer, the successful-but-choke-prone long-time NFL coach, would make his way into a hardcore rap album?
Well, Eminem made it into a reality with this gem over a decade ago.
This song was from Eminem's debut solo-smash album, The Slim Shady LP, back when he was hilarious and clever—before he sobered up and started taking himself way too seriously. He still put together a great run in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
Obviously, the song is not for those with sensitive taste in salty language (though the above VEVO version is censored), but the video is worth a view.
Beyonce: Crazy in Love, Nick Van Exel
"Young Hova, y'all know when the flow is loco,
Young B and the R O C, uh oh, O G, big homie,
The one and only,
Stick boney but the pockets are fat like Tony
Soprano the roc handle like Van Exel,
I shake phonies man, you can't get next to,
A genuine article, I do not sing tho,
I sling though, if anything I bling yo"
Beyonce actually has no part of this verse. It's really Jay-Z rapping this piece of this song, but it is in the middle of Beyonce's hit, so I'll give them both the credit.
Nick "The Quick" Van Exel was definitely a sound ball-handler, which helped him average 14.4 points and 6.6 assists for his 13-year NBA career.
Unfortunately for him, he was with the Los Angeles Lakers in exactly the wrong era, as he moved on to Denver just before the Lakers started another run of NBA championships.
Things have not gone so smoothly off the court recently, as his son was charged with capital murder late last year.
Jay-Z: Never Change, Scottie Pippen (NSFW)
"If we stay strong, we can get paper longer than Pippen's arms"
And the arms of Scottie Pippen are indeed crazy long, and probably able to hold a lot of paper (cash).
Jay-Z is one of the leaders when it comes to lacing his verses with athletes.
Check out some of the others: Kobe Bryant, Tracy McGrady, Harold Miner, JR Rider, Pervis Ellison and Shawn Bradley ("Pump It Up"); Michael Jordan ("Never Let Me Down," Kanye West featuring Jay-Z); Allen Iverson ("Super Ugly"); Glenn "Big Dog" Robinson ("Blueprint 2"); Manute Bol ("In My Lifetime, Volume 1"); Bo Outlaw ("Honey").
That is just a small sample of the best of the best sports name-drops from Jay-Z. There are a ton more examples.
Hip-hop stars seem to love to mix in the sports figures, as there are a slew of them throughout hits from guys like Jadakiss, Lil' Wayne, Fabolous, Common and Kanye West (who will make one more appearance on this list).
Kanye West: Can't Tell Me Nothing, Magic Johnson
"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"
Yet another appearance from Magic Johnson on this list, alluding to how the former NBA great somehow has staved off seemingly any effects of HIV over the last two decades.
Really, it is incredible what fantastic condition the man is in considering that not too long ago the disease had the stigma of being a relatively quick death sentence. Magic proved that is not the case (though his millions of dollars certainly helped his cause).
Mr. West regularly loops in athletes into his music.
Some other examples include: Kobe Bryant, Michael Jordan ("Swagga Like Us"); Charles Barkley, Dwyane Wade ("The Glory"); NBA, Magic Johnson ("Roses"); Matt Leinart, Tiger Woods ("So Appalled").
Bonus Lyrics and Videos
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images
Here is bonus content from songs that were suggested to me, but either didn't quite fit the scheme of the slideshow or didn't have music videos to accompany them.
Shelbo the Elbow
"I'm a competitor, think I'm better than Federer,
Think I'll get you wet, then get you wetter and wetterer"
By Shelbo the Elbow (NSFW). If you didn't know Shelbo the Elbow before, now you know.
This duo manages to mix in a line about Roger Federer. You try rhyming something with Federer. Pretty sure "wetterer" is the only option, and it's also my new favorite word.
It's bizarrely awesome (with the exception of the deafening noise screeches). Or at least it was before he got sent down the minors earlier this week.
This ode to Yankee Stadium makes me want to throw up (I hate the stinking Yankees), but it probably draws goosebumps for the New Yorkers out there.
Because I'm a sucker for the obscure, even though it's not a wildly popular artist or song, Manu Ginobili gets his surname into Pharoahe Monch's "Push." This is a great tune.
Though long gone, Notorious B.I.G. was ahead of his time in popularizing athlete mentions. Among them: Shaquille O'Neal ("Gimme the Loot" (NSFW) and "I Love the Dough"), New York Knicks and Utah Jazz ("I Got a Story to Tell"), Michael Jordan and Mike Tyson ("Victory").
Van Morrison mixed in soccer legends in "Too Long In Exile":
“Just like George Best, baby, too long in exile, just like Alex Higgins, baby”
His Hanukkah song mixes in both O.J. Simpson ("not a Jew") and Rod Carew ("he converted").
Special thanks to the B/R content team for a healthy amount of suggestions to add to my own. As stated in the first slide, if you see any references that need to be on this list, note them in the comments section. I'll add them to this piece if worthy of making the cut.