July 8, 2010, wasn't very kind to Cleveland Cavaliers fans. Their local hero, LeBron James, not only announced that he would "take my talents to South Beach," but he said those words live on a heavy-hitting scale -- national television.
It was a huge punch in the gut that moved some fans to burn his jersey, which was captured on local TV, and even motivated Cavs owner Dan Gilbert to write an open letter calling out LeBron's disloyalty, among other faults he saw.
The city was reeling, but an underrated hero emerged: One of Cleveland's own, rapper Machine Gun Kelly (MGK), who's a basketball fanatic on and off the court.
The season following LeBron's departure, the Cavs' team DJ, Steph Floss, started playing more of MGK's music during games, which led the rapper to become a staple at the Quicken Loans Arena and a favorite at games, with fans holding up signs in his honor. They appreciated his rags-to-riches story, which mostly unfolded in Cleveland, the city he settled in at 14 years old after living in Egypt, Germany, Chicago, Los Angeles and Denver.
That story initially involved MGK, 22, growing up in a broken home with an absent father and addict mother, and ending up homeless in his teens and raising a daughter, Casie, at 17. Then, a few years later, his musical talents were discovered by rap mogul Diddy, who signed him to his record label, Bad Boy Records. In 2012, MGK churned out a top-five debut album on the Billboard charts, and this NBA season, his song "Invincible" is featured as part of the Cavaliers' pregame introduction video shown on the arena's Jumbotron.
Gilbert has witnessed firsthand how Cavs fans have embraced MGK, who, along with All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving, is putting the city back on the entertainment map. In fact, Gilbert has befriended MGK and he already has a bigger plan in store for his new buddy related to the ownership side of the team.
Speaking with ESPN Playbook recently, MGK talked about his Cleveland upbringing, connection to the Cavaliers, friendship with the owner, his musical and sports background, and much more.
How's the new year treating you?
I'm really just excited to tour the states with my album, because last year the only time we got to tour with the album was in Canada. And that was insane because it was all sold-out. But I'm just excited to go out and play in front of the states, and kind of give the album the shine that it didn't really get. It's really just like eye-opening because every city we're going to is selling out, which I think surprised a lot of people.
When did the tour start and how long is it?
Our typical tours are between like 60 and 70 days. When [my band and I] tour, we tour hard. We blast [stuff]. We broke the Guinness World Records for most amount of shows in the shortest amount of days. That was 90 shows in 99 days [last year]. We actually did more than that, because in my off days I had separate shows.
Are you repping Cleveland when you travel?
Yeah, everyone knows. Everyone knows when you say MGK, you're saying Cleveland. And vice versa. Everywhere I go.
And you're rocking the Cavaliers jersey?
Yeah, of course. When I was down at the All-Star Game [this year], I was in a Cavaliers jersey.
How was Houston overall?
I went to a party down there. That was crazy-packed. Me and Young Jeezy had a party down there. Going to the games was nice, but honestly the highlight was meeting Jay-Z for me. Jay-Z bought me and my two best friends shots of tequila and sent them to our chairs. I was just buzzed on cloud nine the whole trip off that.
So what's it like representing the Cavaliers' theme song? How did that opportunity come about?
The Cavaliers have a DJ and literally right after LeBron left, the city was kind of looking for its next icon or hero, and it just seemed right that Machine Gun Kelly would fill that space. It kind of came into fruition over the past couple of years because the DJ was always spinning my [stuff] in the arena, and then it started to be like every time I would go to a game. Then it got to the point where I would be going to the games and the fans instead of like "defense" signs, it would be like "Where is MGK?" on the signs.
Then it went from that to the corporate side. An associate of Dan Gilbert's was a fan and he kind of saw how the city was really getting behind me. And so then they just brought me to a game one time with Dan, and he and I met. I ate some cookies that they served in his suite in the arena and it was the best cookies I've ever had in my life. The only thing I talked to him that night about was how f----- good these cookies were. I think that just kind of stuck out in his head, and the next time I came back, we went to a game and then he brought me out to half court. I think he saw how crazy everyone was going. The announcer was like, "Ladies and gentlemen, welcome one of Cleveland's own, Machine Gun Kelly." And everyone started getting pumped up and I think we ended up winning that game, too. That was this season.
[Dan and I] all started getting together and stuff outside of sports. Like when he was [building] a casino, I would fly on his private jet to go look at the casino before it was even built, like the one in Cincinnati. Outside of just sports, we built a relationship. Then, it just kind of kept going more and more. His associate's daughters and sons are big, huge fans of mine, and it just kind of became like, "Let's just make a power circle-type thing." Like Dan has a relationship with the Cleveland Cavs, he now has a relationship with me, and I'm holding that down for the music side of that city.
The intro [this season] came together and it's just crazy, because this is the video that brings the Cavs out, showing off all the players, and it's just crazy to see that I'm in that video. I'm in that video a lot, actually. [That's] a motivator to the city of Cleveland that they feel like I'm just as important as the players on the court, to have my face in there as well. So that was really kind of just mind-blowing to me. I even joke [to Dan] about, "What are you going to do when you get too old and you can't own the Cavs anymore?" He's like, "I'm just going to give you my share." Ultimately, that is where I want to be, though. I want a piece of my home team and continue to try and become an icon to that city. When I say I want to own a piece of the Cavs, like we'll laugh, but everyone knows I'm like dead serious.
What has Dan told you about running a team?
He's a family guy. This is why anyone in Cleveland will do whatever for Dan Gilbert. He's the president, but he's suiting up and goes to war with his soldiers. Everyone knows that he's like one of us.
It's interesting you say that because when LeBron left, remember that letter Dan wrote in the newspaper dissing him?
Yeah, he was one of us, man. He was like, "[To hell with] that." He really cares. He genuinely gives a f--- about the people that are on his team and all that.
What was it like when LeBron jumped ship? Did you sense that your persona and music inspired fans?
Yeah, I think that everyone was happy when I came out and said what everyone wanted to say. I kind of like put him on blast. I think people are over it now. If anything, I'm happy that [jerk] left.
Well, LeBron's Heat contract is up next year, and there's been some speculation already about him teaming up with Kyrie Irving. Would you welcome LeBron back to Cleveland?
I wouldn't be excited about it, man. He left to get what he got. A hero is supposed to stick around when everyone else is leaving, not leave when everyone leaves.
At least you've got a pretty special player in Kyrie. What impresses you about him?
I remember when he first came here, I randomly met him. I got picked up and he and another guy were in a little-a-- car. It was like a two-seater, so he had to get out and squeeze in the back. It was funny because we looked like a bunch of little kids ... squeezing as many people into a car. We didn't really know each other because he had just, just came, and I was still on the come-up. Neither Kyrie or me had a car, so we were just bumming a ride off a friend. I was in the locker room after he won the 3-point contest [this All-Star Weekend], congratulating him and stuff. We have a lot of Cleveland love for each other.
He's a crazy-good dribbler. Has he taught you some tricks?
Nah, I'm pretty nice as well.
What's your game like?
I'm dirty with it for sure. I'm a nice shove-you-in-the-back type guy.
Are you more of a driver or shooter?
I've got the Dirk Nowitzki right-inside-the-free-throw-line shot, like kind of a fadeaway shot.
We've got to see you at next year's All-Star Celebrity Game.
Oh, I've already booked that. I've already talked to the guys. [Hell] yeah, man, they've got to get Machine Gun Kelly on there. I'm going to go out there wearing Chucks.
Looking ahead, is there one sporting event you'd love to perform at?
X Games, street skating. My boy, Ryan Sheckler, [just] murders it. We had just started kicking it in like 2011, and then we became like best friends really. He's in a new music video I have coming out next month. Me and him are at the Hollywood Heights skating around and we got some crazy footage. It's on a new project I have coming out called "Black Flag," which is a very like militant mixtape.