Justin Timberlake has a new album out today. The album’s pretty good, not great — and if you want to have an in-depth discussion about whether “Blue Ocean Floor” sounds more like Frank Ocean or Radiohead, or about whether Jay-Z’s guest verse on “Suit & Tie” is straight-up phoned in or just impressively effortless, hit me up wherever — but it pretty well establishes that as good as Justin Timberlake is as a pop star, at this point in his career he’s probably better at (or at least better-suited for) just being a Professional Famous Person. And for JT, a longtime NBA fan and current NBA co-owner, that includes a healthy amount of crossover with the world of professional (and less-than-professional) basketball.
In honor of Justin’s new album, I’ve compiled a brief list — and shoutout to BallIsLife, who technically scooped me on this and gave me at least one idea — of his 10 best basketball moments, absolutely none of which are his Kobe-referencing rap on FreeSol’s “Role Model.” Seriously, those guys were like an even crappier Far*East Movement.
1. Backstreet Boys vs. ‘N Sync in Germany, 1997.
A decade earlier, and this game featuring boy band stars hooping in Eastern Europe could’ve been a real-life “Rocky IV,” single-handedly ending the Cold War. Instead, it’ll have to suffice for being a hilarious historical document of a time juuuuust before the TRL bubble burst, and it wasn’t totally ridiculous to send prominent members from America’s two most popular boy bands halfway around the world for some exhibition ball.
Admittedly, I haven’t watched the entirety of this game — the footage is a little too grainy, the foreign announcers obviously totally unintelligible, and the drums pounding throughout the first clip are far too intense — but the consensus among the YouTube commenters seems to conclude the following:
1. Brian of BSB was by far the best player (and also had the dreamiest blue eyes).
2. It was ridiculous that A.J. of BSB was forced to play on the ‘N Sync team (though I would counter this was totally reasonable treatment of A.J.).
Most importantly, Timberlake would establish the precedent here of wearing the number 1 1/2 in all his celebrity NBA outings, which probably has a legendary and likely apocryphal story behind it that is already a major part of celebrity basketball lore in Tennessee.
2. ‘N Sync on Rock n Jock, 1998.
The first high-profile Stateside hoops gig of JT’s celebrity career came on MTV’s classic pop/sports hybrid series, this time featuring the ‘N Sync boys hooping with the likes of a then-young Antawn Jamison and Derek “Fischer” (MTV’s typo, not mine) in a streetball showdown. Just 17 at the time, Timberlake was a little unrefined with both his moves and his trash talk (“I’m gettin’ jiggy, baby!”), but the promise was there, as most ably demonstrated by his hammy, needless “brawl” with “Road Rules” star Chadwick Pelletier at game’s end.
3. ‘N Sync Challenge for the Children, 1999-2005
The Challenge for the Children may not have directly inspired the NBA All-Star Celebrity game, but it certainly was an important step in the evolution of the celebrity pickup game as spectator sport. For six years, ‘N Sync and their celebrity friends and family laced up in the name of charity. In fact, both the group’s last public performance and last public appearance came at consecutive Challenge games.
The ’01 contest may or may not have been the most memorable, but it was the only one to make it to YouTube, and it does feature a nice dish from JT to his then-girlfriend Britney Spears for an easy two — don’t think Jay and Bey ever managed that kind of hook-up — as well as a whole lot of impressive Brian McKnight highlights. Seriously, that dude could ball.
4. Draining a jumper on Kenny Smith, 2002
The most direct precursor to the All-Star Celebrity Game (and also the Shooting Stars competition) was actually the 989 Sports All-Star Hoop It Up event, a 3-on-3 single-elimination tournament with teams consisting of one current player, one retired player, one WNBA player and one celebrity. Justin Timberlake was on the Philly team (despite lacking any sort of obvious Philadelphia connection that I can tell), along with Moses Malone, Dawn Staley and Eric Snow.
Though JT’s team lost to the Internationals in the finals (DAMN YOU, TURKOGLU!!!), he did get off one jumper over Houston team member Kenny Smith — much to the delight of the “Inside the NBA” guys, who tortured Kenny on a later show by showing a Justin Timberlake thought bubble next to his head (with “Bye Bye Bye” playing in the background) as he blabbed about a Wizards game. “I told you I’m a Backstreet Boy fan anyway!” protested an irritated Jet. “Take that N’ Sync music off! Put on some Boyz II Men! No guy from ‘N Sync is a tough guy!”
5. This basketball card, 2002
Likely taken from that Hoop It Up event, and part of an ‘N Sync Topps five-pack, which you can buy on eBay for $10 if you really want to. Still weird to see him in the 76ers jersey.
6. NBA on ABC commercials, 2003
JT was doing Kevin Hart way before Kevin Hart, for better or worse, in these commercials advertising the beginning of NBA on ABC during the ’03-’04 season. (ABC clearly didn’t trust Timberlake around the actual stars, so they just had him interacting with cardboard cutouts of them instead. Clever.) Again, Justin wears a Sixers jersey, this time an ABA-era Allen Iverson anachro-throwback. Is/was JT actually a Sixers fan? Somebody get to the bottom of this.
7. This photo of Justin with the Raptors’ Big Three, 2004
Great for so many reasons, none the least of which being that Donyell Marshall already looks like he’s 48. Who needs you, Drake??
8. Giving Derrick Rose crap at the ESPYs, 2008
More consistent than Timberlake’s NBA fandom has been his college allegiances, so it made sense that when he hosted the 2008 ESPYs shortly after Kansas beat Memphis in a classic NCAA Finals, he would probably make prominent mention of Memphis’ late-game collapse. He certainly did that, demonstrating defense to Memphis point guard Derrick Rose by cartoonishly waving his hand in the face of Kansas big-shot-maker Mario Chalmers, and even creating a video of himself draining a number of trick free throws, before rhetorically asking “HOW HARD WAS THAT, MEMPHIS?” Hey man, not everyone gets to use trick photography at the charity stripe.
9. High-fiving Kobe after a big shot in the post-season, 2012
Most of us would consider it a pretty good day if we either hit a dagger three to put away the Denver Nuggets in Game Seven of a first-round playoff series OR if we got to high-five Justin Timberlake. And Kobe probably got to take a helicopter to work that day, too. Sigh.
10. The Rudy Gay trade, 2013
Hey, as minority Grizzlies owner, he gets partial credit for that (and the 14-1 Grizz winning stretch that followed), doesn’t he? He was probably at least bcc’d on the e-mail from John Hollinger about it.