On Monday, May 29, Caleb Martin dropped 25 points in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals to lead the Heat to a stunning upset win over the Celtics.

It was a playoff-career high for the 27-year-old, and it helped Miami complete their improbable run to the NBA Finals. They have become just the second No. 8 seed to reach the Finals, with the Knicks being the first to pull it off it in 1999.

But just two years before he lit up the Celtics under the bright lights at TD Garden, Martin was looking for a new team.

How did J. Cole help Caleb Martin sign with the Heat?

He and his twin brother, Cody, played their college ball at NC State and then Nevada — the Wolfpack and the Wolf Pack, coincidentally. After finishing their senior season in 2019, Cody was selected by the Hornets with the No. 36 pick in the NBA Draft while Caleb went undrafted — but he ultimately joined his twin in Charlotte.

Caleb played a limited role with the Hornets, averaging just over five points per game in his first two seasons. At the end of the 2020-21 campaign, he was released by the team. But his NBA journey was far from over.

During the summer of 2021, Martin kept putting in work in the hopes that he would find another team willing to give him a chance. As a native of North Carolina, he often frequented the gym owned by world-famous rapper J. Cole, who hails from Fayetteville, N.C.

Cole has flirted with a career of his own on the hardwood, suiting up for Patriots Basketball Club in Rwanda and the Scarborough Shooting Stars in Canada within the past two years. In other words, he’s no slouch, and he saw potential in Martin.

He also happened to have some connections with people in the NBA, including Heat assistant coach Caron Butler.

“He had reached out to me and told me he had a very, very talented guy that was just wrecking shop up here in North Carolina,” Butler told The Charlotte Observer. “He [Martin] had just got released from the Hornets. Obviously, we were still trying to improve on our talent.”

Butler liked what he heard enough to offer Martin an invitation to practice with the Heat.

“[J. Cole] reached out to me and I just invited [Martin] to an open scrimmage in the summer, and from that point on he really earned his way on. But J. Cole having the foresight in knowing Caleb can come and help a contending team was just amazing.”

During Game 2 in Boston, TNT’s Allie LaForce corroborated the story, reporting that Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra was the one to suggest the invite.

J. Cole helped Caleb Martin sign with the Heat 🙏 pic.twitter.com/pK11s4JPP5

— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) May 20, 2023

Martin made the most of his opportunity and has grown into an important role player for Miami. In addition to his 26-point night in Game 7 against the Celtics, he also dropped 25 points in Game 2. He averaged 9.6 points, 4.8 rebounds and 1.6 assists this season, his fourth in the NBA.

On June 7, years after their paths crossed in North Carolina, J. Cole was in the building to support Martin as he competed in the NBA Finals. The rapper pulled up to Game 3 in Miami as the Heat took on the Nuggets.

In the building for Game 3!

— NBA (@NBA) June 8, 2023
👋 @JColeNC #NBACelebRow pic.twitter.com/3xIfqw645B

Martin has struggled so far against Denver, averaging just 5.3 points per game in the first three games of the Finals. But he remains a key part of an underdog Heat team seeking one of the most unexpected titles in NBA history.

And it may have never happened if it wasn’t for J. Cole’s recommendation. If he ever decides to leave the rap game, maybe he has a future as an NBA scout.

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