Imagine making your pro basketball debut at 36. Now imagine making that debut after not having played a meaningful basketball game in more than a decade.
Rapper J.Cole did exactly that when he stepped onto the court with Basketball Africa League’s Rwanda Patriots earlier this month. Cole, who is playing under his real name Jermaine Cole, did play in high school, and nearly made his college team as a walk-on. But he hasn’t played competitively since, and he made his debut at an age when most players are winding down their careers — or already retired.
Cole’s debut wasn’t jaw-dropping, but by most accounts, he held his own: three points, three rebounds, and two assists in 17 minutes. And the Basketball Africa League might not be the G League — in fact, this is BAL’s inaugural season — but it was co-founded by the NBA and FIBA. The competition is legitimate.
It’s easy to view all this as a promotional stunt. Not only does the BAL get media attention during its first-ever season, but Cole just dropped a record — the cover of which has him standing in front of a flaming basketball net, no less.
But the reality is that all of this could backfire. Already, people are taking delight in watching Cole fail: he put up 0 points in his second game with the Patriots, and it prompted some sports blogs to highlight his misses. And as a guy who consistently name-drops NBA players, you can bet that Cole doesn’t want to be known as the guy who couldn’t make a 3.
So why do this, then, beyond a momentary bump in publicity? It might be about righting past wrongs. In a recent documentary, Cole talked about the early days of his music career, and how a couple of friends held a mini-intervention to tell him that he wasn’t working hard enough. “It made me think about basketball, why I didn’t make it at basketball,” Cole says. “Because I wasn’t f****** working.”
He says the intervention sobered him up, and completely changed his work ethic. It’s led to a dream career in music, and — now — a chance to rewrite his basketball past.