Basketball's Best Kept Secret: Revealed

Getty Images
Getty Images

While cruising Amazon one day, I found something curious: a 1994 hip-hop album from Immortal Records called Basketball's Best-Kept Secret featuring the flows of ten of the day's brightest NBA stars. Needless to say, this seemed like a good way to spend four dollars.

I was wrong, though. Buying this record was an outstanding way to spend four dollars. In the Pantheon of Hilariously Bad Athlete Rap, it's the missing link between "The Super Bowl Shuffle" and Kobe Bryant's abysmal "Thug Poet." Is there anything musically redeeming about it? Not at all. Is it worth listening to if you're an NBA fan? Absolutely.

The record is so riveting that I combed through it track-by-track in an attempt to find out what basketball's best-kept secret really is.

Track 02: Dana Barros "“ "Check It"

 Barros levels with the listener up front: "I gots many, many things on my mind." These things include: staying strapped, his 850 BMW, and his need to "slam like Onyx, puffing on chronic." The track actually sounds a little like Onyx, so half of that rhyme's appropriate. It's also great to visualize NBA commissioner David Stern hearing the "puffing on chronic" line and then wondering how many times he could possibly drug test Barros the next year.

Does it reference jump shots? No, but there is a nice shout-out to Celtics forward Reggie Lewis, who had died of a heart defect the previous year.

Sample Dana Barros:

Track 03: Malik Sealy "“ "Lost in the Sauce"

 The late Sealy turns in one of the better tracks here. DJ Alamo of Brand Nubian crafts a beat that allows Sealy to rhyme about his upbringing and the importance of being a decent human being over a simple wah-guitar and hi-hat. Big Malik "conquered the concrete with my sweet inside-outside game" and will "dunk it on you from the dotted"¦if you act like you want it, you got it."

Does it reference jump shots? As the chorus tells us, "Life's just one big jumpshot." That's the kind of profound revelation you're not going to find in your fancy college philosophy classes.

Sample Malik Sealy:

Track 04: Shaquille O'Neal "“ "Mic Check 1-2"

 Shaq has one platinum and two gold records to his credit. Such credentials might lead one to believe he can rap. "Mic Check 1-2" clears up that misconception in its first 30 seconds. Teaming with Brooklyn's Ill Al Skratch, Shaq turns in what sounds like a deeper-voiced version of the worst song Ol' Dirty Bastard ever recorded. O'Neal manages to cleverly work in a great bit of product placement as part of his Reebok endorsement, though, when he claims that he can "inflate rhymes with his InstaPump."

Does it reference jump shots? Sadly, no. Most of the lyrics are just Shaq or Ill yelling "Mic Check 1-2."

Sample Shaquille O'Neal:

Track 06: Cedric Ceballos "“ "Flow On"

 You may remember Ceballos for his blindfolded jam to win the 1992 NBA Slam Dunk Contest. One listen to this song, though, and you will always think of him as a poor man's Nate Dogg. Or Nate Dogg with a cold. Here on "Flow On," Ceballos even enlists frequent Nate Dogg collaborator Warren G. to handle production duties and back up his rhymes. The result is what you'd expect: a bland G-funk beat with female backing vocals encouraging Ceballos to "flow on" while he lets us know how smooth he is while eating chicken wings.

Ceballos earns extra points by constantly referring to himself by his jersey number, 23, as if basketball fans immediately think "Ceballos" when hearing that number. Take that, Michael Jordan!

Does it reference jump shots? Yep. "I gets high up off my jumpers and my dunks, you see." Oh, how we see, Cedric.

Sample Cedric Ceballos:

Track 07: Brian Shaw "“ "Anything Can Happen"

 Journeyman combo guard Shaw turns in a contemplative track about his family's deaths the previous year. Interestingly, though, Ant Banks' G-funk production doesn't accentuate basketball: it likens life to a game of pool. Shaw's big name-checks on the track are his niece and his girlfriend, who's "soon to be my future wife." In other words, he's nowhere near boastful enough and way too likable to appear on this record. Shaw's slow flow is nothing to crow about, but anything better than "absolutely horrid" sounds pretty good in this context.

Does it reference jump shots? No, but Shaw's always "grabbin' a ball and dunkin' it."

Sample Brian Shaw:

Track 08: Chris Mills "“ "Sumptin' to Groove To"

 "Here's a little sumptin' to nod your head to, a funky little groove that you can move to." I guess Mills' chorus is somewhat accurate; I was shaking my head "no" while moving to turn off my stereo. That counts, right? His clumsy flow isn't as honest elsewhere, though. Mills claims to be a "big ballplayer, a nice rhymesayer, and as you all know I'm fly-girl layer." I haven't checked with any fly girls, but I know that at least two of those three statements are patently false.

Words can't do justice to this track's rottenness. It's the aural equivalent of simultaneously seeing a train crash, being kicked in the stomach by a mule, and having the flu.

Does it reference jump shots? "I'm up in the gym"¦I play every day"¦I work real hard so I got a cool J"¦a jump shot"¦" Appreciate the clarification.

Sample Chris Mills:

Track 10: Jason Kidd "“ "What the Kidd Didd"

 No, that's not a typo. That's really the song's clever title. Surprisingly, the track itself manages to build on that hilarity. Starting the basic premise of letting us know what the Kidd didd, the point guard delivers rhymes in pretty much the same flat voice he uses to answer postgame questions. Kidd didn't even write his own subpar rhymes. The Digital Underground's Money B. penned them and saved the most amusing rap for his own cameo: "Steady flossin' with cash earned from hittin' (Jamal) Mashburn."

So what did the Kidd do(o)? "Ain't nothing going on but cash and b-ballin'." The boasting is especially enjoyable since those sweet passes to Mashburn led Kidd's Dallas Mavericks to a stellar 13-69 record the previous season.

Does it reference jump shots? Sadly, no, but Kidd clears up the situation with the ladies. He's "got more chicks than Kentucky Fried."

Sample Jason Kidd:

Track 11: J.R. Rider "“ "Funk in the Trunk"

 This track alone is worth the price of admission. Musically, it's nothing much, basically just a little piano loop over Rider's stilted flow. However, it takes the listener inside the mind of one of basketball's most notorious madmen. The 1994 dunk champion was known for his erratic off-court behavior, including drug suspensions, a kidnapping charge, and throwing a milkshake at a drive-thru worker.

Who could have seen these behavioral problems coming? It's not like Rider rapped about his motto for life: "keep one in the chamber." Well, he only did it once, anyway. This track would doubtlessly be more terrifying if Rider's delivery could remain intelligible for more than a few words at a time. "I'm going to protect"¦my defense's a killa," doesn't sound like it's about basketball, especially when it's preceded by lines that seem to be about cutting people open.

Does it reference jump shots? There's no time; Rider spends most of the last minute giving shout-outs to everyone he's ever met.

Sample J.R. Rider:

Track 13: Dennis Scott "“ "All Night Party"

 Dennis Scott likes to party. All night. Forget whatever you thought you knew about the sharp-shooting small forward who helped the Orlando Magic make the NBA Finals. The man known as 3-D only wants to party. Wedding receptions, bar mitzvahs, Chuck E. Cheese pizza bashes"¦it doesn't matter what kind of party. D. Scott will show up and bring the funk. He doesn't even care if there are women there, "all I wanna know is where the party at." Scott would prefer if the party goes "on and on and on and on until the break of dawn," but he's not picky. If there's a party over there, he'll rock it.

Does it reference jump shots? Scott's way too busy partying to worry about hoops.

Sample Dennis Scott:

Track 14: Gary Payton "“ "Livin' Legal and Large"

 The future Hall of Fame point guard's track isn't exactly good, but it's closer than anything else on this record. Payton acquits himself fairly well flowing over a bouncy West Coast funk beat. It turns out that the Glove's lifestyle is not just large; it's also legal. The rhymes are forced and feel even weaker when you find out that Payton didn't write them himself, despite his boast that "I can make my lyrics look better than a slam dunk." Apparently he threw home that jam on some other record.

Does it reference jump shots? Oh yeah. "Hit a three"¦talk a little junk" and then later "Who is that? G.P. is what they say as I hit my J in a vicious kind of way"¦" [Payton-as-Lego image courtesy of Supersonicsoul.com.]

Sample Gary Payton:

Conclusion: So what is the album's titular best-kept secret? After listening to the whole record several times, I can only draw three firm conclusions, none of which seem like particularly well-kept secrets:

1) Basketball players have very high opinions of themselves.
2) Despite this confidence, they can't rap.
3) You should never feel truly safe if you're in the same time zone as J.R. Rider.

Ethan Trex grew up idolizing Vince Coleman, and he kind of still does. Ethan co-writes Straight Cash, Homey, the Internet's undisputed top source for pictures of people in Ryan Leaf jerseys.

The Time Baby Ruth Sued Babe Ruth

Allsport/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Allsport/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

In 1920, the Curtiss Candy Company introduced the Baby Ruth candy bar, causing a certain baseball player with a very similar name to take notice. Babe Ruth was having a monstrous year—his 54 home runs in the 1920 season were more than any other team in the American League. If you were going to misappropriate someone’s name for a candy bar, Ruth’s was a logical choice.

Sensing opportunity, the Great Bambino struck back by creating his own Babe Ruth Home Run Bar. Curtiss quickly sued Ruth’s company for trademark infringement. But what happened next was surprising: When the Sultan of Swat accused the company of using his name, Curtiss feigned shock. Its bar was named after “Baby” Ruth Cleveland, daughter of President Grover Cleveland.

For years, this has been the oft-repeated explanation, but the argument makes no sense. Cleveland had been out of office for more than two decades and dead for 12 years when the bar debuted. “Baby” Ruth herself had died of diphtheria in 1904, at just 12 years old. Although the country’s most famous baseball star would seem much more likely to have a namesake candy than a former president's departed child, the courts sided with Curtiss.

When Ruth learned of the verdict, he bellowed, “Well, I ain’t eatin’ your damned candy bar anymore!” Somehow, the Baby Ruth bar survived without his support.

10 Winning Facts about Wheaties

General Mills
General Mills

Famous for its vivid orange boxes featuring star athletes and its classic "breakfast of champions" tagline, Wheaties might be the only cereal that's better known for its packaging than its taste. The whole wheat cereal has been around since the 1920s, becoming an icon not just of the breakfast aisle, but the sports and advertising worlds, too. Here are 10 winning facts about it.

1. IT WAS INVENTED BY ACCIDENT.

The Washburn Crosby Company wasn't initially in the cereal business. At the time, the Minnesota-based company—which became General Mills in 1928—primarily sold flour. But in 1921, the story goes, a dietitian in Minneapolis spilled bran gruel on a hot stove. The bran hardened into crispy, delicious flakes, and a new cereal was born. In 1924, the Washburn Crosby Company began selling a version of the flakes as a boxed cereal it called Washburn's Gold Medal Whole Wheat Flakes. A year later, after a company-wide contest, the company changed the name to Wheaties.

2. ITS JINGLE FEATURED A SINGING UNDERTAKER AND A COURT BAILIFF.

Wheaties sales were slow at first, but the Washburn Crosby Company already had a built-in advertising platform: It owned the Minneapolis radio station WCCO. Starting on December 24, 1926, the station began airing a jingle for the cereal sung by a barbershop quartet called the Wheaties Quartet. The foursome sang "Have You Tried Wheaties" live over the radio every week, earning $15 (about $200 today) per performance. In addition to their weekly singing gig, the men of the Wheaties Quartet all also had day jobs: One was an undertaker, one was a court bailiff, one worked in the grain industry, and one worked in printing. The ad campaign eventually went national, helping boost Wheaties sales across the country and becoming an advertising legend.

3. WHEATIES HAS BEEN TIED TO SPORTS SINCE ALMOST THE BEGINNING.

Carl Lewis signs a Wheaties box with his image on it for a young boy.
Track and field Olympic medalist Carl Lewis
Stephen Chernin, Getty Images

Wheaties has aligned itself with the sports world since its early days. In 1927, Wheaties bought ad space at Minneapolis's Nicollet Park, home to a minor league baseball team called the Millers, and in 1933, the cereal brand started sponsoring the team's game-day radio broadcasts on WCCO. Eventually, Wheaties baseball broadcasts expanded to 95 different radio stations, covering teams all over the country and further cementing its association with the sport. Since then, generations of endorsements from athletes of all stripes have helped sell consumers on the idea that eating Wheaties can make them strong and successful just like their favorite players. The branding association has been so successful that appearing on a Wheaties box has itself become a symbol of athletic achievement.

4. WHEATIES HELPED KICK-START RONALD REAGAN'S ACTING CAREER.

In the 1930s, a young sports broadcaster named Ronald Reagan was working at a radio station in Des Moines, Iowa, narrating Wheaties-sponsored Chicago Cubs and White Sox games. As part of this job, Reagan went to California to visit the Cubs' spring training camp in 1937. While he was there, he also did a screen test at Warner Bros. The studio ended up offering him a seven-year contract, and later that year, he appeared in his first starring role as a radio commentator in Love Is On The Air.

5. ATHLETES' PHOTOS DIDN'T ALWAYS APPEAR ON THE FRONT OF BOXES.

Three Wheaties boxes featuring Michael Phelps
Justin Sullivan, Getty Images

Although a Wheaties box wouldn't seem complete without an athlete's photo on it today, the cereal didn't always feature athletes front and center. In the early years, the boxes had photos of athletes like baseball legend Lou Gehrig (the first celebrity to be featured, in 1934) on the back or side panels of boxes. Athletes didn't start to appear on the front of the box until 1958, when the cereal featured Olympic pole vaulter Bob Richards.

6. THE FIRST WOMAN ON A WHEATIES BOX WAS A PILOT.

Former Track and Field Olympian Jackie Joyner-Kersey stands with a poster of her new Wheaties box after it was unveiled in 2004.
Former Track and Field Olympian Jackie Joyner-Kersey stands with a poster of her new Wheaties box after it was unveiled in 2004.
Stephen Chernin, Getty Images

Olympic gymnast Mary Lou Retton became the first woman to appear on the front of a Wheaties box in 1984, but women did appear elsewhere on the box in the brand's early years. The first was pioneering aviator and stunt pilot Elinor Smith. Smith, whose picture graced the back of the box in 1934, set numerous world aviation records for endurance and altitude in the 1920s and 1930s.

7. IT USED TO HAVE A MASCOT.

Though we now associate Wheaties with athletes rather than an animal mascot, the cereal did have the latter during the 1950s. In an attempt to appeal to children, Wheaties adopted a puppet lion named Champy (short for "Champion") as the brand's mascot. Champy and his puppet friends sang about the benefits of Wheaties in commercials that ran during The Mickey Mouse Club, and kids could order their own Champy hand puppets for 50 cents (less than $5 today) if they mailed in Wheaties box tops.

8. MICHAEL JORDAN IS THE WHEATIES KING.

Of all the athletes who have graced the cover of a Wheaties box, basketball superstar Michael Jordan takes the cake for most appearances. He's been featured on the box 18 times, both alone and with the Chicago Bulls. He also served as a spokesperson for the cereal, appearing in numerous Wheaties commercials in the '80s and '90s.

9. FANS ONCE GOT THE CHANCE TO PICK A WHEATIES STAR.

MMA star Anthony Pettis on the front of a Wheaties box.
Mike Mozart, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

The public hasn't often gotten a chance to weigh in on who will appear on the Wheaties box. But in 2014, Wheaties customers got to decide for the first time which athlete would be featured nationally. Called the Wheaties NEXT Challenge, the contest allowed people to vote for the next Wheaties Champion by logging their workouts on an app platform called MapMyFitness. Every workout of 30 minutes or more counted as one vote. Participants could choose between Paralympic sprinter Blake Leeper, motocross rider Ryan Dungey, mixed-martial-artist Anthony Pettis, lacrosse player Rob Pannell, or soccer player Christen Press. Pettis won, becoming the first MMA fighter to appear on the box in early 2015.

10. THERE WERE SEVERAL SPINOFFS THAT DIDN'T CATCH ON.

Three different Wheaties boxes featuring Tiger Woods sitting together on a table
Tiger Woods's Wheaties covers, 1998
Getty Images

Faced with declining sales, Wheaties introduced several spinoff cereals during the 1990s and early 2000s, including Honey Frosted Wheaties, Crispy Wheaties 'n Raisins, and Wheaties Energy Crunch. None of them sold very well, and they were all discontinued after a few years. The brand kept trying to expand its offerings, though. In 2009, General Mills introduced Wheaties Fuel, a version of the cereal it claimed was more tailored to men's dietary needs. Wheaties Fuel had more vitamin E and—unlike the original—no folic acid, which is commonly associated with women's prenatal supplements. Men didn't love Wheaties Fuel, though, and it was eventually discontinued too. Now, only the original "breakfast of champions" remains.

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