In order to write this article I did something I’ve never had the urge to do before: dissect Taylor Swift’s music. On the surface, every song is a breakup song. Taylor dated someone who eventually wronged her and now she’s upset and realizes that she “knew you were trouble when you walked in”. But after listening to her latest project “folklore”, I have a deeper understanding and even a real appreciation for her work. She’s not just singing about her own struggles in life and in love, she’s providing a medium for the listener to reflect on those who have made a significant impact on our own lives. So, in the spirit of love, life, and the return of my favorite sport, here’s every NBA player that comes to mind for each song off of Taylor Swift’s new album folklore.
1. the 1: Lebron James
Some of these names are just too fitting. LeBron is and has always been “The Chosen One”. He’s carried this title with him before he could legally drive, and his entire career has been about living up to the lofty expectations set when he was just a teenager. Is he better than MJ? Can he be? This song is about expectations, and the lyrics “it would’ve been fun if you would’ve been the one” make me think about just how unfair the expectations placed on the King are and if we’re missing out on a part of his greatness by holding him to these unreachable standards. In the words of Dwight D Eisenhower: “it’s better to have loved and lost than to not love at all”. I think that’s a message that both the LeBron haters and Taylor Swift can take something from.
2. cardigan: Kyrie Irving
Kyrie and LeBron are reunited here once again on T-Swizzle’s album, and they’re just as effective as a 1-2 punch as ever before. Swift sings “when you are young they assume you know nothing” and “I knew you’d haunt all my what-if’s” and dammit if I don’t hear Uncle Drew singing with her. Irving wanted out of what was a sure ticket to the NBA Finals with ‘Bron when he requested a trade from Cleveland, and many criticized him for it. But Kyrie has always been a guy who listens to his heart, and he knew that if he never left he’d never have a chance to be the alpha and be haunted by all his what if’s.
3. the last great american dynasty: Russell Westbrook
I won’t go into a history lesson here, but this song is about a woman named Rebekah Harkness who married into an extremely wealthy family and because of her eccentric lifestyle was blamed for their tragic downfall. She filled up a pool with champagne, swam nude on a cruise, and blew through her fortune “chasing boys and ballet” (stlmag.com). While Westbrook has had no off-court issues and is known as an upstanding family man, his occasionally eccentric - and always entertaining - style of play is sometimes considered one of the reasons for Kevin Durant’s departure to Golden State. Is this his fault? Not at all, and that’s what Swift sings about in what some are calling her best written song yet.
4. exile (feat. Bon Iver): Kawhi Leonard
The first time a player returns to a former team can be a little awkward, especially when the breakup wasn’t mutual. “Exile” tells the tale of two ex-lovers meeting again for the first time after the relationship ended and offers the perspectives from both parties involved. Justin Vernon sings “and it took you five whole minutes to pack us up and leave me with it” in the first verse of the song, describing how quickly and unexpected their time together ended. In Swift’s verse she sings “second, third, and hundredth chances”, letting us know that much like Kawhi and his quad injury, there were signs of unhappiness before things were called off. “I think I’ve seen this film before, and I didn’t like the ending” is another line in the song that sticks out to me because I know there are teams across the NBA that do not want a similar situation where they lose a franchise player because they undermined the severity of his injury (i.e. the Clippers letting Kawhi go full load management).
5. my tears ricochet: Vince Carter
Swift states the song is about “an embittered tormentor showing up at the funeral of his fallen object of obsession” and my first thought was “I should look up what ‘embittered’ means”.
I easily could have gone LeBron here, seeing as how disrespected he was by Cavs owner Dan Gilbert and was never really given a serious complementary player during his first stint in his home state (unless you’re a Mo Williams fan). Swift’s quote even reminds me of Gilbert’s infamous letter following LeBron’s “The Decision” where he claimed the Cavaliers would win a title before “THE SELF-TITLED FORMER KING WINS ONE” (yes, he used all-caps). However, during the hour and three minute drive I took listening to this album, Vince Carter and his stint with the Raptors was the first thing I pictured. Before finally receiving a long-awaited tribute video from his former team in 2014 (he left in 2004), Carter was brutally booed every single time his name was called in Toronto as a visiting player despite bringing them national attention as a marquee name in the late 90’s and early 2000’s for the expansion team. Breakups are almost never easy, and sometimes you just can’t avoid the ones you’re looking to leave behind.
6. mirroball: Pat Beverly
The word “mirrorball” makes me think of defense, and something about the way Taylor sings this one makes me think she’d pride herself as a ball stopper. “I’ve never been a natural, all I do is try, try, try” is the epitome of Beverly’s career. His road to the NBA involves sleeping in cars, playing overseas, and fighting every day to prove that he belongs in the league. He’s a guy who will never take a play off and does every little thing to make the game easier for his teammates. He’s the guy you don’t bet against, because if you do he thrives on being an underdog and will be delighted to prove you wrong. “You’ll find me on my tallest tip toes, spinning in my highest heels, love, shining just for you”. Beautiful.
7. seven: Joel Embiid
For starters, Joel Embiid is 7 feet tall, so that accounts for part of this decision. Additionally, the state of Pennsylvania is mentioned at some point in the song. Other than that, the song describes a relationship Taylor has with a friend who’s experiencing a tough home life and she believes there’s a simple solution of inviting that friend to move in with her. I think I speak for all NBA fans out there when I say I would love for Embiid to fully actualize his talent and be the dominant big man he’s capable of being for an entire season. But, like Taylor and her friend, it’s easy for us to make suggestions like a coaching change or trading fellow all-star Ben Simmons without really comprehending the root of the problem or if it can be resolved internally. This isn’t to say Simmons is a toxic personality or player, but that their playing styles don’t gel due to lack of pacing. Embiid has said he wants to play his entire career with Simmons, however, and we all know they have enough talent to dominate the East if they manage to work it out.
8. august: DeAndre Jordan
Everyone loves a good summer romance, except for the 2015 Dallas Mavericks. Mark Cuban thought he had just signed the young and explosive center when he “slipped away like a bottle of wine” and left the Mavs singing “you were never mine” (these are lyrics from the song in case you forgot to turn your brain on you should know that by now). As we all can recall, Jordan got cold feet and retreated back to his Clipper team, but not before Cuban flew to Houston and knocked on DeAndre’s front door to try to salvage the relationship. In the words of somebody else, “if you love something, sometimes you need to let it go”. They still signed him in 2018 and included him in the Porzingus trade before his first season with the team ended. Was this payback? I’m not sure, but either way the Knicks suck.
9. this is me trying: J.R. Smith
He’ll never be in the Hall of Fame, but the memory of J.R. Smith will live on in all of our hearts. For some players a double-clutch three-pointer or a no-look alley-oop might be cause for benching, but not for Team Swish. Flair is just a part of his game. The man hasn’t played in the NBA for nearly two years and is out here comfortably throwing snake-eyes lobs to Dwight Howard and jacking up threes as soon as he gets in the game - and they’re going in. What sometimes looks like carelessness is really him trying to do the best he can to help his team win, and his championship ring on the Cavs proves that his style of play can work. “I didn’t know if you’d care if I came back”, sings Taylor. I care, J.R.. I care.
10. illicit affairs: Ray Allen (through the lens of Kevin Garnett)
It’s well documented that KG resents Ray Allen’s decision to leave the Boston Celtics to join then-rival Miami Heat in 2012. Paul Pierce was also not fond of the move, but has since made amends with the sharpshooter Allen going as far to post a picture of the two of them on Instagram in 2017 with the caption including “we formed a bond that can never be broken”. Swift feels the same way in “illicit affairs”, taking us through her relationship with someone who broke her heart but whom she still cares deeply for because they once had something special. Leaving is never easy, but sometimes it’s for the best, and that was the case for Allen who secured a second ring as a supporting piece on another big three in the East.
11. invisible string: Scottie Pippen
I’m about 75% positive Taylor Swift wrote this song about the best 1-2 punch in NBA history. “And isn’t it just so pretty to think all along there was some invisible string tying you to me?”. That is beautiful as shit. Go back and listen to this song and try not to picture the pair winning six titles together without tearing up. As his Airness says himself, “there is no MIchael Jordan without Scottie Pippen”. This song is about two soulmates, and I’ll be damned if these two aren’t meant to be together.
12. mad woman: Draymond Green
I don’t even care what this song is about.
13. epiphany: Kevin Durant
I could’ve used KD as an example in nearly any of the other tracks off this album, but I’m proud of myself for holding out on something less obvious. “Epiphany” is about trying to find peace in a chaotic world, one we’ve all been struggling to become accustomed to in our own way during this pandemic, and I think is emblematic for where Durantula is in his career. He thought that winning a title would silence his critics and elevate him as the undisputed “best player in the world”, but he could never get out of the LeBron James-shadow cast by the media and the King himself. In hindsight, “The King” is really the best nickname in sports to have, or in any field for that matter, because what the hell are you going to call yourself if you think you’re better than “The King”, the “Dictator”? I’m a huge fan of Durant and always have been. I would’ve loved for him to stay with OKC, but I respect any player’s decision to do whatever makes him happy. Wishing the best for easymoneysniper in BK.
14. betty: Tracy McGrady
Sometimes moving on from a loved one can lead to positive personal growth, like leaving the team your cousin is on to become a two-time scoring champion and eventual Hall of Famer (Class of 2017). Does this come without regrets? Of course not. McGrady has stated publicly he wishes him and Vince Carter could’ve made it work in Toronto, but objectively it seems like the right move was for him to leave so he could realize his true potential. Vince took that Raptors team to an Eastern Conference Finals the following year, so imagining the two of them on a competitive team together is a fun fantasy for hoops fans like myself. Carter took Iverson and the 76ers to seven games in a series that ended on a missed jumper from Vince, and one could make the case that adding a player of McGrady’s caliber would’ve given them the edge over a Philly team that really just had AI and no one else. Does Vince Carter in his prime and a young T-Mac have what it takes to compete with a young Kobe and Shaq in the NBA Finals? I’m not sure, but it likely would’ve been more competitive than the 4-1 beatdown the Lakers unleashed on Iverson’s squad. Anyways, “betty” is a bop.
15. peace: Rudy Gobert
“Would it be enough if I could never give you peace?” No relationship comes without baggage, and some can be more difficult to overcome than others. What happens after your starting center is vocally dismissive about a disease ravaging countries around the world and then contracts that disease along with yourself and several of your teammates? Well, as I’m writing this, Rudy Gobert hit two free throws to win Utah’s opening game against the Pelicans and the first game of the NBA restart in Orlando after a commanding fourth quarter performance from Donovan Mitchell, so there seems like some amendments have been made. The Gobert-Mitchell storyline will be one to keep an eye on throughout the seeding games and playoffs as he’s an unrestricted free agent next summer.
16. hoax: Andrew Wiggins
At the beginning of each season I play myself by falling for Andrew Wiggins’ potential and each spring I’m reminded why he will never care about my feelings. I don’t even know if I’d call myself an Andrew Wiggins fan as much as I’m a hostage to the hype surrounding him back in high school. I honestly hate myself for it. “You have beaten my heart”, Mr. Wiggins, and Taylor and I refuse to take this abuse anymore. You’ve tricked me into thinking you’d be an all-defense-type player with elite athleticism and the ability to comfortably score 25 a game and 40 on any given night. You sold me on your flashy high school hoopmixtape and I feel cheap for it. But even as I say this, I know deep down that I’m addicted and “no other sadness will do”. I’m such a fool.
I hope you enjoyed this as it was fairly time consuming and overall thankless. I have an NBA podcast with my friend Jensen Butler called “The Dan Show” on Apple, Spotify, and YouTube that I would love for you to check out and subscribe.