Russell Westbrook

Russell Westbrook dedicated his 20-point, 20-rebound and 21-assist night against the Los Angeles Lakers to the memory Nipsey Hussle. The 33-year-old rap artist was murdered in Los Angeles Sunday afternoon.

The worlds of sports and music are undeniably intertwined. The only thing better than an amazing sports highlight is an amazing sports highlight set to perfectly paired background music. When it comes to professional sports, there is no stronger, more seamless connection than the link between the NBA and hip hop.

Ever since Kurtis Blow released the song “Basketball” in 1984 an unbreakable union of the NBA and rap music was born. Cedric Ceballos had an impressive showing in his “Flow On” collaboration with Warren G. Shaquille O’Neal proved he could do more than dunk by dropping several respectable albums in the 90s. Today, Damian Lillard is carrying the torch by putting forth some strong releases.

Those guys represent just a few drops in the bucket NBA stars such as Tony Parker, Steve Francis, Kobe Bryant and Allen Iverson have dropped struggle bars along the way.

So it was no surprise to see so many players in the NBA community pay respect to Nipsey Hussle after the Los Angeles-based rapper was murdered in front of his clothing store Sunday afternoon.

Though I’d heard of Nipsey years ago, I didn’t become familiar with his music until his studio album, “Victory Lap,” dropped in Feb. 2018. The album was a smart, empowering and unapologetically West Coast album.

Listening to that album took me back to the days when guys like Dr. Dre, Easy E, Snoop Dog, Ice Cube, Too Short and MC Eiht were putting out West Coast classics.

Nipsey’s music also opened my eyes to all the work he was trying to do to give back to his community. He built businesses, rehabbed neighborhoods, worked to end gang violence and organized and served in tons of community outreach events. He was a staple in the community.

When the tragedy became public, an outpouring of love came from the NBA community. The Los Angeles Clippers paid tribute to the artist before the team’s Sunday night game against the Memphis Grizzlies. His name and initials were scribbled across the kicks of players across the league.

Many players also took to Twitter to post condolences and encouragements.

“God please cover and restore @NipseyHussle right now!!!” Steph Curry tweeted before news of the rapper’s death became public.

“So so SAD man!! DAMN man this hurt,” LeBron James tweeted.

“Gone but his Legacy will Live on FOREVER #GoneTooSoonNipsey,” Trae Young commented.

The most-powerful tribute to Nipsey Hussle came from Russell Westbrook. Tuesday night, the Long Beach native put up 20 points, 20 rebounds and 21 assists in a 119-103 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers.

Westbrook’s performance represented just the second time in NBA history that a player has had a 20-20-20 game. Wilt Chamberlain was the first when he dropped 22 points, 25 rebounds and 21 assists on Feb. 2, 1968.

“That’s for Nipsey!” Westbrook declared after grabbing his 20th rebound with 42 seconds remaining in the game.

The two Los Angeles icons were close friends. Nipsey even served foot at a community Thanksgiving dinner put on by Westbrook’s charitable foundation.

Toronto Raptors G/F Danny Green summed up the impact of Nipsey Hussle’s death perfectly.

“Man this is a tough one for the culture...it’s crazy how someone you never even met face to face can have such an affect on you and your community...prayers and condolences go out to his closest friends and family #RipNipsey,” he wrote.

My sentiments exactly.

Down Goes the AAF

After just eight weeks into its inaugural season, the Alliance of American Football is about to fold.  AAF owner Tom Dundon suspended all league operations Tuesday afternoon.

The AAF boasted some big names for a second-tier league. Former NFL players and NCAA stars QB Johnny Manziel and RB Trent Richardson played in the league in an attempt to work their way back to the NFL. AAF coaches included Mike Martz, Steve Spurrier and Mike Singletary.

Despite the league’s relative star-power, even I, a sports columnist, had forgotten the league’s season was active. That’s not a good sign.

According to ESPN, AAF games consistently raked in 400k-500k viewers on CBS. Apparently that wasn’t enough to keep the lights on for the startup league. Or was it?

Trent Richardson

Former NFL running back Trent Richardson was a member of the AAF’s Birmingham Iron. Richardson accumulated 372 rushing yards and 11 TDs in eight games before league operations were suspended.

A USA Today report notes that Dundon decided to shutter the league after he was rebuffed by the NFL Players Association as he attempted to turn the league into an official development league for the NFL.

“A players' union official did express serious concerns about the risks of lending active NFL players to the AAF,” according to the report.

The league’s players and coaches were reportedly blindsided by the news. They were not given any prior warning and many found out as the news reports became public. At least one team was on the field practicing when the suspension of operations was announced.

To add insult to injury, players and coaches were forced to pay for their own travel expenses to get back home.

That likely wasn’t an issue for players with NFL experience (and check stubs) such as Manziel and Richardson. However, all players in the league were signed to non-guaranteed contracts worth $70K in the first year, and the league will likely shutter without paying them for the full season. That’s a far cry from the $480K league minimum in the NFL.

Next up is the XFL, which will re-launch in 2020 and hope to avoid the fate of the AAF, the original XFL, the USFL and countless other professional leagues that have attempted to compete with or complete the NFL.

Let’s be honest. If the AAF’s eight games is the over/under for XFL 2.0, I’m betting the under.

Be sure to check In the Clutch online and also follow Ishmael on Twitter @ishcreates. Subscribe to The St. Louis American’s YouTube page to see weekly sports videos starring Ishmael and Melvin Moore at youtube.com/stlamericanvideo.

Ishmael H. Sistrunk is a columnist and the website coordinator for the St. Louis American and www.stlamerican.com.

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