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Jocks and Rock: An Inside Look

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Posted: Wednesday May 19, 1999 12:59 PM

  David LaChapelle

In this week's Sports Illustrated cover story, senior writer Michael Silver examines the mutual admiration society that exists between musicians and athletes. Silver rapped with CNN/SI about the piece.

CNN/SI : Where did the story idea come from?

Michael Silver: This has been a process at least three years in the making. It was an idea born around the time of the 1996 NBA Finals. Dennis Rodman invited me up to Game 1 of the Bulls-Sonics series. He had hooked me up with courtside seats next to Jeff Ament of Pearl Jam, so I was excited. Jeff turned out to be a nice guy. We talked during the game, we went out afterward. Around that time, it occurred to me how all the rockers secretly want to be sports stars and vice versa. Hanging out with Rodman sort of underscored it; he's probably more into rock than anyone else in sports right now.

When rock was anti-establishment, sports and athletes were so brutally unhip that it was hard for the two groups to bond. The typical jock was the dorky, ROTC, crew-cutted, muscleman who didn't have fun in the same way the music crowd did. Obviously that's changed a lot. Because athletes and musicians share this buzz for live performance, it's easy for each group to get jaded about what their contemporaries do. Dennis Rodman isn't blown away by Karl Malone so much; I don't think Eddie Vedder is in awe of [Smashing Pumpkins lead singer] Billy Corgan. But when you get together Vedder and Rodman, each is looking at the other going -- what you really do is cool, that looks hard to me. I think athletes and musicians have this connection based largely on the thrill of being out there on the wire when they perform, as opposed to an actor, who can just do another take. It's to the point where it thrills each of them more than the usual celebrity schmoozing would.

CNN/SI: Which athlete-music connection is the most interesting to you?

Silver: I've always been into the Bill Walton-Grateful Dead thing. The Dead are so unique with their traveling circus. Walton became a part of that. He toured with them. Luke Campbell is another hero. I love people who rattle the walls of society.

CNN/SI: Today, who represents the closest bridging of the sports-music gap?

Silver: I thought that Shaq was the quintessential sports/music hybrid. Now I would say that Master P is. If you are famous enough, you can make a record. We've seen countless examples of that. Some of the more regrettable ones are Joe Frazier and Jimmy Connors. There have been some awful musical efforts put out there by athletes.

While I think that Shaq's musical ventures have been highly respectable and certainly some of them have sold very well, it's less remarkable that a great athlete would be able to rap than it is that one of the great forces in rap would actually be good enough to play in an NBA exhibition game.

Would Percy Miller, if he had been working in construction over the years, have gotten a tryout with the Hornets and lasted for two weeks? Probably not, but we're not talking about Garth Brooks here. This is a guy who bangs with real NBA players in pickup games and exhibitions -- and doesn't utterly embarrass himself. If you think about Eddie Vedder going out there or Jerry Garcia posting up or Keith Richards coming around the corner on a sweep, it is rather remarkable that Master P has pushed it this far.

CNN/SI: And Master P hasn't merely been some guy with a dream to play in the NBA....

Silver: Right. He's such a smart business man, he's not restricting his sports involvement to the whimsical notion that he can play in the NBA. He's also smart enough to start No Limit sports agency, under the premise that athletes not only would want to hang with him, which is a great recruitment tool, but some of the things he espouses -- the self-made businessman ethic, for example -- are real appealing for a guy like Ricky Williams.

Related information
Getting in Tune: Sound samples
Sports/Music Time Line
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