You may have seen this image of Drake standing solemnly in a crowd, looking dejected in a University of Kentucky jacket as the Wildcats lost the the national championship to UCONN.
Or maybe you saw Drake on NBA Countdown last Wednesday night debating Lebron vs Durant with Bill Simmons, Jalen Rose and Avery Johnson to promote himself hosting the 2014 ESPYs this summer.
Or you could have heard “Draft Day,” a great new track released last week, in which Drake shouts out Johnny Manziel and Andrew Wiggins (we stay winnin’).
So what’s with Drake and sports? He is practically everywhere on the scene — from partnering with FIFA2014 to performing between periods at the NHL All Star Game. Is he a real fan who just happens to ride for all the teams with the biggest stars, or is it just a PR thing? Does Drake actually care and have a rooting interest in the teams, or is it more a need to align himself with other winners outchea?
The rapper/athlete connection is no secret. All rappers want to be athletes, all athletes want to be rappers. But within the world of mainstream hip-hop there are only a handful of rappers whose fandom seems sincerely about the sports, rather than about the bravado and machismo that connects the two worlds.
Those few, in my opinion, being Lil’ Wayne, Action Bronson, and Wale. The majority of sports references in rap are elementary bandwagon shoutouts; something you could learn from watching one or two Sportscenter episodes. That’s why when you hear someone like Action Bronson namechecking Jay Buhner and Marquis Grissom it’s pretty remarkable.
Lil’ Wayne, Drake’s self-proclaimed mentor, has always been pretty loud about his fandom. ESPN even gave him a column at one point. I like to picture Wayne sitting young Drake down and passing along stories about those great Laker teams of the mid 2000s. In his documentary The Carter, there’s a scene where Wayne, while on his tour bus, finds out he sold 1 million copies of the Carter III. He then turns to the camera and comments on the Mets firing Willie Randolph. On “Swag Surfin,” Wayne raps “now women kickin’ it with me like Nomar Garciaparra,” referencing the former Red Sox shortstops marriage with Mia Hamm. You can tell the guy knows his stuff. And even though his favorite teams, the Red Sox, Lakers and Packers are by no means small market — his overall knowledge of the entire American sports landscape as a serious fan forgives him in my book.
Drake, however doesn’t exactly fall into that latter category of rappers who, through lyrics, have showed that sporting events are more than just a place to be seen. “Draft Day” a song specifically about athletes only contains a single sports reference outside of it’s title: “I play like I’m on roids, no Conseco/ No Oakland A’s though.”
It’s hard to criticize celebrities for showing up at games. That would be the very first thing I would do if I ever had the kind of money Drake does. And yes, you are allowed to be a fan of the sport, not specific teams. But there’s a decided difference between going to be seen and going because you appreciate some great basketball. I want to believe Drake is going to the NBA finals because he loves Manu’s eurostep and the way in which Lebron’s post game has improved since coming to Miami.
As his celebrity increased, so too has visibility of Drake’s Toronto roots. This is what happens when artists who formerly weren’t interested in alienating fans with obscure geographical references gain mainstream success and need to let everyone know where it all started. By all means, claim Toronto, Aubrey. But what are we supposed to make of you partnering with the Raptors to design a new look for the franchise when you’ve made such a point to be seen dapping up the teams that are winning championships? You know your friends in Miami will be playing against your your hometown Raptors, right?
So is Drake shouting out Johnny Manziel and hosting the ESPYs a giant stunt to showcase how champions of the rap game are real tight with champions of athleticism? Well, yeah, he has made that pretty clear. Drake gets Johnny Manziel, because Drake is Johnny Manziel, metaphorically.
In September, leading up to the launch of his album, Nothing Was the Same, Drake partnered with EA Sports to help launch their newest version of FIFA. It’s not much of a stretch, you could probably tap Drake to market anything, his stock is just that high. But with the FIFA event you notice that Drake is still weirdly very relatable to any group of guys playing video games with their friends. This is the reason why Drake is the perfect choice for the ESPYs. He is remarkably relatable, despite being arguably the biggest star in music.
And when the biggest, most relatable star also happens to show an affinity for sports, whether that’s an actual real love for the intricacies and nuances of an 82/162/16 game season or just the revelry and hype of game 7 of the finals, you give him the microphone at your awards ceremony and tell him to go.
The kicker, pun intended here, is that of all the sports, Drake seems like a pretty genuine soccer fan. Like, actually. But if you think that means soccer will get more facetime at this years ESPYs, hahah what, you watch the ESPYs?