“How I go from 6 to 23 like LeBron?”: NBA All-Star starter rap comparisons


It’s been uttered many times before: “Rappers wanna be ballers, ballers wanna be rappers.” Who do the ten NBA All-Star starters compare to in the rap game?

Rap and hoops go together like Jerry Ferrara (Turtle) and fitted caps circa the “Entourage” era. They are practically synonymous. A game that was immortalized on the streets of inner cities worldwide with a music genre that was created in the streets of the South Bronx in the 1970s — the parallels between hoops and rhymes go hand in hand. The overlap is not just abstract, you see it play out in everyday life. Whether it’s LeBron James in the back of his ride endlessly head-nodding to some new Future, Damian Lillard actually rapping himself and being quite good at it or the various social media interactions and name drops between player and artist, no other intersection of art and sport comes close to rivaling rap and ball.

We see this play out a lot of times during the NBA’s All-Star weekend, the ultimate pairing of celebrity, music and sport. There’s the actual celebrity game, where rapper Quavo won MVP in 2018 and we have seen the likes of J. Cole, Bad Bunny, Ice Cube and Common play. There are also the various competitions (Dunk, Skill and 3PT) where camera shots of the crowd are plentiful and a good opportunity to get some face time. Actors ham it up and celebs practice their best reactions. This year’s All-Star weekend will be no different — and we have a very interesting All-Star class to gaze upon this year.

Within the starting lineup there are three first-timers, one who’s barely old enough to legally drink alcohol (Trae Young), one who’s not even 21 yet (Luke Doncic) and Pascal Siakam, who might have had the quickest rise from project to star in recent NBA memory. You have the stalwarts of course in LeBron, Anthony Davis, Kawhi Leonard, Giannis Antetokounmpo and James Harden but then you sprinkle in the ever-underrated Kemba Walker in there with the oft-injured (and this year at least, underwhelming) Joel Embiid and you get a lineup that will make for a fun/topsy turvy fourth quarter and close to the game — especially with the new rules in play.

Let’s take a look at the Western Conference and Eastern Conference All-Star starting lineups and who their best rap comparison is.

Western Conference starting five

James Harden: Logic

This one is gonna get people hot. Give me a chance to explain myself. Logic is a rapper who puts up big numbers (seven Platinum or multi-Platinum singles, 13 gold singles, three No. 1 albums, two Grammy nominations, several sold-out tours) yet is not considered to be one of the best rappers in the game. He is not well-liked by hip-hop purists or the majority of rap fans but has a particular subset of ride of die fans, typically white teenagers. He is also consistently derided on social media.

He was an underdog (his early mixtapes and first album Under Pressure were all solid) who rose to major prominence but now people can see he has major flaws and will never be considered one of the greats. He also has a rhyme scheme that focuses on fast, flashy bars with little substance, is repetitive and pandering in his concepts and is overall a pretty corny and, some would say, annoying presence in the rap game.

What player in the league started off as an underdog and now puts up big numbers yet is not well-liked by purists of the game and consistently gets flamed on social media? Whose game consists of repetitive movements, annoying, cheap tactics, little substance (ahem, his defense) and doesn’t result in rings? Someone who, no matter how many eye-popping stat lines he throws up, will never be considered one of the greats? Yep, The Beard.

Sorry for fans of both. May I recommend listening to someone like El-P instead of Logic and watching more of the next player on our list instead. Might be better for your sanity.

Luka Doncic: DaBaby

Best new player in the league. Best new rapper in the game. The meteoric rise of both of these gentlemen has been welcome sights for fans of basketball and rap. On one hand, you have a player that torched the Euroleague, was slept-on by people that “knew basketball” (scouts from the Kings, Hawks, Suns and Grizzlies, shame on you) and is now torching the NBA at 20 years old. He drops bomb after bomb like it’s nothing and has overachieved in pretty much every aspect of his career so far. He will embarrass your favorite player and team and does it with a big ole’ smile on his face.

One the other hand, you have an artist who dropped dope mixtape after another for years, was slept on by fans who dismissed his music as sounding the same as his peers and is now near the top of the rap game. He drops hit after hit like he’s pouring coffee in the morning and is considered one of the best rappers in the game currently and is certainly one of the most successful.

Not only does he have bars and flow for days, he knows how to construct songs to make them pop and is also the most dangerous feature artists in the game, not named J. Cole. He does so with one of the better star dispositions rap has seen in a long time (he’s extremely fan-friendly and great on social media) and everyone seems to both love and respect him. Both of these men are young, versatile and uber-successful. The world is their respective oysters.

LeBron James: Drake

Biggest player in the league. Biggest rapper in the game. Consistency. LeBron for well over a decade, Drake for over a decade as well. Gets shots thrown at them constantly from all angles, has everyone else in the game at their necks, has the loftiest of expectations and knows that people want them down from the throne. Yet, these two icons consistently show up, are smart-as-hell businessmen, rarely take L’s, will take on any challenger and one-up them and at the end of the day, no matter who tries to knock them off, are still considered the best in the game.

You can make the argument that Drake isn’t the best rapper right now, but numbers don’t lie and he consistently puts up the highest and best. LeBron has competition for best in the game, but for over a decade it’s been the king’s league and he is always throwing lofty numbers on the board. Easy pick.

Kawhi Leonard: Kendrick Lamar

In my opinion, the best, not biggest rapper in the game (an argument could be made for J. Cole as well, but nah). Kendrick is a quiet, meticulous assassin who will not make a peep for two years then come back thundering with the best rap album of the year. He is perhaps the greatest wordsmith in rap, with commercial appeal, since early Nas and seems to improve in his ability to make different types of hip-hop with every album. He fears no one, yet everyone in the game knows that if they take shots at him, he’ll subliminally (or, in the case of “Control”, not so subliminally) jab you to death and eventually win the battle. He’s loved by mostly everyone with the functioning ears and a critical darling who wins Grammys every year he drops new music. Champion level stuff here.

Similarly to Kendrick, Kawhi moves in silence like lasagna and just wins. He keeps adding to his game (his passing this year has been nice) and just dethroned a dynasty. Now, in the same town where Kendrick is from, he has the opportunity to win another ring and potentially snatch the throne from Bron. He also has assassin-like qualities and does it without looking like he’s breaking a sweat. For both of these gentle giants, their extreme talents seem to come with ease and without flash. Yet, if you doubt or sleep for a second, you’re screwed.

Anthony Davis: Offset

Anthony Davis is the best second-banana in the league. Easily. He has taken what Tim Duncan did for the power-forward position and continued to extend it, re-shape it and make it his own. He can go inside-out with ease, hit in the mid-range, knock down the deep ball and use his length and superior footwork to stifle opposing centers and power-forwards defensively. It’s tough to even say second-banana, but when you are on the same team as LeBron James, no matter how good you are, you will get overshadowed. However, come playoff time, Davis might be the most important piece on the Lakers and get them to the promised land.

Offset is in a similar position. Numbers and “clout” (get it?) wise, he’s not as big as his fellow Migos group member Quavo, but is maybe the better/most important member of the group? He certainly brings a different set of skills to the plate than Quavo, who is known more for his melodies than straight raps and has had a lot of solo success of his own (including a Grammy nomination this year). However, Offset has continued to be overshadowed by Quavo because Quavo has more pop appeal given his ability to sing and features with big artists. Do I think this will continue? Nope. Offset has too much talent to continue to be second-fiddle. Just as AD is younger than Bron and (pending health) will step into a bigger role as LeBron gets older, he will eventually be top dog with the Lakers. It may take two or three years but it’s coming.

Eastern Conference starting five

Trae Young: Roddy Rich

For both of these dudes, the potential is all the way there. You have Trae putting up crazy stats and making highlight-reel plays nightly, all the while being barely old enough to legally drink and looking like he’s 14. There’s no way a dude of his stature (6-foot-1, 170 pounds) should be cooking other teams like this, but here we are watching him can 30-foot 3s, hitting endless floaters in the lane and making opposing defenses look silly regularly. While his defense is practically non-existent and his team is garbage juice, you can see why Trae is starting in the All-Star game and see why his potential is sky-high.

Similar to Trae, Roddy Rich is a young dude (also 21) who burst on the scene with a great back story, clever bars, a unique and original voice. His latest album “Please Excuse Me For Being Antisocial” went No. 1 on the charts and he’s already a Grammy winner. While he is still ultimately trying to find his voice, the possibilities are endless. With some more refinement, experience and time; Rich could find himself becoming one of the biggest artists in the game. He and Trae both have seen early success, let’s see if they can continue to capitalize.

Kemba Walker: ScHoolboy Q

Ol’ reliable. Kemba is consistency personified. Someone who is unabashedly themselves (BX all day) and a great leader. Yet, is still underrated due to circumstance, mostly team and conference. Kemba is good at everything on the court it seems like. Shooting, passing, rebounding, inspiring his team. There’s no wonder why the Celtics are a better team with him than they were with Kyrie Irving. He always comes through.

ScHoolBoy Q comes to mind for me when I think Kemba. Also reliable when it comes to consistently good music, Q is also a shade underrated because of who he surrounds himself with. The best rapper in the world right now, Kendrick Lamar, is his main running mate at TDE. He also isn’t someone to sell-out and make a pop hit for streams. ScHoolboy consistently keeps it real but also knows how to make music for the masses, without compromising himself or his bars. His gritty street rhymes blend well with a surprising ability to put a melody together and his beat selection is top-notch. Consistent, a rap polymath and now an OG who is still eating other rappers alive.

Pascal Siakam: J.I.D

Pascal Siakam, in three seasons, has gone from raw project to All-Star starter and NBA champion. Someone who was a late first-round pick, mid-major collegiate, hadn’t picked up a basketball prior to his mid-teenage years and played sparingly in his first two seasons is now considered one of the better forwards in the league. He is someone else who seemingly can do it all. He can stretch the floor, bang in the post with bigs, take his man off the dribble, pass well, shoot with comfort and consistency, has a consistently high motor and does all the little things to win. He has taken what he’s learned from his All-Star teammates in DeMar DeRozan, Kyle Lowry, Marc Gasol and Kawhi Leonard and turned himself into a force. From a technical standpoint, he’s one of the better players in the game and seemingly next up to be a potential MVP award winner.

J.I.D. is next in the rap game. Being with Dreamville (J. Cole’s label), and before this Spillage Village with the likes of Earthgang and 6lack, Jiddy has been a sponge with his cohorts and is maybe the best young technical rapper in the game. He has bars for days, great song concepts and knows how to make songs with feeling and tracks that make you want to move. He has a great ear for sampled beats and has old school stylings mixed with new school flows. He was somebody that also rose quickly from the underground to Grammy-nominated and will be a force to be reckoned with moving forward. Watch out for these two.

Giannis Antetokounmpo: Tyler The Creator

Both of these guys can do it all. Someone of you may be asking, “Wait, the reigning MVP and soon to be back-to-back MVP’s rap comparison is only Tyler?” Well, you are talking about a man who just won the Grammy for Best Rap Album, essentially the rap MVP of the year. You are also talking about two guys who are incredibly multifaceted in their respective fields and are innovative as well. Tyler is someone who can sing, rap, produce and write, all at elite levels. Not to mention he also is an established clothing designer and business owner who also created, wrote and acted in a successful TV show and is an idol to millions. Never sleep on Tyler’s influence.

Giannis is cut from the same innovation cloth, he just does it all on a basketball court. He is an elite defender, athlete and scorer who is practically unstoppable on the fast break. He scores in a multitude of ways, is an improving shooter and is one of the best offensive penetrators the game has ever seen. He has pushed the game to new heights with his freakish body type and ability to score. His influence on the game, in his native country of Greece, native homeland of Africa, and here in the States has been staggering and he is a huge reason that Milwaukee is a hub of championship energy right now.

Joel Embiid: Future

I thought about Embiid’s rap comp for a while. At his best, Joel is the best big man in the league. Someone who will outscore, rebound and out-shoot the other bigs in the NBA while providing a defensive punch to stifle anyone at the rim and create wins on wins for the Sixers. At his worst (which we are seeing too much of recently) Joel is a tradeable, out-of-shape, inconsistent guy who has bad shot selection and wavering defensive effort. He’s so frustrating because of his potential and skill — he’s already established but you’d be hard-pressed to find it always. When he wants his presence felt, it’s thunderous. When he slacks, it’s obvious and kills his team.

Future, to me, is the same. While he puts in the effort (dude releases a lot of music), it’s not always good. He seems to phone in a lot of records and his concepts can get repetitive and boring. However, when he wants his presence felt, it is. Future can rap with the best of them when he turns it on and knows how to put together hits. He collaborates with the best producers in the game to provide backdrops that can make for some of the best music of today, yet he is a bit erratic in the level at which his music reaches. He packs a formidable 1-2 punch with Drake (sort of like Embiid-Simmons) that also doesn’t always work too. Big fan of both of these guys. When it’s great, it’s amazing, when it’s average, it’s supremely frustrating.

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