In May of 2013, a resurgent New York Knicks team full of old veterans themselves, showed up to Madison Square Garden in funeral style all-black attire to bury one of the most storied Celtics runs of all time. Euthanized by their healthier, hungrier peers. In August of 2021, a resurgent New York Warlocks (aka THE LOX) team, full of old veterans themselves, showed up to Madison Square Garden in an undertaker’s mind-frame ready to bury one of the most storied Hip-Hop runs of all time; The Harlem Diplomats. Euthanized by their healthier, hungrier peers.
Of course it’s all metaphorical and in WWE fashion that we refer to these “funerals,” because literally and figuratively—the greats live on. And the 2008-2012 Boston Celtics and the 2002-2006 Harlem Diplomats are most certainly greats. They both dominated the narratives and culture of Hip-Hop and Pro Basketball and they delivered plenty of tangible results as well. The Kevin Garnett/ Paul Pierce/ Ray Allen Boston Celtics won a title their first playoffs together in June 2008 (defeating Kobe’s Lakers), appearing again in The Finals in 2010 (losing to Kobe’s Lakers) and going to two more Conference Finals in 2009 (losing to Dwight’s Magic) and 2012 (Losing to Lebron’s Heat in an epic 7 game series). The Diplomats led by their “Big 3” of Cam’ron/Jim Jones/ Juelz Santana from 2002-2006 released countless cult-favorite mixtapes, eight top 20 Billboard solo studio albums, and two monster compilations including arguable classics in Cam’rons “Come Home With Me” and the collective’s “Diplomatic Immunity.”
While the Celtic’s resume in their late 2000’s prime doesn’t make them GOAT material like the Lakers/Spurs dynasties before and alongside them-- nor the Heat/Warriors dynasties after them-- they loom large in the EXPERIENCE of actually being an NBA fan at the time -- hate them or love them. In the same way, while it is undoubtable that The Diplomats were definitely #1 at a point in their prime-- as a whole-- their resume doesn’t quite stack up with the true blue blood NYC dynasties like Wu-Tang/Ruff Ryders/Bad Boy— but you just couldn’t be a fan of Hip-Hop at the time without being acutely in tune with the Dipset -- hate them or love them.
As we continue our “Beats, Bars & Basketball “Spittin’ Image” series, I first wanna give myself some props and say that with the recent Versuz battle between The Lox and The Diplomats made my Volume 1 piece “Why Chris Paul is the Jadakiss of Basketball” look genius. Like Chris Paul’s extremely productive 2021 season and subsequent Finals appearance, Jadakiss proved in a surgical performance on possibly the biggest stage in the game today, he should NOT be talked about in the past tense—he has championship chops RIGHT NOW. With that being said, this week’s comparison is a little different. I don’t LOVE any of the individual comparisons except maybe Cam/KG but as a whole and on pure emotional impact—this is as close as you can get.
Why Cam is KG:
People sleep on pre-Dipset Cam. Like KG, he was a top draft pick right out of high school, co-signed by The Notorious B.I.G and his manager Lance “Un” Rivera. He was paired with fellow Harlemite and former friend, basketball teammate, Mason Betha aka Murda Ma$e and set it off in their rookie seasons on Ma$e’s “Harlem World” and Cam’s “Confessions of Fire,” just like Kevin Garnett and Stephon Marbury did for their Minnesota Timberwolves (Mase and Marbury are a great comparison lowkey—watch out for a future article lol). After Ma$e and Marbury fell out with Cam and KG they did their thing impressively, but stuck in limbo in Minneapolis and on Columbia Records respectively, with KG’s consistent MVP contention/first round Playoff exits and Cam’s 2000 “S.D. E (Sports, Drugs, & Entertainment).” Once they earned autonomy over their own
careers it was time to build their own teams that could highlight their strengths as lead men.
Cam was always building this in the form of his partnership with all-around hustler, the infamous Jimmy Jones and their young protégé, Juelz Santana but around the turn of the millennium it was time to unleash the squad, signing a group deal with mentor and Harlem’s own, Damon Dash and Roc-A-Fella Records (much to Jay-Z’s ultimate chagrin). For Garnett, this meant linking with Paul Pierce already in Boston and the team acquiring Bucks/Sonics all-star shooting guard, Jesus Shuttlesworth aka Ray Allen. Both experienced immediate success following the move with the Celts winning a championship in their first season together and Cam, Jimmy, and Juelz running the world with their #1 hit “Oh Boy” and their relentless release schedule.
Both KG and Cam have always had very few limitations in their game. If you HAVE to make a criticism—the same way KG couldn’t really play on the perimeter, Cam gets a little outside of his comfort zone if he's not hitting his signature stop-an-go-slow-flow. I’m splitting hairs. Their games and their rude “fuck you” styles are legendarily versatile yet consistent, and smooth yet viscious. They were potent threats for a very long time and remain relevant in the mainstream and with their niche fan-bases because of their larger than life past performances and their never-ending charisma.
Why Jim is Paul Pierce:
Their genesis doesn’t share much in common other than that Jim has always had an affinity for Pierce’s hometown LA’s culture (see “Certified Gangstas). They also both seem to have been instrumental in the ultimate unleashing of their legendary squads, with both pulling behind-the-scenes strings to make it happen. Most of their commonality though, lies in the fact that they are southpaws. No one plays quite like The Truth and no one raps or hustles quite the same as Capo. It’s also worth noting that even though Ray Allen was acclaimed for staying in peak physical shape and Garnett was universally labeled as the most talented of the group—Pierce’s NBA relevance outlasted both. In much the same way, Jimmy has experienced later but longer lasting and more consistent relevance than anyone in the group. They also share a huge similarity in that they appear to be the only friendship bridge between their respective teammates…
Why Juelz is Ray Allen:
This is my least favorite individual comparison as Ray Allen is known for having one of the smoothest strokes in NBA history (pause) and Juelz Santana’s distinct flow resembles more of Rajon Rondo’s herky-jerky, chaotic but exciting brand of ball. However we need this comparison to really glue it all together. When Ray Allen came to the Celtics in the summer of 2007, it was speculated that he would have to sacrifice the most shine in order to make the machine work--and that was indeed the case. While Jim and Cam were much more willing to describe Juelz Santana as the number one option – and while there was always a narrative that he could be his own leading man—his best moments were within the team dynamic. Ray’s seasons as the Milwaukee Bucks and Seattle Supersonics go-to-guy were nothing to sneeze at, just like Santana’s “From Me To U” and “What The Games Been Missing!,” neither star however, reached the heights they would reach as supporting cast. It’s unclear if this is what specifically caused the friction in the group-- there’s a lot of secrecy around the details—but its undeniable they were somehow the catalysts of the teams’ downfall.
Between Juelz’s life choices during much of the 2010's and Ray’s choice to join the enemy Heat in 2012-2013, there was an animosity created within the sets that seems to exist to this day, especially between Ray/Juelz and Cam/KG. As both teams reach the sweet spot of nostalgia (fifteenish years after your prime) and reunions become more and more in demand, it’s obvious that the missing/weakest links in the bond is with these two performers.
Why The Dips are The Celts:
We’ve obviously been talking about this the entire time… but I wanna point out some quick hitters.
1. The Celtics in this era had a lot more personalities than just these 3 in the mix and blowing up on a regional/national level. We could make JR Writer/Nate Robinson, Dame Dash/Doc Rivers, Hell Rell/Kendrick Perkins, Frekey Zekey/Glen “Big Baby” Davis type comparisons ALL.DAY.LONG.
2. The both occupy a weird “Were they over-acheivers or under-acheivers?” space in history because none were the prototype stars of their time, but its not like there were no expectations either especially in storied, fanatic-laced setting like the Boston Celtics franchise and New York City Hip-Hop and also because tension, physical setbacks, and the rise of younger more powerful
dynasties cut their expected/unexpected run short.
3. Both crews have movie stars with Ray Allen first starring in Spike Lee’s ‘He Got Game,” Cam’ron achieving critical acclaim in “Paid in Full, KG doing the same with “Uncut Gems,” and of course the messterpiece, “Killa Season,” funded, written, shot, edited, released, distributed and
promoted by Cam and the Dips.
4. Everybody within these two cliques are still living and active on the respective Basketball/Hip-Hop scene so hope for a momentary return to glory remain. Boston’s Big 3hasn’t been seen together since 2012. The Dips do make appearances (clearly, as evidenced by the Versuz) but are known to go on long hiatuses and their chemistry is way off. All of their Basketball/Hip-Hop legacies would be aided by a successful reunion effort. With Jim appearing to be the only linkbetween Cam and Juelz and Pierce being the only link between Garnett and Allen, can these squads get back together and reach high heights once again and get back to BAAAAALLLLIIIIINNN!!?? We shall see.
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by: Zach Kirby