Dreams are something J. Cole often raps about. It’s the name of his music label — Dreamville Records. But dreams aren’t promised. Sometimes one person’s dream can be another’s nightmare.
According to ESPN, Cole’s time with the Rwanda Patriots BBC of the Basketball Africa League is over. Cole has reportedly left Rwanda due to a “family obligation,” as he was only obligated to play a handful of games anyway. In total, he scored 5 points, grabbed 5 rebounds, and tallied 3 assists in 45 minutes in three appearances. And while it may be easy to mock Cole’s performance, I’d rather focus on why he should have never been granted the opportunity in the first place.
It’s extremely hard to become a pro athlete. And even if you’re lucky enough to make it, you can still be treated like all your success was meaningless — look at Kwame Brown. The 12-team Basketball Africa League is trying to establish itself, as it has support from NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and former stars like Dikembe Mutombo, Grant Hill, Luol Deng, and Joakim Noah. And when Cole dropped clues why he was playing basketball daily just before it was announced that he would be joining the BAL in SLAM Magazine — as the first artist to have a solo cover of the top basketball magazine on the planet — it brought attention to a league many didn’t know existed.
“I work out in the morning, I do a basketball workout, I do my music, and then I do family time,” Cole said. “I wake up and I repeat. And I don’t do music on the weekend. “I’m working out for a reason,” he explained. “I work out with intentions in mind.”
Something about Cole getting the cover of SLAM felt wrong to me, as it’s always been a destination for hoopers that were up next or had achieved something. That cover is the official stamp in basketball culture, and here was a rapper being photographed as if he’d just made his first All-Star team. The closest thing we’d seen to anything like this was when Drake graced the cover in 2016 alongside Toronto Raptors stars DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry. Toronto was the theme, and Drake — a T-Dot native — posed with the team’s biggest stars at the time, on his way to becoming an official global ambassador for the franchise. And then Terrell Stoglin, a former Maryland Terrapin and guard for the BAL’s AS Sale, confirmed my feelings in an interview with ESPN about Cole, a former St. John’s walk-on.
I think there’s a negative and a positive [to J. Cole’s presence.] The negative part of it is: I think he took someone’s job that deserves it.
I live in a basketball world. I don’t live in a fan world. I know a lot of guys that had their careers stopped by COVID and they’re still home working out and training for an opportunity like this.
For a guy who has so much money and has another career to just come here and average, like, one point a game and still get glorified is very disrespectful to the game. It’s disrespectful to the ones who sacrificed their whole lives for this.
The positive side of it is: it brings a lot of attention, and, I guess, money. I don’t really pay attention to that type of stuff. I’m more [concerned that] he took someone’s job that deserved it.
Stoglin is right. But of course, anyone who agrees with him — or me — will be called a “hater,” as the majority of fans saw it as Cole living out his dreams without thinking about how someone else’s was taken away. And since rappers want to be ball-players and ball-players want to be rappers, Rick Ross defended Cole’s selfish decision.
“In no way is this meant to be disrespectful but first and foremost, should no Black man’s dreams be censored nor limited,” said Ross in a video posted to social media. “And comin’ from a brother, I think you would understand what building these types of relationships would do for the business. For the eyes on the industry, you know what I’m sayin’?”
The part that everybody seems to be missing is that Cole has had at least two dreams in his life — basketball and music. He chose music, which, like basketball, is supposed to be based on talent, not celebrity. And for the record, let’s not act like Cole is Master P — who once played for the Charlotte Hornets and the Toronto Raptors during the preseason, and according to some, barely missed making the team. And in terms of what “the relationship could do for business,” Cole could have done that without playing a second. He could have attended games and promoted the league through his deal with Puma without taking up a roster spot. You don’t need a locker to be an investor, advocate, or supporter.
“The main parallel that I always draw between music and basketball is like, ‘Yo, it’s just a matter of hours,” Cole told SLAM Magazine. “The difference between the pro guy that sits on the bench and the superstar, it’s just a matter of intentional hours. They’re both really good, but that final foot of separation comes in the amount of hours that were put in. I think in order for any of those guys to be great, like LeBron, Steph, Damian Lillard, Kyrie, KD, there has to be an insane work ethic.”
Those players in Africa that are trying to make it as pros have that same insane work ethic, it’s what’s got them to the pro level. They spent intentional hours on the court while J. Cole put intentional hours in the studio. But none of that mattered for at least one of them, because they lost their chance to accomplish their dreams, all because a rapper used his celebrity to take part in his favorite hobby. They call that dream killing.