11 Popular Pop Songs That Name-Check Athletes

Sports and music go together like chocolate and peanut butter. Both professions garner notoriety, breed a culture of financial indiscretion, and both are just kind of awesome. So it’s no wonder that the two bleed together, like when LeBron James refused to acknowledge a beef with DeShawn Stevenson, saying that would be like “Jay-Z getting a beef with Souljah Boy.”


My apologies. I don’t know where that came from. Anyway, here are some intuitive, strange, funny, and head-scratching references to athletes in pop music over the decades.


I’m sorry again. I don’t know why I keep doing that.

11. OJ Simpson – Kanye West “Stronger”

“Since OJ has isotoners…”

Don’t act like I never told you that Kanye is a treasure trove of sports references. Sure, this is more a nod to a murder trial than it is to an athlete, but O.J. played football before he stabbed people and committed robbery to get his stuff back, so it gets a spot on the list, but don’t get too upset. It got the LOWEST spot on the list.

10. LeBron James, Dwyane Wade – Jay-Z “Empire State of Mind”

“If Jeezy’s payin’ LeBron, I’m paying Dwyane Wade”

This doesn’t really have much to do with NYC. HOWEVER, since my finger is firmly attached to the pulse of black culture, I think I can piece this little mystery together.

“Jeezy” is of course Young Jeezy. Why Jay-Z would want Jeezy’s scraps with Dwyane Wade is beyond me, but maybe he was just feeling charitable. Jeezy isn’t half the rapper Jay-Z is (though they both really suck live), so I’m not sure why Jay-Z is conceding BronBron.

At first I thought this line was “If Jesus’ payin’ LebBron, I’m paying Dwyane Wade,” which is almost more believable than the Jeezy line. That second interpretation reeks of self-importance, but because Jay-Z also wrote “H.O.V.A.”, I’m not going to disagree with him on that one, either. I honestly think that song may have come from God himself.

9. Steve Nash – Nelly Furtado “Promiscuous”

“Is your game MVP, like Steve Nash?”

Nash and Furtado, both Canadians, were also dating at the time she (or more likely, a songwriter) wrote this song. That said, just because she wasn’t objective doesn’t mean she was wrong. The song was released in early 2006, midway through his second MVP season.

Steve Nash denies any romantic involvement with Nelly Furtado, but I don’t believe him for a second.

8. Joe DiMaggio – Simon and Garfunkel “Mrs. Robinson”

“Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio?”

Joltin’ Joe actually took offense to this lyric when the song came out, insisting that he hadn’t “gone” anywhere. While the song is now attributed to DiMaggio’s quiet dignity and heroism, that might be a bit of revisionist history. In an interview with Dick Cavett, Paul Simon conveyed that his choice of the famous Yankee was “all about syllables.” Whatever. It’s still a classic line.

7. Rod Carew – Beastie Boys “Sure Shot”

“I got mad hits like I was Rod Carew”

The Beastie Boys are masters of the obscure reference (“Ma Bell, I got da ill communication”?), so I guess in their random-lyric generator, the next dude up was the Hall of Fame hitter from the Twins and Angels. Why didn’t they go with Pete Rose or Ty Cobb? If you have to ask, then you, my friend, aren’t hip to the Beasties. Run, don’t walk to your nearest record store and get either Ill Communication, License to Ill, or Check Ya Head. They still have record stores, right?

6. Randy Moss – Outkast “The Whole World”

“Catch a beat runnin’ like Randy Moss”

Outkast is certainly not the most likely hip-hop act to drop a sports reference on you. A quick glance at Andre 3000’s wardrobe and you can intuit that much. But that doesn’t mean that they are completely divorced from the world of sports, as this rapid-fire Big Boi line indicates. These days, any reference to Mr. Moss would probably involve bitching like a toddler and talking smack about catered food, but there was a time not too long ago when he actually commanded respect. Seriously. He did.

5. Michael Jordan – Jay-Z “Encore”

“When I come back like Jordan, wearin’ the 4-5”

I’m getting the impression that Jay-Z really enjoys sports. Of all of his references (I really wanted to use “I made the Yankee hat more famous than a Yankee can,” but I ruled out references to teams), this one seems to be the most fitting for the Jigga Man. “Encore” is about Jay-Z’s short-lived retirement, and who better to compare himself to than another king that mounted a legendary comeback, Mr. Michael Jordan. For a short while, Jordan adopted jersey #45 before going back to #23. Jay-Z came back as he left: #1.

4. Michael Phelps – Lil’ Wayne “I’ma Go Getta”

“Michael Phelps, this is for you, baby”

Michael Phelps gets name checked in the opening lines of this ode, though the song itself bears no other reference or allusion to Phelps explicitly, making me think that it was originally one of the one million songs written by Lil’ Wayne about how great Lil’ Wayne is.

I don’t expect many more rappers to give shout-outs to Michael Phelps, despite their common social proclivities. That said, Lil’ Wayne is probably the biggest sports fan in the world and spent hours in prison writing in to sports shows with letters explaining who should be the number one ranked tennis player in the world. Nope. Not joking.

3. John McEnroe – House of Pain “Jump Around”

I’ll serve ya ass like John McEnroe”

No explanation really necessary, but it’s no surprise that House of Pain chose to run with an athlete with an Irish-sounding name. Cause I think they themselves might be Irish. I get the feeling if Bieber had written this song he would have used “Andy Roddick” or someone lame like that. Possibly Michael Chang.

2. Larry Bird – LFO “Summer Girls”

“The great Larry Bird Jersey 33”

The a panel of psychologists and literature experts couldn’t tell you what the hell this song is about, so I’m not even going to try. You probably spent the past decade or so getting it out of your head, so I apologize for putting it back in there. I seriously have zero insight here. It’s a song where they list a bunch of stuff, and one of the things they list is a Larry Bird jersey. Your guess is as good as mine.

1. Muhammed Ali – LL Cool J “Mama Said Knock You Out”

“Just like Muhammed Ali, they called him Cassius”

This is one of the few references that actually makes sense in the context of the song, considering it’s about knocking someone out, apparently on Mother’s orders. LL Cool J is likening himself to Muhammed Ali, nee Cassius Clay, perhaps the most famed athlete of the 20th century. Does LL Cool J stack up to the G.O.A.T.?

Maybe not, but with the lines “Damage (huh)/Damage (huh)/Damage…destruction and mayhem,” LL gets not only a pass, but a place at the top of this list.

Tags: Dwyane Wade, Joe DiMaggio, john mcenroe, Larry Bird, LeBron James, michael jordan, Michael Phelps, Muhammed Ali, music, name-check, OJ Simpson, pop songs, randy moss, rod carew, Steve Nash,