MIAMI – There were no smiley faces. No long text message. No picture. Rather, Grammy-nominated rapper Drake sent his usual encouragement, via BlackBerry Messenger, on game day to his close friend, LeBron James(notes). It simply read: "Tonight is your night."
While watching enthusiastically from a courtside seat, Drake was proven right as James sparked the Miami Heat with 35 points and helped shut down the Chicago Bulls' Derrick Rose(notes) late in a 101-93 overtime victory in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals on Tuesday night. With the victory, only one triumph stands in the way of James and the Heat from advancing to the NBA Finals as they own a commanding 3-1 series lead.
"I always let him know that it’s his night," Drake told Yahoo! Sports. "Let’s get it, let’s go out there with a clear mind and forget all the other stuff going on and just stay focused on the task. That ring. Tonight, I told him it was his night. And it was his night tonight."
James saw something special in Drake and his music, and became a big fan, long before Drake’s debut studio album "Thank Me Later" went platinum last year. The Heat star said the two now have grown to share a familial bond.
"What we have is real family," James said. "It’s not just because we are successful at what we do. We really care about one another on a day-to-day basis. Anytime you get a friend that can come and support you in what you do, I really respect that.
"He has a busy schedule. I respect that. Anytime I get some free time, I try to support him as well."
Drake penned and rapped the lead verse on "Forever," the title track to James’ 2008 documentary "More Than a Game." One of hip-hop’s most popular rappers also played a role in James’ animated series, "The LeBrons."
Considering the support James has showed, Drake considered it an honor to give love back by attending Game 4, where he sat courtside across from the Bulls’ bench next to fellow famed rapper Lil’ Wayne.
"That’s my brother," Drake said of James. "As a person, he’s an incredible guy."
While Luol Deng(notes) and Carlos Boozer(notes) were playing well offensively for Chicago, James was more worried about the NBA's MVP, who already had a team-high 17 points entering the fourth quarter. Heat guard Dwyane Wade(notes) was cold for most of the night, too, which added more pressure for James to score and defend at a high level.
James scored 23 of his points in the second half and finished with six rebounds, six assists, two steals and two blocks. He had a team-high seven points in the fourth to help force OT and took the challenge of guarding the lightning quick Rose midway through the fourth. He was almost Game 4's goat as he committed an offensive foul with the game tied 85-85 with 8 seconds left in regulation. But James made up for it by limiting Rose to 1-of-5 shooting in the fourth, including smothering defense that caused Rose to miss the potential winning jumper at the regulation buzzer.
"I take pride defensively," said James, who played nearly 50 minutes. "It doesn’t matter who it is. If it’s Derrick Rose or starting on Luol [Deng], it’s whatever it takes for myself and for our team. If that means me playing extensive minutes guarding D-Rose, then I’ll do it."
Said Rose: "It’s extremely hard when a 6-foot-8 guy can easily defend you."
All the while, Drake was going nuts with every James basket or big defensive play.
"It’s something about being out there," Drake said. "I get out of my seat and kneel on the court as if I’m about to get in the game. We’re playing on a similar wave length."
When James went to the locker room after the final buzzer to celebrate and cool down before changing into some Miami Vice-type gear with the night still young by South Beach standards, a smiling and gracious Drake took pictures with anyone who asked before making a point to hug and talk to his buddy’s friends.
The Heat are still five wins away from a championship, so James can still expect extra motivation from his entertainment pal in the form of a "BBM."
"I want to see him get this ring really badly," Drake said.