The Drew League has been a summer basketball league in Los Angeles for nearly 40 years, but it exploded onto the national scene last year during the NBA lockout when stars like Kevin Durant, Kobe Bryant and LeBron James made appearances in games.
The league begins play again Saturday, and one of its biggest celebrities isn't an NBA star. Compton-bred rapper The Game is owner/player/general manager of two teams in the league, and while the rosters change frequently, they often feature NBA players such as his friend and fellow Compton star DeMar DeRozan. His entry last year, Go HAM, lost in the finals.
Game (real name Jayceon Taylor) is a longtime basketball player, and wears his West Coast roots proudly, even getting the Dodgers' L.A. logo tattooed on his face, explaining simply, "I felt like I was the face of L.A.. So I went to the tattoo shop and put L.A. on my face."
Growing up, he had his share of legal trouble, falling into gang-related crime. He has had a controversial career as a rapper, starting "beefs" or feuds with everyone from Jay-Z to 50 Cent to Eminem.
Now 32, he's seemingly mellowed, and is back on the music scene with a star-studded mixtape, "California Republic," which features Snoop Dogg, Lil Wayne, Pharrell (with production by The Neptunes), Trey Songz, Drake and Rick Ross, just to name a few. His Drew League teams begin play this weekend.
Game talked to Playbook about his effort to recruit NBA stars to the league, why he released the mixtape, and that face tattoo (and if he thinks Magic Johnson should get one):
You get a lot of credit for reviving the West Coast rap scene. Do you take it as your responsibility to take the Drew League national, too?
Yeah, man. I told them last year ... I was such a menace growing up. I played basketball, but I had a bad vibe. I would fight or I would just get mad and play unruly when I was younger, so I promised Dino [Smiley] who's been running this league for 35 years -- longer than I've been alive, man -- that if he let me in the league, that I would take it from something that was regional to something that was recognized in all 50 states and even overseas. He gave me opportunity, I reached out to my NBA buddies, and we made it happen. In the championship game, even Kobe came out, so I think it was a real good look. LeBron played. It's a great league, man.
Without the lockout will there still be big names coming out?
I think so with the precedent that the league set last year as far as being fun and not being a strain on these guys with the professional contracts, not being a strain on their bodies and their careers. It's just good fun, coming out for the kids and the neighborhoods. I've already talked to countless NBA friends of mine and everybody's excited about it and really waiting to come back. Me and DeMar were already out at Compton High [on Thursday], my old alma mater, practicing with a bunch of our guys. We ran for about three hours and DeMar took it light, he didn't even take his sweats off. And Rasual Butler, when the playoffs are over ... he and Ramon Sessions, Nick Young are gonna come out. Metta World Peace ... James Harden plays in the league. Monta Ellis said he's gonna come out this summer for the kids and all that. I've got a bunch of NBA verbal commitments, which is cool, so we'll see what's up.
We went out to Washington to play against [Kevin Durant's] team [from D.C.'s Goodman League]. We brought that team here and went out to the Long Beach State Pyramid and played. We're gonna do the same thing this summer. With the NBA Summer League back, we might lose a player or two, but not many, man. Because like I said, I've talked to a bunch of players and they're anticipating the Drew League. It's as if they're getting paid for it, which is crazy to me. It was just a lot of fun. Of course, Los Angeles, the lure of the good weather and the beautiful women doesn't hurt anybody.
You have two teams this year?
I've got two teams this year. I'm the only guy in the league this year. I was lucky.
What are they called?
This year, it's Money Gang, which is my new street clothing line, a new urban street skateboard line that me and one of my buddies started. My son started getting into these graphic T-shirts, like DC and all these skater lines. So I just started my own. So we called one team Money Gang, and the other team is California Republic, which is named after my mixtape.
The lineup of rappers and producers on that mixtape is ridiculous. What is the idea on the business side behind releasing a mixtape with all these stars?
If you've got a good rapport with all these hip-hop stars, and made a bunch of friends over the span of your career like I have, you can pretty much get a feature from anybody -- Lil Wayne, Rick Ross, Chris Brown -- for free. We just do it on consignment. Do me a favor, I'll owe you one. It's just for a mixtape, so nobody's really sweating the cash. That's what I do. I've got my own recording studio. All I've got to do is basically take care of my engineer, man. That's probably about -- depending on how hard we go -- I'll end up spending a little under 10 grand out of my own pocket to get all my fans this free music. That's with the promotions that I have to do and some of the deals I make with these websites and my street team. It's just free music for my fans, man, it ain't really that much business, or that much that goes into putting it out. It's just for the love of my fans.
Which is harder: Lining up these guys for a mixtape, or the players for your team?
It's kind of the same concept. Neither one of them are hard, man. I've got a lot of good friends, a lot of people who really believed in me. It's pretty easy to just text Lil Wayne from my phone, or text Kevin Durant.
You've got a pretty prominent L.A. tattoo on your face. Do you think that'd be a good look for Magic Johnson now that he's got the Dodgers?
Yo, man. I was gonna recommend that Magic gets the same tattoo I have but just the blue star. I think that'd be so cool. I talked to Matt Kemp in the club a couple of weeks ago. I even brought that up, that Magic should get a face tat. He was like, "I don't know." Hopefully, man. He's gonna see what he can do. I think it'd be dope. We'll see. It's Magic. Stars are affiliated with magic. Even at Disneyland, when Mickey wears the little magic hat, it's got stars on it. So what I'm saying is it might be a good look for Magic, man.
L.A.'s always loved the Lakers, and the Dodgers have had a lot of history, but there's a lot of excitement again with Magic being involved. Now the Clippers are a good team and even the Kings are making a run.
Yeah, man. Right now, L.A., we're winning, winning, winning. The Lakers are balling. The Clippers are balling. The Dodgers got Magic. Mickey Mouse has got his magic hat. Magic's all around me, man.
What are your expectations for your Drew League teams this year?
Last year, we lost in the championship to a team called L.A. Unified, which had Marcus Williams, who used to play for the Nets, and Bobby Brown, who plays for the Sacramento Kings. The only reason they won is because I had to go to Australia on tour toward the end of the season. I canceled about $600,000 worth of shows this year and I'm not touring this summer so that my team can win the Drew. I'm adamant about it. I'm staying here. I put together a team of monsters that are not even NBA-affiliated. Once DeMar finishes his obligation for the NBA with NBA Cares -- him and Brandon Jennings -- and Nick Young gets out of the playoffs, we're gonna be a problem.
What are you working on in music besides your mixtape?
I'm going back and forth with Interscope getting the numbers correct and release dates in place, and just the everyday logistics of trying to get my fifth album on the shelves. We're going to figure out the budget, then I'm going to start working. The album's called "F.I.V.E.," which is an acronym, which stands for "Fear Is Victory's Evolution" and there's a whole bunch behind that, too. I'm just working.
Are you going to be starting any new beefs on this album?
Starting any new beefs? At 32 years old, the only beef I got these days is in the freezer getting ready to cook.