Many of us have heard the old adage, “Rappers want to be athletes and athletes want to be rappers.” However, moving from the booth to the field or arena is not a small feat. Still, some have actually traded in the studio for a Spalding basketball. Take Master P, born Percy Miller, for example. The trailblazer from New Orleans found himself on not one, but two NBA training camp rosters. After joining the CBA’s Fort Wayne Fury in 1998, he spent 10 days on the Charlotte Hornets training camp roster in early 1999, playing in two exhibition games before being released. Miller’s presence brought a crowd of over 15,000 when only 8,000 were expected. Some could argue that the Hornets “used” Miller as the league tried to lure back fans after the lockout. He scored 9 points on 3-6 shooting, and added 4 assists and 2 rebounds while only committing one turnover.
According to Miller, his lyrics shortened his Hornets tenure. “The GM, Bob Bass, called me in and said, ‘You can play. You are a helluva basketball player, [but] you’re your music is pure filth and it’s a Bible Belt city.’ And they let me go,” he previously explained. The No Limit Records mogul got another crack at it that fall when he joined the Toronto Raptors training camp roster. He scored 8 points in one preseason game but did not make the final roster. Disappointed and feeling like he didn’t get a fair shake, the NOLA living legend signed with the San Diego Stingrays in the short-lived International Basketball League that November. After playing less than a season, he decided to put his hoop dreams to the side for a bit. He returned to the hardwood in 2004, playing for the American Basketball Association’s Las Vegas Rattlers and Long Beach Jam.
Though short-lived, Miller’s ability to even suit up for an NBA team is something that influenced North Carolina-bred rapper J. Cole 20 years later. In August of 2020, Miller disclosed that the Dreamville lyricist was training to play in the NBA. “When I talked to J. Cole, he was like, ‘You know, big dog, you did it. What do you think I would have to do to make it happen?’” Miller revealed. He advised Cole to go to a team that really believed in him and that he wouldn’t get a pass with just for being famous. Just a month earlier, the Grammy-winning rapper released his signature shoe, the RS-Dreamer, in collaboration with PUMA. The following year, Cole signed a three-to-six-game contract with the Rwanda Patriots of the African Basketball League. After completing his contractual agreement, he left Rwanda for an unspecified “family obligation.”
Although rap is his bread and butter, so to speak, one should not be quick to dismiss Cole’s brief foray into professional basketball as a marketing stunt or just something to pass the time. After starring for his high school team, Cole tried out at St. John’s University. It was after he did not make the team that he decided to give rap his full attention. He told Sports Illustrated 10 years ago that his fondness of basketball dated back to his childhood. “I was always in love with basketball as a kid, but I thought I was way better than I really was,” he explained. Hooping was a dream deferred until playing in celebrity games put the public on to his basketball talent.
In fact, the relationship between hip hop and hoops – or sports in general – dates back decades. Just as Miller and Cole were rappers sticking a toe into the sports pool, there are even more athletes who have tried their hand at music. If you’re old enough, you remember NFL/MLB legend Deion Sanders’ iconic “Must Be the Money.” More recently, Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal and Dame Lillard set the sneakers aside for studio time. As of late, more and more artists are able to seamlessly intertwine music with sports without so much as breaking a sweat.
One of, if not the biggest, musicians to make their mark on athletic apparel is Kanye West; now going by the name Ye. Although the partnership is now defunct, his decade-long collaboration with Adidas shifted the culture. The endorsement deal was announced in late 2013 and by 2019, Yeezy brand sales eclipsed a billion dollars on an annual basis. As anticipation grew for Ye’s first Adidas sneaker, Nike capitalized by dropping the “Red October” – their final collaboration with the “College Dropout” rapper. Selling out in less than 15 minutes, the $245 shoe saw its resell value soar to over $15,000 per pair, per Business Insider. As the Yeezy brand continued to skyrocket, a new deal was inked between Ye and Adidas in 2016, and was billed as the “most significant partnership between a non-athlete and a sports brand” at the time. Though fruitful, the relationship began to sour toward the end of 2022, and the two parties’ impending dissolution continues to move through the court system. The Chicago-born rapper, designer, and producer isn’t the only musician on Adidas’ roster.
Known for his skateboard style, Pharrell Williams struck a deal with the sneaker and apparel company in 2014 through his textile business, Bionic Yarn, which recycles plastics into wearable clothing. In a written statement shared by Complex, Williams spoke of his fondness for the brand dating back to his childhood in Virginia. “Working with an iconic brand like Adidas is such an incredible opportunity. From the classic track suit to growing up in Virginia wearing Stan Smiths, Adidas has been a staple in my life. Their pieces are timeless. This is an exciting partnership for both me and for Bionic Yarn,” he expressed. Adidas was also home to Beyoncé’s Ivy Park collection from 2018 to 2023. At the time of the launch, the 32-time Grammy winner said, “My team has worked hard with the Adidas team in bringing my vision to life for this first collection, and I am grateful and proud. From the accessories to the clothes and footwear, I wanted to design and re-imagine pieces that serve as favorite armor for anyone who acknowledges the strength in their individual style and lives freely and boldly.” In March of this year, the two parties mutually agreed to end their creative partnership.
Of course, you can’t mention hip hop and Adidas without paying homage to Run-DMC, who put the brand on the map in the ’80s; even naming a song after it. “My Adidas” was released in 1986 and led to the trio earning their three-stripes. After performing the song at Madison Square Garden, where they urged the crowd to hold up their Adidas, the push was on. The group went on to record a video where they performed the song a capella before shouting, “Give us a million dollars.” This led to an unprecedented $1 million endorsement deal and shell-toe Adidas became a hip hop staple for decades to come.
The brand doesn’t always get their guy, however. Drake announced the endorsement deal between his October’s Very Own line and Jordan Brand back in 2013. “Growing up, I’m sure we all idolized this guy — he goes by the name of Michael Jordan… So, today, I came to Portland, and I officially became inducted into the Team Jordan family… I feel like I’m at home right now,” Drizzy stated. Years later, he reiterated his loyalty to the brand when rumors surfaced that he was switching to Adidas. He referenced the decision on Travis Scott’s “Sicko Mode,” where he rapped “checks over stripes.” Scott also found himself collaborating on Air Force 1 designs and with Jordan Brand for his Cactus Jack Air Jordan collection. Earlier this month, Teyana Taylor released her first original sneaker, the Air Jordan 1 Zoom CMFT 2, named “A Rose From Harlem.” The shoe sold out within minutes of its release. Nike also tapped into the rising star Megan Thee Stallion, making her the face of its “Play New” campaign where she encouraged fans to get active and “define sports in their own way.”
Shifting gears, everything Cardi B touches turns to gold and the same can be said for her sneaker deal with Reebok. It started with advertising for the brand in 2018. From 2020 to 2022, the Bronx rapper released shoes and apparel, earning over $10 million dollars. Cardi B told Footwear News, “I love that they saw my ideas. When I went to their headquarters in Boston, they welcomed me. It was freezing that day, and I just had a such a good experience and I thought, ‘Why not?’ I didn’t want to team up with someone who doesn’t care about my vision and just the product, [but Reebok did].”
The alliance between hip hop and sports is longstanding and undeniable. As more multifaceted stars emerge, expect more seamless collaborations and projects as the two industries continue to exist together and separately.
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