Editor's note: In honor of hip-hop turning 50, ESPN tapped the culture's top voices to write about their favorite athlete name-drops in hip-hop history.
"Being good is good, that'll get you Drew Gooden / But me, I want Jordan numbers, LeBron footin'" J. Cole on "Return of Simba" (2011)
Growing up a '90s kid, being Michael Jordan-level great was the absolute platinum standard. He dominated the courts, commercials, films and even our feet.
My team for life was and still is the New York Knicks, but like any other kid back then, I wanted to be "like Mike."
At the time, MJ was quickly rising as the greatest basketball player of all time, the Dream Team dominated the '92 Olympics and "Space Jam" stayed on rotation in the family VHS player after its mid-'90s release. I knew Air Jordan was the greatest, but let's face it, starring alongside Bugs and Lola Bunny in a blockbuster with a childhood-defining soundtrack made him superhuman.
However, before "Space Jam," the crown jewel for millennial life lessons was "The Lion King." J. Cole's track "Return of Simba" reignited my memories and appreciation for the movie. Released in 2011, the song opens with a young Simba getting a preview from his father, Mufasa, of the kingdom that awaits him. Cole connects the power of Simba's greatness to that of my favorite sports heroes (past and present) when he rhymes.
"Return of Simba" remains my go-to whenever I want to feel most confident, especially during challenging periods in my career. Cole is arguably hip-hop's hardest-working rapper; not in the way that he's highly visible dropping records constantly, but in that his projects always display so much heart and hunger.
The stirring drumbeat of the track -- and Cole's cadence -- reminds me of the lineage I come from, and with that fueling me, there's no way I can fail.
Simba's return in "The Lion King" -- when he takes his rightful place as the king of Pride Rock -- represents triumph, a stepping into greatness against insurmountable pain, and winning against all odds. All three represent the energy I need every day as I navigate my career.
I've been an editor for 17 years now, and with every accomplishment and milestone, I, unfortunately, am forced to face constant obstacles. As a hip-hop fan since birth, I have a pretty solid gauge on which artists have next before they make it to pop radio. But even with a "seat at the table," my suggestions are often ignored.
I remember pitching Cardi B for a cover story at a previous publication, but was told that our audience wouldn't connect with her. A year later, Cardi had her massive rise, she became a Grammy winner and only then was there any interest.
My goal is to widen the doors I walk in for the new class of Gen-Z hopefuls, so that they can avoid the sexism, racism and misogynoir I've endured.
When I try to confront these obstacles head-on, there's little to no meaningful change. It's a lonely place to be, but I carry with me the women of color who could not enter the rooms that I now move in freely.
It's in these moments that I draw inspiration from hip-hop music, MJ's career and my beloved Jordan kicks.
I went to Catholic school for elementary and high school, so my daily shoe options were limited to shiny black oxfords. I wouldn't bother my parents about brand-name clothing and my mom constantly told me to let her know when my shoes were too tight. But I knew my education was expensive, so I didn't want to bother my parents with anything besides a few CD requests.
Once I got into a space in my career where I could support myself, I started my Jordan sneaker collection. My first pair, of course, was the Jordan 11 Space Jams; these days, I have about a dozen pairs. As I began to lead in the newsroom, I would wear Jordans for every big meeting.
They still help me remember the excellence of MJ and know for certain that I have that in me as well. It reminds me of the hip-hop I grew up on, artists like De La Soul, Nas and A Tribe Called Quest.
The "Return of Simba" is a booming track that pushes you, forcing listeners to step into their greatness. It helps me fix my crown, especially when I need to remember exactly who I am.
Simba, Cole and Jordan are my kind of winner's circle.
Jada Gomez is a New York born and bred editor with a love of all things music, culture, and sports. She is the executive editor at POPSUGAR. She also has held leadership positions at Medium, Bustle and Latina Magazine. Last but not least, she is a proud New York University alum.