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You might know Stalley as the bearded Maybach Music Group emcee, the guy who has released two well-received mixtapes (Lincoln Way Nights and Savage Journey to the American Dream) and is gearing up for his debut album. What you may not know is the that the guy can talk (and probably play) hoops with the best of them.
Having played high school basketball in his hometown of Massilon, Ohio, and briefly in college at the University of Michigan and Long Island University (LIU), Stalley has a passion for hoops that never diminished, even as he transitioned to a career in music. With the NBA season getting off to such a juicy start, we spoke with the rapper about whether the Lakers are overrated, what in the world the Thunder will do without James Harden, and his expectations for his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers. The current Brooklyn resident also gave us the scoop on his upcoming debut album.
STACK: All right Stalley. Time to put your NBA analyst hat on. The Lakers are 1-4. Everyone in L.A. has the panic meter turned up to 11. Is this just an early bump in the road, or do the Lakers have some serious problems out there in La-La-Land?
Stalley: They’re definitely going to struggle. I’m not a fan. Putting my personal feelings aside, I don’t think [the Lakers] are going to live up to the hype. We all want a story to talk about. Dwight Howard is a little overrated to me. Some people will argue with me about that, but he is. He can’t make free throws, we all know that. He gets into foul trouble. Of course they’re going to go to the Playoffs and make a run, but I don’t see them going to the Finals. I still don’t see them beating OKC or the Spurs.
Kobe and Steve Nash are getting up there in age. An injury could steer this ship right off course.
Right. And that was my whole argument in the beginning, when everything happened and the trades went down. First of all, they’re aging. We all know that. Kobe is still Kobe. He’s going to do what he’s going to do. You can’t stop him. But Nash can’t guard nobody. He’s not staying in front of Tony Parker, he’s not staying in front of Russell Westbrook. He couldn’t even stay in front of Damian Lillard, you know? Who’s he going to guard? You’ve got Dwight Howard getting into foul trouble, not making free throws, and to me, (Pau) Gasol is soft. They’ll be all right, but I don’t think that they’re going to make it to the Finals. They might make it to the Conference Finals. I think it might be the Spurs and the Heat or OKC and the Heat again.
The Thunder appear to be your second-favorite team after the Cavs. Kevin Durant is your man. What did you think when the James Harden trade went down?
I didn’t realize how big of a piece [Harden] was until [the Thunder’s opening loss to the Spurs]. We all know Russell Westbrook can be somewhat of a spaz at times. It just showed how poised [Harden] kept the team, how in control he kept the team and how important it was down the stretch for Westbrook to be off the ball. He’s just more calm. He kept the team gelling and kept them in position. He could drive, he could also dish and I think that down the stretch, it’s better for Westbrook to be off the ball, because I think at times, he does a little bit much.
When they first [made the trade], I was thrown off like everybody else. I didn’t think that it was going to hurt, because Kevin Martin is good. I like Jeremy Lamb. I really didn’t think it was going to be that much of a problem, because I thought Kevin Martin, he’s a shooter, he helps with the point. I don’t think his defense is as good as Harden’s. I just hope they can still keep it together. It’s the beginning of the season. I think that in time they’ll be right back on track.
I thought that if anybody was going to go, it was going to be [Serge] Ibaka. I remember talking to Wale about that. We were talking about it a couple months back, and I was like, “I feel like if anybody leaves, it’s going to be Ibaka, because he’s a big man.” A lot of teams need big men. I felt like he deserves a check too. I felt like he was going to go get it. But I thought they were going to keep at least those three and let whoever else go. Kind of like the Heat or Celtics—they have that core three that they try to make sure is taken care of, and then everybody else they try to put pieces around. So I was very surprised to see Harden go.
Then Harden comes out with Houston and drops 35 and 47 points in his first two games.
That was disgusting. And it was kind of like a big “Ha!” in everybody’s face. I’m happy for him and I’m excited for him. He’s got a bright future. He’s going to help Houston out a lot. Him and Jeremy Lin, they’re going to do a good job down there.
You’re living out there in Brooklyn now. What’s it like for the city to finally have an NBA team?
It’s very exciting. I came here when I was at LIU, which is right down the street from the arena, and I actually live right down the street from both places now. Whenever I was in school, I was like, “Man, if I stay in New York or whenever I get a condo or a brownstone or something, I want to be in this area of Brooklyn.” I was able to get money and have a nice condo right downtown and then they built the arena, and I’m like, “This is perfect.” The city is thriving. It’s really energized waiting for the team to come. Brooklyn gets behind everything, as we know, whether it’s an artist or someone that’s from here, they really rally behind it. They’ve got so much pride here. It’s kind of like Ohio and how we are with the Browns and the Indians. No matter what the teams are, we still have so much pride, and we’re selling out the games every day, every night. Even if the teams are 0 and whatever. Brooklyn has that same type of feel.
I’m excited for [the Brooklyn Nets]. I’ve been telling everybody too, before the season, I think they’re going to be better than the Knicks. They might be a good 4th or 5th seed. I still see the Knicks being somewhere around where they were at last year, that 7th, 8th spot. They can’t stay healthy. But I like the Nets team. They’re kind of young but old, you know? I really like Joe Johnson. I’m a fan even though he gives me some of that Vince Carter, Ray Allen feel sometimes, where I feel like those dudes ain’t got heart like that. They don’t have that leadership to lead a team by themselves. But them being with Deron Williams, I think that’s going to help. I really like [Brook] Lopez. I think if he stays healthy, he’s a good player. Marshon Brooks off the bench is good. They’ve got some good pieces.
What are your thoughts on your hometown Cavaliers? Are they slowly making their way back to relevance?
Hopefully they can squeeze in there in that 8th spot. I absolutely love [Tyler] Zeller. I think he’s going to be a special player. That outside shot and down low, he’s a good all-around big man. He plays defense too. Dion Waiters surprised me, because I was actually mad the Cavs picked him. I just thought there were so many others, like Jeremy Lamb, even Thomas Robinson. There were just a lot of good players that I felt like they could have grabbed besides him, and I didn’t really see what they seen in him. But he actually played, he came out and balled. He had an outside shot, he played some defense. He passed the ball well. He could be a good piece. The backcourt looks strong. I think they’re finally on the right track to rebuild. They’re still missing some pieces. We still need a four. Definitely need a three. But I do like [Anderson] Varejao and I do like Zeller down low. I think those guys work hard. We’re a bule-collar team, we all know that, so we’re going to work hard and they’re going to grind. It’s just a few more pieces away, but I think they got a chance if they keep playing like they’ve been playing and maybe find a piece somewhere in between the trading deadline and now to help them get in the playoffs.
STACK: Seems like you’ve got some friends all around the NBA. Who are the coolest ballers you’ve met?
Fortunately, a lot of the guys dig my music and come out. I did a show in Sacramento, and DeMarcus Cousins and Thomas Robinson came out. Kevin Durant, he’s a friend of mine. He’s everything advertised when it comes to his personality and how he is as a person and a man. He’s a great dude, great spirited, genuine person. Amar’e Stoudamire is also someone who was at one of my shows and I built a relationship with. Real good dude. Real good friends with Taj Gibson. I was just speaking with him the other day because he just renewed his contract. I was congratulating him on that. Quincy Miller, that’s a good dude. I met him actually that day, but he came out, he showed love, he said that he was a fan. I actually had a little after-party in Denver, and he came through just to hang out with us at the after-party. Also Wilson Chandler, he’s a real good guy too over there. Lou Williams is a good dude down in Atlanta. He was in Philly for awhile. I’ve met Kyrie [Irving], briefly. I don’t really have a relationship with him, but I did get to meet him. Those guys that I mentioned are real close friends and guys that I talk to often or when I see them we catch up.
OK, you can go back to being a rapper now. You’ve had two extremely successful mixtapes. Now comes the debut album with MMG. That’s a big moment for you. What’s it going to be like?
I’m so excited. Using an analogy or a metaphor for basketball, it’s definitely like being drafted and coming out that rookie year just wanting to be the rookie of the year. I think that’s what I’m working towards with the music that I’ve been working on thus far. I’m about halfway through with the debut album and everybody I’ve played it to, like the label and [Rick] Ross and friends and family of mine, one word that they use is it’s “beautiful.” It’s beautiful music. That’s what I’m trying to do. I’m trying to make music that gives good vibes. Like Bob Marley said, one thing about music, when it hits you, you feel no pain. The music that I’ve been working on, just my life in general, is about having good vibes and giving off good energy to people. Helping people through whatever emotion it is, whether it’s anger, happiness, pain, I just want to be the soundtrack for that. I’m just looking forward to showing the world the talent and showing the world how we do in Massilon and in Ohio. That’s another big part of music for me, just to give that small town, that Midwestern story. We always get the glamour and the glitz of music through hip-hop, but we never get that Midwestern story or that story that comes from being a self-made All-American type of vibe. That’s what’s coming with the music.
STACK: Thanks Stalley. We hope to see you courtside at a Cavs game soon.
I’m going to try to get to one!