Fact Checking Basketball References in Hip-Hop

Rap and basketball are like peanut butter and jelly or Oreos and milk — always better together. But are the references used in rap always statistically accurate?

There was this song that came out last year that referenced former Raptor DeMar DeRozan. Since I live in Toronto, you can imagine that I’ve heard this song multiple times, both in its original form and as a cover sang poorly by inebriated bargoers. It was very great to hear Toronto getting the hip-hop love it deserved beyond Drake, but it was also not very great because the song was terribly inaccurate in terms of what the artist was trying to portray. So, the idea for this article was born.

So wait, you’re just actually going to take basketball references in songs and see how accurate they are?

Well yeah, kind of. It’s very simple when you put it like that, but it’s also not very simple. See, the first step is to see how accurate the basketball reference is in and of itself. It will be given a score out of five for how close to reality it is or how well it says what the artist (I assume) wanted it to say.

The second part here is tricky. The second part is where we have to confirm the accuracy from the artist’s side. Metaphors are meant to represent something and we will explore how well each basketball metaphor represents the aspect of a rapper’s life they are trying to represent.

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To do this I’ve combed through some of my favourite NBA references in hip-hop, determining which to keep and which to leave out. Let me tell you, there are a lot of Michael Jordan references. Like a lot. Like A LOT. Like however many you think there are, you can double it.

Once I picked the best references, I also had to comb through the stats and highlights as well as helpful anecdotes (I don’t know what we did without Google. I actually Googled that and it turns out we went to the library). Then, I held up this research against hip-hop references and determined whether or not they were true. If they were, they got a high score, if they weren’t they got a low score.

That’s pretty much it, there isn’t really that much to it. It’s just talking basketball and hip-hop.

Kyle ft. Lil Yachty — iSpy

Lyric: “I’m just like DeRozan / if I shoot, it goes in”

The good writer thing would be to build up the intrigue and not talk about the song that was the catalyst for everything until the end, or at least right before the very end. No one said I was a good writer though, so I’m going to talk about it now because I’m thinking about it and need to get it out of the way.

First of all, DeMar DeRozan is a 44% career shooter (it gets even worse from three at 28%), so really, what this lyric should have said is “I’m just like DeRozan, if I shoot it, it sometimes goes in, but more often than not it does not.” If you wanted to go for peak accuracy, you could even go with something like “I’m just like DeRozan, if I shoot it, it’s usually after I’ve dribbled for 10 seconds, with 3 seconds left on the shot clock, against two defenders and with a better option definitely available.” It’s a wildly inaccurate lyric. It’s about a 0 out of 5 on the accuracy scale, I’m willing to give it a 1 out of 5 because at least DeMar is getting closer to 50%.

On the hip-hop side, I don’t know who Kyle is, but any rapper who uses his real name instead of any other kind of name is usually very hard (like, shoots a lot) or very soft (like shoots not at all). Considering this is a track featuring Lil’ Yachty who once rapped a metaphor for “blow me” about a string instrument, I’m leaning towards the latter and a score of 0 out of 5.

Accuracy: Wildly Inaccurate


Notorious B.I.G. — Gimme the Loot

Lyric: “I’m slamming n**** like Shaquille”

The lyric in question was written in 1994. In 1994 Shaquille O’Neal was less of a human being and more of a runaway cargo truck with the engine of a Ferrari. Here’s of a full-gallop Shaq unleashing a Euro-Step and then dunking the ball all the way into a different dimension.

While there isn’t video evidence of him picking up an actual person and then dunking them through the actual basketball hoop, would we be able to dismiss the possibility if the person was compact enough to be dunked (let’s say John Starks)? Probably not, plus, he once dunked an entire basketball hoop out of existence so it’s close enough for 4 out of 5 accuracy rating.

Given Biggie’s stature and the fact that he is from New York and most certainly the fact that most of his lyrics often deal with doing some sort of thing to some sort of person that is not at all pleasant I wouldn’t put it out of the realm of possibility that he once slammed an actual person into something. Five out of five seems appropriate.

Accuracy: Extremely Accurate


Kurtis Blow — Basketball

Lyric: “Basketball is my favourite sport, I like the way they dribble up and down the court”

It would take a separate article, and possibly a book or a chapter in the book to unpack every single lyric in basketball, so we’ll just focus on the introductory lyric. In basketball, athletes do in fact dribble up and down the court, so 5 out of 5 here. On the flipside, I am not sure if it is, in fact, Kurtis’ favourite sport. For all we know, it could be football, or cricket or one of those events on ESPN4 where you have to eat a lot of the same thing very fast. We can’t confirm. I, however, believe in Kurtis and his character, so you won’t be able to talk me into the fact that he lied to us just there. This gets a 5 out of 5.

Accuracy: Most Accurate.


Jay Z — Empire State of Mind

Lyric: “If Jeezy paying LeBron, I’m paying Dwyane Wade”

Fun fact, there are like four Dwaynes in the NBA right now and none of them spells their name the same. I think that’s weird. Anyways…

Rappers often used NBA players’ jersey numbers instead of using actual numbers in their lyrics. I presume it’s because it sounds cool in a lot of cases (though not all cases. I don’t think T.I.’s ‘24’s’ would have the same commercial success as “Kobe’s”). In any case, in the early 2000s, Jeezy rapped about the fluctuating price of cocaine in relevance to personal fame, showing a decrease in his own purchasing price by using Kobe’s and LeBron’s numbers. Jay-Z one-upped that by going way-way down to Dwyane Wade’s number.

As far as basketball goes, let’s just simply say, there is no way Jeezy could ever pay LeBron. I love Jeezy and would give up a non-vital organ if he needed it to record another album, but, I’m pretty sure LeBron is worth five of him. Jay-Z meanwhile can probably afford him three Dwyane Wades including the Gabrielle Union as a throw-in. To be fair, the initial inaccuracy is part of Jeezy’s lyric, not Jay-Z’s, so we can’t dock him more than two points and a score of 3 out of 5 here.

I struggle to believe that either of these artists actually pays for drugs. If I’m Jay-Z’s dealer, Jay-Z wouldn’t pay (all of his homies would though) if only he had like one reference to my business in his raps. Kind of like when Mike Jones gave his number away for free. Jeezy probably has to pay. So while the pricing may be off, the proportionate valuation of Jay-Z’s lyric is spot on. This results in a 3 out of 5.

Accuracy: Somewhat Accurate.


Jay Z — Encore

Lyric: “When I come back like Jordan, wearing the 4–5/ It ain’t to play games with you, it’s to aim at you, probably maim you.”

Jordan did, in fact, came back wearing number “45,” which is the number he wore in baseball before reverting to number “23” that same season, so the first half is spot on. Given the GOAT’s competitive nature, I have not a shadow of a doubt he would break your kneecaps if it meant scoring two points, it’s a perfect 5 out of 5 here.

Jay-Z did come back and he was at one point one of the greats of the hip-hop game, despite never living up to Reasonable Doubt in his entire life again. Most of his efforts following his “return” were misfires so I don’t think metaphorically they maimed anyone ever, at best, mild bodily scratches. This is a full score for the first part and a big deduction for the second, which gets us to like 2 out of 5.

Accuracy: Somewhat Accurate


Wale — Ambition

Lyric: “But I’m limitless mentally, I’m lyrically ZMT/Lebron shit, I was in that 6 after 23”

This one is easy so we won’t spend much time on it. LeBron wore number 6 after he left Cleveland on some day-time teenage drama heartbreak national television shit, abandoning the number 23. Wale was in a 600 Benz at the age 23. The math ads up. Give this a 5 out of 5 for both categories and move on.

Accuracy: Extremely Accurate


Kanye West — Can’t Tell Me Nothing

Lyric: “And you can live through anything if Magic made it.”

Look, Magic did, in fact, make it. I probably wouldn’t go to a BBQ at the Johnson Residence on a breezy summer afternoon, since everyone knows that’s prime mosquito weather, but otherwise, it’s hard to fault his survival skills, leaving us with a 5 out of 5.

While what Magic did is admirable and impressive in it’s own right, I don’t think you can quite survive a plane crash, in space without oxygen or an altercation with an agitated Matt Barnes. Magic Johnson’s genetics ain’t saving you here. We’re docking points for actual realism here, leaving us with a 2 out of 5.

Accuracy: Somewhat Accurate


Lloyd Banks — Follow Me Gangster

Lyric: “My team in the cut, packing metal things/I’ve got more foreign shooters than the Sacramento Kings”

The lyric, just like the team it references, is a relic of the early 2000s in which the Sacramento Kings were stocked up with foreign firepower. It might be a slight exaggeration though since between Peja Stojakovic and Hedo Turkoglu the 2000s Kings amounted to exactly two foreign shooters. We’ll give Lloyd credit for Vlade Divac here since he was technically a pretty good shooter for a bigger human. That adjustment lets us end up with 4 out of 5.

This was at the peak of G-Unit, a unit of Gs if you will, led by 50 Cent. It was also the peak of award show altercations and gun-toting in the hip-hop community. Given that high-profile rappers couldn’t really carry their own firearms, it is safe to assume they had designated carriers (kind of like weed men but for guns). I have not the slightest doubt that Lloyd Banks had at least four of those. Shout out to him for setting that number bar at the appropriate height for a 5 out of 5.

Accuracy: Extremely Accurate


Cam’Ron — Cookin Up

Lyric: “I’m Killa, you Andre Miller, got a basic game”

Every Saturday morning I used to go to the local gym to play some hoops. It was open court and the only requirement to stay on was to keep winning. It’s pretty standard stuff really. For about a month, there was this guy in his 40s who would watch us play and never joined the game, then one day when someone unceremoniously had to leave early (something about picking up a girlfriend, which is an all-time lame excuse) the man joined our game. Boy did he cook us.

While most of the team focused on crossovers, fadeaway jumpers and contested lay-ups, my guy did dribble-drives, jabs taps and set picks. His game was basic as ever, he was the best player on the court. What I’m saying is, there isn’t a shame to have a fundamental game of basketball, but Andre Miller is definitely basic, so 5 out of 5.

For Cam, it’s simple really, it’s actually right there in his name — “Killa Cam,” so we can’t give anything less than a 5 out of 5 (this can possibly be revised if we can confirm the subject of his “you” and the basic-ness of their game).

Accuracy: Extremely Accurate

Big L — Deadly Combination

Lyric: “I Roc-a-Fella like Shawn Carter / With more game than Ron Harper”

Ron Harper had game, it was pretty good. It was a 3 out of 5 good.

Big L also had game, significantly more game than most people, and it’s a safe assumption he had more game than Harper. A 4 out of 5 seems appropriate here.

Accuracy: Mostly Accurate.


Kendrick Lamar — The Heart Pt. 4

Lyric: “You jumped sides on me, now you ‘bout to meet Westbrook / Go celebrate with your team and let victory vouch you / Just know the next game played I might slap the shit out you”

This is in reference to Kevin Durant, who unceremoniously abandoned his Oklahoma City Thunder and Russell Westbrook in pursuit of a ring. It’s safe to say that both Westbrook and Oklahoma learned some lessons. There are a lot of touch-points here. For one, tables did turn when Durant left and he did get his ring in victory, which for some people and especially for some people with multiple Twitter accounts is a big thing. I don’t think Westbrook slapped Durant though, he did slap Zaza Pachulia, who does have one of those faces you just really kind of want to slap all the time, so it may have been a proxy slap and that’s good enough for me and a 4 out of 5 score.

I don’t know who Kendrick is talking to specifically, but I always want to believe it’s Drake. I don’t know if Kendrick will ever slap Drake, but I always want to believe he will. Regardless, metaphorically speaking Kendrick slapped the whole lotta shit out of the whole rap game when he released DAMN later that year and earned a 4 out of 5 rating here.

Accuracy: Mostly Accurate


Sugarhill Gang — Rapper’s Delight

Lyric: “I got a color TV so I can see the Knicks play basketball”

Knicks are a basketball team that are frequently on TV due to them being from New York (and their fans being obnoxious often). The Sugarhill Gang is a collection of rappers and artists that performed songs for money, so they probably owned a color TV and being from New Jersey probably watched a lot of Knicks, so let’s give them both a 5 out of 5.

Accuracy: Extremely Accurate


Jadakiss — Put Your Hands Up

Lyric: “And y’all scared I can tell / That I’mma get Bucks like Milwaukee, cause like Sam, I ca’ sell.”

There really isn’t much to confirm or deny here, but I just really wanted to put Jadakiss on this list so let’s run through this. Despite a clever turn of phrase, if we’re actually taking this at face value, I don’t think Sam Cassell was a very good salesman. I think he was a good basketball player, but I just don’t think we’ve ever seen his sales skills tested, so I’m going with like a 1 out of 5 here.

On the flipside, Jadakiss was probably pretty savvy at sales, but it wasn’t at all like Sam Cassell, so the metaphor really falls apart here, unless he was trying to say he’s really bad at the skill he’s supposed to be good at, in which case it’s spot on. I just don’t think that’s the case so it’s another 1 out of 5.

Accuracy: Wildly Inaccurate


Phife Dog — Steve Biko

Lyric: “The height of Muggsy Bogues, complexion of a hockey puck”

Both Phife Dog and Muggsy Bogues were 5’2 which is an okay height for a rapper, but is a pretty underwhelming height for a basketball player. Nevertheless, this is spot on.

Accuracy: Extremely Accurate


J. Cole — Return of Simba

Lyric: “Being good is good that’ll get you Drew Gooden / But me, I want Jordan numbers, LeBron footin’”

Being Good will probably get you something better than Drew Gooden. It might get you like an Amar’e Stoudemire or a Caron Butler. Let’s not short sell ourselves, or hype Drew Gooden up too much. This pretty much evens out at 3 out of 5, but mostly because Drew Gooden wasn’t particularly horrible either.

I can’t really vouch for what J.Cole wants, but he’s pretty competitive and has been considered by some people one of the better rappers today, so we can probably get away with a 3 out 5 here too.

Accuracy: Somewhat Accurate


Lil’ Wayne — Fireman

Lyric: “Addicted to the game like Jordan and Payton”

Both Jordan and Payton were notoriously competitive, and given that Payton refused to retire until he won a ring and Jordan came back (twice), it’s fairly accurate to say it’s a 5 out of 5. Jordan also has an actual gambling addiction so we can double the score here if we want.

Wayne put out a lot of music and kept trying to put out music before being unceremoniously screwed by his own family. That’s kind of harsh. He’s also struggled with substance abuse and addiction, so it’s bittersweet, but it’s also a 5 out of 5.

Accuracy: Extremely Accurate


Sauce Money — Reservoir Dogs

Lyric: “Yo, the left hook will shatter your chin / Similar to Darryl Dawkins when he shattered the rim”

Darryl Dawkins did, in fact, shatter a rim. It was pretty great. I sometimes wonder what kind of ferocity you need to dunk with to shatter a rim. I bumped into my bed one night in the dark and I almost put my entire leg in a cast for three weeks. Darryl Dawkins shattered rims. It’s a 5 out of 5.

I’m not too familiar with Sauce Money outside of the fact that he’s a pretty big dude, and I’m assuming that he’s left-handed, so his left hand is pretty strong, otherwise, he would have just said “the right hook.” He can probably shatter a jaw, but I haven’t seen him do it so it’s like a 4 out of 5.

Accuracy: Extremely Accurate

Meek Mill — So Sophisticated

Lyric: “Ball hard like D Waiters”

Dion Waiters balls really hard. He also stands on open spots on the court and calls for the ball hard too. It’s great. Say what you say about Dion, but you know he will work for your team and I respect that to the tune of 4 out 5.

Meek Mill also, ill-advisedly, tries to ball hard. So 3 out of 5.

Accuracy: Mostly Accurate


Sheek Louch — My Buddy

Lyric: “Glean the post, I’m smart so they call me Tim Duncan”

Tim Duncan basically did a lot of things in the post and was one of the most complete players the NBA has ever seen at his position. On top of that, he was an extremely intelligent human and player, so realistically, if I met someone smart I’d probably refer to them as Tim Duncan. It’s not much of a stretch here and is enough for a 4 out of 5.

I actually don’t know what Sheek’s friends call him behind closed doors. I’ve also never seen his SAT scores or any other academic evaluations so I’m taking a blind faith 3 out of 5 here.

Accuracy: Somewhat Accurate


The Cool Kids — Pennies

Lyric: “Auburn Hills, Michigan, home of the Palace / the place on the map where Isaiah beat Magic / throwin’ elbows, had them Rick Mahorn habits”

The full name of the Detroit Piston’s arena is the Palace of Auburn Hills, but it is colloquially known “the Palace.” Seeing how Detroit is in Michigan, The Palace is also obviously in Michigan and Isaiah Thomas and the Pistons did defeat Magic Johnson and the Los Angeles Lakers there. We could also be talking about the Orlando Magic, which I doubt, but even then, the Pistons probably had a win or two against Orlando as well. Finally, Rick Mahorn did throw elbows, very deliberately and with a turning radius of a small aircraft. This is basically like an exert from an NBA history book and deserves nothing less than a 5 out of 5.

The Cool Kids are a rap duo with at least one member hailing straight out of Michigan, so that pretty much clears most of the criteria for a high score here. I don’t really have an idea about their elbow throwin’ habits, so I have to deduct a point or two here on account that they just don’t seem like the type of people to throw elbows, but it’s still a healthy 4 out of 5.

Accuracy: Extremely Accurate


Ghostface Killah — Barbershop

Lyric: “One minute you hot, next minute you not / remind me of the New York Knicks with they jumpshots”

This may be one of the most triggering lyrics for the New York Knicks of all time. Nothing has encapsulated the fluctuation of New York basketball like Ghostface on this track. The Knicks, for stretches, looked on the cusp of greatness. For other times, they had Raymond Felton as their starting point-guard and traded for Andrea Bargnani. This lyric is a 5 out of 5 level of infallible.

This is just an overall good life philosophy to adopt. Things come in ebbs and flows and sometimes when things are going well it’s a good indicator that things may not go well in the future (the reverse is also true). Ghostface is on point here with a 5 out of 5.

Accuracy: Extremely Accurate


Ludacris — Undisputed

Lyric: “Before I get pissed and run up in the stands like the Indiana Pacers”

The Pacers did, in fact, run into the stands and rearranged the faces of a few fans in the Palace of Auburn Hills. My favourite two memories of that are Jermaine O’Neal appearing out of nowhere and flying through the screen like a Street Fighter character and Jamaal Tinsley for some reason coming back with the broom. I think about that a lot. Where did he find the broom? Why did he decide it was a good thing to use in a fight? What did he think he was going to do with it. I have a lot of questions for Jamaal Tinsley if I ever meet him. It’s a 5 out of 5 though.

In 2008, when the song was recorded, Ludacris had already starred in at least one Fast & Furious movie and was on his way to becoming a high profile person. I don’t think he would run up in any stands. Those cheques have to keep clearing. (2 out of 5)

Accuracy: Somewhat Accurate


Action Bronson — Set It Off

Lyric: “Behind the back pass, Arvydas Sabonis whole smart crew, kid we smoking weed in diplomas.”

Whenever someone brings up Nikola Jokic and tells me that there’s never been a player like him, I have to suppress the urge to beat them over the head with a stack of Arvydas Sabonis VHS tapes. When he arrived in the NBA he was on the heavier side, the other side of 30 and had at least two Achilles injuries. He still was one of the better players to face Shaq and passed the ball like he had Doctor Strange’s ability to create portals through various dimensions and pass the ball through those portals. He had a lot of behind the back passes and was a very smart basketball player. I respect Action Bronson so much for this reference that it gets a bonus 6 out of 5.

Hearing Action Bronson speak leaves me with an impression that he’s a very eloquent and educated individual. He talks with a passion and a very good vocabulary. He also does smoke quite a bit of weed. The one thing I struggle with here is I just don’t think he has the necessary body dynamics to throw a pass behind the back so I’ll have to deduct some points and give him a 3 out of 5.

Accuracy: Extremely Accurate

Look, there are a lot of basketball lyrics out there and perhaps we will do this again one day. I certainly hope that we can because this was fun. But also, sometimes lyrics are just lyrics and are fun. Sometimes it’s just good to reference greatness, so we probably won’t get to every single one. Until then… We can at least confirm that Kurtis Blow’s “Basketball” is still probably the most accurate basketball lyric in hip-hop. It’s infallible.

Serge Leshchuk
Serge Leshchuk
Serge Leshchuk is a senior writer at Grandstand Central, number one Process devotee and nihilist Raptors fan who also does video production. You can send your complaints about any Celtics related articles to him directly on Twitter.


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