Tupac Shakur was a huge basketball fan--he even portrayed a wanna-be ''baller'' in the 1993 film "Above the Rim." But the rapper had never been to a professional basketball game before Suge Knight took him to one in 1996, shortly after Shakur signed with Knight's Death Row Records. "It was the Lakers versus the Bulls, with Michael Jordan playing,'' recalls Knight. "Pac was jumping up and down in his chair, cheering like a little kid. I could tell no one had done anything like that for him before," says Knight, who became a father figure to Shakur.
Knight had reason to make sure Shakur was happy. Almost overnight, Shakur became Death Row's No. 1 cash asset; the first album he made for the label sold 4 million copies. His five posthumous albums have all been monster hits. The newest, "Until the End of Time," sold 427,000 copies in its first two weeks. The title track, a throwback to an early, less angry time in his life, is the story Shakur never got to finish himself: the journey of a young black man to adulthood.
Knight plans to produce yet another Shakur album later this year--which will likely be the last. "That's the hard-core, real, real stuff that Pac loved,'' Knight says. "And I really didn't want that out until I could be hands-on with it in the studio. I need to guide that record'cause that's it for the music."
Knight isn't the only keeper of the flame. Tupac's mother, Afeni Shakur, 54, a former Black Panther, won legal battles against Death Row over her son's estate: she now holds the rights to Tupac's master recordings, paying royalties to Death Row and its former parent, Interscope. But she shares control with Knight over which songs get released. "We all just have to work together to ensure the best of Tupac is what people get," she says. "The goal is for young kids who might have the same life Tupac had to understand my son. He had a difficult life, and I wasn't always there for him because of my drug problem," says Afeni, who's battled crack-cocaine addiction. Besides the records, there are books in the works and an MTV movie produced by Quincy Jones; a play about Tupac, "Up Against the Wind," just finished an off-Broadway run. "You don't know what kind of man he would have become," says Afeni. "What we have is the powerful vision he left, and that has to be enough.'' For millions of Shakur fans, it is.