One of the more visible tennis fans in the music industry today is rapper Terrence "Pusha T" Thornton. Born in the Bronx but raised in Virginia Beach, the younger half of critically lauded fraternal hip-hop duo Clipse -- and recent signee of Kanye West's G.O.O.D. Music label -- has followed the sport since childhood and was a courtside regular at last year's U.S. Open. SI.com caught up with Thornton ahead of this year's Open to discuss his passion for tennis, what makes Olympic hero and fellow 757 product Gabby Douglas so special, and why he'd love to see the Sacramento Kings relocate to Hampton Roads.
SI.com: When and how did you get into tennis?
Pusha T: I really think it was by accident. This is the weirdest story in the world. I started liking tennis as a kid when I was playing one of the game systems, it had to be Nintendo or something, and the game might have even come with the system. And for whatever reason I was playing it, I was like this is cool. I swear, ever since then, I've been watching tennis. Of course back then you had Agassi and you had the Agassi sneaker. You just had things [in tennis] that were related to style and fashion. There was always something associated with dope sneakers. The whole tennis look was fresh to me. And from there I got into the sport.
SI.com: Which of today's players do you enjoy watching most?
Pusha T: Nadal is my favorite player, right? But Djokovic, before this last little run, had been the most impressive player to me. At one point, and not as of late, he was playing like he was indestructible. He always seemed to have Nadal's and Federer's number. Now, I'm watching Federer steamroll over people again, and I can't believe what a second wind he's had. But with Nadal being hurt, [Djokovic] seems to be the most unstoppable one.
SI.com: Are you concerned about Nadal's career with his knee problems surfacing again?
Pusha T: What's scary about it is so far out, he announced that he wasn't going to be playing in the Open. It's obviously something serious. But as far as my favorite player, Nadal's definitely been that guy.
SI.com: I know you had a front-row seat at the final last year when Serena lost ...
Pusha T: I was very disappointed about that.
SI.com: But over the past few months, much like Federer, it seems like she's turned back the clock.
Pusha T: Yeah, and what's so funny is I was watching her just recently, and she just totally took control of a match. I believe she said something like in an interview, like, "It's not like I go home and practice this. When I leave the court it's not like I'm going home to practice my serve or my volley or anything." [Laughs.] I just thought that was really a testament to her natural talent and natural ability.
SI.com: Serena and Venus are going to be missed when they finally walk away. How important do you think they've been to tennis?
Pusha T: They've been extremely important to the game. You know what it is? They brought that aggression back to the game. Like that Martina Navratilova aggression. They brought that type of fight back to the women's side of the game.
SI.com: I know you were at the Open last year. How often do you attend?
Pusha T: That was actually my first Open. I'm looking to try to catch the men's semis and finals this year.
SI.com: What other sports are you into?
Pusha T: As far as sports go I'd say tennis first, boxing second. The whole basketball thing, I'm like really, really depressed about basketball in general.
SI.com: Why is that?
Pusha T: This new style of basketball: the teams and the trading and players getting together to be on one team, trying to create the superteam. I'm just not into that. The musical chairs, it's like, you can't actually love a team because either the players or the owner are always thinking so far ahead in trying to be better for the next year or the years to come. Like you couldn't tell my dad in the years of Magic and Worthy that [the Lakers weren't] the best team. You couldn't say anything about his team. Now I feel like these days, we have LeBron have a 60-plus-win season with Cleveland, then he goes to a team that's already made their mark. I just feel like you can love the players, but you can't honestly love the team, the franchise, like you once could because of all the musical chairs.
SI.com: Jerry Seinfeld said it's like rooting for laundry.
Pusha T: [Laughs.] That's a good analogy.
SI.com: It seems like you're drawn more to the individual sports. Why is that?
Pusha T: They're definitely more interesting to me. It's just the combat of boxing or tennis, the one-on-one. That's not to say I don't like football. That's not to say I don't like basketball. I really love basketball. I really do. There's nothing like being courtside at a game and watching the game. But it's just taken a lot of the fun and loyalty out of it. I can't like Boston the same without Ray Allen. How can you? I can't do that. I literally cannot. And mind you I've been feeling like this ever since the [Kendrick] Perkins trade. I've been really upset about that. I want to see teams that show that same growth, how the teams grew together in the '80s and '90s. It was either Magic or Jordan, they made the statement, "I would have never called up Bird or Magic to try to be up on their team. I was trying to beat them. I was trying to be better than them." I want to say Jordan said that. I understand that fully. These guys were such warriors. These guys were really trying to be the best. And they knew that they had the talent to take their team, whatever shortcomings their team had, they would make up for it with their greatness and push the other team members to be as great as they could be. 'Cause at the end of the day it's a team sport. When he said that, it made so much sense. It just shows the difference between today's champions and yesteryear's.
SI.com: The New York Timesran a story on Friday saying the Sacramento Kings could relocate to your hometown of Virginia Beach.
Pusha T: I heard about it. I dont know if it's true or not. Is it really true?
SI.com: I believe so.
Pusha T: The one thing that made me think that this is true, the Kings are run by the Maloofs, correct?
SI.com: That's right.
Pusha T: Yeah, they've been trying to move the team for years. I would love to see a team come to the area. That would definitely boost my morale. Anything that's homegrown I'm going to have an undying love for. Right now I don't even have a favorite team in regards to football or basketball, but there are so many players from the area that I support. This would make it easier for me just to ride with the home team.
SI.com: High times for sports in Virginia Beach, with Gabby Douglas winning Olympic gold. I saw you reached out to her on Twitter.
Pusha T: Yeah, man. It's always good and just inspirational to see kids from the area really doing their thing and winning and being champions. That's something that, like ... I'll never be on a cereal box. She's already been something that a lot of people who've achieved a lot in this world will never, ever, ever, ever be. They will never be a world champion. And that's commendable. And at such a young age too.
SI.com: Are you optimistic about the future of tennis in America?
Pusha T: As far as the Americans, I feel like we could be a force. There are a lot of up-and-coming players out there. But I feel like a lot of the guys who are teetering near the top, like the [Jo-Wilfried] Tsongas of the world, they're stepping up too. I feel like those guys are coming up and they've been a little bit further than our American players.
SI.com: Time to put you on the spot. Who do you predict to win this year's Open?
Pusha T: If I had to make a prediction, I am going to predict that Djokovic is going to win.
SI.com: And for the women?
Pusha T: [Thinks.] It's got to be Serena.
SI.com: You and me both. Any closing thoughts?
Pusha T: It's a great sport. People should be way more in tune. Like people kill me on Twitter all the time, 'cause when a match is on I'll be tweeting about it, and I have a handful of followers who just go crazy and hate the fact that I love tennis.
SI.com: Why do you think that is?
Pusha T: [Laughs.] I don't know. I mean, hey, I'm a rapper, I rap about street stuff. I guess I just can't like tennis. It's just one of those things people ain't ready to take from me. It's hilarious.