As you’ve likely heard by now, the NBA is a 12-month league. The offseason begets training camps begets the regular season begets playoff drama begets the draft begets free agency begets summer league begets international tournaments begets training camp, and so on. With so much happening around the league, both on the court and off, it can be tough to keep track of which stories are worth your time, and which you can ignore. Welcome to Is This a Thing?
OK, So What’s Going On?
Two words: rap beef. Three more words: Shaq and Dame. One more word: Why? Last week, Portland Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard appeared on The Joe Budden Podcast and said he thought he was a better rapper than the largest (by cubic volume) hip-hop artist of all time, Shaquille O’Neal. In his heyday, the Big Record Scratch had a respectable music career, dropping four studio albums from 1993 to 1998, with his debut, Shaq Diesel, earning platinum certification from the RIAA, and his follow-up, Shaq-Fu: The Return going gold. All four of his records charted, though it’s safe to assume they each got a significant bump in sales because of the novelty of a future NBA Hall of Famer rhyming over beats.
Lillard, to his credit, is also an accomplished artist, with three studio albums of his own. The latest of which, Big D.O.L.L.A., was released in August, featuring appearances from Lil Wayne and Jeremih. Not bad for a guy who spends most of his time on the hardwood.
New album alert— Damian Lillard (@Dame_Lillard) August 7, 2019
Available 8/9 on all platforms! It’s my 3rd album and my best. Make sure y’all go support on Friday!
Dame (D)ifferent (O)n (L)evels (L)ord (A)llowed#DameDOLLA #BigDOLLA #FrontPageMusic @FrontPageMusic pic.twitter.com/dzmfXWwRQi
Nevertheless, Shaq thinks himself a superior musician and didn’t take kindly to Lillard’s assertion. A few days after Lillard’s appearance on Budden’s podcast, Shaq dropped a freestyle, creatively titled “Freestyle (Dame D.O.L.L.A Diss),” on YouTube. The audio quality was surprisingly (or purposely) underwhelming, and the song features car-crash sound effects. But honestly? It sort of goes.
Shaq effectively lays out his résumé. He has rings, and money, and individual accolades, and Dame, as far as Shaq is concerned, has none of the three. Lillard, never one to back down from a challenge (this isn’t even his first rap beef of the summer—earlier this year, Dame had a musical feud with Kings forward Marvin Bagley III), released a track of his own on Tuesday, “Reign Reign Go Away,” so named for Shaq’s third LP, You Can’t Stop the Reign.
I have no way of confirming this, but I’m absolutely sure Dame hit publish on his track and then stared at his laptop for 36 hours with the same expression he gave after ending Russell Westbrook’s Oklahoma City career. He goes after Shaq’s terrible record at the free throw line, his admittedly goofy Icy Hot commercials, how Kobe deserves the credit for Shaq’s first three championships, and Dwyane Wade for his fourth. Lillard even says that he and Shaq could’ve made a song together to signal a passing of the torch. Of course, this is right before he calls Shaq old and cocky. I don’t think that offer came in earnest.
Can They, You Know, Rap?
Here are two of their best lines:
Dame: “This a different era, you the past and you the past / Said yourself that I’m a Tesla, no longer need diesel gas. Kind of like the Cavs ain’t really need diesel ass.”
Shaq: “Take your time to respond, there is no hurry / You’ll never be Westbrook, never be Curry.”
Why Is This a Thing?
Because it’s the offseason, and at some point, we all get bored by six dozen guys telling reporters at media days that they’re in the best shape of their lives, or have been working hard all summer or think this is their year.
Tired: using the first week of training camp to start building chemistry with new teammates, talk strategy with the coaching staff, and set yourself up for a successful season.
Wired: starting beef with a retired center whose fame among the youngest of basketball fans is centered on his seat on Inside the NBA and Kazaam, if their parents are cool.
The old-timer gives it his best shot. There’s no taking that away from him. And for a guy nearing 50 who hasn’t put out a record since I was 3, I have to admit he’s got solid flow. But he borrows a beat from Dr. Dre and goes on for about a minute longer than he should. Dame, on the other hand, is in his musical and athletic prime. Shaq raps about having more rings than Dame. There’s no arguing that. Even Trevor Ariza, as Shaq mentions, has more jewelry than Lillard. But he might’ve overstepped by criticizing Lillard’s net worth. As Dame pointed out, his max extension is enormous, and by the end of it, he’ll have made just shy of $350 million for his career. Through 19 seasons, Shaq made about $286 million. This round goes to Dame D.O.L.L.A.
Is This a Thing?
It depends. Are you looking for something light and dumb? Because this is that. If you’re asking whether this is important in the grander context of the season, and in determining the legacies of each of these superb athletes, the answer is no. The NBA has no shortage of goofy side stories, and this rap beef is just the most recent entry. Shaq is one of the biggest stars in the history of the sport, and Dame is an MVP candidate with a penchant for creating big moments. What they do on the tracks isn’t relevant to their reputations on the floor and will probably become an afterthought after Charles Barkley throws two or three or 10 barbs at Shaq over the course of the season. But hey, the regular season doesn’t tip off for another few weeks, and there’s only so much time we can spend analyzing Markelle Fultz’s new jumper.