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It’s a safe assumption that LeBron James listened to at least one Kendrick Lamar song before making history on Thursday night. He didn’t specify which songs he listened to, but he did say he’s had Lamar’s newest album, “DAMN.,” on repeat since the artist sent him a sneak preview of it before its April 14 release.
James — who had helped the Cavs erase a 25-point halftime deficit, the largest overcome in NBA playoff history, to beat the Indiana Pacers 119-114 on Thursday and claim a 3-0 lead in the series — seemed somber at the podium. He didn’t want to take credit for the win: It was a team effort, he said. He wanted to “empower” his teammates.
But when a reporter asked about the album, he smiled.
“The guy is an unbelievable talent,” said James, who back in November used Lamar’s hit “Alright” in an Instagram video offering his response to the election of Donald Trump as the 45th president of the United States. “His wordplay and his lyrics is unbelievable. And it hit home for me at times, because I was a kid who grew up in the inner city.”
Born and raised in Akron, Ohio, James is no stranger to Lamar’s message. James has talked about his tough upbringing in the past. His mother, Gloria, had him at 16 and he never knew his father. He says that growing up in the inner city, there were just two options: play basketball or sell drugs.
“That’s it,” James said. “There’s no out. You become a statistic. As an African-American kid growing up in the inner city, they don’t believe that you can get out and become something. So that’s why I’m able to relate to a lot of his lyrics and relate to a lot of his stories.”
James has taken it upon himself to help turn the narrative of “inner city kids can only dribble a ball or push drugs” on its head. He donated $41 million in scholarships for students who complete the “I Promise” program to attend the University of Akron. Like Lamar, James is showing black children from rough parts of town that they have options.
“I’m glad he’s able to put those words onto a track for all of us to be able to hear it,” James said.
James finished Thursday’s Game 3 with with 41 points, 13 rebounds and 12 assists, the 17th playoff triple-double of his career. He also passed Kobe Bryant to move into third place on the NBA’s all-time postseason scoring list.
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