NBA Fans and Players Mourn Nipsey Hussle, Celebrate His Legacy After Rapper’s Death

With just over a minute left on the clock and a safe 16-point lead over the Los Angeles Lakers on Tuesday night, the Oklahoma City Thunder’s Billy Donovan pulled his starters. But as Paul George, Jerami Grant, and Dennis Schroder sauntered off the court, Russell Westbrook stayed put.

Seconds later, Westbrook snagged a missed 15-foot shot off the fingertips of Lakers rookie Isaac Bonga, running his rebound total to 20. By doing so, he became just the second player in NBA history — and the first player since 1968 — to put up 20 points, 20 assists, and 20 rebounds in a single game. The first to do so was Hall of Famer Wilt Chamberlain, who many argue is among the top five players in basketball history.

“20 plus 20 plus 20,” Westbrook said in a post-game interview with TNT’s Jason Terry. “They know what that means, man, that’s for my bro.” Westbrook was referring to rapper and community activist Nipsey Hussle, who was shot and killed outside of The Marathon Clothing, his apparel store, in South LA on Sunday.

Hussle’s previous experience with street violence and gang culture — he was formerly affiliated with the Rollin 60’s Neighborhood Crips, an LA street gang — inspired his music and the steps he took to rejuvenate South LA, specifically the Crenshaw District.

While Hussle was a Grammy-nominated rapper, many of his mourners admired him most for what he did outside of the recording studio. In fact, plenty of people who expressed their sorrow and sent words of support and encouragement to Hussle’s family and friends on social media admitted they are unfamiliar with his music. Hussle was a contemporary cultural icon who didn’t solely care about materialistic goods or a strong social media presence — he wanted to provide for his loved ones and community and change how kids experience growing up in inner cities.

Last year, Hussle launched his Too Big to Fail initiative, which included opening a STEM education and networking center for children in Crenshaw. He was also involved in the Destination Crenshaw arts project, which sought to celebrate Black LA through a mile-long arts and culture event. He owned several businesses — with plans to turn a strip mall into a residential space — and often gave jobs to struggling and homeless residents. He was planning to meet with the LA Police Department and representatives from Jay Z’s entertainment company, Roc Nation, on Monday to discuss how to curb gang violence in the city, and had participated in several anti-gun violence rallies over the years.

On Wednesday, Congress member Karen Bass, who represents California’s 37th District — which includes Los Angeles, Inglewood, and Culver City — tweeted, “I will be heading to the House Floor next week to formally enter Nipsey Hussle’s contributions to South Los Angeles into the Congressional Record where it will be a part of United States History forever.”

Hussle’s influence spread to athletics, where he had formed close relationships with many players in the NFL and especially the NBA. In 2016, he helped serve food to guests at Westbrook’s Why Not? Foundation’s fifth annual Thanksgiving dinner in LA, and Westbrook — born in Long Beach, CA — attended the opening celebration of Hussle’s apparel store in 2017. In 2018, Hussle and fellow LA rapper YG performed a halftime show together at a Los Angeles Clippers game to promote Hussle’s debut album, Victory Lap. He also teamed up with athletic clothing brand Puma to renovate a basketball court in his hometown and attended the 2019 NBA All-Star Game in Charlotte.

After his death, the Golden State Warriors paid tribute to Hussle with a musical break during their game Sunday, Los Angeles Clippers players Montrezl Harrell and Lou Williams put replica jerseys with “Hussle” written on the back in their lockers, and a plethora of other players spoke on Hussle’s legacy and scribed his name on their sneakers. Cleveland Cavaliers player J.R. Smith even got Hussle’s face tattooed on his leg.

Miami Heat star Dwyane Wade, a good friend of Hussle’s fiancee Lauren London, was among the players to publicly lament for Hussle.

“It’s unfortunate, as we continue to lose so many important young men in this world, especially the ones who are doing good and are trying to do good for others,” Wade said. “It’s a big loss for our community. It’s a big loss for his family. It’s a big loss for this world.”

Hussle’s death hit close to home for many athletes, because they shared a similar upbringing and desire to give back to their communities — which TV presenter Shannon Sharpe addressed on the April 3 episode of his show, Skip and Shannon: Undisputed.

“Nipsey Hussle had a different influence,” said Sharpe, a former NFL star. “I didn’t really know his music. I knew him more for what he was trying to do for his community. All my life I grew up trying to become something to remove myself from the environment [I came from]. … But that’s not what this young man did. He became something, stayed in the community, [and] tried to empower others to say, ‘Yeah, you can leave, but you can stay and be prosperous here.’”

Lakers star LeBron James, who posted three different tributes to Hussle on Instagram, is another athlete who can relate to him. Born and raised in Akron, Ohio, James returned to his hometown in July 2018 to open the I Promise School. The school provides education for 240 third- and fourth-graders who were identified by Akron Public Schools as behind in critical academic areas and other factors.

Like Hussle, James knows what it’s like to grow up in an impoverished city and wants to show kids that it’s possible overcome adversity and help others succeed. James, who is now a multi-millionaire and the face of the NBA, missed 82 days of school in [the] fourth grade because his mom didn’t have a car. In fact, James barely had a home. He and his mother bounced around, often crashing on the couch of a family friend for weeks at a time.

“I know exactly what these 240 kids are going through,” James said at the grand opening of his school. “I know the streets that they walk. I know the trials and tribulations that they go through … I know everything that they dream about. I know all the nightmares that they have, because I’ve been there.”

While a light was taken from the world Sunday, and fans and friends of Hussle continue to mourn his death, they also reflect on the wonderful legacy he has left behind and contemplate their own impact on the world. Like many of his friends in the NBA, he did far more than just excel in his field — he used his influence to provide opportunities and resources to people who need them and uplifted an entire city. May we all strive to be so kind-hearted and philanthropic that we’re remembered more by the quality of our character than by what we did for a living.