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LeBron James honors Lakers fan and rap legend Nipsey Hussle two years after his death

Rapper Nipsey Hussle watches an NBA game courtside between the Golden State Warriors and the Milwaukee Bucks in Oakland
Nipsey Hussle sits courtside as he watches an NBA basketball game. Two years after his death, his legacy continues on in the basketball world.
(Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press)

Lakers star LeBron James used his massive social media platform to honor rap legend Nipsey Hussle Wednesday, saluting one of the team’s biggest fans who influenced NBA players’ focus on fighting social injustice.

It’s been two years since Hussle was shot and killed in a gang-related incident outside his store, The Marathon Clothing, in the Crenshaw District. Hussle, who made his name as a shrewd entrepreneur with fierce authenticity, was an avid basketball fan who cheered on the Lake Show. He also performed during a Clippers halftime show in 2018.

“Nip Hussle the legend was an innovator and trailblazer,” Clippers brand ambassador and rapper Stix told The Times in a text message. “He always stayed ahead of the curve, whether it was introducing us to new ways to engage via his Marathon Store or educating us on the early stages of crypto. He was light years ahead of his time and perfect for our time. He was a prophet like Jesus, Muhammad, Buddha, and others. Long live Nip!”

That same year, when Lakers Rajon Rondo and Brandon Ingram got into a scuffle with then-Houston Rockets guard Chris Paul, Hussle stood up from his courtside seat, seemingly ready to defend his hometown. He also met his business partner, David Gross, during a Lakers matchup in 2016. Hussle’s loyalty and grit are what drew many to him.

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“The things that made me want to connect with Nip, made me a fan of Nip, was everything that came before I met him,” Gross said.

People close to Nipsey Hussle say they are pushing forward with his vision of empowering his South Los Angeles community.

As he ascended the music industry, Hussle also stayed connected to the community, especially through basketball. In 2018, he used his partnership with Puma to refurbish the basketball court at 59th Elementary School, where he used to shoot hoops.

“Basketball and Crenshaw — you can’t separate them,” Hussle said in a essay about the court for The Player’s Tribune. “It’s all part of the culture that made me.”

Los Angeles-based artist Cooper (who went by the name Drew Visuals at the time) was commissioned to do the art for the court. The design incorporated his signature wildflowers, a sign of growth. The whimsical court was meant to be “fun for the kids to play on, joyful, vibrant, and positive,” Cooper said in a phone interview with The Times.

“Just being in his presence and meeting him was the most inspirational moment of my art career.”

Cooper recalled Hussle coming out to inspect his work after he finished painting the court. He grinned and said, “This is dope.”

“That was the ultimate sign of respect,” Cooper said, noting it’s an ingrained memory that will forever motivate him.

This year, rapper Big Sean honored Hussle’s basketball legacy during a video for his Grammy-nominated song “Deep Reverence.” During his verse, Hussle is depicted through a framed photograph while Big Sean performs part of the song at Crete Academy in Crenshaw, where the basketball court features a mural honoring Hussle. It displays a portrait of Hussle’s profile against a rich blue background with the quote: “The highest human act is to inspire.”


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