Big Sean can now say that he’s both rapped and gone to the league. As the 2020-21 NBA season tips off this week, it does so with a high-profile new employee joining one of the league’s more storied franchises. Both Sean and the Detroit Pistons announced Tuesday that the six-time Grammy nominee is his hometown team’s newly minted creative director of innovation. In the role, Sean, 32, will help guide the franchise’s cultural aesthetics both on and off the court from merchandise design to in-game experiences to community involvement.
For the Detroit 2 wordsmith, it’s an idea that began from a mustard seed years ago.
“It was really something I threw out in the universe one day,” Sean said. “I mentioned it, like, man, ‘They need to give me a job!’ Talking about the Pistons, Red Wings, Tigers or Lions. I’m a huge Detroit fan. I’m ride or die with it … I’ve always said that, but especially with the Pistons. It’s crazy that it happened like this. I’m just truly grateful.”
Sean spoke with The Undefeated about his newest role with equal parts excitement and astonishment. It’s more than a figurehead role, he said. Sean wants to do the work — but he doesn’t want it to feel like work. But he’s more than ready to get to work.
Before there was a Big Sean, before the Grammy nominations, what was Sean Anderson’s very first memory of the Detroit Pistons?
My first memory was how important they were to the city for real. The Bad Boys Isiah Thomas and Joe Dumars. The back-to-back championships. They were No. 1 and their reputation was they were so tough, man. They were like — please excuse me, but you can’t f— with Detroit. They weren’t bullies, to me, but they were definitely holding their own ground. And the Detroit mentality is like, by any means necessary, you know, like Detroit Red. The Bad Boys definitely carried that reputation. And then growing up watching Grant Hill, you know what I’m saying?
That was just like an experience as well. And Jerry Stackhouse. Just seeing the team evolve and, and watching the [2004 championship team] come through despite all odds. They beat the Lakers then went back to the championship right after that. So, you know, it’s a franchise that has a lot of history.
From Jay-Z and the NFL, Drake and the Raptors, you and the Pistons now or even what Dipset recently did with Kith, Nike and the Knicks, what is it about hip-hop and sports that allows the combination to become a lifestyle brand?
Sports and music goes so hand in hand because a lot of us wanted to be athletes. And a lot of athletes wanted to be rappers or musicians. I feel like that’s such a common respect between the two, but both are very rare jobs, right? With very rare experiences. But you seen Kobe rapping, you’ve seen Shaq rapping, Allen Iverson, you see athletes rapping and entertainers playing basketball — you know, really, really trying to play. They’re synonymous. They go together hand in hand, so it’s easy to mix the two and it’s very natural. We’re in a studio watching their games and they’re in the locker room listening to our music.
As the Pistons’ creative director of innovation, what will a day at work look like for Big Sean? What are your responsibilities?
To bring that feeling and that aesthetic that I grew up with in admiring the Pistons to the franchise. Not to say it’s gone anywhere, but to really think creatively on how to execute a vision. I’ll creatively come up with ideas for us to look good and have fun and, you know, to culturally put our best foot forward. On top of that, I’m sure it’ll be new assignments and new challenges as I go. There will be more things that I’ll be excited to do that are more than just designing T-shirts and jerseys — like giving back to the community. I know one of the things that I’m strong about is giving back to the city.
And I know that’s one of the things [the Pistons] really strong about. And looking good about doing it (laughs) because Detroit truly has style that’s respected worldwide. I intend to bring all of that and more to the franchise. I’m happy for them including me in it, you know, being from Detroit. There’s obviously room for growth even more as far as ownership and things like that, but this is a huge step for me. And I’m sure it’ll inspire so many others from my city, but then to know that they can do that and more so I’m happy about that.
With hardly any fans able to attend games, how does that change your work in the short term?
This is such an unpredictable thing. Hopefully, this pandemic does change — hopefully it’s not like this for so long. But these are challenges that I’ve never experienced and that the franchise and the whole world never experienced. So I think you just have to take it as it comes and figure out the best way to still creatively execute our vision. And just have fun with it really, too. I don’t really want to look at it as work. I just want to look at it as a project or something fun.
A big part of this partnership focuses on social responsibility. Why was that important to you?
Because you gotta speak up! There’s one thing we learned in 2020 — respect each other’s space and to speak up. We need it and to make your voice heard and let it be known on what side of the fence you’re standing on. It’s important to socially step up and to know that people are listening to our voices. We gotta say how we feel. If it’s right in our heart, then we gotta let that be known.
I thought it was beautiful to see [NBA players speak up this summer]. I thought it was very necessary. I was proud of the whole Pistons franchise. Really the whole NBA, because I just really feel like everyone stepped up in the best way possible. It’s something that we’re going to have to continue to keep going. You know, you just can’t show up and leave. You got to show up and stay there.
(Related: The advocacy group Worth Rises took out an ad in the New York Times calling on Pistons owner Tom Gores to sell his stake in the team because of his ownership of a prison telecom company. Mark Barnhill, a partner in Gores’ firm, Platinum Equity, responded to ESPN in a statement, saying, “[Gores] is directing any personal profits from Securus to reform efforts in this area.” Barnhill also noted Securus is dedicated to “the heavy lifting necessary to transform the company and the industry.”)
What does it mean to Big Sean to know that you’re officially a part of the Detroit Pistons?
It just fulfills all my NBA dreams I used to have when I was hooping in junior high (laughs) and thinking I was going to go to the NBA. But also wanting to rap as well at the same time. It’s funny because I still ended up doing both in a way. That’s a beautiful thing to smile and laugh at because you can make all the plans in the world and God’ll laugh at them and give you a whole ‘nother path. Things always work out for the best, man, always. I truly believe that.
It’s crazy that it all happened like this. I’m truly thankful for it. I zoom in a lot and don’t appreciate all the things when I zoom out. I’m a victim sometimes of comparing myself to other people and doing all these things, man. But I got to realize that my path is different than everyone else’s. You can only be happy. Happy for other people. And happy for yourself. That’s the way for sure. This is really something I held high in my meditations and my prayers. Just expanding myself as an artist and doing things outside of music that I know I can make an impact in and inspire people. ‘Cause I do feel like my purpose is to inspire people.