On the last evening of the Kobe Bryant farewell tour, when the star willed himself toward a 60-point performance, some of rap’s most influential names were in the house: Jay-Z, Kanye West, Kendrick Lamar, Snoop Dogg, Schoolboy Q and Anthony Tiffith of Top Dawg Entertainment were all sitting close to the hardwood as possible. From a certain light, Kobe represented the style and grace of hip-hop in a more physical medium, dominating in his lane with an energy and snarling attitude that only he could attest to. Even in retirement, he’s still getting shoutouts in new songs.
If hip-hop is the essence of cultural cool, recent retiree Tim Duncan might not be its best on-court representative. Upon the announcement that he was hanging up his shoes, op-eds glorifying his wonderful lameness bloomed all over the internet. ESPN’s Tom Haberstroh went so far as to dig up a paper Duncan co-wrote at Wake Forest called “Blowhards, Snobs, and Narcissists: Interpersonal Reactions to Excessive Egotism.” There will never be another like him.
But from a different light — the shimmer and glow of Gregg Popovich’s farewell — Duncan emerges as the ultimate NBA player to embody rap’s first and final ideal: realness. “He’s the most real, consistent, true person I’ve ever met in my life,” said an emotional Popovich. “He’s the same person — his values, his opinion of himself — as the day he came in. I remember before his father passed away, him looking me in the eye and saying, ‘I’m going to hold you responsible to make sure that when he’s done he’s the same person he is now. And in that respect, he is.”
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