In the summer of 2017, Lifetime Athletic—a gym located just blocks away from the heart of Times Square—became basketball’s most hallowed ground. It’s where former New York Knicks trainer and current social media sensation Chris Brickley held some of the greatest scrimmages ever played, featuring the likes of LeBron James, Kevin Durant, James Harden, and many more.
“I’ve only seen this place on Instagram,” marvels the 6’11’’ man standing before me. Decked out in a Puma tracksuit, he meticulously surveys the gym. “It’s pretty cool to actually be here now.”
For 19-year-old Marvin Bagley III, his long journey to the NBA is almost complete. The former Duke Blue Devil and 2017-18 ACC Player of the Year is a top prospect in this year’s NBA Draft. Today, MB3 is joined by his father Marvin Jr., mother Tracy, and 9-year-old brother Martray to shoot an exclusive video spot with JBL at Lifetime, as well as the Audiomack Studios in NOHO.
Why Audiomack? Well, if you haven’t heard, Marvin, when he’s not terrorizing defenses with his elite scoring ability, is rapping. If history has taught us anything, it’s that ballers should probably stick to balling, with a few exceptions (see: Shaq and Damian Lillard, a.k.a. Dame D.O.L.L.A.). But the three songs Marvin has dropped to date are fire.
He showed off his lyrical dexterity on “Breathe,” flow on his #SoGoneChallenge, and wokeness on the socially and politically aware track “All-American,” in which he confronts his own fears about police brutality against POC in the U.S. Marvin raps: “So now it’s like what do I do? / ’Cause it gets scary knowing it could happen to you / Since your color is darker and now they ready to shoot.”
When I ask him about the controversial subject matter, Marvin expresses the importance of writing lyrics that people can relate to.
“I wanna be able to have a positive message in [my music] to where anybody can sit down and listen and get something from it. At the same time, be able to make it catch on and to have it play everywhere.”
Born and bred in the Tempe-Phoenix area in Arizona, Marvin believes his affinity for music comes from long family car rides to basketball tournaments growing up. His parents played 2Pac, Biggie, Nas, and more of “the old-school dudes,” giving Marvin an appreciation for the rappers that laid the groundwork for his generation. Meanwhile, his favorite rapper out right now is J. Cole, who also happens to be his dream collaborator.
But you’d never be able to guess the first album he owned.
“It was Christmas. I asked for Bow Wow’s [The Price of Fame],” Marvin recalls with a big smile. “He was one of my favorite rappers growing up. I used to watch Like Mike and after seeing that, I wanted to be like him. He was definitely one of my favorites.”
“When I was done with high school, I felt like I was ready to play in the NBA, absolutely."
Marvin Jr., a former Division 1 football player at North Carolina A&T State University and spitting image of his son, explains that Marvin’s passion for music started at an early age. At 7 or 8 years old, he would lock himself in his room for hours and emerge with a piece of paper in hand.
“We were wondering what he was doing in there,” Marvin Jr. recalls. “He’d come out, show us some lyrics, and I’d tell him how to fix it up. Then, he’d head back to his room again.”
“He’s a self-taught musician, you know,” Jr. continues, as 9-year-old Martray drains several regulation 3-pointers in a row with ease while Tracy looks on. “What do you mean?” I ask.
One year for Christmas, Marvin begged his parents to buy him a piano. They couldn’t afford it, so they gifted him the next best thing: a keyboard. A few days later, Marvin Jr. heard something coming from his son’s room, so he ventured upstairs to check it out. What he found was Marvin, who had never had a single piano lesson, playing a John Legend song on his new keyboard. Amazingly, he taught himself how to play by watching a YouTube video.
Fast-forward to today, Marvin speaks on his dreams of making music and even touring during the off-season.
“Yeah, [touring is] definitely something that I’ve thought about,” he says. “I want to be known as a musician as well as a basketball player.”
While Marvin is serious about his music, he realizes that basketball is his primary job, which he’ll soon be getting paid millions of dollars to do. Playing in the NBA, he reveals, will be the first time he’s technically employed, but he’s viewed hooping as more than just a game for as long as he can remember.
"I've always had that mindset of basketball is my job, even before this point,” Marvin says. “I was making sure that I was working out and playing and doing things that will get me better for this moment.”
At 14 years old, just days after completing 7th grade, Marvin received college scholarships from Northern Arizona and Arizona State. As a freshman, sophomore, and junior in high school, he was rated the top college prospect in his class. Rather than attending his senior year, he took courses over the summer to graduate early and play for Duke. For the naturally gifted Marvin, the NBA has always been the end goal—one that he believes he could have reached sooner if he had the chance.
“When I was done with high school, I felt like I was ready to play in the NBA, absolutely,” Marvin says. “I was positive. I've always had that confidence in my game… If the rule wasn't that you had to go [to college for at least one year], I really feel confident that I could have.”
“I’ve played against a lot of those guys who they say are better than me, but I’ve always believed I’m the best player in this draft.”
The Tempe-Phoenix product is more than ready for the Association. Coincidentally, or perhaps by fate, the Phoenix Suns possess the first overall pick of the 2018 NBA Draft. In what would be nothing short of a storybook beginning to his professional basketball career, Bagley is hungry to be selected No. 1. Yes, because he “loves everything about Arizona [and] considers it home,” but for reasons beyond the opportunity to play in his hometown, as well.
“I take it as a sign of disrespect a little bit,” the southpaw says. He’s referring to the latest mock draft boards (which he assures me he sees), cooked up by the different major sports media outlets. He typically falls somewhere between 2 and 5, which for Marvin, isn’t high enough.
“That just motivates me to be the best player I can be,” he continues. “I’ve played against a lot of those guys who they say are better than me, but I've always believed I'm the best player. I’m standing by that. I’m the best player in this draft.”
As someone who averaged 21 points and 11 rebounds per game as a freshman at Duke University, he may very well deserve to be picked first.
Bagley is a tremendously versatile offensive player. At nearly 7 feet tall, MB3 can handle the rock (he played point guard in high school) and is able to score in a variety of ways, including in the post where he’s got a beautiful running hook shot. He flexes a strong mid-range game, can step behind the 3-point arc, feasts in pick-and-roll / pick-and-pop situations, and has a high motor. Not to mention, he’s a terrific rebounder and finisher around the rim, thanks to his explosiveness.
Yet despite his enormous upside, scouts worry that Marvin is a tweener. That he isn’t really a center—since he’s not super long or a proven rim-protector—and is more of a power forward (which is all but extinct in the NBA). They like fellow big man DeAndre Ayton, his former high-school teammate at Hillcrest Prep. (Can you imagine that duo? Apparently, in their first game together, they each dropped 30-plus points and grabbed double figure rebounds). Scouts question what position Marvin will play in the NBA.
“I’m positionless,” Marvin counters. “I don’t like to label my game in that way. I wanna be able to do everything, inside and out. I wanna affect the game in many different ways. I just think that labeling a position on me is putting a ceiling on what I can do as a player.”
In a game that is no longer specialized, Bagley has proven that he possesses the diverse skill-set to contribute and then some. He’s the 2018 Draft’s consummate plug-and-play player, and, because of his athleticism and versatility, the sky may very well be the limit.
As he continues to prepare for Draft Day, Marvin keeps in mind the advice given to him by his legendary college coach Mike Krzyzewski.
“Coach K always used to tell me to live in the moment. Nothing is promised. Nothing is guaranteed. Basketball can end in any second. Life can end in any second… So be able to live right now and focus on today and not worry about what happened yesterday or what's going to happen tomorrow.”
And, of course, he’s still got his music, which is a powerful thing. Powerful in that it offers an escape from life when it’s needed most, and at the same time, is a tool that allows him to remain centered and focused. For Marvin, it also means something further.
“What I love about listening to music and writing lyrics is you could kind of dig deep into yourself and bring out things that you kind of didn't know you had in you,” he explains.
The same can be said about playing basketball.
In an NBA landscape filled with unicorns, Marvin Bagley III is his own breed. Finally, he’ll have the opportunity to show everyone just what he can do, on more stages than one.