J. Cole has had himself a week.
The Grammy Award-winning rapper not only released his sixth studio album, The Off-Season, but he also made his debut in the Basketball Africa League with the Rwanda Patriots. The Patriots are one of 12 teams from all over Africa that are competing in the inaugural season of the league.
The league itself is a product of the NBA and the International Basketball Federation in an attempt to bring a platform for players across the country to showcase their talents in hopes of making it to higher levels of competition across the globe including the NBA. Beginning in the late 1990s we began to see a slow trickle of international players making their way into the NBA, but not until players such as Dirk Nowitzki and Tony Parker started making all star teams and winning championships did the flood gates open.
NBA Commissioner, Adam Silver, has been a longtime proponent of bringing in the best talent from all over the world, and this is yet another step for the progressive league to provide as many avenues for the best to find their way to the league. With much of Europe having established professional basketball leagues, there was a huge void in the country of Africa in regard to opportunity.
Africa is still a very poor and under-industrialized country, so the resources and money simply aren't there to support such an endeavor. But with the support of the NBA, the league has a great chance to be successful and to produce NBA players.
But what's up with J. Cole?
Cole played some college ball with St. John's as a walk-on, and we've seen his ability on display at NBA All-Star weekend in the celebrity games and on his social media accounts. So we know that Cole can hoop, and we know he's always willing to put in the work. He's talked at length about his creative process while making his art, and one can only assume that he's taking that work ethic into this new realm of professional basketball.
J. Cole’s first professional basket for the Rwanda Patriots Basketball Club 🏀 https://t.co/ZiazRDN0Cf— SAINT (@SAINT) 1621179481.0
Cole is expected to play in a handful of games for the Patriots over the course of the UEFA Champion's League style schedule of play. The BAL (Basketball Africa League) breaks the teams into a group phase, which is comprised of 18 games, and then the top eight teams from the group phase qualify for playoffs. The remaining teams will compete in a single elimination playoff season that will last three rounds. The BAL Final will be held on May 30.
Cole isn't expected to play every game; the team only anticipates he'll play in six games at most. In his debut with the Patriots he managed 3 points, 3 rebounds, and 2 assists in 17 minutes of play. Not exactly the start he was hoping for, but if he manages to catch up to the speed and start putting down shots, we could see him extend that limit a little.
The timing of Cole's debut, his album release, and the cross-over appeal he brings is a perfect cocktail for the BAL as they are attempting to get eyes on their product. Cole has always said he wanted to make it to the NBA, but at his age (36) it's unlikely he'll have the chance. So he instead gets to live out his pro basketball fantasy in the BAL while helping players in that country get looks.
Cole's desire to lift others up has long been part of who he is which can be seen in his non-profit organization Dreamville Foundation and their efforts to support underprivileged and under funded communities largely in his home state of North Carolina.
While you might not make money betting on J.Cole playing basketball. The Off-Season is primed to be a front-runner for Rap Album of the Year at the Grammy Awards in 2022. Much like the Academy Awards, the Grammy's have a history of awarding artists a few projects too late. Cole's new album sees him attempting to position himself at the top of the rap game as the best lyricist alive.
J Cole riding his bike home from the studio after recording The Off Season https://t.co/mExIBg6TsE— Orange Juice🍊 (@Orange Juice🍊) 1620966704.0
Cole has been revered as one of today's purest rappers since debuting in 2014 with 2014 Forest Hills Drive and putting an exclamation on that take with 2018's KOD, which wasn't even nominated for Best Rap album that year.
Cole's newest album features intricate beats produced by Timbaland and even sees the rapper work on the other side of the sound booth producing songs on the album himself. It appears that one of rap's poets is seeking even further control over the art he is putting out into the world. It's something that the Grammy voters will take into consideration.
While the album isn't a clear improvement over any of his previous releases, there is certainly no signs of regression. The album is representative of what we've seen from Cole throughout his illustrious career. His delivery is smooth, his messages are strong, and the album leaves you wanting more.