When Taylor Swift and the NBA collide

Though not known as a basketball fan, Taylor Swift has had a long-running relationship with the NBA that predates her recording career and continues today.

On Friday, Taylor Swift released Red (Taylor’s Version), the second installment in her ongoing quest to re-record each of her first six albums. Red remains her best record as well as a pivotal step in her evolution, capturing a moment where she was on the verge of abandoning her country roots in favor of attaining pop supremacy.

And while practically every aspect of her career is being newly evaluated and contextualized in light of these re-recordings, one that few are addressing is Swift’s longtime relationship with the NBA — a relationship that predates her recording career and continues to the present day.

Taylor Swift singing the National Anthem at an NBA game

Before a late-season match-up between the Detroit Pistons and Philadelphia 76ers in 2002, a 12-year-old Taylor Swift sang the National Anthem. The young Wyomissing, Pennsylvania native took the court in a t-shirt covered with an abundance of American flags, white pants, and a red cardigan that extended to her knees. Her days as a style icon were yet to come. Unlike much of her recent vocal work, which is defined more by subtle shadings of tone than power, she belts out the lyrics, perhaps providing inspiration to the victorious Pistons. Allen Iverson missed the game due to injury and Detroit took advantage of his absence, winning 92-88 behind 34 points from Jerry Stackhouse. It would be four more years until Swift’s debut album appeared, but her NBA bona fides were already established.

Visiting a Knicks practice

In October 2014, the day before 1989’s release, Taylor Swift stopped by a New York Knicks practice where she posed for a photo with All-Stars Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire. Wearing a custom #13 jersey, a headband, and a shooting sleeve on each arm, Swift appears ebullient, as does Stoudemire. Carmelo, though, seems less excited.

At one point during her visit, she received the ball from Amar’e who then lifted her up so that she could dunk the basketball. She was thrilled, clapping and then jumping to reach his hands to give him a double high-five. There’s also a photo of her with Jerome Williams and I have no idea why they took a photo together or why Williams was even at the practice in the first place but sometimes there is magic in the mystery.

Congratulating Russell Westbrook 

Russell Westbrook has not kept his love of Swift’s music a secret. While rehabbing from a torn meniscus in 2013, he posted a video of him singing along to Swift’s “22,” and using his crutch as a guitar. Two years later, he posted another clip of him on Instagram jamming in the car to “Bad Blood.”  A few months after that attended a show of hers which he celebrated by posting a brief clip of him singing along to “We Are Never Getting Back Together.” Finally, when he appeared on Jimmy Kimmel Live in September 2015, the band welcomed Westbrook by playing “Shake It Off.” In his interview, he called her “the best.”

When Westbrook won the MVP in 2017, Swift rewarded him for his years of fandom by recording a brief congratulatory message for him. In it, she weaves a tale about how she taught him how to play basketball and how he coined the phrase “shake it off,” which set each of them on their respective paths. However, instead of committing to the bit, she changes course near the end and admits that they have actually never met. It’s a strange video and its sweetness is unfortunately outweighed by its awkwardness. I do hope they get to hang out someday though.

Jimmy Butler the Swiftie

Like Westbrook, Jimmy Butler is also a longtime fan of Taylor Swift, even defending his love for her on First Take.  In a separate 2015 video, he is asked his 3 favorite Swift songs, naming “I Knew You Were Trouble,” “Shake It Off,” and “We Are Never Getting Back Together,” singing the last two as if to prove how deep his love for her music is. His teammates were less enamored with her work than him though, as he said that whenever he would play his playlists during warm-ups, “My teammates don’t like it very much… but they get over it.”

A year earlier, teammate Nazr Mohammed had posted a video of Butler dancing in the locker room to Swift’s “22,” which must have been Butler’s fourth favorite Swift tune. Seven years later, the video reemerged on TNT when Dwyane Wade went through some of Butler’s old posts with him. Though this time, the dance caught Swift’s attention and she happily rated it a 13/10, 4 points higher than Wade did.

Finally, he appeared in a video titled “Taylor and Failure.” In it, he rates a number of different Taylor Swift-related things on the binary scale of Taylor and failure. Those who watch it will learn that he likes her acting skills, even though he doesn’t think they’re actually good; that the “Shake It Off” music video is “big time”; and that he thinks she should date Taj Gibson. It’s a good video.

Special guests on the 1989 Tour

Throughout the 1989 Tour, Swift tried to break up the structured routine of the show by bringing out a surprise guest every night. During Miami’s October 27, 2017, the penultimate show of the North American leg, Dwayne Wade made an appearance, presenting Swift with a personalized No. 13 Heat jersey. However, Kobe Bryant had topped this two months earlier when he appeared at a Los Angeles concert and surprised her with a banner commemorating her achievement of setting a Staples Center record for the most sold-out shows with 16.

However, in 2019, the Los Angeles Kings began covering the banner up during home games after fans began to believe that it had jinxed them. The Clippers also covered it up, leaving the Lakers as the only team to display it. A year later, it was removed altogether. In the first postseason since the banner’s removal, both the Clippers and Lakers were plagued by injuries, coming up short in their quest for a championship. Is it any coincidence that the Lakers traded for noted Taylor Swift fan Russell Westbrook this offseason in the hopes of offsetting a potential Banner Removal Curse? Probably, but this is a story to keep one’s eyes on in coming years.

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