The worlds of basketball and hip-hop have long been intertwined, with many rap artists drawing inspiration from the larger-than-life personas of NBA players. Throughout the history of rap music, various iconic figures from the league have been referenced in lyrics, serving as a testament to their impact on popular culture.
In this article, we will run through 10 NBA players who have left a mark on both the basketball court and the rap music scene.
Considered by many as the best basketball player ever, Michael Jordan's dominance on the court made him a very popular reference in rap songs. Jordan's incredible career, with six NBA championships and his creation of one of the most famous shoes of all time - the 'Air Jordan' - turned him into an icon of success around the world.
Rappers like Jay-Z in "Show Me What You Got" Jordan to compare their own ambition and success to the superstar. Jordan's name has become synonymous with greatness, and his influence goes well beyond basketball.
She in the zone I ain’t talking bout the 2-3 , Mami in the zone like the homie two-three , Jordan or James”
Jay Z 'Show Me What You Got'
Shaquille O'Neal, with his larger-than-life personality on and off the court had a significant influence on basketball, rap music and pop culture as a whole. Shaq's charisma and versatility made him popular among both fans and artists.
He even made his own rap classics like Fu-Schnickens' "What's Up Doc? (Can We Rock)" and was mentioned in Meek Mill in "R.I.C.O." In his own music career, he created rap albums and collaborations with famous artists, which truly solidified his status as a cultural icon who successfully bridged the gap between sports and pop culture.
I go make fifty million and I give some millions to my people, They gon' go Tony Montana and cop them some Shaq at the free throws.
Meek Mill 'R.I.C.O'
Despite being just 6 feet tall, Allen Iverson proved that greatness in the NBA isn't all about height, and became widely celebrated for breaking the norm. The Answer's impact went beyond sports, as he truly embodied the spirit of overcoming challenges.
His influence on hip-hop culture was featured by numerous rap songs, including tracks like Jadakiss' "We Gonna Make It" and Fabolous' "Breathe". Artists like Fabolous and T.I. took to their songs to mention his unique style, swagger, and gritty attitude. But perhaps the most iconic reference to Iverson is in Drake's song 'Thank Me Now',.
You make friends with Mike, but got to A.I. him for your survival, damn, I swear sports and music are so synonymous
Drake 'Thank Me Now'
Kobe Bryant's untimely passing in 2020 magnified his already profound impact on the world. 'The Mamba Mentality' became synonymous with relentless work ethic, competitive drive, and the pursuit of excellence.
In songs like Lil Wayne's "Kobe Bryant," and Drake's "Weston Road Flows," his name is used as a metaphor for dedication, skill, and greatness against all odds. Kobe's legacy continues to inspire fans and rap artists who draw motivation from his career.
He's the best player in the game, It's just that simple, There's nothing that Kobe Bryant can't do, He will defend your best player, He will shoot from the perimeter, He will get all in your mug, He will do whatever it takes, He is the most complete basketball player, In the game today, bar none.
Lil Wayne 'Kobe Bryant'
LeBron James is certainly in the conversation for greatest NBA player of all time, and continues to dominate in the league at the age of 38. His long and extremely successful career has taken his name to new heights in both the sporting and pop culture world.
Artists like Meek Mill in "R.I.C.O." and Jay Z's feature Kayne West's "Clique" referenced LeBron, highlighting his status as a cultural icon. LeBron's impact goes beyond his athletic achievements, as he consistently uses his platform to advocate for social justice and uplift his community. His name and accomplishments inspire people around the globe, making him a frequent subject for many artists.
Your money too short, you can’t be talking to me, yeah, I’m talking LeBron, we ball in our family tree.
Jay Z 'Clique'
Magic Johnson's flashy playing style and charisma made him a beloved figure both on and off the court. As the leader of the "Showtime" Lakers, Magic revolutionised the game with his incredible passing skills and enthusiasm.
Rappers like Ice Cube and Notorious B.I.G., as well as Kayne West in his song 'Can't Tell Me Nothing', mention Magic in their songs as a metaphor for success and greatness. His influence extends beyond basketball, inspiring rap artists to capture his showmanship and joy through their music.
You can live through anything if Magic made it.
Kanye West 'Can't Tell Me Nothing'
Russell Westbrook has been referenced in several rap songs throughout his career, with artists using his name and attributes to convey themes of success, determination, and individuality.
In Kendrick Lamar's 'The Heart Part 4', Westbrook earned a mention with "tables turned, lesson learned, my best look, you jumped sides on me, now you 'bout to meet Westbrook". The NBA star also earned a full song by his name - "Westbrook" by J.I.D - which pays homage to Russell Westbrook's style of play and his relentless pursuit of greatness.
Tables turned, lesson learned, my best look, you jumped sides on me, now you 'bout to meet Westbrook, go celebrate with your team and let victory vouch you.
Kendrick Lamar 'The Heart Part 4'
Dwyane Wade, a legendary NBA player, has been referenced in several rap songs throughout his career. Wade's impact on the basketball court, as well as his unique style and personality, have made him a popular subject for rap artists. His name and attributes are often mentioned to convey themes of resilience, success, and greatness.
In Jay-Z's song "No Hook," he highlights Wade's ability to perform exceptionally well under pressure, comparing his clutch performances to the rapper's own lyrical skill.
I flow sick, yeah, I know it, like Dwyane Wade in the fourth quarter.
Jay Z 'No Hook'
Dennis Rodman, known mostly for his eccentric behaviour, but also his success on the court, became a popular figure in both basketball and the rap music scene. Rodman's impact extends beyond his on-court contributions, as he defied societal norms and embraced his individuality unapologetically.
Rappers like A$AP Ferg in "Dennis Rodman" paid tribute to Rodman's unique persona, highlighting his fearlessness, boundary-pushing nature, and willingness to stand out from the crowd. Rodman's influence in rap music reflects his ability to break barriers and inspire artists to express themselves authentically.
Dennis Rodman, it feel like we won the Final's, we got five rings (yeah), we livin' in series, I'm thirty-for-thirty, I shake 'em like Kyrie.
A$AP Ferg 'Dennis Rodman'
Steph Curry has cemented himself as one of the greatest three-point shooters of all time, lending his name to various areas of pop culture as a synonym for success and talent. In his time with the Golden State Warriors, Curry broke the record for 3-points made and still tops the list with 3390 baskets made from behind the arc.
Artists like Drake, Lil Wayne, and Kendrick Lamar have mentioned Steph Curry in their songs. Drake, compares his success to Curry in his song "0 to 100 / The Catch Up", while Lil Wayne does the same in his track "Kobe Bryant".
I been Steph Curry with the shot, Been cookin' with the sauce, chef Curry with the pot, boy.
Drake '0 to 100 / The Catch Up'