The New York Knicks are the oldest team in the NBA. Of their 15-person team, eight players are over 30—the oldest, Kurt Thomas, is 40—and six are 28 or 29. Only Iman Shumpert, last year’s rookie, is 22.
Born in Chicago, Shumpert learned how to play basketball from watching his older brothers. He finally beat them when he was in the seventh or eighth grade, a momentous occasion for a younger sibling. “Nothing they could do after that,” he chuckles. Lauded for his skilled defense, Shumpert guards the opposing teams’ star players—LeBron James, Kobe Bryant—the athletes even basketball neophytes have heard of.
Shumpert takes his position as the Knicks’ youngest member seriously. Since injuring his ACL in April of last year, he has attended every Knicks game, sitting on the sidelines with his ’90s-style flat-top hair and stylish, playful suits. Shumpert is not the only injured player—superstars Carmelo “Melo” Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire are both out—but he is the only one you’ll see anxiously sitting on the team bench three times a week. A fledgling rapper, Shumpert even penned the team’s first-ever rap, the Knicks “Clique,” blasted at every game. If you visit his website, you’ll see he’s self-described as “a ’90s baby,” who misses “high shorts with long compressions, arm bands on the off arm, Johnny Bravo and Dragon Ball Z… albums that tell stories” and “genuine hate in sports.” This week, he’s releasing his mixtape debut, Th3 #Post90s, under the name 2wo 1ne.
The Knicks are having their best season in years, and Shumpert’s itching to get back. Maybe with Iman on board they’ll finally be able to beat Houston, Jeremy Lin’s new team and the only one that’s defeated the Knicks at home this season. Whether you’re more interested in his sporting ability, style, or rap songs, Shumpert’s definitely a face to watch for 2013.
EMMA BROWN: What made you pick the number 21 for your Knicks jersey?
IMAN SHUMPERT: Actually, my mother’s birthday is of the 21 st of August, and in seventh grade I wore 21 just solely because it was my mother’s birthday and I couldn’t get number 1. Then I wore 32 in high school, 1 in college. 32 I wore because it was like Mr. Triple-Double—I’ve always got a little theme that goes with my number. And in college, 1, just because I was the point guard. I got here and Stat [Amar'e Stoudemire] had number 1, I wasn’t gonna take it from Stat. [laughs] So I just went back to 21.
BROWN: You’ve talked about how basketball was a lot more aggressive in the ’90s than it is today, was it like that in the ’80s as well?
SHUMPERT: It was pretty intense in the ’80s, but ’90s style was a little more fit towards me, I think, and a little more influential.
BROWN: When did things change?
SHUMPERT: Just recently within the last 10 years, they’ve been slowly [implementing rules]—a lot to do with the fighting. I understand it; they don’t want the league to be looked at as violent, or anything that makes us look like outcasts. But personally, I kind of liked it when it was more aggressive and it wasn’t as bad when you got into that. Guys are real passionate, when you’re locked into a game you’re not thinking about getting fined however much money if you get in a fight. We’ll get in a fight, we’ll leave it on the court, we’ll be friends right after—that’s how I’m used to playing.
Iman shares 10 of his favorite things like these headphone pictured below. See all 10 items here.
BROWN: Is it easy to be friends with people on other teams?
SHUMPERT: No. I don’t really like to be. We could be friends after the game, in the summertime. But when we’re playing, I pretty much hate everybody. I [do] hang out with my teammates all the time.
BROWN: It must be difficult to hang out inconspicuously…
SHUMPERT: Oh, yeah. [laughs] We’re not gonna blend in anywhere. Everywhere we go, we stick out. We try not to be in places where we’ll get heckled.
BROWN: I wanted to talk about your new mixtape, Th3 #Post90s. I really like the “Things Done Changed” Biggie sample on “Progress.”
SHUMPERT: I just thought it was a really good sample to use—that one line—because that’s key for somebody like me. Growing up with three brothers, all you ever wanted was to be in the NBA, things happen at home, you’re in need of a lot of stuff that you can’t get access to. And then finally you can, but you don’t have to change as a person. Things done changed, but you can remain the same person. That’s the biggest thing about the song.
The difference between me and other athletes is that I’m speaking on things that I go through that I know other people go through. I think a lot of times the mistake in music—even rappers that are trying to be big time—if you’re broke, rap about being broke, if you’re sensitive, rap about being sensitive, ’cause there are other sensitive people. If you’re sensitive but you talk about being a tough person that doesn’t care about anything, people will call your bluff. My music, you know I’m not lying about anything, and the way you can tell is how in-depth I can get about everything I’m talking about. I like to paint pictures with words, ’cause I can’t draw for anything. I like art; if I could just draw pictures all day, I would, but I can’t, I’m horrible. I practiced at it, still didn’t get better—gave it up. I’m good with words though, so I write music, poetry, sometimes I just journal in my phone. [During the off season] some [players] choose to go to Great America, some people go laser tag, some people go paintball, some people go fishing—I rap. I don’t go fishing. I think I’m gonna paintball this summer though, but usually I just rap. Especially with a torn ACL, sitting in the bed for six weeks, couldn’t really get up and do anything. I call it writer’s block when I have nothing to talk about. I could make it sound good, but I hate having nothing to talk about. I need to go through stuff. I need bad stuff to happen to me. I think I’m better that way.
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