• Jay Christian

It’s Science: No Hip-Hop, No Hoops


The NBA recently announced that it would be returning to Seattle, as the Golden State Warriors will face the Sacramento Kings in a preseason game next season.

This news was bittersweet to basketball fans in the Emerald City. On the one hand, the NBA will be back in the Pacific Northwest, if only for a night. On the other hand, it will feature a game between the player who should be the former franchise’s all-time best versus the franchise that should currently be in western Washington.

Ever since I relocated here in 2014 I have never understood why the NBA hasn’t returned to Seattle. It is a capable sports town, currently supporting teams in the NFL, MLB, MLS and (soon to be) NHL. It has a booming tech sector which translates to disposable income for things like basketball games. And c’mon, that whole relocation thing was just messy. The NBA owes us one.

Conspiracy theorists believe the NBA has it out for their city. Pragmatists note that without a new shiny arena there is no chance of landing a franchise. All valid points, but I came across another reason why Seattle hasn’t had an NBA game since 2008.

Based on mostly unscientific research, I determined that the biggest contributing factor to Seattle not having a team can be found on Seattle’s local radio stations. Or, rather cannot be found on local radio stations.

Seattle does not have a hip-hop radio station. You read that right. The city with enough musical chops to claim luminaries like Jimmy Hendrix and Nirvana and birth an entire genre of music does not have a hip-hop radio station.

Seattle tries to sell the masses on its classic hip-hop station. Hot 103.7 promises all the jams from back in the day. You will catch most of the Bad Boy catalog mixed in with some Tupac for good measure. There are R&B remixes and soulful ballads to round out the playlist but nothing past the early 2000s. The flagship program is the morning drive show hosted by Seattle’s own Sir-Mix-A-Lot.

The immediate retort is that nobody listens to the radio anymore, and most people stream their music via any number of services or apps. There is some truth to that and without the resources at Off the Glass to verify this information, I will take this strawman argument at face value.

But even if this is true, that doesn’t change the fact that, save for some remote outpost on the farthest moon of Endor, most cities have hip-hop stations on their radio dials. This is especially true for NBA cities and for good reason. A city economically healthy enough to support a sports franchise likely has some cosmopolitan tastes, among them bike lanes, avocado toast and an appreciation for hip-hop music.

My research of NBA cities with hip-hop stations supports this point as all the current cities with NBA teams have a contemporary hip-hop station. Every single one. Okay, full disclosure here: I didn’t do all the research like an actual scientist. I opted for a history degree rather than become a political science major at a liberal arts college, so admittedly my methodology could have flaws. But the declaration remains, and when you think about it, there is not a lot of research to be done. Most NBA cities fall into one of the following categories:

The Locks: We don’t even have to check these guys. I’m thinking New York, Los Angeles, Toronto, Chicago, Houston, etc. You get the point. You would be hard pressed not to find hip-hop radio in these locales.

The “Demographics”: Although not as global as the Locks, the Demographics would lead you to conclude these cities’ populations support hip-hop radio stations. (You know what I mean by Demographics, right? We don’t have to explore that deeper, do we? I figured we could just accept this shorthand like we do “working class voters” or “Reagan Democrats”.) In addition to the census data, these cities are historical incubators of hip-hop music, so it stands to reason you would find the art form on the radio. Think classic hip-hop hubs like Atlanta, New Orleans, Detroit, Washington, D.C.

The Tombstones: I chose the name “Tombstone” as homage to the movie Tombstone starring Kurt Russell and Sam Elliott. There is a scene where the mayor of Tombstone tells Russell and Elliot that the little Arizona boomtown is just like all the other big cities with all the trappings of modern life. A man is subsequently shot in the street, offering just the right amount of cinematic irony in that scene. Anyway, Tombstones. The cities in this last group are not the huge international hubs like the Locks or have the historically cultivated hip-hop cultures like the Demographics. But they are just as cosmopolitan as evidenced by having their own hip-hop radio stations. Think Minneapolis, Phoenix, Denver, Milwaukee, etc.

All the current NBA cities fall into one of the aforementioned categories and have a hip-hop radio station. Even Portland and Salt Lake City, destinations that would never be confused for Locks or Demographics, have hip-hop stations. Seattle does not and will not have an NBA team until it does. It’s science.

So, what does hip-hop have to do with basketball anyway? Well, a lot actually. Ever since Kurtis Blow dropped “Basketball” in 1984, the two have been inextricably linked.

Over the years the cultural exchange between hoops and hip-hop has produced some memorable pop culture moments. One of the highlights of Ice Cube’s “Good Day” was messing around and getting a triple double. In comparing his skills to former Wizards guard and early rival DeShawn Stevenson back in 2008, a young LeBron James once remarked, “It’s almost like Jay-Z saying something bad about Soulja Boy. There’s no comparison. Enough said.” And most recently, the Disney company elected to use two songs by Kendrick Lamar, “Humble” and “DNA”, as theme music for the 2017 playoffs.

Everyone involved in bringing us NBA games – the league, teams and networks – all acknowledge the connection between hip-hop and basketball. And if this premise is accepted then it must also be accepted that in this regard Seattle is not an NBA city; not yet. Maybe it’s a case of correlation not a causation. There is no way to determine if having a hip-hop station helped secure teams for other cities. And whether or not I hear Migos on my way to work has no bearing on Commissioner Silver’s decision to consider bringing the NBA back to Seattle.

Besides, Silver has too many items on his agenda--reforming the play-offs, legalizing sports gambling and negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement--to name a few. He’s even looking into expanding the NBA abroad to places like Mexico City and London. Yes, London, home of The Beat London 103.6FM, London’s number one urban radio station.

#NBA #Seattle #JayChristian #HipHop #PopCulture