This story appears in ESPN The Magazine's Feb. 2 Music Issue. Subscribe today!
In 2013-14, the Wizards won 44 games, made the playoffs for the first time in six years, beat the Bulls in the first round-yet ranked 18th in attendance. Their solution: Hire DC-based rapper and long-suffering Wiz fan Wale as "creative liaison." His role is to bring fun back to the Verizon Center. It's a win-win. While minority owners Usher (Cavs) and Justin Timberlake (Grizzlies) spent millions to be part of their teams, Wale gets to promote his music-a remix of his hit "Ambition" plays during warm-ups-while the Wizards get his liaising for free. Here he explains the payoff.
THE EVOLUTION OF sports and entertainment? Now, there's a void I can fill. You've got Jay Z involved with the Nets, you've got Drake with the Raptors, Lupe's doing stuff with the World Cup. Most of us are young black dudes who sacrificed to provide for our families and do what we love, so that's a deep bond we have-in music and in sports.
I want to be a shot in the arm to DC basketball. My job is to provide a spark, at all costs. I'm not going to do anything corny, but I'm talking to Kanye about designing new uniforms. I want to see the phone booth rocking every time I come here. I want to create the "Lake Show," create what the Bulls had. I want to take the personality of our stars -- John, Otto, Marcin -- and create what Kemp and Payton had, what LeBron and D-Wade had. That's the vibe I want.
Look, I can remember that fuzzy reception on Fox 45 watching Calbert Cheaney and Chris Whitney and those teams lose to the Phoenix Suns by 15, 20. But now? Now we have a team to be proud of. And even if you're coming to a game for the wrong reasons, like trying to win a pair of shoes or something, I want you into it. We want to sell this place out.