Grammy-award-winning recording artist Common has used his music to illustrate the rugged streets of Chicago's South Side, where he matured in the '90s during Michael Jordan's championship reign. Lyrics in songs like "The Corner," reveal a deep story of the urban culture that groomed NBA MVP Derrick Rose and seven-time NBA All-Star Dwyane Wade. These three Chicagoans grew up separately but were influenced by the winning force that emanated throughout the city from the Chicago Bulls.
Since boyhood, Common has journeyed from the streets of the South Side to perform for President Barack Obama and star in multiple films, including "Just Wright," in which the rapper portrays fictional NBA player Scott McKnight. No matter how high his star rises, Common continues to wear Chicago on his back, dedicating songs like "Chi-City" and "South Side" to his hometown.
With his love for the Windy City, it's no surprise the lyricist is ecstatic to see the Bulls competing for the Eastern Conference title against the Miami Heat. However, with a Chicagoan guard at the helm of each team, Common finds this series isn't as simple as cheering for the home team.
espnW caught up with Common between takes for his next project, the TV drama "Hell on Wheels," which will premiere on AMC this fall.
espnW: With native Chicagoans Derrick Rose and Dwyane Wade on opposing teams, which team are you rooting for to win this series?
Common: I'm a Chicago Bulls fan, so I'm always going to roll with the home team. I love Rose and what the Bulls are doing this season. But I have to say, I have love for my man Dwyane Wade, too, because he is a Chicago homeboy, so it's hard to make a choice.
espnW: So, you still have love for Wade?
C: Oh yeah, for sure. He came from Englewood, and was raised in one of the toughest neighborhoods in Chicago. He is Chicago all the way. We actually just combined our foundations and did something for the Lighthouse Youth Center on the South Side of Chicago. Wade represents Chicago well.
When I see Wade, I always remember the 2006 Finals, when he took over and crushed the Mavericks. That performance was similar to Jordan, and that's what you learn growing up in the Chi.
espnW: What is it about Chicago that breeds dynamic guards who don't fear contact on the way to the hoop?
C: We love to drive to the hole. It's all about flashing to the basket. We just breed aggressive point guards. From Isiah Thomas to Maurice Cheeks to Doc Rivers, you see the Chicago point guard in those dudes. You see the same type of blue-collar, Chicago play in Derrick Rose.
espnW: Do you see similarities in the play of Derrick Rose and your music?
C: He is one of the most exciting players to watch in this game. He has that killer instinct and it's not a lot of talk. That's the Chicago thing. He has a blue-collar, humble mentality off the court and on the court he is there to destroy you. That's how I shaped my rap career. I like to think I'm a pretty nice guy. But once I get into my music, it's a battle. My competitive nature comes from playing ball.
espnW: You played in the NBA All-Star Celebrity Game. Who do you model your game after when you're out there?
C: I try to make my game like Rose or Rajon Rondo. In the celebrity game my friends be like, "Man, stop passing the ball!" But I like to be a distributor and pattern my game after those guys.
espnW: You grew up in Chicago during Jordan's championship reign. What was the energy of the city like then?
C: It was unity for all. It brought electricity to the city and a celebratory spirit. In Chicago we have different things that divide us and the Bulls brought everybody together. No matter what color you were, what side of town you were from or what gang you were in, the Bulls brought you together. I've never seen a team do that for another city.
espnW: As a boy, what players did you try to emulate?
C: Like every other kid in the Chi, I was doing the Jordan moves, but, because I was a point guard, I was still trying to be like Isiah and Magic [Johnson].
espnW: What is your favorite Jordan moment?
C: When he hit 63 against the Celtics. Then, this one dunk he did against the Knicks where he faked John Starks and Charles Oakley, then dunked on Patrick Ewing. And, of course, when he took that last shot against Utah over Bryon Russell. For him to get the steal and then get the shot off, it was everything. I know that's more than one moment, but you could really pick from any one of those.
espnW: You were a ball boy for the Bulls. Did you ever share a moment with Jordan when you were around the team?
C: Jordan gave me one of his first pairs of Air Jordan's and signed them. I gave them to my father. He was wearing them around for a while and I told him he might want to stop.
espnW: Are the Bulls going to win the championship this year?
C: May the best team win. I think the Bulls have a good chance. But they have to watch out for Wade and LeBron.
espnW: The Bulls have a nice bench mob that took over in Game 1. Who is your favorite mobster?
C: Taj Gibson. He has been chilling and doing his thing. He made some exciting plays and has been efficient for Chicago.
espnW: You have a little experience from playing an NBA player in your movie "Just Wright." Will we see more from your character Scott McKnight on the hardwood?
C: Scott McKnight can actually get out there, hang with them and play in the league right now. That's real and could happen. He's ready.