Former NBA players, Michael Jordan and Wilt Chamberlain. (Picture from: https://www.opencourt-basketball.com)
The parallels between the sports world and the music world are many, especially given the heavy involvement that musical artists, particularly rappers, have been taking in supporting their favourite teams.
Due to social media, people have begun to take more notice of rappers showing love to their hometown teams, but it’s a trend that has been in place for a long time. 1980s rap group N.W.A. constantly sporting Oakland Raiders paraphernalia is one example and 50 Cent wearing a Lakers jersey in his music video for his hit song In Da Club, is another.
Professional sports leagues are actually similar in many ways to the business side of music, with congruent aspects such as the struggle to find success, joining a sports team or a record label, and players/rappers having a general distaste for executives in either business.
With that being said, there are bound to be rapping counterparts for some of the more well-known hoopers and vice-versa.
Ice Cube and Wilt Chamberlain
Before Jay-Z took the rap game by storm, Ice Cube was arguably the greatest rapper of his generation.
He put up unprecedented numbers as a hip-hop artist, releasing the first-ever hip-hop EP to go platinum (one million sales) and the first-ever album to debut at number one on both the pop and R&B charts.
Ice Cube was part of a smaller group that saw him become well-known in his community, but didn’t help him achieve the success for which he believed he had the potential. After seeing an opportunity to become really big with N.W.A. he joined them, and together they became the top rap group in the world.
On top of his incredible success as a rapper, Ice Cube ventured outside of that, dabbling in basketball when he formed the BIG3 basketball league for retired former professional hoopers, and the movie industry when he produced, wrote, and starred in, not just Friday and its sequels, but countless other movies.
Cube was not without controversy however, being criticized throughout his career for misogynistic and racist lyrics as well as his contract-dispute-driven departure from N.W.A. in 1989. Despite all of that, Ice Cube remains one of the most well-respected artists and entrepreneurs in America.
Wilt fits that description almost to a T.
He was, along with Bill Russell, Magic Johnson, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, recognized as one of the premier players in the NBA before the emergence of Michael Jordan.
Wilt “Wilt the Stilt” Chamberlain, like Ice Cube, recorded unprecedented numbers, most notably setting the all-time single-game scoring record when he put up 100 points in one game. Wilt also is the only player in NBA history to record a 30-point 20-rebound season, a feat he accomplished seven times.
Similarly to Ice Cube and his first group, Wilt played with the Harlem Globetrotters at first, before eventually playing for a couple of smaller-market NBA teams that struggled to achieve success despite his skill.
With the San Francisco Warriors and the Philadelphia 76ers, he lost almost every playoff series the teams played. However, after joining the Los Angeles Lakers, Wilt won much more often in the regular season, although he still struggled to win a chip in the end, due mainly to the dominance of Bill Russell and his Celtics squad.
Where Ice Cube dabbled in business ventures outside of rap, Wilt was involved in non-basketball related activities such as real estate, (he owned a night club and other buildings) volleyball, (played and was president for the International Volleyball Association) and film (appearing in Conan the Destroyer).
Chamberlain saw his own share of controversy over the course of his life, being accused of womanizing and sexism, and in the NBA, having several rules changed in an attempt to lessen the advantage that came with his (at the time) unheard of height, standing at 7’1”.
Although he died in 1999, Wilt Chamberlain cemented himself in the record books as one of the greatest basketball players of all time.
Jay-Z and Michael Jordan
Jay-Z is firmly in the conversation for the number-one rapper of all time.
Born in a rough area in Brooklyn, New York, Jay-Z rose to prominence in the 1990s, putting the rap game on notice with his debut album Reasonable Doubt, which quickly became platinum. Later in his career, Jay-Z dropped his sixth album The Blueprint, which debuted at number one on the charts and remained there for some time.
Jay-Z has won a whopping 21 Grammy awards from a once again whopping 74 nominations, one of the highest win totals ever, behind such legends as Quincy Jones, Stevie Wonder, and his own wife, Beyonce.
Jay-Z, like Ice Cube, and most rappers really, has experienced his own controversies during the course of his career. He pled guilty to a third-degree assault charge in 2000 after being accused of stabbing a record executive in late 1999.
He’s also had disputes with friends and label-mates, most notably Kanye West and Nas. Jay-Z and Nas have since reconciled, but just this week West sued his former record label, Jay-Z’s Roc-a-Fella Records for reasons largely unknown. West was a huge part of Jay-Z’s success, producing much of his biggest album, The Blueprint.
In addition to having a reputation as being one of the greatest rappers of all time, Jay-Z is the easily the wealthiest rapper in the world due not only to his skill on the mic, but also his entrepreneurship. According to Forbes, he is tied for the fifth wealthiest American celebrity as of 2018.
Michael Jordan is similar in a lot of ways to Jay-Z.
In the conversation for the greatest basketball player of all time, generally you will hear just two names being thrown around. One of those names is LeBron James, the other Michael Jordan.
Like Jay-Z, Jordan was born in Brooklyn, New York. However, he moved at a young age to North Carolina, where he would later play and win a championship in college.
Once in the league, MJ quickly became a fan favourite, being voted as an All-Star in his rookie year (a feat rarely achieved in the NBA’s modern era) as well as the 1985 NBA Rookie of the Year.
Like Jay-Z and his impressive number of Grammys and other awards, Michael Jordan is one of the most decorated NBA players in the history of the sport. He’s won six NBA championships and six Finals MVPs to go along with them. He’s held the NBA scoring title ten times. Showing that he could do more than just score, an NBA Defensive Player of the Year. 11-time All-NBA. Five-time NBA MVP. Those numbers altogether have been untouched by any player who has followed in Jordan’s footsteps.
Jordan has seen his share of controversies as well though, seeing a paternity suit after his final retirement from the league (one that he beat), and, more notably, accusations of a gambling addiction during his string of championship runs with the Bulls.
While he has never admitted to an addiction, MJ has owned up to having lost a lot of money in gambling. More controversy surrounding Jordan is his early retirement from the league after his first three-peat.
Although there are no negative implications to his retirement, people always wonder what could have been, had Michael Jordan played those extra few years that he took off. Jay-Z also claimed retirement in the middle stages of his career, only to come back later.
Along with being one of the best hoopers to ever grace the hardwood, Michael Jordan, like Jay-Z, is an entrepreneur, owning one of the most lucrative and iconic sneaker companies in existence. Jordan’s own popularity helped to popularize the Jordan shoes into almost a collector’s item — people across the world wear Jordans. Fourth on Forbes' wealthiest American celebrities list directly above Jay-Z? Michael Jordan.
No comparison is perfect. However, the parallels between Ice Cube and Wilt Chamberlain and Jay-Z and Michael Jordan are easy to see. Their similarities are many, despite being from different worlds and working in different industries.