The history of AJ Tracey’s love affair with basketball

The London rapper will play a gig on the UK’s first floating basketball court this evening (June 9) as it floats down the River Thames in association with Hennessy x NBA

In partnership with Hennessy

This evening (Thursday, June 9), AJ Tracey is set to play a gig on the UK’s first floating basketball court as it floats down the River Thames to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the National Basketball Association (NBA) in association with Hennessy.

From 7.30pm BST tonight, fans will be able to tune into a live-streamed performance from Tracey, bringing his love of basketball – which has been a lifelong obsession of the rapper’s and the focal point of his brilliant second album ‘Flu Game’ – to the fore.

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Ahead of the show, we’re taking you through the story of AJ Tracey’s love affair with basketball, and how the game influenced his childhood and rap career.

Slam Dunk

The story of AJ Tracey’s love of basketball can be traced back to childhood. Speaking to BBC Radio 1 Xtra last year, he remembered: “When I was a little kid, my dad put me onto basketball. I feel like when we were younger, a lot of the black people my dad’s age were heavily influenced by the US, so they were watching basketball, dressing the same way, rocking a high-top hairstyle! He also at the same time put me in a Spurs shirt – which is my club and being a British kid obviously I grew up predominately watching football but I always made time for basketball because I love the drama, and drama is just great.”

Tracey added that basketball “being a sport dominated by Black people” was “really nice for me to watch and be like, ‘Yo, these are my people, they do really well and it’s nice to look at’. And you don’t see the racism you see in basketball as you do in other sports, ‘cos it’s mostly black people, so it’s comforting to watch and just not have to deal with all that extra stuff.”

AJ Tracey
AJ Tracey, shot for NME by Joseph Bishop.

Revenge Athletic

Back in March of 2021, Tracey – one of the most celebrated UK rappers of the moment – beamed a pseudo press conference around the world to announce his return. On the stream, Tracey took on the character of a basketball player speaking to the media and announcing that he had signed for a fictional basketball team called Revenge Athletic.

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Speaking on the fictional West 1 News TV network, a spokesperson said: “As you know, AJ is one of the most dominant players of his generation.” Later in the conference, he then announced details of the next phase of his career – a basketball-themed album called ‘Flu Game’.

‘Flu Game’

After the press conference began the story, AJ Tracey then solidified his love for the game on his second studio album, which he named after one of the most famous games of basketball ever. The title of ‘Flu Game’ refers to the fifth game of the 1997 NBA Finals, which saw Chicago Bulls legend Michael Jordan get food poisoning and develop flu symptoms before the critical game against Utah Jazz, hence being dubbed ‘flu game’.

Speaking to NME for a Big Read cover feature around the release of the album,, AJ explained: “I feel like that’s what [Michael Jordan] was all about. Even with him being ill with food poisoning, he can barely move, but he’s dropping points that the other team wishes they could drop. “[The album] is about when we go through hard times, but you have to always make sure you put your best foot forward and be great to try to break boundaries. That’s what I’m about to release.”

AJ Tracey
Michael Jordan in the notorious ‘Flu Game’. Credit: Getty Images.

All-star game

To launch the album, Tracey held his own all-star game at the Copper Box Arena in London’s Olympic Park, featuring members of the London Lions basketball team including Joe Ikhinmwin, Deandre Liggins, Jordan Spencer and Kevin Ware.

After the game, Ikhinmwin said: “It’s a super exciting night of basketball, I’ve always known that AJ Tracey has been heavily influenced by basketball through his music. So it’s great for him to join up with us at the London Lions, the only professional basketball team in London, and have a great night of basketball with a whole bunch of celebrities and some of the best British talent. It’s been really fun.”

Also on hand to take part were stars of the UK rap scene including Michael Dapaah, Stefflon Don, Young T and Bugsey, Konan, Big Zuu, Wes Nelson and more.

On the water

Fans will be able to watch AJ Tracey play on the floating basketball court as it docks in Butler’s Wharf from 7.30pm BST tonight (June 9). “It’s incredible getting NBA fans, like myself, to come together and celebrate the NBA’s 75th Anniversary Season this year,” Tracey said of the event.

“Moments like this really put London’s love of the game on the map, and with the ongoing support from Hennessy, I’m excited to see the impact it has on basketball in the UK and the communities it’s giving back to.” Keep it locked to the live stream below.

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