The relationship between hip hop and sports, specifically basketball, has been undeniable from day one.
Every MC wants to be a professional athlete and vice versa. Kurtis Blow expressed his love for the game back in the day with his classic joint “Basketball”. Farther back than that, the Sugar Hill Gang proclaimed, “I got a color TV, so I can see/ the Knicks play basketball”, on possibly the most important rap record ever created, “Rapper’s Delight”
Nowadays, hip hop and sports are intertwined so much as forms of entertainment that their bond goes seemingly unnoticed. Whether its Beanie Sigel referencing 12 NBA ballers from the old (Larry Bird and Robert Parrish) to the new (Larry Hughes and Lamar Odom) in one song on “Raw and Uncut” featuring Jay-Z, on his debut album “The Truth,” ballers and rappers are forever grouped together.
Even as a youngster growing up, although, I was a dedicated hooper and remained one until I stepped foot on the Hill I dabbled with the mic as well. As a matter of fact, I wrote my first rhyme before basketball practice one day in middle school.
Some athletes have even expressed their love for H.E.R. (Hip-Hop and Her Essence are Real) on the executive level. NBA players such as the Detroit Pistons’ power forward Rasheed Wallace (Urban Life Records) and the Indiana Pacers small forward Ron Artest (True Warier Records) have started independent record labels with their lucrative playing contracts. Others such as the Denver Nuggets small forward Carmelo Anthony hosted his own hip-hop radio show over the summer on Denver’s KS-1075.
The most shining example of the blissful marriage between hip hop and sports is the world’s most prolific street basketball league on the planet, the Entertainers Basketball Classic in Harlem, N.Y. The Rucker Summer League was the preeminent basketball league in the world during the 50’s and 60’s.
Players such as Pee Wee Kirkland turned down offers from the NBA. They could make more money hustling games in Holcombe Rucker Park than he would playing for the Chicago Bulls.
When the NBA’s contracts increased into the millions players stopped playing in the summer due to contractual stipulations which prevented them from doing so. The Rucker League, in turn, fizzled losing funding and interest in the 70’s and 80’s.
Then in the mid 1990’s in an attempt to resurrect the once flourishing league, hip hop stepped in. Record labels such as P. Diddy’s Bad Boy Records, and fledgling labels such as Relativity and Vacant Lot Records invested their time and treasures to form the Entertainers Basketball Classic.
Almost instantaneously, the Rucker was restored and in many ways exceeded its glory from years past. The league is now broadcasted on NBA TV, and its games have been visited by the likes of former president Bill Clinton.
South Bronx MC Fat Joe and his Terror Squad record label team, headlined by New York Knicks’ point guard Stephon Marbury and former Arkansas point guard Kareem “Big Game” Reid have won the “chip” the last three years. Joe Crack immortalized his team, and the league on wax on this year’s summer club banger “Lean Back”.
Now the Rucker league serves as a measuring stick for players in the NBA. The NBA gets a player money, but the Rucker gets him the respect from the hood. Just ask Kobe Bryant, Steve Francis and Vince Carter. All three had to earn their stripes at the Rucker in order to gain street credibility.
In the future, we can look to see hip-hop and athletics merge even more as Nelly is part owner of the NBA’s Charlotte Bobcats and Jay-Z ownes the New Jersey Nets.
Hip-Hop should be celebrated as yet another way to succeed in America for young blacks. We now have yet another option beyond selling crack rock or having a wicked jumpshot.
Nick Birdsong is serving as lifestyles editor for the week.