Matt Connolly

Looking at overall quality of work, Shaq threw it down harder than anyone in the NBA in terms of actual success. His work on the mic even crossed over to the big screen in “Kazaam” with him laying down a line to “green egg and ham it!” But I’m not going to pick the Big Diesel for this coveted honor — that would be too easy.

I could hand it off to Allen Iverson; he actually had some legitimate tracks back in his heyday. But wait a second, he deferred to Jadakiss in his A5 and A6 shoe commercials! That’s whack.

Maybe the tribute should go to Ron Artest. His street cred is built up to the point where he could roll up on a gangbang with Shane Battier without any naysaying. Unfortunately, his beats and rhymes are sub par.

Hold up. Why not bestow the distinction to the guy getting stomped by Ronny in the playoffs? Alright, that was a joke. Rapping in Italian is obviously not cool. Sorry Kobe.

Damn, it looks like I’ve exhausted the entire list of active NBA rappers. Lucky for me, my selection isn’t limited to a player that’s active. In fact, it can’t even be held down to one rapper.

My winner requires diving back into the glory days. You remember the old school ballers of the early nineties – their shorts were short, their muscles weren’t hulking and their games were played on NBC to the best theme song ever created. And, fortunately for us, nine of these 20th century hoop stars decided to come together back in 1994 to create an album that has my vote of approval for the best NBA generated raps of all time. Its title: Basketball’s Best Kept Secret.

Back in ’94, some of the best hip hop groups to date were getting their bearings, from the Roots to Wu-Tang to A Tribe Called Quest. Unbeknownst to the public, a group made up largely of mediocre pro basketball talent was coming together on a Hall of Fame caliber collaboration in the studio.

To start, the majority of the MCs on the album are out of the East Bay, giving the tandem immediate respect. Jason Kidd and Gary Payton, two basketball legends out of Oakland, carried over their on-court skill and absolutely murder their respective tracks.

With a smooth flow that puts his white complexion to shame, J-Kidd lets the public know that “The Kidd” is all about balling and cash while respectively omitting female degradation. In addition, the lyrics are spit to a backbeat that’s strangely similar to an infamous Snoop Dogg track. The current Dallas Maverick even references Jamal Mashburn. Enough said.

G.P.’s track might be the best on the entire album, with The Glove calling his life “legal” and “large” to avoid racial profiling while setting a good example for the kiddies. What a guy. It doesn’t hurt that his flow is as tight as his all-league defense, one which vibes to a funky-fresh beat to boot.

It gets even better. UC Santa Barbara alum Brian Shaw made the cut, bringing a tear to my eye with his tale of strife in a song entitled “Anything Can Happen.” An unassuming combo guard rapping on the same album as J.R. Rider, a player cited with dozens of arrests and marijuana charges? I guess anything CAN happen.

To this day, this CD still might be basketball’s best kept secret.

Derek Mead

There are two distinct eras of NBA hip hop: the post-millennial bling-based rap and the early to mid-nineties golden age hip hop. Around 1998-99, rap began to enter the bling era, and NBA players who recorded tracks from then until now have all embraced the image of rich thug. Ron Artest personifies the style; My World tells his story of playing ball amid gunshots while growing up in Queens. “Haterz,” produced by Artest himself, is the best track. Over a beat pumped up with some quality synth work, Ronald fires out good lyrics and even discusses brawling fans at The Palace.

The crown for best current NBA rapper has to go to Allen Iverson. I’ve been looking for his “40 Bars” 12-inch for years and for one reason: Out of all the rappers who struggle to read off ghost-written lyrics, AI actually sounds like he knows what he’s doing on the mic. His lyricism is a bit standard, but his flow is on point. With the bar set pretty damn low by the rest of his peers, it’s more than enough to push him to the top.

My favorite era of hip hop was in the ’90s, which happens to be the most prolific era for NBA rappers. Unlike the money and cars that most current player-rappers discuss, the top clichés of the early years were basketball metaphors (especially references to jump shots), along with a major emphasis on clean living and being a role model. Funny how things change, isn’t it?

A good primer for this period is 1994’s Basketball’s Best Kept Secret, a compilation of tracks from all over the league. Malik Sealy gets the coveted third track with “Lost in the Sauce,” on which he reps being sober, shouts out to his mom and sister and opens the hook over a funk guitar-based West Coast beat.

Gary Payton matches the upstanding citizen theme with “Living Legal and Large.” The Glove sounds more composed on the mic, and the wildly funky Oakland beat was probably a Too Short throwaway, which, in this company, is very good stuff. Cedric Ceballos is the heaviest hitter on the album: “Flow On” has Long Beach G-Funk written all over it, and Ceballos delivers lyrically with a sound like Tupac impersonating Nate Dogg. That shit is smooth.

But only one man in NBA history has put out a pair of platinum albums, something that most legitimate rappers will never do: Shaquille O’Neal.

Shaq Diesel, the ultimate entertainer in the history of the league, has the deepest discography of any player with four albums released from 1993-98. In its debut, Shaq Diesel went double-platinum, and is filled with enough rump-shaking jams to turn any boring dance floor into the absolutely apeshit parties he put together for his videos.

I’ve been collecting records and spinning hip hop for a long time, and one thing I’ve quickly learned is that athletes simply don’t have the time to perfect their mic skills. Still, if I was playing a party in Oakland, how could I pass up mixing in a little Brian Shaw?