Professional sports are not what they used to be. They were once just that: sports. They played the games. Fans consumed them, and rooted for their favorite players and teams.
Professional sports are not what they used to be.
They were once just that: sports. They played the games. Fans consumed them, and rooted for their favorite players and teams. There was a time when professional athletes even needed to have other jobs to supplement their income.
That’s all changed. Sports is everywhere, functionally and financially. Superstars are brands. Pro teams are corporate entities, with real estate investments. Entire stadiums and arenas are sponsored up the wazoo. Sports betting is now a legal, a billion-dollar industry with online sportsbooks owned and operated by publicly traded companies. Athlete social media followings are commonly in the millions. Players are cultural and political icons—celebrities not just on the court, pitch, field or rink, but also off them.
All of this is especially true, 20 times over, for the NBA and its players. They have more power and agency than those from most other sports leagues. More than that, they are ingrained into off-court culture more than any of their peers. Players invest in tech companies. They own production companies. They franchise restaurants. They have ownership in other sports teams.
And, believe it or not, they have music careers.
Sure, “career” might be a loose term. Most NBA players only dabble in music on the side. Still, the Association is home to plenty of athletes who like to rap in a studio, many of whom have released actual songs and even albums.
We’re not talking about the occasional no-name player, either. Actual stars are staples in the rap game.
On that note, let’s rule through the most well-known NBA rappers, shall we?
Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers
Damian Lillard is the biggest rapper among professional athletes right now. It isn’t just a hobby for him. He’s committed to the grind.
Lillard’s stage name is Dame D.O.L.L.A. and he has performed all over the place, including at the NBA’s 2020 All-Star Saturday night festivities. He has also released three albums to date—yes entire albums.
Kevin Durant hasn’t released enough material to get a feel for how good he actually is a rapper, but we know he’s a big fan of getting in the booth and spitting fire.
Until recently, the most tantalizing aspect of his side hustle was a secret track he recorded with none other than LeBron James. Initially it was deemed lost, but then a snippet was leaked, and eventually, after that, we got the entire song: a real banger entitled “It Ain’t Easy.”
LeBron obviously needs to make this list given that he’s perhaps the best player in NBA history and released a song in tandem with Durant. But his interest in music extends well beyond that one single.
Look no further than LeBron’s Instagram account for proof. He’s constantly posting stories of himself singing along to well-known tunes, and his comment section has become a place in which artists just send out links to their own material in hopes of being discovered.
Dwight Howard’s interest in the rap game isn’t as prevalent now, but way back when, he was ultra-serious about it. In fact, when he was still a member of the Orlando Magic, he released an album entitled Shoot For The Stars.
While this makes for a great anecdote, Howard’s musical career isn’t one that’s looked back upon fondly. His album has since been widely panned, and it’s been said, ad nauseam, that he’s lucky it wasn’t released during the social media, otherwise the internet would never let him live it down.
It wasn’t until the coronavirus pandemic hit and the NBA was forced to shut down that people realized Aaron Gordon rapped—and that he was serious about it.
During his time away from the game, he released a song called “9 Out of 10,” which was a nod to Dwyane Wade giving him a less than perfect score during the 2020 NBA dunk contest.
Okay, technically, Victor Oladipo isn’t a rapper. He identifies as an R&B artist. But this counts. He’s an NBA star who not only sings, but who has released an album.
His debut LP was entitled Don’t Sleep and received mostly positive reviews. Even if you’re not into rhythm and blues, you can tell he has flow—and perhaps a second career path once he eventually hangs up his basketball shoes.
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