Over the last thirty years, the connection between basketball and hip-hop has become nearly impossible to ignore. The music overpowers the sound of basketballs bouncing on the hardwood as teams warm up before a game, echoes through arenas during timeouts, and accompanies nearly every highlight video or sports commercial on social media and television. Music’s popularity among the players has often attributed to it being relatable for athletes with backgrounds similar to those of hip-hop artists and useful in getting athletes “pumped-up” for competition. However, it’s popularity within the NBA organization itself seems to revolve around a less-personal concept: money. Perhaps one of the best illustrations of this is the following quote by Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks.
“The NBA hasn’t made a conscious effort to align with hip-hop; it’s made a conscious effort to build a fan base. Kids drive merchandise sales. Kids are our future customers. If classical music were hot with 12- to 24-year-olds, you’d be asking why the NBA is tied to Brahms…These days the only decision is whether to play Rapper’s Delight’ for the dads or 50 Cent for the kids.”
For the NBA, it’s not about representing the hip-hop culture–and associated Black culture–that’s ultimately inseparable from the music. Considering the fact that 75% of athletes in the NBA during the 2015-16 season were black, the culture is one which resonates with a large portion of the league (Institute for Diversity in Sports). Yet for the organization, it’s about maximizing ticket sales and merchandise revenue by being associated with hip-hop and it’s aura of popularity. As Jeffrey Lane says in his book Under the Boards: The Cultural Revolution in Basketball (2007), the NBA sees hip-hop as “a commercial force essential to the NBA’s standing in popular culture.” With revenue across the organization totaling over 8 billion dollars from the 2018-2019 season, it’s hard to say that something about the tactic isn’t working.