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Prince and Sports: Music in Blood, Basketball in His Heart

  • Associated Press

Recording artist Prince sits on the sidelines during the second quarter between the Golden State Warriors and the Oklahoma City Thunder at Oracle Arena, Mar 3, 2016; Oakland, CA. (Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports)

Recording artist Prince sits on the sidelines during the second quarter between the Golden State Warriors and the Oklahoma City Thunder at Oracle Arena, Mar 3, 2016; Oakland, CA. (Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports)

Prince had music in his blood. Basketball was in his heart. "I really believe that was his first love," said Al Nuness, his coach at Minneapolis Central High School.

When news of the death of one of modern music's most influential performers reached Nuness on Thursday through a call from his wife, his thoughts went straight to 1973. That's when Prince and his precocious ninth-grade friends were promoted to the sophomore team by Nuness.

"He was very small," Nuness said. "But he was quick. He could handle the ball and he could penetrate and he could dish."

And one of the best in the NBA was a fan.

"Like so many people I am shocked at the news that Prince has died," Michael Jordan said in a statement. "His songs inspired me throughout my career and remind me of so many moments from my life. His greatness will live on through his music, but this is a sad day for his fans _ me included."

Prince Rogers Nelson and his half-brother, Duane Nelson, had a pal named Paul Mitchell. The inseparable trio, while attending nearby Bryant Junior High, wanted to play hoops so badly they used to sneak into the Central gym with their dog and their bikes for some after-school practice.

Nuness had an office right around the corner and kept kicking them out, he fondly recalled in a phone interview Thursday with The Associated Press.

Prince didn't cause Nuness much trouble, though. In fact, his senior class in 1976 produced one of the best teams in state history. Central, which closed soon after, finished 25-1 and sent several players to NCAA Division I programs.

Prince's career ended after his sophomore season, with the guitar and the microphone beckoning, but he stayed in occasional contact with Nuness as he rose to fame and became a reclusive celebrity. Prince supported some of the city's AAU teams, Nuness said, after he reached stardom.

"He was a great young man," Nuness said. "He did a lot of things charitable that people didn't know, because he didn't want people to know he was doing it."

Here are some notable connections between Prince, who died at 57, and the world of sports:

Super show

The Super Bowl in Miami nine years ago was a soggy mess. While Chicago and Indianapolis took a break from the wind and rain at halftime, Prince put on one of the big game's most memorable music performances. Jamming on his electric guitars on a slippery stage, a teal-and-orange-clad Prince paid no mind to the elements.

Bruce Rodgers, the Super Bowl halftime program director that year, recounted the experience in an video recap of the event. He recalled a colleague speaking to the performer earlier in the day, warning him about the wet conditions.

"Prince was like, `Can you make it rain harder?"' Rodgers said in that interview. "And I was like, `Right on."'

'Purple and Gold'

When his hometown Vikings were in the NFL playoffs after the 2009 season, Prince attended the victory over Dallas at the Metrodome that sent them to the NFC championship game. He even wrote them a song. Their primary uniform color, after all, is purple. One of his biggest hits, of course, was "Purple Rain."

Titled "Purple and Gold," the widely panned tune was sort of a mix of college fight song, the Beatles and '80s synthesizer pop. But it was the thought that counted, right? "We are the truth if the truth can be told/Long reign the purple and gold," went some of the lyrics.

"Prince was an incredible representative of Minnesota who helped put Minneapolis-St. Paul on the map. He was a brilliant performer and a better person," the Vikings said in a statement. "We will forever be proud and grateful that he considered himself a Vikings fan."

'Let's Go Crazy!'

Whenever the Minnesota Twins hit a home run, the ballpark sound system begins blaring Prince's hit, "Let's Go Crazy." The players adopted "Little Red Corvette" as a theme song of sorts last season, with the veterans old enough to remember Prince's earlier music making sure the youngsters learned the words.

"One of my favorites gone! This hurts man," now-retired outfielder Torii Hunter posted on Instagram.

Said first baseman Joe Mauer after the team's win Thursday in Milwaukee: "It's sad news. Any Minnesotan takes credit for Prince, for sure."

Toasting the champs

Prince has long been a supporter of the WNBA's Minnesota Lynx, too, and he attended their championship-clinching victory over Indiana last October.

After the game, as players popped open champagne, they quickly learned this celebration would be unlike the parties for their previous two titles. Prince invited the players and team employees to his Paisley Park estate for a private concert. He opened the night with "Purple Rain," then spent the next three hours playing for Maya Moore, Lindsay Whalen and the rest of the group.

"RIP Prince," Whalen tweeted. "I'll never forget the explosion in the locker room when we found out he was performing for us after Game 5 last season. I will always be grateful for his generosity that evening to perform for us. It was truly amazing."

Roarcle guest

Prince received a royal welcome while sitting courtside at Oracle Arena for a highly anticipated game between the Oklahoma City Thunder and the record-chasing Golden State Warriors on March 3.

Looking as cool as ever wearing sunglasses, Prince smiled as he received a standing ovation from the crowd. He was in Oakland for a concert at the Oracle the following night, which was attended by Warriors All-Star forward Draymond Green.

"RIP Prince! Had the pleasure of seeing him in concert last month in Oakland," Green tweeted. "One of the best shows I've ever seen!!! Rest up legend!! WOW!!"