Up Next

Music

LeBron James and Rihanna: a timeline of the bad gal’s super fandom

From Instagram or Twitter, from the beach or from courtside — RiRi is a super fan of The King

It must be nice being LeBron James. He has a beautiful family: three children and his stunning wife, Savannah. He’s one of the most beloved athletes in the world. He gives back. He’s the NBA’s foremost hip-hop tastemaker. He’s an adopted nephew of Barack and Michelle Obama. And he’s the best player in the world — with a growing resume worthy of the best player of all time.

He’s a member of the “one name fame” club — like Rihanna, who is, of course internationally known, revered and loved in her own right and has been so for over a decade. The “Work” singer is a woman of many talents and titles: the creator of 2016’s best album, Billboard royalty, Drake’s lifelong crush, Harvard Humanitarian, creative director and endorsement queenpin and self-professed “maneater.

In Rihanna and LeBron’s case, they’re superclose in terms of finances, influence and dominance. One can choose to believe gossipy headlines, or believe that the common thread between them is Jay Z, a friend of both since they were teenage phenoms as well as the guy who doesn’t seem to mind playing third wheel in hilarious Beyoncé/LeBron memes. But what’s undeniable is Rihanna’s love of sports and the athletes in them (and their love of her). She’s been described as everything from the ultimate sports fan to a bandwagoner. Whatever the case, her favorite sport appears to be basketball. And her favorite hooper is none other than LeBron Raymone James.

Yesterday, Rihanna reminded her 71 million Twitter followers who she’s riding with throughout NBA postseason: “King James.” How long has this mutual admiration society been a thing? Below is a timeline of the friendship between the two megastars. And yes, it includes provocative Instagram photos of suntan lotion designs, and even Rihanna making the owner of the Golden State Warriors move seats in his own arena because she wouldn’t stop cheering for The King.


June 16, 2009 — Business as usual

If it sounds odd that James would have free time in June, that’s because he wasn’t playing in the Finals in 2009 — one of only three years in the past decade in which his squad failed to advance to the league’s brightest stage. Nevertheless, ’Bron (a day after visiting then-President Obama at the White House, and rocking his Nike Zoom LeBron VI Low kicks) and RiRi grabbed lunch at Manhattan’s high-end Philippe Chow before heading to the grand opening of Carol’s Daughter Back Room Hand and Foot Spa.

Feb. 19, 2011 — Birthday festivities in Hollywood

Hating LeBron James was very, very, very popular in 2011 — it was his first season in Miami. But he wasn’t totally despised: He partied with Jay Z in Los Angeles during All-Star Weekend. Jay and LeBron’s charitable dinner, aptly titled Two Kings, was held in 2011 at Century City’s Craft, and earlier that day they unveiled a new Boys & Girls Club facility. The dinner though, essentially served as a 23rd birthday party for Rihanna. As for the guest list? Beyoncé, Dwyane Wade, Gabrielle Union, Drake, future Clippers owner Steve Ballmer, Floyd Mayweather, Gayle King, Cam Newton, Chris Rock, Janelle Monae, Jimmy Iovine and more. Not bad.

June 22, 2012 — Congratulations are in order

Once upon a time there was (daily) discussion about whether LeBron would ever win a ring. Five years ago, he removed the monkey from his back with the Heat’s 4-1 Finals victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder — led, at the time, by a “Big Three” you might remember of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden. Many people congratulated King James on the historic accomplishment. One of the loudest was Bad Gal RiRi.

Look at the KING! So proud! #priceless

A post shared by badgalriri (@badgalriri) on

June 24, 2012 — Rihanna brings the love to the ’Gram

A day before the Heat took to the streets of Miami for their parade, Rihanna once again paid homage to LBJ. LeBron and the Larry O’Brien Trophy. ’Bout damn time, indeed.

April 21, 2013 — Rihanna brings the jersey to the game

The pop star is no stranger to courtside seats. But for Game 1 of the Heat’s opening round series versus the Milwaukee Bucks, the “We Found Love” singer — who, as seen above, created the theme song of the 2013 postseason — brought her own LeBron jersey to the American Airlines Arena for good luck. It worked, too. The Heat won by 23, with James putting up a near triple-double. The Heat, who went on to repeat as NBA champions, would’ve won with or without Rihanna sitting close enough to trip a referee. They were infinitely superior to the Brandon Jennings- and Monta Ellis-led Bucks. But that’s beside the point.

Jan. 30, 2014 — LeBron lets the thirst fly

In the event you may or may not remember Shakira and Rihanna’s collaboration “Can’t Remember To Forget You,” chances are you probably heard it a million times at H&M, Sephora and several other stores of its kind in 2014. To date, the video has more than 785 million YouTube views. How many of those came from an IP address in South Florida in LeBron’s Miami home is impossible to tell. Regardless, he saw the video and, like most other people, was left biting his fist like Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street. Rihanna was flattered by it, too.

May 8, 2014 — Rihanna in awe

It’s one thing to watch LeBron James on television. It’s another to watch LeBron in person. And it’s something totally different to watch one of the greatest athletes ever nearly run through five rows of people, with ease, from up close. And he did it without impaling anyone’s face with his size 15s. That’s exactly what Rihanna witnessed (no pun intended) during Game 2 of the Heat’s second-round matchup versus the Brooklyn Nets. She was impressed.

Lmfao #greatmorningworld

A post shared by JR Smith (@teamswish) on

July 14, 2014 — Enter J.R. Smith

Back in 2013, Rihanna and then-New York Knick J.R. Smith weren’t on the most cordial of terms. They were rumored to be dating in 2012, and Rihanna shot back at fans who’d blamed her for Smith’s struggles in the postseason. The multiple Grammy winner said she didn’t want much of anything to do with Smith, whom she called a “desert thirsty n—-” in part because “his a– be hungover from clubbing every night during [the] playoffs.” Smith downplayed the situation, saying he was focused on the playoffs and not Instagram. But come summer 2014, shortly after LeBron decided to take his talents back to Cleveland, Smith posted this photo on IG taking a shot not only at Rihanna but also the thousands of migrating Miami fans who relocated back to Cleveland. As destiny would have it, Smith, along with Knicks teammate and J.R. loyalist Iman Shumpert, was traded to Cleveland at the request of James. The rest, as they say, is history.

July 2009 — World Cup super fans

Two of the biggest non-soccer storylines of the 2014 World Cup? Yep, Rihanna’s allegiance to Germany and The King’s videographer skills.

March 26, 2015 — Rihanna drops “B—- Better Have My Money”

Though it never made it onto her 2016 magnum opus ANTI, Rih dropped one of the biggest singles of the year with this aggressive anthem. In it she proudly boasted about Ballin’ bigger than LeBron.

June 4, 2015 — Ready for Cavs/Warriors I

Around this time, rumors popped off (they were never substantiated) about Rihanna flying on LeBron’s private jet to Oakland, California, for Game 1 of the 2015 Finals. The whispers stemmed from a lone Instagram video of RiRi beside an airplane proudly exclaiming, “LeBron, here we come baby!” Golden State Warriors owner Joe Lacob was originally sitting beside the pop superstar but eventually moved because Rih was “[rooting] for LeBron the whole game.” As for why she yelled LeBron’s name near the locker room after the Game 1 loss — who knows? Certainly it had something to do with him pulling up for a fadeaway jumper instead of driving to the basket in the waning seconds of regulation.

#StuntBackSundays #StillMood

A post shared by badgalriri (@badgalriri) on

May 20, 2016 — The most interesting use of suntan lotion in NBA history

For most fans of LeBron and the Cavs, life was great after Cleveland’s Game 2 victory over the Toronto Raptors in last year’s Eastern Conference finals. Some celebrated with tweets. Some celebrated with drinks at the bar. Rihanna posted the above photo to Instagram — with suntan lotion in the form of LeBron’s number on her stomach, and she tagged him in the photo. Soon, conspiracy theories ran amok. A secret scheme to distract The King for Drake, who sat courtside in support of his hometown Raptors? Or was it something more sinister? Whatever the case, having to explain that to the Mrs. — whom the internet wanted to retaliate, a la Gina with Ms. Trinidad on Martin — couldn’t have been enjoyable, especially in the middle of a playoff run. For what it’s worth: Cleveland lost the next two games before closing the Raptors out in six.

Game 7 as phuck!!!

A post shared by badgalriri (@badgalriri) on

"Ballin bigger than Lebron" they said

A post shared by badgalriri (@badgalriri) on

#StuntBackSundays #StillMood

A post shared by badgalriri (@badgalriri) on

Bae! Lol 🤗😢👑🏆💍

A post shared by badgalriri (@badgalriri) on

June 17-20, 2016 — Rihanna’s redemption

The 2016 Finals are the crowning moment in LeBron’s career (thus far) and the best moment for Cleveland pop culturewise since Bone Thugs-N-Harmony dropped 1995’s classic E. 1999 Eternal. Rihanna partied like she’d been the one to block Andre Iguodala and drain the game-winning 3 in Stephen Curry’s grill. She stunted. She trash-talked in support of her “bae.” And she flexed on the ’Gram in a series of photos.

April 23 — Bring out the brooms

Rihanna was like the rest of us on April 23. Posted at the crib, or at a bar watching playoff basketball — or, in her case, probably on a remote island with projector-size high-definition screens by the pool as pals fed her grapes and rolled her weed. She watched the Cavs nearly cough up another double-digit fourth-quarter lead to the Indiana Pacers. Despite J.R. Smith nearly going Peak J.R. at the worst possible time, attempting a behind-the-back pass when running the clock out would have sufficed, Paul George bricked what would have been a game-tying 3 that would have forced overtime. The Cavs advanced nevertheless, giving LeBron his 11th consecutive first-round series victory, his 10th career sweep (most all time) and his 21st consecutive first-round victory. There were a lot of happy LeBron campers worldwide, but only a select few with the power to command nearly 10,000 retweets without breaking a sweat.

Should the Cavs advance to the Finals for a third consecutive season, and what would be LeBron’s seventh consecutive, don’t expect for this to be the last time we hear of Rihanna waving her No. 23 pompoms.

Justin Tinsley is a culture and sports writer for The Undefeated. He firmly believes “Cash Money Records takin’ ova for da ’99 and da 2000” is the single-most impactful statement of his generation.