Issue 99: Great Basketball References in Hip-Hop

If you’ve been along for the Crisp Bounce Pass ride for a while, you know I’m a big fan of basketball references in music. Ideally, the more obscure the better.

Writing a song is fairly easy, but writing a good song is more challenging. And then you have to worry about lyrics, too? It’s a lot going on.

Luckily, we have so many talented wordsmiths out there doing big things. Sometimes, those big things include dropping a line about basketball or a basketball player. When they do, I stand up and applaud.

If you’re newer around these parts, you can catch another one of these basketball lyrics deep dives here.

Now, let’s hop into three more quality songs!

Jay-Z — Pump It Up (Freestyle)

The line: Worry I’m not the Mike Jordan of the mic recording / It’s Hovi baby you Kobe, maybe Tracy McGrady / Matter fact you a Harold Miner, J.R. Rider / Washed up on marijuana / Even worse, you a Pervis Ellis / You worthless fella / You ain’t no athlete, you Shawn Bradley

My goodness, there’s a lot to unpack here. Joe Budden released the song “Pump It Up” in 2003 and approached Jay-Z to hop on the remix.

Hov did supply a verse, but the entirety of it is a diss on the new Def Jam artist.

Budden, who has turned to podcasting in recent years, explained that he was “kind of nervous a little bit” after hearing Jay’s verse. Understandably so — let’s break it down.

Initially, Jay-Z calls himself Michael Jordan. In 2003, Jordan was retiring for the third and final time and was widely considered the greatest player ever.

Also in 2003, Kobe Bryant and Tracy McGrady were stars in their own right — Bryant had already won three titles with the Los Angeles Lakers — and both had often been compared to Michael Jordan.

Some other folks compared to Jordan: J.R. Rider, who has a super cool dunk named after him, and Harold Miner, whose nickname in college was “Baby Jordan.”

As Jay-Z points out, both flamed out fairly early. Rider had multiple marijuana infractions throughout his career, while Miner retired by the time he was 25 years old because of multiple knee injuries (though he apparently invested the money from his playing days wisely and lives a quiet life with his family in Las Vegas, so good for him).

Pervis Ellison doesn’t even get the honor of having his entire name mentioned, as Jay-Z only calls him “Pervis Ellis.”

Ellison was the first pick of the 1989 NBA Draft. In college, he had the nickname “Never Nervous Pervis,” but when he got to the NBA, his teammate Danny Ainge instead offered “Out of Service Pervis” since he suffered a ton of injuries, including a broken toe while moving furniture.

Still, Ellison played from 1989 to 2000 and averaged almost 10 points and 7 rebounds a game. That’s disappointing for a #1 pick, sure, but it’s an okay career overall.

The last bar hasn’t aged well. Back during his playing days, it was easy to rag on Shawn Bradley. The man was 7’6”, after all, so he was not the most fleet of foot and quicker players could get around him and score, sometimes via a vicious dunk.

But earlier this year, Bradley was hit by a car while biking near his house. Now, he’s paralyzed from the waist down. And that’s super sad. Be safe out there.

Though Budden did respond with a fairly solid verse of his own, Jay-Z’s bars remain the king of this track.

Kanye West — Can’t Tell Me Nothing

The line: And you can live through anything if Magic made it

I never got to see Magic Johnson play in his prime, but he is an absolute joy to watch in highlights. He’s still one of the best passers to ever play, and when he led a fastbreak, you knew something interesting would happen.

The man also has charisma unlike anyone else, and when he flashes a smile at you, you feel like you’re the only person in the world. That’s a great feeling.

But at the start of the 1991-92 NBA season, Johnson announced he had tested positive for HIV and was retiring immediately.

At the time, only a small percentage of men had contracted HIV from heterosexual sex. Johnson became an advocate for HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention and safe sex, which are all good things to educate people on.

HIV and AIDS are deadly conditions, but Magic is still alive and running several successful businesses today.

While I would argue not to push your luck with death-defying stunts — don’t, say, jump out of a plane without a parachute — I do appreciate the positivity from Kanye here.

Sugarhill Gang — Rapper’s Delight

The Line: I got a color TV so I can see the Knicks play basketball

I first heard this song in The Wedding Singer, when it’s performed by a grandma and it’s absolutely delightful.

But before that, it had to be performed by the Sugarhill Gang. And it’s a LONG song, with all different kinds of random references.

For me, my favorite verse comes from Wonder Mike and it’s the EIGHTH VERSE of this song. It’s largely about going over to a friend’s house for dinner, but the food is bad. “The macaroni’s soggy, the peas are mushed, and the chicken tastes like wood.”

Wonder Mike continues by listing different excuses you can try making, but nothing’s working. Finally, you just get up and leave and then later apologize to your friend and all is forgiven. We’ve all been in awkward situations in life, and it’s good to have that immortalized in a song.

But that verse doesn’t contain a basketball reference, so instead we’ll highlight Big Bank Hank talking about watching the Knicks play. In 1979, when this song was recorded, the Knicks were a good team, with Willis Reed, Walt Frazier, and Phil Jackson all contributing.

Though the Knicks made the playoffs this year, they’ve been pretty crummy since the turn of the century. Some would argue you’d buy a color TV (or maybe even an HDTV nowadays) specifically to change the channel away from Knicks games.

Or maybe you’d just cut your cable cord altogether and watch The Queen’s Gambit. Either way works.

Other Reads and Watches

Cam Johnson’s crazy bananas Game 3 dunk called on French TV

Isaac K. Lee with the brilliant tweet about how Bucks fans should count with Giannis at the free-throw line

Alexa Philippou on the big night for UConn women’s basketball at the ESPYs

How the Packers’ David Bakhtiari rallied Bucks fans in Game 3 (spoiler: with beer)

That’s all ’til next time. Thanks for reading!


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