Josh Hart shoots a layup over Sacramento's Buddy Hield on Feb. 1

Pelicans players chose ‘scoring soundbites’ for their home baskets during 2020-21 season

Josh Hart's clip from Wale song No. 1 on team's 'top-10 countdown'
by Jim Eichenhofer

A beat after Josh Hart sank a 10-foot jumper midway through the second quarter of a Dec. 27 game vs. San Antonio, a unique confluence in American pop culture occurred: An NBA player’s first home basket of the 2020-21 season was recognized by the Smoothie King Center sound system, with hip-hop lyrics featuring that player’s name.

Let us explain: During training camp, Hart was one of roughly a dozen Pelicans players to choose a “scoring soundbite” for whenever they get a bucket at New Orleans home games. The native of Washington, D.C., selected a line from rapper Wale’s 2018 song “Winter Wars,” in which the Washington-based artist says, “A real dawg sleep on me, I still ball. I’m feeling like Josh Hart.”

NBA arenas playing specific sound clips to honor individual player baskets is far from new – New Orleans began playing Ric Flair’s signature exclamation of “Woooo!” for Chris Paul’s hoops more than a decade ago – but the team’s game entertainment staff chose to organize the process in 2020-21. In the past, decisions on which brief audio clips to use were often made by creative New Orleans staff members, but this time the choice was handed exclusively to the players themselves. That shift was part of the organization’s push to rely more heavily on player input when determining the music played at games. Through 11 Pelicans games in the Smoothie King Center this winter, that’s often been evident during pregame warmups, when players are shown on the video board above, singing or rapping along to a song they picked.

“We want to humanize the guys and show that the music selections truly come from them,” Pelicans Director of Game Experience Kyle Campbell said. “When you see them singing the words to a song, fans can connect better with the players and say, ‘That’s JJ Redick’s song that he likes to hear,’ or ‘That’s Jaxson Hayes’ favorite song.’ Whether they’re bobbing around to (the beat), or singing the lyrics, or interacting with each other, that’s always a good feeling when you play the tracks and see them having fun with it.”

Part of the impetus to add player input came from how popular the same idea has been for the Pelicans' football counterparts, the NFL’s New Orleans Saints. It’s been common in recent seasons to see Saints players dance on the Superdome sidelines to songs they chose, such as “Choppa Style.”

“To see the way the players have reacted to the music, it’s made me really value the input from them,” said Campbell, who’s worked dozens of Saints home games in recent years. “We look at it like, if this is what the players want, this is what we’re going to play. We want to give the players the motivation and tools to play well and help us win basketball games.”

As the Pelicans prepare for a Tuesday home game vs. Houston – and keeping with a musical theme – here’s a countdown of the top 10 “scoring soundbites” for New Orleans players in 2020-21:

10, Kira Lewis Jr., “Notorious Thugs” by The Notorious B.I.G.

Why rank this 10th of 10 on the list? NBA tradition – the 19-year-old Lewis is a rookie.

9, Jaxson Hayes, Mario Kart coin noise

The second-year pro picked a fairly recognizable sound from the video game to punctuate his frequent highlight-reel dunks.

8, Sindarius Thornwell, A money counter machine

It’s the beeping sound the machine makes after all of the bills have been counted.

7, Nicolo Melli, “Crazy In Love” by Beyonce, featuring Jay-Z

No word on if this selection is related, but the forward from Italy is married and became a first-time father this season.

6, Nickeil Alexander-Walker, “6 God” by Drake

An incredibly appropriate tie-in by the second-year guard, who like the Canadian rapper is a Toronto native. Alexander-Walker also changed his uniform number from 0 to 6 this season. Honestly, this could’ve been placed much higher on the “countdown,” but ranking it sixth was too perfect.

5, Steven Adams, “Circle of Life” by Elton John from “The Lion King”

A 6-foot-11, bruising center from New Zealand going with a song from an animated movie has to be at least top-five.

4, Brandon Ingram, “For The Love of Money” by The O’Jays

Perhaps you don’t instantly recognize the 1973-released song title or the band – unless you’re really into old-school music – but you might when you hear the lyrics. Think “Mo-ney, mo-ney, mo-ney, mo-ney… mo-ney!”

3, JJ Redick, “Power Over Me” by Dermot Kennedy

Extra points for creativity, choosing a song by the Irish singer-songwriter and musician. When Redick nails a jumper, the PA system plays “You’ve got that pow-er over me!”

2, Zion Williamson, “Number One Stunna” by Big Tymers

When Williamson filled out his form to select which soundbite to play for his baskets in 2020-21, he wrote, “Whatever we used last season.” Excellent choice. Not only does the lyric line reference Williamson’s uniform number, but also his overall NBA draft-pick status from 2019. A bonus? Big Tymers are the New Orleans duo of Birdman and Mannie Fresh. “Number One Stunna” was the lead single from their 2000 Platinum-selling album “I Got That Work.”

1, Josh Hart, “Winter Wars” by Wale

Hart said he met Wale a couple years ago and became friends with the fellow Washington, D.C. native. Hart explained that the decision to select his soundbite was an extremely easy call for a few reasons, including his appreciation for someone from his hometown acknowledging Hart’s basketball career. The lyric line about being “slept on” is a reference to Hart’s background as a player who’s commonly been underrated.

“It was cool,” Hart said of his reaction to learning he was being given a “shoutout” in a Wale song. “I knew a couple people he was in the studio with when he was recording, and they hit me up after and said, ‘Hey, Wale is putting you in a song.’ That was dope regardless, but for it to be (written by) someone from the crib, someone whose music I’ve listened to since I was in middle school, it was cool. I had to show my guy some love.”

Hart hopes to thank Wale at some point in person in the future, which would bring things full circle for the two men from the “DMV” (District of Columbia, Maryland, Virginia) area.

“Post-COVID,” Hart said of the avid, longtime Washington Wizards fan, “hopefully I can get him down to New Orleans to a game.”

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