- Jack Neudorf
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Now, more than ever, the line between the NBA and hip hop is blurred. Jay-Z and Nelly are part owners of NBA teams, Master P actually tried to turn pro (making all who watched his summer-league games say "Unnnhhh"), and it's uncanny how many NBA players hit the studio themselves to remind the public that they truly shouldn't quit their day jobs. While there are a few exceptions to the rule—like, say, Allen Iverson's controversial single "Last Night" or Chris Webber's producing on Nas's "Blunt Ashes"—the mere existence of NBA hip hop artifacts such as the Kobe track featuring Tyra Banks, anything by Shaq-Fu or Ron Artest's album (which he literally asked for time off from the Pacers to promote), are proof that being an athlete doesn't necessarily make one a good rapper. But that doesn't mean they shouldn't have Sporting Equivalents in the biz.
If King James' NBA parallel is Jay-Z (as was alluded to during the Cavs-Wizards series), then in Game 7 of the Cleveland-Boston series, Paul Pierce's perfect alter ego was Nas, who dropped "Ether" ( the song which was the death-blow in the ongoing Jay-Z/Nas battle) on LeBron. Sure, James may be more high-profile than Pierce, but "The Truth" is still playing, and just a single win away from a championship. And, seeing as Pierce is teamed up with two All-Stars (KG and Ray Allen), we can't help but think of another high-profile collaboration that broke the charts—Nas and Lauryn Hill's "If I Ruled the World (Imagine That)". If the Celtics can win one more, Pierce won't have to imagine anymore.
Lamar Odom/Mos Def
In Mos Def's "Habitat," he quips "It ain't where you been, it's where you're at," which sums up Lamar Odom's current situation. Sure, he spent 4 years in basketball purgatory with the Clippers, and so what if he missed the Heat's championship season when he was traded to LA for Shaq. Lamar could redeem everything with his role as a productive teammate on a championship-caliber team (they need him now more than ever). Mos flew under the radar as a member of the progressive Black Star duo, received some critical acclaim for his solo debut "Black on Both Sides," but he only recently began receiving mainstream attention. Both are New York natives (Odom from Queens, Mos from Brooklyn) and both have made the transition to Hollywood: Mos is now a sought-after movie star (The Italian Job, Be Kind Rewind), and Lamar is on his way (he killed it with his one line in Entourage last year).
The Lakers "Bench Mob"/Daz, Kurupt, Nate Dogg and Warren G
We are already aware of Kobe's rap skills (or lack thereof), but one cannot discuss the 2008 Lakers without the MVP in the mix. For our purposes, imagine Black Mamba as Snoop Dogg. While no stranger to individual acclaim, Snoop's success has been facilitated by collaborations by a stable of West Coast rappers, made up of Daz, Kurupt, Warren G and Nate Dogg. This year Kobe was quick to share his MVP honors with his teammates, and wisely, we think. Throughout the season, Luke Walton, Ronny Turiaf, Jordan Farmar and Sasha Vujacic have contributed solid minutes off the bench, just as Tha Dogg Pound (Daz and Kurupt), Warren G and Nate Dogg have helped Snoop to elevate his game at key moments of his career. Because Kobe can't do it alone, the end result this year on the West Side will ultimately be decided by the Laker "Bench Mob's" performance.
Danny Ainge/Suge Knight
Put the obvious physical dissimilarities aside and focus on the way the two have built successful teams. Suge's label, Death Row, blew up in the '90's thanks to his recruitment of three hungry and ambitious superstars, Dr. Dre, Tupac and Snoop. Ainge took a page out of Suge's book when he signed the "Big Three," and pulled off the biggest single-season turnaround in NBA history. As tragic an end result as it was, the 90s East Coast/West Coast rap feud produced some of the most epic and groundbreaking hip-hop of all time. Previous Celtics/Lakers showdowns have likewise set a high bar for NBA Finals drama, and are revered by many as some of the best basketball ever played. Also, we like to imagine the KG-trade meeting between Danny Ainge and Kevin McHale going something like the meeting between Suge and Vanilla Ice, where Knight reportedly dangled the Ice-man over a hotel balcony until he agreed to sign over publishing rights to "Ice Ice Baby."