After a big season from Blake Griffin, the Detroit Pistons added a couple more big names with something to prove: Derrick Rose and Joe Johnson
LeBron James (and what’s left of) the Los Angeles Lakers stagger into Toronto on Thursday night to take on the Raptors. At this point, the Lakers have more of a realistic chance to land Zion Williamson than to make the playoffs, which takes much of the luster out of what was supposed to be a late-season meeting between two playoff-bound squads. Kawhi Leonard, Kyle Lowry, Marc Gasol and Pascal Siakam aim to keep Toronto within reach of the Milwaukee Bucks for the Eastern Conference’s top seed. And while it’s the longest of shots, Drake is always a subplot at courtside — although he’d have to jet over from Paris on his off day from his Assassination Vacation European tour to make it happen.
In addition to the fact that he announced today the OVO Athletic Centre, “the official training facility for the Toronto Raptors,” the Scorpion rapper has a multitude of reasons to hop on a Cessna and pull up to Scotiabank Arena. Drake has been the Raptors’ global ambassador since 2013, and he doesn’t pass up many opportunities to see his friend James up close and personal.
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Introducing the OVO Athletic Centre, the official training facility for the Toronto Raptors. just wanted to add that I am so proud of my brothers and so proud to be from this city I swear this one feels like a high school dream and it’s a blessing to be able to raise up the levels and make the human mind stretch when it comes to thinking about what is possible in your lifetime!! Much love to everyone involved
A post shared by champagnepapi (@champagnepapi) on Mar 14, 2019 at 8:25am PDT
Plus, Drake — who is currently sitting on Billboard’s pop singles charts for the 193rd (!) time, for his “Girls Need Love (Remix)” collaboration with Summer Walker — has long been a fountain of sports references and analogies. What we have here is a vault of those Drake sports lyrics. An anthology, if you will. The references span a range of sports, athletes and moments dating back well over a decade. This isn’t all the looks, but the best and the most of them. So grab a drink. Order some food. Spark up. Get comfortable. We’re going to be here for a while.
Below you’ll find 57 songs, in chronological order, dating to 2007’s Comeback Season up to the current day. Some you’ll remember. Some you’ve probably forgotten. And some you may have never known existed. What’s not up for question, though, is the power and legitimacy of Drake’s co-sign. “When your favorite rapper puts your name in a song,” 2014 NBA MVP Kevin Durant said, “it makes you feel like you made it.”
“Going In For Life” (2007)
If Hov is Jordan, I guess I’m cool with Pippen / ’Til I mention that I wanna play a new position / No team playin’, no screen settin’ / Because I wanna win games / Coach, I’m through assistin’ …
Less than two years before he became a household name, Drake’s sights were already set on rap’s pinnacle. And he knew how to get there: He’d have to look Jay-Z in the eyes. The two artists’ on-again, off-again friendly war of words/peacetime admiration has deep roots.
Drake feat. Lil Wayne — “Ignant S—” (2009)
The same n—a I ball with / I fall with/ On some southern drawl s— / Rookie of the Year / ’06, Chris Paul s— …
Chris Paul’s presence is felt throughout So Far Gone. He’s actually on the outro of the Lil Wayne and Santigold-assisted “Unstoppable.” Meanwhile, earlier on Gone, Drake calls his own shot, dubbing himself rap’s best newcomer — just like Paul, the former Wake Forest Demon Deacon, had been a few years beforehand in the NBA.
“Say What’s Real” (2009)
And to my city I’m the 2-3 …
Jordan or James — both apply here. Drake wasn’t the first musical artist to put Canada on the map; names such as Kardinal Offishall, Nelly Furtado and Tamia predate Aubrey Graham. That being said, it’s hard to say the notoriety and legacy Drake brings to his own city aren’t similar to the legacy of 23 in Chicago and Cleveland, both of whom are big fans of Toronto’s figurative 23.
“The Calm” (2009)
Tryna enjoy myself with Tez in Miami at the game / I just wish he knew how much it really weighed like Dwyane …
“You know,” Dwyane Wade told me last month in Miami, face beaming with pride, “I was on So Far Gone. That was so cool. That’s when I first heard of Drake.” Such is true, the landmark mixtape’s somber standout is the on-wax meeting of Drake and Wade.
Gucci Mane feat. Drake — “Believe It Or Not” (2009)
OK, I’m all about it, all for it / I’m All-Star Team Jordan, small forward / I’m never putting up a shot unless it calls for it / No hesitation so I’m shooting if I draw for it …
“9AM In Dallas” (2010)
I’m nervous / But I’ma kill it cause they ’bout to let the realest team in / Throwing up in the huddle, n—a, Willie Beamen / But still throwing touchdown passes/ In tortoise frame glasses hoping that someone catch it …
The first installment in Drake’s famed time/location series. Nearing the end of the decade, it’s fascinating to hear some of the anxiety and uncertainty in his lyrics. Who could’ve really predicted all of this?
Drake feat. Alicia Keys — “Fireworks” (2010)
I’m flying back home / For the Heritage Classic …
The first song on Drake’s first studio album, Thank Me Later, is positioned there for a reason. In the first verse of “Fireworks,” he goes into his fear that fame would eventually drive him and Lil Wayne apart. The second verse is about Rihanna. And the third verse focuses on the relationship with his parents and being the product of a divorced household separated by an international border. The Heritage Classic, by the way, began in 2003 and is one of the NHL’s storied outdoor regular-season games — in Canada.
“Thank Me Now” (2010)
And that’s around the time / That your idols become your rivals / You make friends with Mike / But gotta A.I. him for your survival / Damn, I swear sports and music are so synonymous / ’Cause we wanna be them / And they wanna be us …
One of Drake’s most popular and lasting lines speaks to how the cultures of sports and music have always been intertwined — tip your cap to Master P, who not only opened the door but also brought the marriage mainstream in the ’90s. Not a single lie was told.
“You Know, You Know” (2010)
Game time b—- I hope you’re proud of us / King James s— watch me throw the powder up …
Tell your girlfriend /That I can pull some f—ing strings / So we’re courtside / When LeBron get a f—ing ring …
Back when Drake and Kanye West were on speaking terms, they created this gem, which came with a duo of powerhouse LeBron references — it’s Drake’s most high-profile athlete friendship.
Nicki Minaj feat. Drake — “Moment 4 Life” (2010)
Young Money the Mafia that’s word to Lil’ Cease / I’m in the Dominican, Big Papi Ortiz …
Rick Ross feat. Chrisette Michele & Drake “Aston Martin Music” (2010)
Which one of y’all got fleets on your key chains? / The seats for these Heat games?
Drake, who originally played post-hook duties on Rick Ross’ “Aston Martin,” obviously had more to say as OVO’s top dog released his own verse called “Paris Morton Music” — dedicated to a model of the same name whom he ended up making two songs about. By the time the official video dropped, Ross made the executive decision to add Drake’s verse. Smart move. Also, sitting courtside during the Miami Heat’s “Big Three” era was the ultimate flex.
Rick Ross feat. “Made Men” (2011)
I’m in the condo posted watching Miami kill / I might just walk to the arena and watch it for real …
Yes, in case you haven’t caught on to the trend yet, we’re in the Miami Heat era of Drake’s career.
“Over My Dead Body” (2011)
Are these people really discussing my career again? / Asking if I’ll be going platinum in a year again / Don’t I got the s— the world wanna hear again? / Don’t Michael Jordan still got his hoop earring in?
This picture, taken in 2011, actually does feature Michael Jordan rocking a hoop earring. There’s your answer(s).
“Under ground Kings” (2011)
I swear it’s been two years since somebody asked me who I was / I’m the greatest man / I said that before I knew I was …
You might’ve heard someone say that before. Rest in peace, Muhammad Ali.
“The Ride” (2011)
I’m out here messing over the lives of these n—as / That couldn’t fuck with my freshman floater …
There’s an argument to be made that “The Ride” is a top-three Drake song, ever. I am more than willing to have that discussion. Just not on social media.
Drake feat. Tyga & Lil Wayne — “The Motto” (2011)
My team good, we don’t really need a mascot / Tell Tune, “Light one, pass it like a relay” / YMCMB, you n—as more YMCA …
Rick Ross feat. French Montana & Drake — “Stay Schemin’” (2012)
Kobe ’bout to lose $150M’s / Kobe my n—a, I hate it had to be him / B—- you wasn’t with me shootin’ in the gym (B—- you wasn’t with me shootin’ in the gym!)
For as popular as this line became — and it was extremely popular around the time that rumors were rampant that Kobe Bryant and his wife were barreling toward divorce — the misogyny in the lines is something Drake grew to regret. Bryant’s wife, Vanessa, was none too pleased, especially as the lyric became a true cultural moment.
“I love when immature kids quote a rapper that has never been friends with Kobe and knows nothing about our relationship,” Vanessa Bryant shot back. “I don’t need to be in the gym. I’m raising our daughters, signing checks and taking care of everything else that pertains to our home life.” She wasn’t done. “I really wish people would stop, think and then realize that they are being sucked into someone’s clear intention to monetize and gain attention off of our family’s heartache. This is real life. I hold down our home life so my husband can focus on his career. It’s a partnership.”
Bench players talking like starters / I hate it …
I’ve reached heights that even Dwight Howard couldn’t reach …
The Howard comment is true. Drake and Howard were young superstars at one point, but the two have seen their careers veer in different directions over the past eight years. But the bench players and starters bar? A critique very applicable in so many walks of life. We’ll just leave it at that.
DJ Khaled feat. Drake, Rick Ross & Lil Wayne — “No New Friends” (2013)
H-Town my second home like I’m James Harden / Money counter go *brrr* when you sellin’ out the Garden …
Since we’re on the topic, earlier this season, reigning NBA MVP James Harden dropped a career-high 61 points on the New York Knicks in Madison Square Garden. The mark tied with Bryant for the most points scored by an opponent vs. the Knicks.
PARTYNEXTDOOR feat. Drake — “Over Here” (2013)
I’m back boy for real / I’m that boy for real / I got hits, n—a / You just a bat boy for real …
This one doesn’t normally get mentioned when Drake’s best guest verses are debated. But it should.
“5AM In Toronto” (2013)
Some n—a been here for a couple / Never been here again / I’m on my King James s— / I’m tryin’ to win here again …
A lot has been made of Drake’s supposed sports curse. But here’s one instance where Drake hit the nail on the head in an installment of his time/location series. This song was released in March 2013, and the Heat went on to repeat as NBA champions in a thrilling seven-game series against the San Antonio Spurs three months later. As for the aforementioned James, he secured his second consecutive Finals MVP award as well with a 37-point, 12-rebound (and game-icing jumper) virtuoso performance in Game 7.
French Montana feat. Rick Ross, Drake & Lil Wayne — “Pop That” (2013)
OVO, that’s major s— / Toronto with me that’s mayor s— / Gettin’ cheddar packs like KD / OKC, that’s player s— …
It’s 2019, so it’s not a stretch to proclaim this now. **plants flag** You’d be hard-pressed to find many better party anthems of the 2010s.
“Furthest Thing” (2013)
I had to Derrick Rose the knee up ’fore I got the re-up …
Drake, like former NBA MVP Rose, had his own very public stint of injuries. The artist embarked on his America’s Most Wanted tour in 2009 with a torn ACL, MCL and LCL. Drake fell and reinjured his leg again at a performance in Camden, New Jersey. The diagnosis from Lil Wayne (who actually does have a song called “Dr. Carter”), saw it happen firsthand: “That n—a really got a bad leg.”
“Worst Behavior” (2013)
I’m with my whole set, tennis matches at the crib / I swear I could beat Serena when she playin’ with her left …
Outrageous boasts and hip-hop go together like Nick Cannon and paychecks. But, yeah … no. Sounded good, though. No denying that.
“0 to 100 / The Catch Up” (2014)
Been cookin’ with sauce / Chef Curry with the pot, boy / 360 on the wrist, boy / Who the f— them n—as is, boy …
F— all that rap-to-pay-your-bills s— / Yeah, I’m on some Raptors-pay-my-bills s— …
No need for an apology to the wife of an NBA superstar this time around. This is the song that ignited Drake’s short-lived beef (over beats) with Diddy and also gave credence and aura to the nickname “Chef Curry” — which Stephen and Ayesha Curry both parlayed, on and off the court. For context, Ayesha Curry’s already on her third International Smoke restaurant.
Nicki Minaj feat. Chris Brown, Drake & Lil Wayne: “Only” (2014)
Oh, yeah, you the man in the city when the mayor f— with you / The NBA players f— with you / The badass b— doing makeup and hair f— with you …
No shade at all for this next sentence. But Minaj could really use a single like this in 2019.
“Draft Day” (2014)
Draft day, Johnny Manziel / Five years later, how am I the man still?
Well, Drake can still attest to being a marquee attraction a half-decade later. Johnny Football? Not so much. Manziel, to whom the song was dedicated (and who is mentioned by 2 Chainz in his new song “NCAA”), was an incredibly hyped NFL rookie at the time. A Heisman Trophy winner from Texas A&M, Manziel was undeniably one of the most popular, and controversial athletes of his generation. Manziel spiraled out of the NFL after two years with underwhelming play on the field. And just last month, Manziel was kicked out of the Canadian Football League.
“10 Bands” (2015)
I get boxes of free Jordans like I played at North Carolina / How much I make off the deal? / How the f— should I know?
In terms of Cocky Drake, consider this one of his best bars to date. You can feel the disgust in his voice.
“6 Man” (2015)
Boomin’ out in South Gwinnett like Lou Will / 6 man like Lou Will / Two girls and they get along like I’m … (Louuu) Like I’m Lou Will / I just got the new deal …”
It’s time we put Lou Williams in the conversation of all-time great sixth men, if we haven’t already. But while this line immortalized Williams, the NBA’s new all-time leading scorer off the bench and a rapper himself, he played it cool with his response to Sports Illustrated’s Lee Jenkins. “I hear about it every day. Every single day,” he said. “More players do that than you know. I was just the first person to have it mentioned in a song.” Somehow, that’s not surprising. Like, at all.
“6PM In New York” (2015)
Every shot you see them take at me they all contested / Allen Iverson shoe deal / These n—as all in question …
Given all the athletes Drake has referenced over the years, it’s low-key wild that he hasn’t mentioned Iverson more. But both entries on this list (see above) are definitely impressive.
Fetty Wap feat. Drake — “My Way” (Remix) (2015)
They should call me James / ’Cause I’m going hard in this b—- …
What’s true: This was one of the biggest records of that year and a day party mainstay. What’s also true: It’s far more fun to drunkenly recite than it is impressive to just read on the screen.
Meek Mill feat. Drake — “R.I.C.O.” (2015)
OVO, East End, Reps Up, we just might get hit with the R.I.C.O. / Everyone home for the summer, so let’s not do nothing illegal / I go make $50 million then I give some millions to my people / They gon’ go Tony Montana and cop them some Shaq at the free throws …
Drake and Mill’s beef, which started almost immediately after the release of this song in the summer of 2015, dented both careers. But perhaps one of the most innocent bystanders was this song — it never received the video and push it more than deserved.
“Charged Up” (2015)
Come live all your dreams out at OVO / We gon’ make sure you get your bread and know the ropes / I get a ring and I bring it home like I’m Cory Joe …
Cory Joe is, of course, Cory Joseph, the Toronto native who won the 2014 NBA title with the San Antonio Spurs and later signed with his hometown Raptors. But when you think about it, this wasn’t the first time a Spur found himself smack-dab in the middle of a high-profile Drake beef.
“Back To Back” (2015)
Back to back for the n—as that didn’t get the message / Back to back, like I’m on the cover of Lethal Weapon / Back to back, like I’m Jordan ’96, ’97, whoa!
It was never confirmed whether this video of Jordan dancing (exactly how you’d expect Jordan to dance) to “Back to Back” was real. But it does go to show how deeply the Meek beef permeated pop culture.
Future & Drake — “Big Rings” (2015)
This game is different / You only get one shot when n—as gon foul on you …
With the Meek beef still very much on the minds of everyone, Drake continued to take the reins of the narrative by teaming up with Future for a collaborative album. While Drake’s presence was felt on 10 of the 11 tracks, the lingering effects of his fallout with Meek, and the ghostwriting accusations that haunted him, resonated within Drake’s aggression.
Future & Drake — “Scholarships” (2015)
I’m ballin’ outta control, keep on receiving the scholarships / Mail coming to the house / N—a please watch your mouth / I’m the one without a doubt, yeah / And I rock Kentucky blue on these hoes / Drafted, I’m getting choose by these hoes …
No matter how many No. 1 hits he amasses, Drake still has to redeem himself from this moment while wearing said Kentucky blue.
Future & Drake — “Jumpman” (2015)
I hit the Ginobili with my left hand up like, “Woo!”
Jumpman, Jumpman, Jumpman, f— was you expecting? (woo!) / Chi-Town, Chi-Town Michael Jordan just said text me (woo!)
Jumpman, Jumpman, live on TNT I’m flexing (ooh!) / Jumpman, Jumpman they gave me my own collection (ooh!) … Mutombo with the b—-es, you keep getting rejected (woo!)
If nothing else, there should at least have been a video for this project. Nike could’ve fronted the budget and just made it an informal infomercial.
“30 For 30 Freestyle” (2015)
S— is purely for sport, I need a 30 for 30 / Banners are ready in case we need to retire your jersey / I got a club in the Raptors arena / Championship celebrations during …
Peyton and Eli when n—as called me they brother the season start / And I don’t wanna see you end up with nothing / Y’all throw the word “Family” around too much in discussion / Rookie season, I would’ve never thought this was coming / They knees give out and they passing to you all of a sudden / Now you the one getting buckets …
With a title such as this one, there had to be a slew of sports-related lyrics.
“Summer Sixteen” (2016)
And I blame my day ones / You know Chubbs like Draymond …
Golden State running practice at my house …
Yes, now we’ve entered the Golden State portion of Drake’s discography. And no one was more appreciative than Draymond Green, who views his mention as a career-defining moment.
“Weston Road Flows” (2016)
A lot of people just hit me up when my name is mentioned / Shout out to KD, we relate / We get the same attention / It’s raining money, Oklahoma City Thunder / The most successful rapper 35 and under / I’m assuming everybody’s 35 and under / That’s when I plan to retire, man, it’s already funded …
I used to hit the corner store to get Tahiti Treat / Now the talk at the corner store is I’m TBE / The best ever, don’t ever question, you know better …
Drake gives a nod to Floyd Mayweather Jr. with the TBE nod. But it’s Drake’s Kevin Durant mention that raises the most eyebrows. Perhaps Drake knows something we don’t? He and KD are close, and the impending megastar free agent has long called Drake his favorite rapper. The two-time NBA champion revealed last June that he could realistically, as Drake says of himself, envision himself retiring at 35. “This game, your craft, you have to continue studying,” Durant said. “No matter how much you enjoy it, nobody wants to be in school that long. I know I don’t. At some point, you have to be ready to graduate. Thirty-five, that’s just a number in my mind.”
“Still Here” (2016)
I gotta talk to God even though he isn’t near me / Based on what I got, it’s hard to think that he don’t hear me / Hittin’ like that 30 on my jersey, man, I’m gifted …
Conversations with God. Comparing himself to the greatest shooter who ever lived. Drake’s confidence was higher than telephone wires.
“Pop Style” (2016)
MVP, MVP, ’09 all the way to ’16 / Even next season looking like a breeze / Lot of y’all ain’t built for the league …
Drake wasn’t the MVP every year from 2009-16, but he was certainly in the conversation. “Pop Style” also rings off in concerts something serious.
Me and Niko used to plot on how to make a change / Now me and Kobe doin’ shots the night before the game / Still drop 40 with liquor in my system …
This was when we received confirmation Drake and the Bryant family were still cool. Drake and Kobe, at least.
YG feat. Drake — “Why You Always Hatin?” (2016)
I’m a star like Moesha’s n—a / Runnin’ up the numbers like Ayesha’s n—a …
A subtle Fredro Starr mention here. And Ayesha Curry’s husband was for sure running up the numbers in 2016. That was the year he become the only unanimous MVP in NBA history. Speaking of Steph …
“4PM In Calabasas” (2016)
We established like the Yankees / This whole f—ing game thankless …
OVO, the rap game Bronx Bombers? Drake thought so, even if the industry would never acknowledge it as such. Regardless, “4PM” remains one of Drake’s sharpest cuts, with a tidal wave’s worth of Diddy disses throughout.
“Free Smoke” (2017)
I took the team plane from Oracle / Mama never used to cook much / Used to chef KD / Now me and Chef, KD / Bet on shots for 20 G’s …
Drake albums are always a big cultural event from coast to coast. Needless to say, in 2017, this song was anything but a fan favorite in the Cleveland area. Especially in Quicken Loans Arena.
“Fake Love” (2017)
Soon as s— gets outta reach / I reach back like 1-3 …
To date, this remains the lone Odell Beckham Jr. reference in Drake’s catalog. And that’s a wild stat, given their very public bromance.
Lil Wayne feat. Drake — “Family Feud” (2017)
Super Bowl goals, I’m at the crib with Puff / He got Kaepernick on the phone / He in a whole different mode …
An oft-forgotten collab between Drake and Lil Wayne. It was also one of the earliest nods to the fact that Drake and Meek were, behind the scenes, putting bad blood behind them even as Meek sat in prison. I need my paper long like “A Milli” verse / Or too long like a sentence from a Philly judge, he rhymed. F— is the point in all the beefin’ when we really blood?
“Diplomatic Immunity” (2018)
’Cause n—as started talkin’ to me like I’m slowin’ down / Opinions over statistics, of course …
Like Sanders on the Detroit Lions/ Get a run around and I’ll bury you where they won’t find ya …
This is a hard track Drake dropped at the start of 2018 along with the Grammy-winning “God’s Plan.” Both songs were a welcome change of pace, his first new ones since dropping More Life almost a year earlier. But for as tough as Drake’s “Diplomatic Immunity” is, the above phraseology will always belong to the royal family of Harlem. Not even Drake can overtake that.
I just took it left like I’m ambidex’ / B—-, I move through London with the Eurostep (Two) / Got a sneaker deal and I ain’t break a sweat / Catch me ’cause I’m goin’ (Outta there, I’m gone) / How I go from 6 to 23 like I’m LeBron?
Money for revenge, man, that’s hardly an expense / Al Haymon checks off of all of my events / I like all the profit, man, I hardly do percents …
While never confirmed, it is widely speculated that the “revenge” line is confirmation of Pusha T’s suspicion that Drake was offering money for dirt on him. Regardless, “Nonstop” peaked at No. 2 on the Billboard’s Hot 100. But it’s unclear how many people who chant the “6 to 23” line understand its real meaning. Drake’s from Toronto, which he calls “the 6.” Drake’s got his own sneaker deal — just like No. 23 for the Lakers.
“8 Out of 10” (2018)
Miss makin’ ’em pay / Helipad from Will Smith crib straight to the stage / Three Forum shows, but I played Staples today …
All in a day’s work.
“Mob Ties” (2018)
Lead the league in scoring, but man look at my assists …
Lightly similar to Jay-Z’s High school crossover, waved away picks / Music is the same s—, gave away hits from 2000’s “Best of Me” (remix). Somewhere, on the slim chance he’s even aware the line exists, NBA great Nate “Tiny” Archibald is smiling. He was living that same life during the 1972-73 season with the Kansas City-Omaha Kings when he led the league in scoring (34) and assists (11.4). That’s the only time in league history that’s happened.
“Sandra’s Rose” (2018)
They don’t have enough to satisfy a real one / Maverick Carter couldn’t even get the deal done …
Louisville hush money for my young gunners / Rick Pitino, I take ’em to strip clubs and casinos …
Just when Rick Pitino maybe thought the Adidas pay-for-play scandal that got him ousted as head coach at Louisville was in the rearview mirror, here comes a mention on the most streamed album of 2018.
Drake feat. Jay-Z — “Talk Up” (2018)
This isn’t that, can’t be ignoring the stats / Based off of that, they gotta run me the max / They gotta run me the max / They gotta double the racks …
In other words, the mindstate of every big-name free agent this spring or summer, from Le’Veon Bell to Kevin Durant to Kyrie Irving and others. Look what knowing your worth did for Bryce Harper: $330 million later, he’s set for life.
Drake feat. Future — “Blue Tint” (2018)
Way this s— set up, I live like Ronaldo / But I never been in Madrid, whoa …
It’s impossible to believe Drake has never been to Madrid, considering he’s toured the world several times over. Not exactly the thing I was expecting to have in common with Drake, but alas.
Lil Baby feat. Drake — “Yes Indeed” (2018)
My cousins are crazy / My cousins like Boogie / Life is amazing / It is what it should be / Been here for 10, but I feel like a rookie …
One of the most popular Instagram captions of the past year. Going back through the list, too, it appears the only Golden State Warrior who hasn’t been name-dropped in a song by Drake is Klay Thompson.
“Fire In The Booth” (2018)
El chico, this verse is the explanation for the large ego / $100 mil’ hands free like Ronaldinho …
Click the link to the song. How Charlie Sloth didn’t blow a vein in his neck is both a blessing and scary.
OAKLAND, CALIFORNIA — “Are you surprised to be here?”
As reporters filed onto the hardwood at Oracle Arena, approximately 30 hours before tipoff of Game 1 of the 2018 NBA Finals, almost every player donning a Cleveland Cavaliers practice jersey fielded some form of the above question. Implication being: If your name isn’t LeBron James, who’s rightfully credited for carrying the Cavs back to basketball’s biggest stage, you should be surprised.
They’re a motley crew, but they’re here. The starting five includes the seasoned George Hill, who was selected 26th overall in the 2008 draft. There’s also of course the swaggy J.R. Smith, an NBA Sixth Man of the Year in 2013. Toronto’s very own Tristan Thompson, who’s perhaps too well-known for his relationship with Khloe Kardashian. And the five-time All-Star, yet injury-riddled, Kevin Love. This group is flanked by Meridian, Mississippi, native Rodney Hood, Jordan Clarkson, the fiery 2014 second-round pick out of the University of Missouri, and Jeff Green, who went through open heart surgery in January 2012 while a member of the Boston Celtics.
They’ve all heard all the noise about the King’s so-called lack of help from them this postseason. But when the question was posed — Are you surprised to be here? — Hood took still took a long pause before arriving at a calculated answer.
“Because I’m playing with LeBron … no,” said Hood, whom Cleveland acquired as part of a blockbuster day of deals at February’s trade deadline. On that day, the Cavs also landed Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr. from the Los Angeles Lakers, and George Hill from the Sacramento Kings, while moving on from All-Star veterans Derrick Rose, Isaiah Thomas and Dwyane Wade, as well as roleplayers Jae Crowder, Channing Frye and Iman Shumpert. “LeBron,” Hood continued, “he runs the East. He’s going to get to the Finals.”
This has been the narrative. That James has gotten Cleveland to the final series of the 2018 season, and has done so essentially single-handedly. Just look at the numbers: James’ 612 playoff points —an average of 34.0 points per game, with seven 40-plus-point performances and two game-winning shots — are the most by any player in a single postseason before a Finals in NBA history. Aside from James, there’s just one more Cavs player — Love, the team’s only other All-Star — averaging double-digit points. Fellow Cavs Hill and Kyle Korver are just shy of the mark with averages of 9.7 and 9.8 points per game, respectively. And not until the Eastern Conference semifinals — eight games, and two series, into Cleveland’s postseason run — did one of James’ teammates score 20 or more points. It was J.R. Smith, with 20 in a 113-112 overtime Game 1 win over the Toronto Raptors on May 1.
“Sometimes you catch yourself watching [LeBron] in the game … He’s making play after play after play, scoring buckets,” Clarkson said. “And you forget that he’s a human being. He gets tired like the rest of us. So we’re trying to do our jobs — and do it the best we can.”
James hasn’t been in this position for quite some time. The group of Cavs he leads into the 2018 Finals is a far cry from the championship-contending rosters of his days as part of the Miami Heat’s Big 3, with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, from 2010 to 2014. This team also pales in comparison to the one that overcame a 3-1 deficit against the Warriors in 2016 to bring the city of Cleveland its first championship in 52 years. And even last year’s squad, which fell in the Finals to Golden State, 4-1, had Kyrie Irving, who was traded to the Boston Celtics last offseason. There’s little doubt that is the least heralded supporting cast James has reached the Finals with since his first trip in 2007. So how did Cleveland even get there? That’s simple. On the back of their leader — though he doesn’t want all the credit.
“I know I get a lot of the headlines,” said James in a heartfelt interview during the Eastern Conference finals trophy presentation. “Win, lose or draw, whatever the case may be, but in order to be successful, it’s a team game … You get all the doubters and people who’ve never stepped into an arena, who’ve never played basketball, who’ve never put on a tank top and shorts, who’ve never played anything organized — [they] always wanna try to kill my teammates. And it’s unfair to them, but I’m always gonna stay true to the game of basketball because the game of basketball always stayed true to me. That’s why we’re going to another Finals, because of my teammates.”
“It’s dope to hear your leader commend you on how you’ve been doing,” said Clarkson of the moment. “People bash us all the time. It is what it is. But we’re out here competing, lacing them up every day just like everybody else. Shoot, if people got something to say, they can lace ‘em up with us, get on the court and see what’s happening with us.
Even the Golden State Warriors — from their star player up to the team’s front office — have been called upon to weigh in about the prospect of the Cavs as a one-man team. “I hate when people say that,” said Stephen Curry before Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals. Warriors general manager Bob Myers spoke about it, too. “Any team that’s here deserves to be here,” Myers said before Game 1 of the Finals. “I don’t view it as any type of one-man show. The Cavs are a very good team.” Yet the players surrounding the best hooper on the planet have also had to defend themselves. When the questions were hurled at Hill, he didn’t sugarcoat his feelings.
“He feels for us, night in and night out,” Hill said. “No one gives the supporting cast credit, because you may go 2-for-5 and only have four points. But no one sees you playing defense, no one sees guys coming in for six minutes, and playing a hard six minutes. No one sees the guy that may only play three minutes but had a big stop and dove on the floor and got a charge. All those possessions matter. All those little things matter. If he’s out there by himself, he wouldn’t be in the position he is…I’m sure he’s tired of people throwing shots at his teammates, just like I’m sure we’re tired of people throwing shots at us.”
After Hill and the Cavs wrapped up interviews, Cleveland took the court at Oracle for one of their final pre-Finals practices. Head coach Tyronn Lue brought his team into the middle of the floor, while James spent a few moments alone, getting up extra shots from the 3-point line. Soon he’d join the scrum, and each player and coach raised a hand. In unison, on the count of three, they all recited one word: “Together.”
The 2018 NBA draft lottery takes place Tuesday night. It’s a loaded class. And while 15 years ago, the lottery wasn’t the grandiose event it is now, a season of draft positioning (also known as tanking) on the part of some teams made the May 22, 2003, NBA draft lottery must-see TV. What happened that night, in many ways, set in motion the NBA we enjoy today. But what could have been? If a single pingpong ball had gone this way, or a front office decision had gone that way? This is NBA’s equivalent of The Butterfly Effect.
Denver Nuggets owner Stan Kroenke knew it was the kiss of death. Like any other NBA executive in 2003, Kroenke coveted 18-year-old high school demigod LeBron James. And the Nuggets, having gone 17-65 in the 2002-03 season, were very much in play for the man Sports Illustrated famously dubbed “The Chosen One.” The Nuggets won the draft lottery. They landed the No. 1 pick. Except there was a catch. This was the rehearsal that was filmed before the live show.
Kroenke, in Secaucus, New Jersey, was beside himself. There’s no way lightning would strike again, when the draft lottery went live later that night. And while Kroenke stewed in Jersey, LeBron James, Aaron Goodwin — James’ agent from 2003-05 — and a host of family and friends celebrated the impending reality of James’ professional career in a Cleveland Hilton.
“We just waited to officially hear [who got the No. 1 pick] and kept partying,” said Goodwin 15 years later. “LeBron was in another room. I was on the phone. I don’t think there was any tension or worry about where he would go.” James was the belle of the ball. But he wasn’t the only future Hall of Fame name associated with the Class of 2003. Had things gone differently for two of his closest friends, the trophy case for the band of brothers affectionately known as the Banana Boat Crew would look very different.
What if the mock drafts held true, and the Miami Heat passed on Dwyane Wade?
Clippers. Wizards. Warriors. Bulls — these were the teams several mock drafts forecast for Dwyane Wade. Many thought the Heat would select a big man like Central Michigan’s Chris Kaman, or Maciej Lampe of Poland. Wade, despite one of the most memorable March Madness runs ever, was viewed as middle-of-the-pack talent. An undersized two-guard with an inconsistent shot — both assessments that ring true to this day. Very few, outside of Miami, saw the game-changing possibilities Wade would bring. And even fewer saw could foresee that the Marquette star would become the third greatest two of all time (behind Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant). There’s a Pandora’s box of possibilities — if Wade never lands in the 305.
Where does Shaquille O’Neal eventually land when he’s traded in the summer of 2004 if he doesn’t go to Miami? Where does Derrick Rose go in 2008 assuming the Bulls aren’t around with the No. 1 overall pick? Where does James go in 2010 if Wade’s not in Miami? Does he switch teams in his division, still join Wade and chase Jordan’s ghost while playing under the banners Jordan helped corral in Chicago? Or does he land in New York? Or does he never leave Cleveland in the first place? The questions we’ll never know the answer to are always the most fascinating.
How much differently is Carmelo Anthony’s career viewed if he goes No. 2 to Detroit?
This is, by far, the most-asked question from the 2003 draft. As it stands today, Carmelo Anthony is a future Hall of Famer. He has a national championship to his name and, with just one season at Syracuse is one of the more revered college players of all time. He’s Top 20 all-time in points scored — and the other 19 are all in Springfield or will eventually be. But the shortcomings of his career are unavoidable, and are capped off with a disappointing inaugural season in Oklahoma City. He’s only been to one conference finals (2009) and his era in New York was one filled with internal strife and just three playoff appearances in seven years.
Heading into the ‘03 draft, the top three was basically set in stone. James to Cleveland, Darko Milicic (who had the league captivated with his mysterious potential) to Detroit and Anthony to Denver. For a decade and a half, every basketball fan has wondered once or a million times: What if Joe Dumars and the Pistons went with Anthony instead of Milicic? It’s also one of the great regrets of Anthony‘s, too. “I was a little bit disappointed,” Anthony said. “I really wanted to go to Detroit. You had Chauncey, you had all those guys over there … Detroit, they had something going.”
Anthony around Detroit’s veteran leadership, on top of instantly being the best one-on-one player on the Pistons in 2003-04 makes for an interesting dynamic. Whatever defensive shortcomings he had would’ve been masked by bringing a devastating defensive force like Tayshaun Prince off the bench. The makings of a potential James-Carmelo rivalry, in the same division, would have produced a plethora of 2000s classic games. Not to mention: How would a young Anthony have influenced key series losses such as the 2005 Finals to San Antonio, 2006 Eastern Conference finals to Miami and the landscape-changing 2007 Eastern Conference finals to Cleveland? The Detroit what-ifs of Carmelo’s career remain infinite 15 years later.
How did Otis Thorpe play a role in two of the three biggest drafts in NBA history?
The Houston Rockets second consecutive title in 1995? (Partially) thank Otis Thorpe for that. The veteran power forward was traded by H-Town along with Tracy Murray to the Portland Trail Blazers in return for future Hall of Famer Clyde Drexler.
Two years later, Thorpe was involved in another trade that, at the time, barely made headlines. Thorpe and Detroit Pistons head coach Doug Collins had a strained relationship during their time together in the mid-’90s. In August 1997, the then-Vancouver Grizzlies traded for the 35-year-old Thorpe, giving up a protected first-round pick between the years 1998 and 2003. The pick came with protections and stipulations. By 2003, the Grizzlies were between a proverbial rock and hard place. The only way they could keep their draft pick is if they somehow landed the No. 1 overall pick.
There’s heartbreak and then there’s having to experience it on national television. The legendary Jerry West joined the Grizzlies in 2002 as the team’s president of basketball operations — meaning he inherited the Thorpe trade. West landed Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant in Los Angeles the summer of 1996. He was thisclose to drafting James in Memphis, had the pingpong balls fallen in his favor. Look at West’s face when he realizes his franchise missed James by a single pick. If “this is some bulls—” ever had a face, it’s Jerry West on the night of May 22, 2003. “I hate the lottery; I think it’s a terrible thing,” West said in 2013. “And I say that knowing it has worked reasonably well.” Can you really blame West for being salty?
On a related note, Thorpe played a role in two of the three most storied drafts in NBA history. He was selected ninth overall in 1984 in a draft that featured Jordan, Hakeem Olajuwon, Charles Barkley and John Stockton. And a random 1997 trade featuring Thorpe directly impacted the 2003 draft and so everything that’s happening in pro basketball today.
What if James began his career in the Western Conference?
James in the Eastern Conference — it’s all the basketball he knows. Depending on the decision he makes this summer, it may be all we ever know. But as mentioned, James nearly began out west. Two of the top three picks in the ‘03 draft were from Western Conference squads in Memphis and Denver. Both made the playoffs in James’ rookie year.
How would The King have looked on the Grizzlies or Nuggets 15 years ago? Memphis would’ve paired him with a young Pau Gasol, his future teammates Shane Battier and Mike Miller, Bonzi Wells and Jason Williams. Also, imagine a young James learning under Hubie Brown in Memphis. Goodwin never really anticipated Memphis landing the first pick. “If that would’ve happened, we would’ve turned Memphis into a great market,” sadi Goodwin. “And they’d have at least two championships by now.”
Denver, on the other hand, boasted another future teammate in Chris Andersen, as well as Marcus Camby, Andre Miller, Voshon Lenard and Nene with current Houston Rockets assistant coach Jeff Bzdelik manning the sidelines.
James battling his way through a Western Conference with the likes of the San Antonio Spurs, Dallas Mavericks, Rockets and Phoenix Suns are heavyweight parallel universe matchups. Perhaps most intriguing, though, is that we would have eventually landed a James vs. Kobe Bryant series — the one matchup a league filled with stars could never make happen on its biggest stages. It’s tough to imagine a series more anticipated, debated and fawned over than a seven-game Western Conference finals featuring its two most polarizing names.
Who would win in a one-on-one between Michael Jordan and LeBron James? Could these Golden State Warriors beat the 72-10 Chicago Bulls? How many more titles could Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant have won if they actually liked each other? What if injuries never robbed the careers of Penny Hardaway, Grant Hill, Brandon Roy and Derrick Rose? There’s nothing quite like nostalgia. And when it comes to nostalgia in basketball, friendships are tested, battle lines are drawn and some of the hottest takes known to man fly off without a moment’s notice.
With the NBA playoffs set to take flight this weekend, we’ve decided to bring another completely impossible yet intriguing matchup only feasible in a basketball fantasy land.
The best to ever do it on television, vs. on film. We kept this to purely fictional players. NBA players in TV or film roles were not eligible, because what fun would that be? For example, no Jesus Shuttlesworth (Ray Allen) from He Got Game, no Grandmama (Larry Johnson) from Family Matters or Neon Boudeaux and Butch McRae (O’Neal and Hardaway) from Blue Chips. Don’t trip, though, because there’s a melody of skill, charisma and enough comedy to give you flashbacks to the days of MTV Rock N’ Jock. This is a mini-draft equipped with a starting five, a sixth player and head coach. We’ll then let you decide who’d win this fictional Finals. Our own Justin Tinsley has television and Aaron Dodson has movies.
Those are the rules. We good? Good. Now let’s get to it …
“Will Smith” (Will Smith)
The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air
Scouting Report: We’re always left to wonder what would’ve become of the Will character had he landed the Georgetown scholarship, completing the most feared college backcourt ensemble in history with Allen Iverson, Victor Page and Kyle Lee Watson. Smith’s a big combo guard who can score at will (pun intended). There are very few holes in The Fresh Prince’s game — except for one. Several general managers have expressed concern for his decision-making in crunch time, evident in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air’s Courting Disaster” (season one, episode 11) and My Brother’s Keeper (season two, episode 15). Is he the cold-blooded killer you need in the game’s tightest moments? Even with that, The Prince is a franchise-caliber talent.
Steve Urkel (Jaleel White)
Scouting Report: In the “Grandmama” episode — season five, episode seven — Eddie Winslow dumped Urkel to play with The Spider, which allowed Urkel to call in reinforcements with Larry Johnson as “Grandmama.” To Eddie’s credit, Spider was nice. But we’re not making the same mistake, as The Nerd’s game is both technically sound and visually appealing.
Brandi (Kyla Pratt)
Scouting Report: The year 1998 was a rather definitive one for Kyla Pratt, basketballwise. Not only did she play a young Monica Wright in Love & Basketball, giving young Quincy McCall the business on the court, but months later in “She Got Game” — season three, episode one of Smart Guy — she did the same thing, minus TJ (Tahj Mowry) pushing her into the bushes. “Brandi,” after some persuading, joins TJ’s squad, instantly transforming the team and supplanting TJ as the squad’s best player. Instant offense. Instant culture change. Instant winner with a chip on her shoulder.
Mark Cooper (Mark Curry)
Hangin’ with Mr. Cooper
Scouting Report: The Mr. Cooper character has two things working for him that no one else on this squad does. One, he’s a former NBA player (for his hometown Golden State Warriors). And two, he brings a certain maturity level this team is going to need if we’re hoping to make any sort of noise.
Real Husbands of Hollywood
Scouting Report: Technically, Kevin wasn’t a hooper on Real Husbands of Hollywood. But as a four-time NBA Celebrity All-Star Game MVP (and co-star of a hilarious basketball game with Chris Brown), he’s my ringer. We’re going to be running a small-ball lineup much of the time, so we’re going to need as many ball handlers, shooters and comedians as possible. Basically, call it The Annexation of Puerto Rico 2.0.
Sixth man: Martin Payne (Martin Lawrence)
Scouting Report: He’s an undersized 2-guard whose confidence is nothing short of irrational. But that’s fine. Payne is a defibrillator jolt of energy off the bench. He’s never met a shot he didn’t like. He doesn’t mind mixing it and jawing with the competition. And since he’s the classic definition of a streaky shooter, you take the good with the bad. He’s basically J.R. Smith with Gary Payton’s mentality. The only question mark to his game is where his head’s at before tipoff. If he and Gina — or worse, he and Pam — got into an argument beforehand (which is like saying “if water is wet”) he can easily shoot you out of a game as quickly as he can hit three miracle buckets in a row.
Coach: Avon Barksdale (Wood Harris)
Scouting Report: This squad is going to need a no-nonsense general on the sidelines who can occasionally verbally decapitate a referee who misses a call — as seen in the brilliant “Game Day” episode from season one. The reports are true, though. I nearly went with Prop Joe, whose commitment to being the dope-game Pat Riley wearing a suit in Baltimore heat was only superseded by the iconic line “Look the part, be the part, m—-f—–!” But then that’d mean Joe’s nephew, “Cheese” (Method Man), would be somewhere near the team. And I can’t have Cheese near my squad. Nope. No how. No way.
Calvin Cambridge (Shad “Bow Wow” Moss)
Scouting Report: There’s one rule for my squad: no team sneakers. Every player has the free rein to break out whatever heat they so choose, especially the young god Calvin Cambridge. He’ll be wearing a pair of white and Carolina blue Nike Blazers, which used to belong to Michael Jordan when he was a kid, giving him the ability to ball out like the greatest of all time. The kicks even allow Calvin — at a modest 4 feet 8 inches — to dunk the ball (in Like Mike, he won the 2002 NBA Slam Dunk Contest). Who needs a point guard with fundamentals when you’ve got one with shoes that have magical powers zapped into them by lightning?
Monica Wright (Sanaa Lathan)
Love & Basketball
Scouting Report: Sorry, Quincy McCall, but you didn’t make the team. That’s because his childhood sweetheart, Monica Wright, was without a doubt a better hooper in 2000’s Love & Basketball, one of the most iconic black films of all time. Remember the movie’s timeless line? “All’s fair in love and basketball.” Well, what isn’t there to love about Monica’s game? She’s an athletic point guard who plays with a whole lotta swag. Just look at her No. 32 jersey, which she wears in honor of her favorite player, Los Angeles Lakers legend Magic Johnson. Her character also earned a starting job at USC as a freshman, won a championship overseas and became one of the WNBA’s first players. We need that pedigree in our backcourt.
Kyle Lee Watson (Duane Martin)
Above the Rim
Scouting Report: Yup, we’re employing a three-guard offense — and we’re running it through the sharpshooting Kyle Lee Watson. The at-times hotheaded baller made it out of the ’hood of Harlem, New York, and all the way to the Hilltop in Washington, D.C., at Georgetown University, where he played in the 1990s for what was once known as black America’s basketball team, under John Thompson Jr., the first African-American head coach to win an NCAA title. We just gotta hope that when he gets the rock, he spreads his fingers and puts some rotation on his jumper.
Clarence Withers, aka Coffee Black (Andre 3000)
Scouting Report: Back in 1976, during an ABA game between the San Antonio Spurs and Flint Tropics, the first alley-oop in basketball history was recorded. “A very unusual series of moves just made the ball go in,” play-by-play announcer Dick Pepperfield uttered in awe that day. On the receiving end of the pass from the top of the key by Jackie Moon? None other than Clarence Withers (aka Coffee Black, aka Downtown “Funky Stuff” Malone, aka Sugar Dunkerton, aka “Jumping” Johnny Johnson), who’s listed at only 5 feet, 10 inches but has supreme bounce to go along with his picked-out Afro. Between Coffee Black and Calvin Cambridge, we might as well refer to the movie team from here on out as the new Lob City.
Cochise (Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs)
Scouting Report: *Cues up G.C. Cameron’s original rendition of “It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday”* Long before the real-life deaths of star hoopers Benji Wilson and Len Bias, the basketball world lost a great one in Richard “Cochise” Morris, from the 1975 film Cooley High. Cochise received a scholarship to play at the historically black Grambling State University but was killed before he could graduate from high school. Let’s just say that his tragic death never happened, making him a valuable addition to our roster.
Sixth Man: Antoine Tyler (Kadeem Hardison)
The Sixth Man
Scouting Report: We’ve got skill, athleticism and, most importantly, a higher being on our side. There’s no better sixth man for our squad than Antoine Tyler, who in the 1997 film The Sixth Man helped lead his younger brother Kenny Tyler (Marlon Wayans) and the Washington Huskies basketball team to an NCAA championship as a guardian angel after suffering a heart attack on the court and dying. At the end of the movie, Antoine ascended to heaven to ball for God’s team, but hopefully he’ll return to help us out.
Coach: Ken Carter (Samuel L. Jackson)
Scouting Report: If there’s one man who wouldn’t back down to the street savant-turned-basketball coach known as Avon Barksdale, it’s Ken Carter. Inspired by a real person, and depicted by Samuel L. Jackson in the 2005 film of the same name, Coach Carter barred his entire team (which was undefeated, mind you) from playing in games because his players were failing classes. The community turned against Carter, who nearly lost his job, when what he wanted was for every player to go to college, even if basketball was a casualty. Win or lose, Coach Carter would probably have Avon doing suicides and pushups, out of principle alone.
There aren’t too many joys in this world quite like waking up on Christmas morning, checking under the tree and finding a crisply wrapped box that stores a fresh new pair of sneakers. You know … the ones your mama swore she wouldn’t get you, so you asked Santa, just in case.
On Monday, players hooping as part of the NBA’s loaded schedule of Christmas Day games will experience a similar moment. For them, the sneaker companies with which they’ve inked endorsement deals play a kind of Santa, presenting their brand ambassadors with special edition shoes to celebrate the holiday season. Before games, boxes await at lockers, ready to be laced up and taken for a spin.
From traditional red-and-green colorways to graphics of snowflakes and snowmen to designs incorporating Dr. Seuss’ Grinch, there are truly no limits on holiday kicks design. Shoes have steadily become more and more complex, and more festive, as the ritual continues to grow and spread joy throughout the league. Starting with Michael Jordan’s Air Jordan 13s in 1997 and ending in 2016 with an icy pair of Adidas sported by Derrick Rose, these are the top 45 sneakers worn on every NBA Christmas since 1997.
1997 Michael Jordan in Air Jordan 13
On Christmas Day 1997, when Michael Jordan wore the white, true red and black edition of then newly released Air Jordan 13, these shoes had yet to take on their true identity. After the May 1998 release of the Spike Lee-directed coming-of-age New York hoops flick He Got Game, which featured Denzel Washington famously donning the kicks under a house arrest ankle bracelet, they came to be eternally known as the “He Got Game” 13s. Jake Shuttlesworth, Washington’s character, would’ve appreciated Jordan’s 24-point performance in a win over the Miami Heat while wearing the shoes.
The NBA experienced its third lockout from July 1, 1998, to Jan. 20, 1999, as the league and its players union negotiated a new collective bargaining agreement. As a result, the 1998-99 season was shortened to 50 games, and didn’t begin until Feb. 5, 1999. No Christmas games meant no Christmas heat on players’ feet.
1999 Tim Duncan in Nike Air Flightposite
Future Hall of Famer Tim Duncan spent his first six years in the league lacing up Nikes, and, boy, did he have a lot of dopeness to work with in that era. Duncan wore everything on the court from the Nike Foamposite One to the Total Air Foamposite Max, and of course his Air Max Duncan and Air Max Duncan 2. In 1999, he led the Spurs to victory in the biennial McDonald’s Championship, a now extinct international pro basketball cup, while sporting Nike Air Flightposites. Two months later, he dropped 28 points in them on Christmas. Duncan’s Nike days ended in 2003 when he signed with Adidas, the company with which he’d finish out his career.
2000 Ron Harper in Air Jordan 11 “Concord”Kobe Bryant in the Adidas Crazy 1
You could certainly tell that Ron Harper was a former teammate of Jordan’s on Christmas in 2000. In a game against the Portland Trailblazers, Harper, who played with the greatest of all time on the Chicago Bulls from 1995 to 1998, rocked a pair of “Concord” Air Jordan 11s, which first retroed in 2000. Meanwhile, Harper’s young superstar teammate, Kobe Bryant, broke out a silver pair of his signature Adidas Crazy 1, which features a silhouette inspired by an Audi.
2001 Allan Houston in Nike Flightposite III PE
A player exclusive (PE) pair of Nike Flightposite IIIs in Knickerbocker white, orange and blue? Santa Claus (or Nike for the nonbelievers) sure did look out for Allan Houston, who dropped a game-high 34 points in a Christmas win over the Toronto Raptors.
2002 Kobe Bryant in Air Jordan 7 PE Mike Bibby in Air Jordan 17
A matchup within a matchup. The Los Angeles Lakers vs. the Sacramento Kings in X’s and O’s, and Kobe Bryant vs. Mike Bibby in sneakers. Bryant, a sneaker free agent in 2002 after parting ways with Adidas, wore a pair of white, purple and gold Air Jordan 7 PEs, while Bibby, a member of Team Jordan since 1999, swagged the OG black and metallic silver Air Jordan 17s. Bibby’s Kings beat Bryant’s Lakers, but which player won the clash of kicks?
2003 Tracy McGrady in Adidas T-Mac 3
A throwback Orlando Magic pin-striped uniform with a pair of striped Adidas T-Mac 3s — some next-level Christmas coordination from Tracy McGrady. In a 41-point afternoon against the Cleveland Cavaliers, McGrady teased the T-Mac 3s, which wouldn’t drop at retail until 2004.
2004 Reggie Miller in Air Jordan 19 “Olympics” Fred Jones in Air Jordan 13 “Wheat”
Another display of yuletide sneaker competition, this time among members of the same team. Reggie Miller clearly took matching his shoes with his Indiana Pacers uniform to heart. Against the Detroit Pistons, he wore a special edition pair of white, metallic gold and midnight navy Air Jordan 19s, while his teammate Fred Jones went super festive and classy with a pair of “Wheat” Air Jordan 13s. Two strong pairs of shoes to have under the tree. Moral of the story: Christmas Day in the NBA is too epic for some players to wear just one pair of shoes.
2005 Kwame Brown, Lamar Odom and Smush Parker in Nike Huarache 2K5
Why not close out 2005 by wearing Nike Air Zoom Huarache 2K5s, the best performance basketball shoe of the year? That’s exactly what Lakers teammates Kwame Brown, Lamar Odom and Smush Parker did in a road matchup against the Miami Heat on Christmas. The trio complemented their dark purple road uniforms with all-black 2K5s.
2006 Dwyane Wade in Converse Wade 1.3
In June 2006, Dwyane Wade delivered the Miami Heat their first championship in franchise history while rocking his signature Converse sneakers for the entire six-game series that ended with the shooting guard hoisting the Bill Russell Finals MVP trophy. Six months later, in a matchup between the Heat and Lakers (the NBA’s only Christmas game of 2006), Wade delivered again with 40 points while still rocking Converse — this time a pair of red and white Wade 1.3s that he debuted in the blowout Christmas day win.
2007 Kobe Bryant in Nike Air Zoom Kobe 3
Santa Claus must’ve forgotten to pay visits to the six teams that starred in the 2007 Christmas Day games, because the sneaker heat of Christmas past went missing that year. The only shoes of note in ’07? Bryant’s high-top Nike Kobe 3s in Lakers colors. These shoes set the tone for many Christmases to come — absolute fire.
2008 Kobe Bryant in Nike Zoom Kobe 4 Christmas iD Dwight Howard in Adidas TS Bounce Commander Superman LeBron James in Nike Zoom LeBron 6 “Chalk”
This is where all the fun, and Christmas cheer, truly begins. By 2008, the NBA started showcasing a full slate of Christmas Day games. A bigger holiday stage sparked a movement among players and sneaker companies to seize the moment in style with vibrant-colored kicks designed through the lens of specific themes. Bryant wore a personalized edition of his Zoom Kobe 4s, and Nike also presented 100 fans with custom pairs of the shoes. LeBron James debuted his Nike Zoom LeBron 6s, inspired by his chalk-throwing ritual before tipoff of games. And Dwight Howard channeled his alter ego, Superman, in special Adidas TS Bounce Commanders. Bryant, James and Howard became the early adopters of a Christmas tradition that’s still practiced across the league today.
2009 Kobe Bryant in Nike Zoom Kobe 5 “Chaos” Dwyane Wade in Air Jordan 1 Alpha Ray Allen in Air Jordan 1 Alpha Christmas PE LeBron James in Nike Air Max LeBron “Xmas” J.R. Smith in Air Jordan 12 “Cherry” Anthony Carter in Nike Blazers
Christmas “Chaos” for Kobe in his fifth signature Nike shoe. Old school meets new school in the Air Jordan Alphas, worn by longtime Team Jordan member Ray Allen and Dwyane Wade, who left Converse in 2009 to sign with Jordan Brand. Anthony Carter in the Christmas green and red Blazers, and J.R. Smith with a cherry on top in the red-accented “Cherry” Air Jordan 12s.
2010 Kobe Bryant in Nike Kobe 6 “Grinch”
HOLIDAY HOT TAKE ALERT: Universal Pictures’ The Grinch, released in 2000, is the greatest Christmas movie of all time, and Bryant’s 2010 Nike Zoom Kobe 6s, inspired by the grumpy green Dr. Seuss character, are the greatest Christmas Day sneakers the NBA has ever seen. Neither declaration is up for debate.
2011 Kobe Bryant in Nike Zoom Kobe 7 “Christmas” Kevin Durant in the Nike Zoom Kobe 4 LeBron James in Nike LeBron 9 “Christmas”
Cheetah print for Bryant and copper for Durant? James wasn’t about that noise. He and Nike represented the holiday to the fullest, with classic red and green on his 2011 Christmas Day kicks.
2012 Kobe Bryant in Nike Zoom Kobe 8 Dwyane Wade in Li-Ning Way of Wade (two pairs) Ray Allen in Air Jordan 18 and Air Jordan 20 “Christmas” PEs, Kevin Durant in Nike Zoom KD 5
In 2012, Miami Heat teammates Allen and Wade had the same idea: Wear one pair of Christmas-themed shoes in the first half, and another pair in the second. Allen pranced up and down the court in two pairs of red-and-green Air Jordan PEs — first in the 18s and then in the 20s. Meanwhile, Wade broke out two shiny pairs of his signature Li-Nings. Moral of the story: Christmas Day in the NBA is too epic for some players to wear just one pair of shoes.
2013 LeBron James in Nike LeBron 11 “Christmas” Dwyane Wade in Li-Ning Way of Wade 2 “Christmas”
Two shades of Christmas green on the feet of two of the “Heatles.” Teal for James, with red trim and snowflake graphics. Lime green for Wade, with red accent and a speckled pattern resembling the skin of our favorite holiday hater, the Grinch. The question is, did Wade and Li-Ning swagger-jack the Black Mamba and Nike’s iconic “Grinch” Kobe 6s? Regardless, the Grinch is the gift that keeps on giving when it comes to Christmas kicks.
2014 LeBron James in Nike LeBron 12 “Christmas Day Akron Birch” Iman Shumpert in Adidas Crazy 2 “Bad Dreams” Klay Thompson in Nike Hyperdunk 2013 PE
To celebrate 2014’s five Christmas Day games, Adidas unveiled the “Bad Dreams” collection, featuring four sneakers designed in funky colors and patterns, and all highlighted by glow-in-the-dark soles. The best pair? The Crazy 2s, worn by Iman Shumpert in pregame warmups, even though he didn’t suit up for the Knicks’ matchup with the Washington Wizards due to injury. Honorable sneaker design mention: Klay Thompson’s Nike Hyperdunk 2013 PEs, which featured a snowman holding a basketball on the tongue of each shoe.
2015 Stephen Curry in Under Armour Curry 2 “Northern Lights”
Chef Stephen Curry in the “Northern Lights,” boy! Seriously, these colorful concoctions could be worn for any holiday in the calendar year, not just Christmas.
2016 Derrick Rose in Adidas D Rose 7 Christmas PE Klay Thompson in Anta KT2 Christmas PE Lou Williams in PEAK Lightning Christmas PE
*Cue up the Gucci Mane* I’m icy, so m—–f—— snowed up (“Icy,” 2005). Derrick Rose certainly brought both the ice and the snow on his kicks for a Christmas Day game during his lone year with the New York Knicks last season. The way those colors hit the light, you’d swear Rose was hooping on the blacktop in an ice storm, not on the hardwood in the Garden.
Who in the NBA will gift us with this year’s best sneakers? We’ll see what LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Joel Embiid, Kristaps Porzingis, Kyrie Irving, John Wall, James Harden, Russell Westbrook and Santa have wrapped up and ready to go for a Christmas Day complete with hoops.
Chicago native Derrick Rose, who recently signed with the Cleveland Cavaliers, stepped up when he heard that Chicago resident Demetrius “DNash” Nash had set out Aug. 4 to walk from Chicago to Washington, D.C., to raise awareness about the epidemic of gun violence in his city.
Rose donated $7,000 to help Nash and left a heartfelt message on his GoFundMe campaign page.
“We’re proud of all the great work you’re doing to save the youth of Chicago and providing a framework for at-risk youth for sustainability by providing training for a trade and mentoring via positive & successful mentors. God bless you with safe travels on your journey. From Derrick Rose & the Blackman-Reese Family.”
Nash’s goal is to get support for programs that will help youths find alternatives to street life. Nash founded Replace Guns With Hammers, which aims to provide training and mentors to those in at-risk situations. His fundraising goal for the walk is $50,000.
“It’s 672 miles from Chicago to the White House,” Nash wrote on his campaign page. “Walking will take 223 hours. Walking 10 hours a day will approximately take 22.3 days, at roughly about 10-12 hours a day.”
Nash was incarcerated for drug trafficking when he was 26.
“I’m very serious about giving back to my community and using my own life as a testimony,” Nash wrote. “I was incarcerated for eight years and recently completed four years of successful probation. Thank God! That’s right 12 years of bondage!!! I was inspired by a book written by Nelson Mandela, A Long Walk to Freedom, in which he writes about his 27 years of imprisonment.”
Rose, formerly with the Chicago Bulls and New York Knicks, has paid for funerals of victims of gun violence and has donated $1 million to After School Matters, a Chicago-based nonprofit organization devoted to providing out-of-school programs for teenagers.
Including Rose’s donation, Nash has raised more than $23,000 for his efforts.