Big Sean, whose real name is Sean Michael-Leonard Anderson, has touted his deep Detroit roots from his very first mixtape, and his latest album was the second installment of his Detroit series of albums/mixtapes.
The Grammy-nominated rapper spoke with The Undefeated about the role and why the Detroit Pistons were so important to him as a native of the city.
"My first memory was how important they were to the city for real. The Bad Boys Isiah Thomas and Joe Dumars. The back-to-back championships. They were No. 1 and their reputation was they were so tough, man. They were like — please excuse me, but you can’t f**k with Detroit. They weren’t bullies, to me, but they were definitely holding their own ground," he said.
"And the Detroit mentality is like, by any means necessary, you know, like Detroit Red. The Bad Boys definitely carried that reputation."
The 32-year-old will work with the franchise on merchandising, community engagement and a rebranding of the organization's cultural aesthetics.
Similar roles have been created in the past, the most notable of which is with Drake and the Toronto Raptors. JAY-Z and the Brooklyn Nets had a longstanding partnership as well that saw the mogul help integrate the new team into the borough.
JAY-Z has since performed similar roles with the entire NFL. Struggling franchises often turn to local legends and influencers to help rebrand perennially losing squads. The Detroit Pistons were 0-14 in the most recent playoff games and haven't won an NBA championship title since 2004.
"Sports and music goes so hand in hand because a lot of us wanted to be athletes. And a lot of athletes wanted to be rappers or musicians. I feel like that’s such a common respect between the two, but both are very rare jobs, right? With very rare experiences," the Detroit 2 rapper told The Undefeated's Justin Tinsley.
"But you seen Kobe rapping, you’ve seen Shaq rapping, Allen Iverson, you see athletes rapping and entertainers playing basketball — you know, really, really trying to play. They’re synonymous. They go together hand in hand, so it’s easy to mix the two and it’s very natural. We’re in a studio watching their games and they’re in the locker room listening to our music," he added.
He explained that as the creative director of innovation, his job will involve coming up with ideas about how to redesign the franchise and connect culturally with the city.
"There will be more things that I’ll be excited to do that are more than just designing T-shirts and jerseys — like giving back to the community. I know one of the things that I’m strong about is giving back to the city," he said.
"There’s obviously room for growth even more as far as ownership and things like that, but this is a huge step for me. And I’m sure it’ll inspire so many others from my city, but then to know that they can do that and more so I’m happy about that."
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, all NBA arenas are empty as the league starts the new season this week.
Big Sean will also be involved in social justice efforts spearheaded by the franchise, which has a very complicated history due to its owner, Tom Gores. In recent years, activists have spoken out against Gores because he owns Securus Technologies, a company that sets exorbitant prices for phone calls to jailed inmates across the country.
Activists and politicians have accused the company of effectively extorting the often poor, Black families of inmates. Some prisons charge families $14 for a 15-minute call, according to ESPN.
The rapper did not address the complaints against Gores but said this year has proven that people should speak up more than ever.
"We gotta say how we feel. If it’s right in our heart, then we gotta let that be known. I thought it was beautiful to see [NBA players speak up this summer]. I thought it was very necessary. I was proud of the whole Pistons franchise," he said.
"Really the whole NBA, because I just really feel like everyone stepped up in the best way possible. It’s something that we’re going to have to continue to keep going. You know, you just can’t show up and leave. You got to show up and stay there."
Dwane Casey, the team's head coach and one of the league's few Black coaches, was very outspoken after the killing of George Floyd and spoke passionately about his fears for how his son would be treated, according to the Detroit Free Press.
The hip-hop artist explained that the role was the culmination of a lifelong dream of being involved in the NBA one way or another. As a teen, he said he hoped to play in the NBA one day but he also wanted to rap.
"It’s funny because I still ended up doing both in a way. That’s a beautiful thing to smile and laugh at because you can make all the plans in the world and God’ll laugh at them and give you a whole ‘nother path. Things always work out for the best, man, always. I truly believe that," he said.
"This is really something I held high in my meditations and my prayers," he added. "Just expanding myself as an artist and doing things outside of music that I know I can make an impact in and inspire people. ‘Cause I do feel like my purpose is to inspire people."