My epic project (part 5):
Pairing each of the 96 dudes from the Bill Simmons’ Book of Basketball pyramid of the greatest NBA players of all time with a famous rapper based on wholly subjective criteria: The Pantheon (#12-1):
12. Moses Malone – Busta Rhymes: Both these dudes are pretty underrated, almost to the point of being forgotten, despite being among the best of their time without doubt. Moses was an uncontrollable beast on the boards, grabbing basically every loose rock with beautifully reckless abandon. Sounds like a good description of Busta’s style on the mic. Also, Moses’ speech is a lot like Busta’s wicked fast flow. If you say you can understand it, you’re full of shit.
11. Shaquille O’Neal – The Notorious B.I.G.: These dudes were friends in real life and even did a song together. Both of them dominated as soon as they stepped on the scene. Also, they were both huge. Based on what everyone who has ever met either of them has ever said, these were pretty much the two nicest dudes in the world as long as you didn’t piss them off… then they’d fucking destroy you. Both also never maxed out their potential, even though they are still among the very best of all time; Shaq was hit with injuries and also had to deal with refs basically letting people hack the shit out of him without consequence every damn game. Big, of course, was tragically murdered after recording only his second album, both of which are fucking amazing.
10. Hakeem Olajuwon – Slick Rick: Hakeem is the best foreign-born player of all time. Slick Rick is the best rapper born outside the US of all time. And there’s really no debate. Both had rhyming nicknames; Hakeem the Dream and Slick Rick (no shit). Hakeem had a seemingly limitless array of tricks in his post game. Slick Rick is likewise noted as having an unmatched talent for details in his storytelling as an MC. Actually, Hakeem’s “Dream Shake” is one of the weirdest-looking moves in basketball history, and Slick Rick’s eye patch… well, yeah.
9. Oscar Robertson – Chuck D: Talented dudes the likes of who had never been seen before. Oscar physically overpowered other guards during the NBA’s early days, while Chuck D was rap’s first (and greatest) political rapper. Both were very pissed off dudes, justifiably so due to racism. Oscar responded by playing angry but also scaring the shit out of his teammates, while Chuck D formed Public Enemy, scared the shit out of White America, and did the soundtracks for racially controversial Spike Lee films like Do The Right Thing. Oscar changed the way NBA players lived during his time as head of the player’s association, securing them way more money and making the league take the union and the public take them more seriously D changed the way people looked at hip-hop, bringing in the political bent and forcing the labels and the public to take the art-form more seriously as well.
8. Jerry West – Dr. Dre: Am I putting Dre with a white guy cause he couldn’t write lines for shit? No, of course not! (Is he gone? Yes, yes I did). But the same way West had to pay his dues before finally winning a ship in 1970 with the Lakers, Dre put in work with World Class Wrecking Cru and NWA before finally getting the individual glory with The Chronic. Dre is pretty much the unquestioned face of West Coast hip-hop. Jerry West is literally the Logo. West was a legendary player, and Dre released one of the all-time greatest rap records of all time, but both may be more well-known for their ability to find talent. West built two different Laker dynasties as GM, and Dre was personally responsible for blowing up Snoop Dogg, Eminem, and 50 Cent as a producer and exec, among other artists.
7. Tim Duncan – Common: Both are very, very laid back dudes, as seen in their respective playing/rapping styles. Quietly, both have kicked ass for over a decade. Duncan is easily the least-talked about 4 time champ and 2-time MVP in history. Common released one of the best hip-hop records ever in 1994 (“I Used to Love H.E.R.”) and one of the only albums to get a XXL rating from the mag in 2005 (Be). But most little ones growing up in Generation Kanye have no idea (even tho ‘Ye did produce Be). Both are misunderstood and don’t get the proper respect for their work. Duncan is routinely underrated by basically everyone and deserves to have his name next to the Chamberlains of the world (he did win more after all). Common got a ton of shit from Fox News for going to the White House, mainly cause Fox News didn’t understand/care to listen to the depth of his art.
6. Wilt Chamberlain – Big Daddy Kane: Literally big dudes whose unmatched talent during the early stages of the league/genre’s development played a crucial role in shaping what was to come. Wilt claimed to have slept with 20,000 chicks. The origin’s of BDK’s name? “The Big Daddy part and the Kane part came from two different things. The Kane part came from my fascination with the Martial Arts flicks when I was young. The Big Daddy came from something that happened on a ski trip one time involving a young lady.” Wilt is universally accepted as one of the two best players of his generation, along with Russell. BDK is typically considered one of the Big 3 from his generation along with Rakim and KRS-One.
5. Larry Bird – Eminem: They’re both white. This is fucking obvious. Also, no other white dudes even come close to either of them. This is also fucking obvious. Both Midwesterners battled the “white trash” stereotype in an arena dominated by the Coasts. Bird was the best player in the league before having his career drastically altered by injuries. He played through them, but he was a shell of his former self. Likewise, no other rapper has started his career with 3 albums as good as Em’s first 3, but then his career was derailed by drug use, and his output since hasn’t been nearly as good. Both dudes were obviously among the most famous men in America during their respective primes, but both were also kinda pricks who’d rather be left alone. On a related note, both dudes had a thing for starting bar fights and fucking up their statuses for upcoming games/concerts. Larry Legend was arguably the best trash talker in NBA history, especially for a multiple MVP winner. Slim Shady is almost without a doubt the best freestyle rapper to have a #1 single, and definitely can hold his own among the shit-talking greats.
4. Magic Johnson – Jay-Z: Flashy, talented dudes who loved the limelight and made their teammates better. Magic ran the Showtime Lakers, Jay-Z ran Roc-A-Fella and Roc Nation records. All of these teams were stock full of talent whose potential was maxed out by their leaders. The debate around the best player in the NBA during the 80’s (before Jordan emerged in the 90’s) centered around Magic and Bird, even if Kareem should’ve been in the discussion. The debate around the best rapper since Pac and Big centers around Jig and Eminem, even if NaS has a legit claim to the title. Both these dudes became VERY successful businessmen outside of their original fields. Only basketball player who made more smart moves off the court than Magic was Jordan, and the only rapper richer than Hov is Diddy. Magic led his Michigan State team to a title in his only season there, then got drafted #1 overall. Jay-Z dropped one of the greatest rap albums of all time, Reasonable Doubt, as his debut, after starting his own record label, Roc-A-Fella. You can still see Magic get his dick proverbially sucked by Stuart Scott every night during the NBA Playoffs on ESPN. You can see Jay do the same any time MTV does a list about “The Greatest Blah Blah Blah In Rap.”
3. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar – NaS: Both of these dudes are undeniable legends. But nobody really likes acknowledging it because they’re both kinda douchey. Kareem entered UCLA as the most hyped high-school prospect of all time (pre-LeBron) and all dude did was go on to have the greatest college career of all time. Around the same age, NaS built up the biggest buzz for any rap debut album (pre-50 Cent) and all dude did was drop the best album in hip-hop history (Illmatic, for the one person in the world who may not know). Neither quite got the credit he/she deserved for the remainder of their careers, cause Kareem wasn’t QUITE as dominant in the NBA as in the NCAA (cause the competition was better, and he STILL won multiple MVPs and ships, but I guess chicks just don’t dig centers). Rap fans were “disappointed” that NaS never matched Illmatic (a, that’s impossible, and b, dude still released hit singles and at least one or two other discs that got perfect reviews from the most prominent rap critics in the country with a flow that has not been touched by anyone except Big). Part of this is because they’re both kinda douchey. Both dudes lost some limelight to more likeable guys in the same city; Kareem to Magic in L.A., NaS to Jay-Z in New York. Both had a thing for name changes; Kareem was originally Lew Alcindor, and NaS went from Nasty Nas to NaS to Nas Escobar to Nastradamus, and finally back to just NaS. Despite changing names, both were the best or among the best of their respective games for longer than anyone else; Kareem won MVPs 16 years apart, and NaS is still considered one of the best MC’s in the game today 17 years after dropping his first disc. Who else can match that?
2. Bill Russell – Rakim: Both ushered in a new style of their respective fields. Russell changed the way defense was played in the NBA, Rakim introduced internal rhyming and brought a more-laid back swag to rap. Both dudes can be considered the first true “giant” in his field. There was no one close to Russell’s talent before he entered the league, and there was no one close to Rakim’s talent before Paid In Full dropped in ‘87. Russell is the face of the start of the Boston Celtics dynasty along with Red Auerbach. Rakim is the face of the start of the New York hip-hop scene’s dominance in pop culture along with Run-DMC. Russell was one of the first great, prominent black players in the NBA. Rakim was one of the first great, prominent Muslim artists in hip-hop. Being compared to either is the highest compliment in the field. Jordan comparisons get tossed around all the time (inaccurately), but to be compared to Russell means you are unquestionably a winner and you’ll do whatever it takes to kick the shit out of your opponent. Rappers compare themselves more often to Pac and Big to associate themselves with the greatest ever, but for another to compare you to Rakim means you got unquestionable, once-in-a-generation talent on the mic and undeniable swag.
1. Michael Jordan – Tupac Shakur: This is the most obvious pairing on the list. Greatest basketball player of all time? Michael Jordan, no debate. Greatest rapper of all time? 2Pac, only a little debate. Both guys rose to the top of their games, left, came back, and went out again at the top. Jordan won 3 titles (along with 3 Finals MVPs) from ’91 to ’93, and then retired to play minor league baseball for 18 months. Pac recorded 3 albums (all containing classic joints, and the last of which, Me Against The World, is considered one of the greatest albums in rap history and debuted at #1) and then went to prison… with a sentencing minimum of 18 months! Jordan unretired, won 3 more ships and Finals MVPs in even more dominant fashion, then retired. Pac got out of prison, joined Death Row Records, and made the rap equivalent of Jordan’s second 3-peat, released in ’96 (the double album All Eyez On Me and The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory, both considered among the best rap records ever), and was tragically murdered in September of that year. Jordan had the idiotic comeback with Washington from ’01 to ’03. Pac has all those shitty posthumous releases. Both guys had unrivaled work ethics. Jordan is known as the most intense competitor and hardest worker in athletic history. 2Pac likewise is legendary for the amount of time he spent in the studio after he got out of prison, recording a lifetime’s worth of material in under a year. Bottom line: dudes cared more than anyone else. Dudes have had their styles copped more than anyone else in their respective games. You see the legacy of Jordan in the way Kobe, Wade, basically every NBA 2-guard since play, and you see Pac’s influence on DMX, 50 Cent, basically every famous gangsta rapper since. Both would definitely win a poll among their peers or the general public about “who is the greatest basketball player/rapper of all time?” And finally, the two dudes look more alike than any baller and rapper I can think of.
Ballinous swag for life if you read ‘em all.