Young Dolph met Jeremel “Daddyo” Moore on the blacktop in South Memphis. But as Dolph rhymed on Volume 5 of his High Class Street Music mixtape series, “Twelve years old, I told myself I’ll never be broke. Basketball cool, but I’m good at moving dope.” The meeting led to a friendship and partnership that’s seen Dolph become a successful independent hip-hop artist.

Born Adolph Thornton Jr, as a kid he idolized local legend Penny Hardaway, but also lists Allen Iverson, Clyde Drexler and Kevin Garnett among his childhood heroes. Dolph never played organized basketball, but it’s always been his favorite sport.

“In the hood that’s what we did for fun—it’s like every boy in the hood’s hobby, to play basketball,” he explains. “I was like Hardaway. I was super cold.”

Dolph has been a staple on the mixtape circuit for nearly a decade and has already released a pair of projects in 2017. His latest offering, Bulletproof, is a not-so-subtle homage to the 100 rounds he survived in February, when his SUV was shot up in Charlotte, NC, during the annual CIAA Basketball Tournament Weekend.

John Wall and Russell Westbrook have attended performances in their respective NBA cities, according to Dolph, while Zach Randolph and Tony Allen of the Grizzlies have supported him since day one. So whenever the 31-year-old rapper is in town, he makes a point to return the favor, showing up courtside at FedExForum to support the hometown squad.

And yet, Dolph says he hasn’t had a favorite team since Michael Jordan retired, though he sees similarities in the career accomplishments of another No. 23.

“Jordan was the greatest of his time, and LeBron is the greatest of his time, no question. They’re two different players—both are the greatest of their time,” he argues. “LeBron is the greatest right now. He’s the coldest, the rawest in the League.”

As for his own game, Dolph remains as confident in his jumpshot as in his music.

“I’ll bet a thousand dollars a jumper with anybody in the world,” he insists. “You can put Stephen Curry on the three-point line and we can bet a thousand a shot.”

Abe Schwadron is the Managing Editor at numberFire and a former Senior Editor at SLAM. Follow him on Twitter @abe_squad.

Photos via Jordan Spencer