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Jerry Stackhouse sings the national anthem before a 2010 playoff game between Milwaukee and Atlanta.
Gary Dineen/NBAE/Getty Images

NBA players make their mark on the music industry

By Tracy Weissenberg, for
Posted May 15 2011 11:27AM

With a jump shot that glides out of his hands and a demeanor that has ushered in an era of unassuming superstars, Kevin Durant makes everything he does look smooth. It is no surprise he approaches his venture into the music industry the same way.

"Music and basketball parallel so much," said Durant. "I was fascinated with how they made music and of course I listen to it before games so it gets me hyped. I was mainly just curious on how everything works and after that I started to go a little forward and it's been something I've been doing ever since."

Durant says a former teammate helped him get started. "Joe Smith ... he played with us my second year in the NBA, and he got me into it and we started to make some tracks together. Just kind of play around with it a little bit and just decided I wanted to try to make beats and been getting better ever since then," he says.

"Kevin was one of the guys that almost every day he was at my door, ringing the doorbell," says Smith, now a reserve forward with the Lakers. "Before you know it, he had [recording equipment] at his house and we were alternating homes when I was [in Oklahoma City]."

Durant currently has a studio in his home which he uses to produce music. "It's nothing too big time, just a mic and a couple of keyboards and one of those big boards that you use for the mixes."

Smith's passion for music has proven contagious at his various NBA stops and he inspired many of his former teammates to jump from the court to the studio. "I got Kevin started, Tyrus Thomas started ... it seemed like almost every team, I get somebody started."

Smith prefers to stay in front of the microphone, writing and performing his own material, while collaborating with producers for the beats. He releases songs through his label Nova Unit and is currently featured on teammate Ron Artest's new mixtape.

He says his ultimate goal is "to independently release my own music. Try to get a publishing and distribution deal and do everything else myself."

Durant says that he would be interested in working with NBA counterparts, but feels he still has room to grow before he seeks out collaborations. "I got to get better at it," he says, "I'm not as good as I want to be and I'm not at the level as some of the big time artists that some other NBA guys help out with. I'm just trying to get my sound a little better and hopefully I get some time to do that."

So far, Durant does have an impressive collaboration on his resume, appearing on artist Wale's mixtape. Asked what that was like, Durant says, "It was different, you know it was something I really wasn't used to. I just happened to be at the studio with Wale when he was recording that mixtape and just relaxing in the summer and he asked me to get on and I was like, why not, I want people to see a different side of me. I was able to show that and it turned out pretty well."

For now, Durant produces for himself and his friends. "I'm just giving them away basically," he says, "I produced a couple tracks for some of the guys I know back at home in my area and I have two artists that I've been working with that I've been trying to help out and I gave them a couple of tracks. I just like to hear guys over the top of my beats. It's nothing that I'm gonna go out and sell them or give them to big time rappers, I just want to hear my beats with some lyrics. Everything's been all fun for me."

While Durant is inspired by R&B since he says it mirrors his personality, other NBA players have found a niche in other genres. Celtics guard Carlos Arroyo had his single "Se Va Conmigo" on the reggaeton charts this summer. "You know I think the hardest thing was like sharing it with the public," says Arroyo. "You know what I was doing, my creativity in the studio and everything. I really got with people that knew what their music was all about and they helped me grow in it."

Arroyo says he works on music during the summer after basketball season is over. "It's something that I feel no pressure doing because it's not what I do [as my regular job] ... I started it like a hobby," he says. "I had an opportunity to do a video and everything so I'm truly blessed.

"There's no better feeling than going to a Puerto Rican national team practice or tournament and on the way to the game you hear yourself playing on the radio.

Across the Eastern Conference, Dwight Howard released "Shoot for the Stars," an album featuring cover songs to inspire youth.

"We had a lot of fun, three days, four songs a day ... it's a lot of hard work," says Howard.

Asked what he hoped to achieve by recording the CD, Howard says, "Well the name of the album is 'Shoot for the Stars', so that's what I want them to do -- shoot for the stars, believe that anything is possible, and just have fun with life."

While many players begin their endeavors in the studio after they enter the league, 16-year NBA veteran Jerry Stackhouse can trace the influence of music on his life back to his childhood.

"When I was younger, I sang in the choir in church, growing up in church," said Stackhouse, now an analyst for NBA TV. "So I just kind of naturally kind of gravitate toward music. From there, I started to sing. My dad was a singer and just kind of had a passion for it."

With his mom as a pastor, Stackhouse says, "Church was a huge part of my life growing up so I think that background helped my love for music."

Music became part of his identity as a basketball player when he sang the national anthem before several of his team's games. He said the idea to sing the national anthem arose after he grabbed a microphone during media day and began practicing in front of his teammates. "One of the PR people heard me sing and a light flashed on and he asked me to do it for the game. I was like alright I would, and then next thing I know it was there ... I was really nervous the first time but after that, it pretty much came kind of natural to me," he says.

Stackhouse's teams were undefeated in games that he sang the national anthem until last season's playoffs. "In Milwaukee, it finally lost [in] Game 6," he says, "That was the first time I sang the national anthem and lost so I gotta improve on my record. I gotta get back at it."

He says regarding preparation, music is a lot like basketball. "Once I'm really in the studio locked in, I have to prepare my voice to start singing because a lot of people think you just go in there and you sing a song and it's over. It's about doing things over and over and over again until you get it right. It's a lot like basketball in that sense that you have to practice, you have to work on it, you have to stretch before games so to speak and that's warming up your voice, making sure that you can hit all the notes that you want to. I take it seriously and like I said, the producers that I work with, it's their passion, so they give it to me just like they give it to the top artists that they work with," he says.

While Stackhouse is inspired by past and present R&B, he finds influences in nearly all genres. "I got about twelve tracks right now and they're kind of split up. They're probably like half R&B and half gospel/inspirational. I don't really know which direction I really want to go right now."

Whatever direction he chooses, Stackhouse is clear in his approach. "I understand what I am," he says, "I'm a basketball player that has some talent in music. I'm not a talented musician that could just dabble in basketball, so I know where I'm at, but at the same time I think people might like what I have to offer."

Joe Smith feels that if people give it a chance, they may appreciate what many of the NBA players he collaborates with have to offer as well. "On my iPod, I have so much music with so many NBA players. It's something I love to do. A lot of people think athletes shouldn't do it and that's why I like to do a lot of stuff with other athletes and try and get them involved as much as possible."

While we all recognize the ball hitting the rim and sneakers squeaking on hardwood as the soundtrack of basketball, some NBA players have added new sounds to the game: their own.

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