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Pairing 10 Top NBA Stars with Their Hip-Hop Counterparts

Thomas DuffyFeatured ColumnistMarch 5, 2014

Pairing 10 Top NBA Stars with Their Hip-Hop Counterparts

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    Kathy Kmonicek/Associated Press

    A wise man by the name of Aubrey Graham once crooned, "I swear sports and music are so synonymous/'Cause we wanna be them, and they wanna be us."

    Graham—better known by his stage name, Drake—makes a valid point. In today's world, many athletes, especially NBA players, have aspirations of being hip-hop stars, while the rappers and singers want to be professional ballplayers.

    Well, what if they were?

    The rankings on the following slides match up 10 of the NBA's biggest stars with their hip-hop counterparts.

    Pairings are based on qualities rather than appearance—so, no, James Harden isn't Rick Ross strictly because of their beards. The specific skill sets and accomplishments from the NBA starts coincide with the delivery, lyrical content and accolades from a player's assigned rapper.

    So with that—read the following in DMX's voice—let's get it on.

    (Note: This project will only include active players and rappers. Sorry, Michael Jordan and Tupac fans.)

    Each slide contains a song from the artist (NSFW) and a highlight from the player. Suggestion: Click the player's clip, mute the sound and then play the song in the background as you watch. Dancing is optional.

Steph Curry: Childish Gambino

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    Rocky Widner/Getty Images
    • Watch: Curry earned a well-deserved spot in the 2014 All-Star Game
    • Listen: "3005," a masterpiece from Childish Gambino

    Far below NBA standard in regard to explosiveness and athleticism ... At 6-2, he's extremely small for the NBA shooting guard position, and it will likely keep him from being much of a defender at the next level ... Although he's playing point guard this year, he's not a natural point guard that an NBA team can rely on to run a team

    That is an excerpt from NBADraft.net’s scouting report on Steph Curry coming out of Davidson back in 2009. As a 6’3”, 180-pound guard, no one expected Curry to carry the dominant scoring ability he displayed in college over to the NBA.

    But he has. And he's become a full-blown star, even receiving the most All-Star votes for a Western Conference guard this year.

    Much like Curry, Childish Gambino was underrated. In fact, the 30-year-old rapper, whose real name is Donald Glover, debuted onto the hip-hop scene while serving as a writer for NBC’s 30 Rock and an actor on Community. Similar to the Golden State Warriors star, few people saw how far Gambino could make it.

    Everyone in the world knows that Curry’s jumper is lethal. But he can do a little bit of everything too. On February 28, he torched the Knicks for a triple-double (27 points, 11 rebounds, 11 assists), and he is averaging about 24 points and nine assists a game this season.

    Gambino has a distinct, aggressive flow and cutting rhymes, but he can also sing, produce and carry on a successful career away from the mic.

    Few saw star potential in Steph Curry, and the same could be said for Childish Gambino. But now that they’ve reached the top of their respective games, they’re here to stay.

Dwight Howard: Mac Miller

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    Bill Baptist/Getty Images
    • Watch: Howard is the most dominant big man in the game today. Here's why.
    • Listen: "Gees" by Mac Miller

    There’s not many things that can take the smile off of Dwight Howard’s face. Not even a storm of boos raining down from the seats of the Staples Center when he returned to face his former team, the Los Angeles Lakers.

    Despite being one of the most dominant forces in the NBA, D12 plays with a permanently beaming smile. "It's made me successful the last nine years," Howard told the OC Register in January last year. "I'm not going to stop smiling. This is what I do for a living.

    So, because of his happy-go-lucky demeanor, Howard’s rapper is Mac Miller.

    The 22-year-old rapper laughs throughout the vast majority of his songs, spinning rhymes but never really tackling serious topics. But after the release of his first two studio albums, Blue Slide Park and Watching Movies with the Sound Off, it’s become clear that Mac Miller is no joke.

    Just like Howard, Mac Miller is good at what he does. And they both have fun doing it.

James Harden: Lil Wayne

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    Bill Baptist/Getty Images
    • Watch: Harden's top ten plays of the 2014 season
    • Listen: Lil Wayne's classic "Go DJ"

    There’s no denying that James Harden is one of the league’s biggest stars. But sometimes, he just makes you scratch your head.

    Maybe it’s defensive lapses, strange box scores or even his beard. But when Harden is feeling it, he’s one of the most electrifying players in the game today.

    Lil Wayne is the same way. After heralding himself as the “best rapper alive” for much of his career, the YMCMB rapper is either hit or miss—better yet, he’s home run or fall-down-striking-out.

    Clever wordplay and undeniable talent have carried Lil Wayne to the top of the rap world, but too often his lyrics don’t make sense. For example, "I go so hard, they call me Go So Hard." Huh?

    Harden and Lil Wayne are both hot and cold at what they do. At their best, both guys have what it takes to reach the peak of their craft. But at their worst, they'll make you subconsciously wonder, “What are you doing?”

Paul George: J. Cole

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    Jordan Johnson/Getty Images

    One of the most polished players in the game, Paul George has made the leap from solid pro to superstar this season. Averaging nearly 23 points and seven boards a game, the Indiana Pacers forward has proven that he’s worthy of being mentioned among the league’s top players.

    The same can be said for J. Cole, the North Carolina-based rapper who has gained mainstream popularity after signing with Jay Z’s Roc Nation label in 2009. A string of critically acclaimed mixtapes led the way to a pair of strong studio albums, Cole World: The Sideline Story and Born Sinner.

    During the first week of its release, J. Cole’s second album sold 297,000 copies in the United States and debuted on the second spot on the Billboard 200 chart, via Jake Paine HipHopDX.com.

    George has gone toe-to-toe with the NBA’s biggest stars, including LeBron James, and has his eyes set on raising the Larry O’Brien trophy once June rolls around.

    And like J. Cole, George’s stardom will continue to grow each time he dominates on the big stages.

Chris Paul: Kanye West

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    Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sport
    • Watch: A great reel of Paul's nastiest crossovers. Watch your ankles.
    • Listen: Kanye West goes crazy on "Cold (Theraflu)"

    Scoring, distributing, rebounding, defense, leading the Los Angeles Clippers to the top of the Western Conference—Chris Paul literally does everything on the court.

    Therefore, CP3 is the Kanye West of basketball.

    Paul is lightning-quick to verbally spar with opponents, much like the Yeezus rapper, and was identified by Steph Curry as the biggest on-court trash-talker in the game, via Jason McIntyre of The Big Lead.

    While both stars don't hesitate to stick their chests out, their multifaceted talents are what brings them together.

    After beginning his career as a producer and getting his first big break on Jay Z's The Blueprint, West has become of the best rappers and writers in today’s music scene.

    But he’s also into fashion. And political activism. And he’s engaged to Kim Kardashian.

    West has his hands in all kinds of projects, including a film based on his recent Yeezus tour.

    Another similarity between Paul and West is that they’re often at their best with stars around them. For Paul, it’s tossing alley-oops to Blake Griffin. For West, it’s producing a beat, spitting a verse and handing the mic off to the likes of Jay Z or Big Sean.

    The well-rounded, balanced and dominant way in which Paul plays on the court mirrors the way West lives his life.

Carmelo Anthony: Meek Mill

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    Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports
    • Watch: Anthony drops a career-high 62 points against the Bobcats
    • Listen: "Work," one of Meek Mill's best pump-up songs

    Carmelo Anthony is what he is—and that’s an elite scorer. He isn’t a defensive stopper, and he hasn’t shown the ability to consistently raise the level of play around him. But he’s great at what he does.

    And for that reason, Melo’s rapper is Meek Mill.

    Jon Caramanica of the New York Times, in his review of Meek’s debut album Dreams and Nightmares, refers to the 26-year-old Philly native as a “bully of a rapper” and notes that his “flow is all jabs, nothing smooth about it. His songs sound about 50 percent louder than anything else on the radio.”

    Just like Anthony, you know what you’re getting into when you turn on a Meek Mill song. You’re going to hear loud, pump-me-up-before-a-game music. Nothing soft, nothing artificial and nothing slow.

    Despite his gifted scoring ability, Anthony—who could be looking to pair up with another star once he becomes a free agent this summer—has yet to show that he can win a championship on his own. Similarly, Meek Mill is at his best when featured on a song with other artists.

    Anthony is a dog on the court, and the "House Party" rapper is a dog on the mic. Plus, Meek Mill famously left T.I.'s Grand Hustle label and then signed with Rick Ross's Maybach Music Group.

    Just saying.

Kyrie Irving: Big Sean

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    David Liam Kyle/Getty Images

    Kyrie Irving is as flashy as they come. Boasting one of the slickest handles in the NBA today, Irving has shown the ability to take any defender off the dribble.

    If you don't believe me, ask Thabo Sefolosha. Or Tyler Hansbrough. Or anyone playing in the NBA All-Star Game.

    Uncle Drew is all about the ankle-breaking crossovers, the showy passes and the acrobatic finishes that get the crowd rocking. The only rapper in hip-hop today who can draw an equivalent reaction to Irving's crossovers is Big Sean.

    Fresh off of his second studio album, Big Sean has already separated himself from most of today’s hip-hop stars by creating a distinct style all his own. And others are beginning to imitate it.

    Big Sean’s flow can be summarized in one term: punchlines. And like Irving’s crossovers, they often draw “oohs and ahhs” from the audience.

    Still early in their respective careers, both Irving and Big Sean have bright futures ahead of them—there’s many more defenses to split and one-liners to spin.

Kobe Bryant: Jay Z

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    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
    • Watch: The NBA pays tribute to Bryant's career, saluting some of the Mamba's best plays
    • Listen: Since mainstream radio overplays everything Jay Z touches these days, here's a throwback: "La La La (Excuse Me Miss Again)"

    Is Kobe Bryant the basketball best player in the history of the game? While the Mamba is certainly an all-time great, it’s hard to make a case for him as the GOAT.

    By the same token, Jay Z isn’t the single greatest rapper to ever grab the mic. Billboard ranked HOV as the 10th-most successful artist of the 2000s and also pegged him as the 88th-best musical act of all time.

    But what makes both Bryant and Jay Z great is the longevity and consistency in which they’ve mastered their respective arts.

    Bryant has five championship rings, two Finals MVP trophies, one regular season MVP award (2008) and is the fourth-leading scorer in the history of the NBA. Jay Z, in addition to becoming a certified NBA and NFL player agent, has released 15 studio albums, a record 13 of which have reached No. 1 on Billboard’s Top 200.

    As far as delivery, the Mamba's game is similar to Jay Z's flow in many ways. Both are smooth, slick and often unconventional. But the biggest similarity between the two is success.

    Both Bryant and Jay Z are businessmen, a side of the Mamba that will likely grow once he hangs up the kicks once and for all. But for now, he’ll remain like HOV—one of the most respected and accomplished veterans of his game.

Kevin Durant: Kendrick Lamar

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    Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sport
    • Watch: KD goes off for 54 points against the Warriors January 17
    • Listen: "A.D.H.D." off of Kendrick Lamar's debut album, Section.80

    Kevin Durant wants to be the MVP, he wants to win a championship and, most of all, he wants to be the best. But there’s someone standing in his way: LeBron James.

    Over the summer, KD voiced his frustration, and showcased his newfound attitude, to Sports Illustrated:

    I've been second my whole life. I was the second-best player in high school. I was the second pick in the draft. I've been second in the MVP voting three times. I came in second in the Finals. I'm tired of being second. I'm not going to settle for that...I'm done with it.

    Kendrick Lamar is tired of Drake too.

    First, there was the "Control" freestyle over the summer, in which Lamar called out the majority of today’s most popular rappers.

    But then he got more specific in his cypher at the BET Music Awards: “Nothing’s been the same since they dropped 'Control'/And tucked a sensitive rapper back in his pajama clothes.”

    According to ESPN’s Michael Wallace, the Oklahoma City superstar has had enough of the James comparisons:

    Asked during Friday’s All-Star media day session to gauge on a scale of one to 10 how tired he is of having to face comparisons to James, the Oklahoma City star ventured well off the charts.

    “Um, about a 25,” Durant fired back. “It’s every day, I mean. You should really focus on how good LeBron James is. I think people should appreciate that more than always comparing guys. In our world, you want to compare everything. You judge everything. That’s just how we are.”

    By the same token, Lamar downplayed the Drizzy feud back in November during an interview with The Breakfast Club at Power 105.1.

    "I was having fun rapping," Lamar said. "Hip-hop is a sport, people are gonna dissect lyrics and that's what it's about at the end of the day. I've got nothing against Drake."

    Yeah, right.

    Durant and Lamar are on the verge of being the best artists of their respective crafts, but there’s just one guy standing in their way. And despite downplaying the rivalry, they are both coming for that top spot.

    Speaking of which...

LeBron James: Drake

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    Issac Baldizon/Getty Images
    • Watch: 'Bron destroys the Bobcats for a career-high 61 points March 3
    • Listen: Drake displays all aspects of his game in "Trophies"

    Love him or hate him, you’ve got to respect LeBron James. A four-time MVP and two-time NBA champion, The King is well on his way to solidifying himself as one of the greatest players in the history of the NBA.

    Ever since LBJ came into the league, Nothing Was the Same—that’s a Drake joke, for those who don’t know.

    Drizzy, hip-hop’s biggest and most popular superstar right now, is the LeBron of music.

    The first similarity between the two is their proficiency in all areas of their craft. LeBron defends at all five positions, scores (his 26.9 points per game ranks third behind Durant and Melo), rebounds, distributes and can make any team a winner.

    At the same time, Drake raps, sings, produces, writes and, most of all, sells records. Complex Music gave him the top spot on its 50 Hottest Rappers list. He’s totaled over 45 awards, including a Grammy and 10 BET Hip Hop honors, over the course of just three studio albums. Forbes ranked him as the top rapper in its 30 Under 30 list.

    Drake’s the best in the game right now. Just like LBJ.

    Upon reading that, some people will wholeheartedly agree. Others will think it’s the most ridiculous thing they’ve ever laid eyes on. That’s the power these two guys have—they draw passionate responses, positive or negative, from the world.

    But the biggest similarity between LeBron and Drake? Success.

    And that’s not going to change anytime soon.

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