Carlos Arroyo was a good basketball player. He was best known for leading the Puerto Rican national team to an upset victory over the United States in 2004, Team USA’s first Olympic loss in 16 years. He also lost a great career in the NBA. He only averaged 6.6 points per game during his career, but he hung around for nine years and even spent the majority of the 2010-11 season – LeBron James’ first in South Beach – as the Miami Heat’s starting point.
Arroyo’s career ended after that and he played his last NBA game that spring. Save for a few seasons overseas – and a stint last summer with BIG3 ̵
But it turns out Arroyo has another talent: He happens to be one of the biggest reggae stars in the world. In March he released “Baila Reggaeton” with the popular duo Zion & Lennox. His first release since 2010, since then it has appeared on YouTube more than 4.6 million times. Dwyane Wade and Gabrielle Union danced to the hit on Instagram. So did Reggaeton star Nicky Jam. The news of the release was shared as an “exclusive” on Billboard.com.
“People first see me as a basketball player,” Arroyo said. “I have fun showing people that I am more than that.”
Music was a big part of Arroyo’s childhood. His father loved Phil Collins and Lionel Richie and introduced his five children to 1980s American rock and pop. As Arroyo grew older, his preferences developed. First it was American rap, like Nas, 2Pac and Jay-Z, that caught his ears. Then, like many teenagers in Puerto Rico, he was hit by the bounces of reggaeton artists like Daddy Yankee and Vico C.
His father was not a fan. “He would say, ‘You don’t listen to songs with lyrics like that,'” Arroyo said. “So we waited for him to go to work and then blast it.” Arroyo started recording songs from the radio. friends. Sometimes he would write lyrics. “Mostly we talk about nothing,” he said. “Just like being in the club or on the street or about a girl.”
In 2008, Arroyo lived in Israel and had more time off than ever before. After spending eight seasons in the NBA, where his team often played four games a week, he had signed with Maccabi Tel Aviv, who never played more than two games each week. Arroyo needed a way to pass the days.
He found a studio in Tel Aviv. “I was so bad, the engineer got mad at me,” he said. But he continued to write music. After the season he signed with the Heat. In Miami, he joined a popular artist by the name of Yomo, and the pair released “See Va Conmigo,” which climbed to No. 45 on Billboard’s Latin Digital Songs chart. Not long after, Arroyo’s Heat teammates erased the Spanish lyrics in the dressing room and mimicked his music video. Arroyo recalled Pat Riley who once went into an exercise and did his best reggae intonation while his feet slid across the gym’s gym floor.
“Pat can dance,” Arroyo said. “But Pat dances reggaeton, that’s something else.”
Other local artists began to pray for collaboration, but life got in the way. Arroyo’s contract with the Heat was not guaranteed, and he was released in the spring of 2011. The Celtics picked him up but did not retain him after the season. As he spent the coming seasons bouncing from Turkey to Puerto Rico to Spain, his music career set in motion.
“Basketball is my money. I wanted to find stability there,” Arroyo said. “And I didn’t want to make the music if I didn’t have the time to do it properly.”
Jeffrey Boan / Associated Press
His wife, Xiomara Escobar, described Carlos as a planner. “He’s really methodical,” she said. “He doesn’t just jump in anything.”
In 2016, Arroyo entered his professional basketball career and settled with his family in Miami. There he was surrounded by other Latin artists who became his friends. They would play basketball in Arroyo’s garden and ask him about his music.
But Arroyo’s life was full. His three children. His work with the Puerto Rican Basketball Association. He was still trying to chart the next step in his basketball career.
“I always said, ‘I’ll do more in the summer; I’ll do it next year, “Arroyo said.” And then the summer would come and go and I hadn’t. “
There were other issues as well. He released “Se Va Conmigo” himself and spent his own money to mix, produce and market the album. “I didn’t want to do it again,” Arroyo said. “I said if I did something again it would only be with a record label. But one that would let me do things on my own time. I didn’t want to commit to anything and miss all other things.”
But he also realized that he let an opportunity slip away. He thought back to his trip to the NBA, how he and his twin brother, Alberto, had left Puerto Rico as teenagers and found a family to live with in Georgia, where the scouts could see him play. His brother grew home after two weeks and moved home, but Carlos stayed.
“Because my dreams were bigger than I was worried about,” Arroyo said. He thought it was time to apply the same thinking to his music career.
“I think when you sacrifice so much and dedicate so much of yourself to a craft from the beginning, you want to do it for everything,” Arroyo said. “But I’m also big on living without regret. And I didn’t want to look back on my life and say, ‘Damn, I have all these amazing artists who want to work with me, and I didn’t because I was shy.’ “
He began to take his friends with his offers. “He really takes his music seriously,” said Luis Fonsi, a well-known Puerto Rico singer and actor best known for his mega hit “Despacito.” Fonsi and Arroyo are neighbors. They play poker, pickups and golf together. “It was clear that this was not just a hobby for him, the way basketball is for me,” Fonsi added.
Around the beginning of 2020, Arroyo signed with a label, Rimas Entertainment. “He has this unique sound for him,” said Noah Assad, the label’s founder. But what has impressed Assad the most is Arroyo’s commitment to the craft. “Carlos is a legend in our country,” he said. “But you wouldn’t know how he acts.”
Garrett Ellwood / Getty Images
Arroyo is on a WhatsApp chain with Assad, a marketing manager and other members of Rimas. He texts his label partners every day. He meets a producer in his garden. He even works in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic. “I hope this is just the beginning of a fantastic year of music,” Arroyo said. “But I already waited 10 years. I have no hurry.”
His first single under Rimas, “Baila Reggaeton,” was composed with the duo Zion & Lennox in mind. Arroyo had known Zion for years. He recorded a test, played it for Zion on a Friday and by Wednesday they were together in the studio.
The song was blown up. One of Arroyo’s two daughters celebrated each time it passed another million views. “And she’s 14, so if she didn’t like it she would be honest,” Arroyo said. His parents are proud.
“Although in my head I can still hear my dad screaming to reject it,” Arroyo said.
Yaron Weitzman covers the NBA for Bleacher Report and is the author of Tanking to the top: The Philadelphia 76ers and the Most Audacious Process in the History of Professional Sports. Follow Yaron on Twitter, @YaronWeitzman.
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