Hugh Freeze called other escort services and other news of the week The Week That Was August 14-18

Monday 08.14.17

Three days after the events in Charlottesville, Virginia, President Donald Trump attacked a pharmaceutical CEO for standing against the Charlottesville attack. In 1995 news, an Oklahoma man was arrested for allegedly planning to blow up a building in Oklahoma City. A Georgia pastor denies that he offered on Instagram to perform anilingus on hip-hop artist Nicki Minaj. Former NFL tight end Jermichael Finley said national anthem protests by current players Marshawn Lynch and Michael Bennett are “more of marketing” and thinks they’re protesting for “a selfish reason.” In unrelated news, the Baltimore Ravens signed another quarterback not named Colin Kaepernick. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, conceivably talking about the U.S. government or the New York baseball franchise, said he would “watch a little more the foolish and stupid conduct of the Yankees.” In celebration of quarterback Jay Cutler’s arrival in Miami, the San Diego State football team had to cancel practice because of a chickenpox outbreak in the team’s locker room.

Tuesday 08.15.17

The Alameda County (California) Sheriff’s Department retweeted the news conference of white supremacist Richard Spencer; the department said it was an accident. Trump retweeted a conspiracy theorist, a photo of a train running over a CNN logo and a man who called him a “fascist”; the president later un-retweeted the latter two tweets. Captain America, who is literally a Nazi, tweeted, “This is insane” in response to Trump’s news conference on Charlottesville. Train service in Chicago was stopped after a severed head and leg were found on the tracks; “F— no. I’m gonna Facebook Live this,” one frustrated passenger said in response to the delay. Taco Bell, a company not satisfied with ruining only tacos, is offering a breakfast taco that uses a fried egg as the shell. A history professor blamed tennis star Serena Williams for Trump’s presidency and the re-rise of white supremacy. Former NFL coach and Man Who Fights At Bars Rob Ryan does not agree with national anthem protests because Americans should “be proud of our country.” An Englishman who stole over $22,000 from a store was sentenced to three years in prison after police uncovered his résumé at the premises. In more international news, a kangaroo punched an Australian boy in the face.

Wednesday 08.16.17

A Wisconsin man shot himself in the heart with a nail gun and did not die: “Once I felt the nail in me, I was like, ‘Well I can’t pull that one out,’ ” the man told The Washington Post. The personal attorney for Trump, who is Jewish and the son of a Holocaust survivor, played the “I have a black friend” game while deflecting his client’s non-condemnation of neo-Nazis. Trump’s other attorney forwarded an email that praised Gen. Robert E. Lee and the Confederacy’s secession plan, and accused the Black Lives Matter movement of being “totally infiltrated by terrorist groups.” The family of Lee, without a hint of

irony, said the Confederate general “would never ever stand for that sort of violence” exhibited in Charlottesville. Former Ole Miss football coach Hugh Freeze, it turns out, called more than one escort service during his time at the school. Floyd Mayweather now has the opportunity to punch Conor McGregor in the face even quicker. The Chick-fil-A restaurant in the new Atlanta Falcons stadium will not be open on Sundays; the defending NFC champs have only one non-Sunday home game this season.

Thursday 08.17.17

Trump, the creator of “Lyin’” Ted Cruz, “Little” Marco Rubio and “Crooked” Hillary Clinton, is slowly running out of insulting adjectives, calling the junior senator from Arizona “Flake” Jeff Flake. A New York man who carried a tiki torch in Charlottesville last weekend and once attended a Sharia law protest, told USA Today that “I’m not what they’re making me out to be.” Three birds, two with a feather-shedding disease, are involved in a polyamorous relationship. Face-painted Juggalos are ready to scrap with alt-right protesters. Trump condemned the attack in Barcelona within hours of it happening, and hours later he lost another business advisory council. As if it even matters, a Rutgers football reporter, who covers a team that lost 78-0 to Michigan last season, submitted a Freedom Of Information Act request for the Wolverines’ final roster. A neo-Nazi is mad because the internet made fun of him for crying about being issued an arrest warrant. Two days after LeBron James referred to Trump as the “so-called president,” Golden State Warriors forward Kevin Durant, being blunt as usual, added, “We don’t f— with him.”

Friday 08.18.17

New Orleans Pelicans forward DeMarcus Cousins, known not to be a mincer of words, said, “Take all them m—–f—–s down” in response to questions about Confederate statues. Pelicans teammate Rajon Rondo, who is on his fifth team in four years and once reportedly told his coach to “f— off,” won an award for “best teammate.” Far-right radio host Alex Jones was called a “racist f—” by a helmet-wearing cyclist and had coffee thrown on him on the streets of Seattle; the video, of course, could have been staged. Trump lost yet another council. San Antonio Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard smiled … twice. White House chief strategist Steve Bannon was either fired or resigned two weeks ago.

Professional wrestler Booker T’s raw life An orphan, a dropout, a felon – and now a famous, married father running for mayor of Houston

They came out bug-eyed and angry, just like the promoter had instructed. Real-life brothers in a phony sport, mean-mugging in lavender tuxedo jackets, bow ties and shades.

“Ebony Experience!” the announcer boomed.

Just like the pro wrestling gods of their youth — Ron Simmons, Junkyard Dog and all those thickly muscled black men who used to enrage fans at ringside — Booker and Lash Huffman ticked off the crowd that night, too.

The 300 or so fans in the mostly empty Sportatorium, a dilapidated Dallas bandbox built in 1934, bent their torsos over the railing as the fledgling tag team made their way to the ring. They contorted their faces and screamed every racial epithet they could think of for a black man.

“C—!”

“N—–!”

“Go back to Africa, you f—– j——s!”

Booker wanted to jump the barrier and throw haymakers. Lash, six years older, laughed, camouflaging his anger. These bigots “are everyday stuff in America to us,” he told himself, widening the ring ropes for his little brother to slip through.

It was 1992, less than three years after Lash had told Booker he needed to come up with $3,000 to attend a pro wrestling school in Houston. And now, for $100 each, they had a tryout with the Global Wrestling Federation. The script called for them to go out as heels (villains) against two beefcakes called Brute Forcz. They would then emerge as faces (good guys), aiming to win the crowd’s affection by the end of the match. If the Huffmans were entertaining, they’d get more work.

But when the promoter told them, “You have to make the guys you’re working with look good,” Lash shook his head and pulled his brother aside.

“It looks like the fix is in,” he said. “Let’s just go out there and make these guys look better than they’ve ever looked in their life.”

They played the heels to the hilt at first, scowling and grunting as the N-bombs cascaded from the stands. But then Booker began quarterbacking the match. “OK, throw me into the ropes,” he whispered to one of his opponents as the match was going on. “Now duck.”

Incredibly, the crowd began to turn. “Same dude that just called us all that awful s— is now going crazy for us,” Booker said.

When it ended, Booker went to the middle of the ring and began break dancing, ending with his shoulders on the mat and his legs twirling in the air, a move the ringside announcer christened “The Spinaroonie.”

Within a week, Ebony Experience was the Sportatorium’s main attraction. The Huffman brothers — Booker at 6-foot-3, 250 pounds, Lash standing 6-5 and pushing 290 — a quarter-ton of bicep-flexin’, smack-talkin’ black ’tude, were packing all 4,500 seats.

After that night, the racist bile from one man’s mouth or an entire crowd wouldn’t faze Booker, because he came to understand an unsettling truth: The same people who N-bombed him were paying his rent, and some of them went on to become his most ardent fans. If he had to smell America’s bad breath, so what? It was the price of acceptance and ascendance in the squared-circle world, a world so much grander and greater than he had known before.


Twelve years later: Another arena, this one on Long Island, New York, another white opponent who needed to look good. Paul Michael Levesque, a stringy-haired behemoth known as Triple H, eyeballed Booker up and down within inches of his face, as if he had bought his opponent at auction.

By this time, Huffman, wrestling under the name Booker T, was no newbie. Propelled by a charismatic personality, the Spinaroonie and a trademark catchphrase purloined from the 1979 film The Warriors — “Can you dig it, sucka?” — he was one of the most popular figures on the pro circuit. That’s why it was so disturbing when, weeks before Triple H and Booker were to face off for the heavyweight championship at Wrestlemania XIX in Seattle, Levesque went to sinister places to sell the card.

“Somebody like you … doesn’t get to be a world champion,” Levesque told Booker at an event in the Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, New York, pausing between sneers for effect. “People like you don’t deserve it.”

People like you?

“You’re here to be an entertainer. … Go ahead, Book, why don’t ya entertain? Do a little dance for me, Book. Why don’t you give me one of them Spinaroonies? Come on, don’t be embarrassed. That’s your job, to make people like me laugh. You’re very good at it — with your nappy hair and your ‘suckas.’ ”

The payoff had to be revenge, right? Black good guy over white meanie? When faces absorb such abuse from heels, the story is supposed to end with the face getting vindication via pin — or something that felt like the karma gods had spoken.

In the match itself, Booker T nailed his routine, breaking out an arsenal of dropkicks and clotheslines. At one point, he flipped 360 degrees off one of the turnbuckles and landed perfectly flat, next to Triple H’s head, which he elbowed. It was a feat as skillful as anything Greg Louganis ever managed off a 3-meter diving platform.

When both men collapsed in exhaustion at the end, the crowd was waving handmade, pro-Booker T placards. But as Triple H feebly laid an arm on Booker T’s chest, the “referee” counted the face out instead of the heel.

Crestfallen adults and children could be seen in the crowd. These people had bought in. They were sure of the outcome, knowing it would be as sweet for Booker T. as for them.

And then … nothing. No silver lining.

Not that night.

“I found out about a week before the match that that’s how it was going to go down,” Huffman, 52, says now. “I had to make the crowd feel a certain way about a guy with a silver spoon in his mouth beating a guy who pretty much worked his way up from the trenches. I didn’t question it, argue it. I knew everyone wanted me to win. But I just went along with what they wanted.

“It was easier that way. If I didn’t go along, where would I really be now? Could I have done the things I’ve done, overcome the things I’ve overcome?”


Todd Spoth for The Undefeated

There are no victims here, only volunteers. This is a story about a professional wrestler who used an artificial sport to build a real life.

It’s about a kid who dropped out of high school before becoming a convicted felon, and the big brother who refused to let “Junior” throw his life away. He found a career and his second wife in the ring. And after vanquishing multiple fictional foes, he now wants to take on education and homelessness as the next mayor of Houston.

Booker T’s loss to Triple H that night crushed many fans because, perhaps more than anyone else in the wrestling business, his reality was so integrated with his ring character that it often was hard to distinguish between the man and the actor.

He grew up orphaned and poor. He caught no breaks early, got in his own way later and somehow still found a path to prosperity in a profession that mirrors and magnifies the best and worst in its heels, faces and audience.

His career blew up nearly 20 years ago after a seemingly innocuous visit with wrestler Diamond Dallas Page to a juvenile detention center. He debated that day whether to tell his actual life story or stick to clichés about hard work and keeping your head on straight. But when he noticed that some of the hard-knock kids were rolling their eyes at Page’s motivational speech, Huffman went all-in. He told those kids everything, down to the day he got out of prison.

Some teared up. Others sat there, wide-eyed. When he finished, they stood and applauded. Page was so moved he told Huffman he needed to tell his story through his character, that his odyssey was much better than anything wrestling’s scriptwriters could come up with.

“It’s funny, you know, they love to say how wrestling is so fake and made-up,” Lash Huffman said. “And the irony of the whole thing is, the best thing about my brother is his honesty. Junior is so honest.”

Booker T inside of the ring at his gym, Reality of Wrestling.

Todd Spoth for The Undefeated

The more his story was told, the more the lines blurred. Was this real or entertainment? Sport or theater? Is the scripted racism damaging or satire? Do the heels and faces of pro wrestling reflect the world, or are they a caricature of it?

In the end, those are false dichotomies: The answer is always yes.

It is sport and theater. It reflects society and is a caricature of it. The racism is harmless and hurtful.

Pro wrestling is entertainment and real — especially for a boy who lost his mom young.


Danny, Carolyn, Lula Gayle, Billie Jean, Donald, Lash, Bonita and the baby, Booker: Rosa Huffman had eight children by three different men. And every member of the family watched pro wrestling, including a 4-foot-6 grandmother who had an old mattress put in her backyard for her grandchildren to practice flapjack pins.

Booker’s father, said to be a serious man and a good provider, ran moonshine, gambled and worked legitimately at the local pool hall in Plain Dealing, Louisiana. Booker Jr. was just 10 months old when his father went to retrieve a block of ice for the pool hall and dropped dead of a stroke. He was 59.

Rosa Huffman couldn’t bear staying in Louisiana after her husband’s death. She moved the family to Houston, where she worked as a nurse and supported all eight children by herself.

But when she was just 49, Rosa fell through the ceiling onto her back and neck while trying to fix the kitchen fan. She kept telling her panicked children she would be OK. And she was, for a few months. But a second surgery to remove fluid from her spine left her in a coma.

After several weeks, she was taken off life support. Booker, 13, and Bonita, 16, lost the only responsible adult in their lives. The older siblings tried to play guardians for a while, but many were running the streets, bringing home drug people and others who left Booker and Bonita so afraid to go to sleep at night that they wedged a chair against the bedroom door handle. Lash, the third youngest, couldn’t take the madness. He moved to a friend’s house without telling his youngest siblings.

Soon, the chaos of their siblings’ lives scared Booker and Bonita into moving back into their mother’s crumbling apartment by themselves. When the water was shut off for lack of payment, they schlepped 5-gallon buckets to a service station up the street, filled them with water and lugged them back, the skin of both palms bloodied by the metal handles. Bonita says she and her brother used the water for drinking, bathing, dishwashing and “filling up the toilet so it would flush.”

“Lot of days we just ate one meal at school and went hungry at home,” Bonita recalled. “No social worker even knew we were there. I could see my brother upset about a lot of things at that point. He was angry.”

Booker took out his meager station in life on other neighborhood kids. Bonita never remembered her brother losing a fight. “He wasn’t a bully or anything like that. He just never backed down,” she said. “That was something I loved about him: You don’t run, you face it head-on.”

Booker T holds an old photo of himself and his brother Lash.

Todd Spoth for The Undefeated

At 17, he impregnated a 15-year-old girl, who kept the baby even though her high school beau stopped answering his phone when she called. Still, Booker got a job at Fiesta Mart to help support their boy and began lifting steaks and whatever else he could manage. He was fired soon after — not for stealing, but for trying to impersonate his sister Billie Jean, calling his manager in a comically high-pitched voice to say, “My brother isn’t feeling well and won’t be in today.”

Booker dropped out of school. Bonita had moved to Dallas for work, and none of his uncles or aunts wanted him staying with them. Every reservoir of familial goodwill had dried up, except for one.

He’d barely had a relationship with Lash in the four years since their mother had died. But Booker swallowed his pride and moved into the Willow Creek Apartments with his older brother, who told him he could stay if he got a job.

So working a mile and a half away, he began dropping frozen fries into hot oil, assembling burgers with cheese and filling cups of soft-serve ice cream. He didn’t exactly rock that red shirt and black cap. But with no diploma and a newborn son, Booker was happy to have a job at Wendy’s.


A few months later, he was transferred to a different Wendy’s across town, which meant he had to catch one bus, wait 30 minutes and transfer to another one to get to work each day. In no time, the job went from a needed employment opportunity to a dead-end gig.

Billie Jean hooked him up with her boyfriend, a prominent marijuana dealer, who routinely had pounds of cannabis on his dining room table. Booker began slinging $5 and $10 bags of marijuana on the side, often smoking most of his profit.

He saw less and less of Lash at home, falling in with a crew that included his childhood friend, Wendell Sylvester, and Zackery Claybourne, a streetwise brother who had been to prison for robbery. They began carousing the club scene, wearing matching Adidas suits and coming up with nicknames for themselves: Booker was Nature Boy (after wrestler Ric Flair), Zack was Z-Boy and Wendell became Mr. Big Stuff.

Booker and Zack both worked at the Gulfgate Mall Wendy’s off Telethon Road, where their manager kept riding them about overcooked fries, undercooked burgers and the need to scrub the rings of caked-on chili off the pots. Eventually, Zack quit and Booker was fired for not showing up.

One night as they all smoked up Booker’s sales, someone threw out an insane idea: “Why don’t we get some guns and rob Wendy’s?” It kept coming up over the next few weeks until they decided on the most wacked notion of all. Zack and Booker each had a few uniforms.

Let’s rob Wendy’s with our uniforms on.

Decades later, it’s still one of the city’s most brazen string of robberies. Pretty quickly, they stopped concealing their faces with stocking caps, walking into a restaurant with .38-caliber pistols and their work uniforms, often behind legitimate employees taking the trash out at closing time. Booker would wait outside in his aunt’s car.

Soon, the crime was less a rush than getting home in time to watch the local news — “Wendy’s Bandits Strike Again” at 11:01 p.m. Over the first three months of 1987, Booker and his friends had robbed 12 Wendy’s, stealing between $400 and $4,000 each time. In what would be their last holdup, Booker went into the restaurant with Zack and Wendell, pistols drawn.

Houston police issued a reward of $5,000 for information that would lead to their arrest. The ads began playing on a local “CrimeStoppers” segment, and one of the interested viewers was Zack’s girlfriend.

On what became his last day of freedom, Booker met Zack at McGregor Park, smoked and sold weed, and headed home around dusk. As he neared the front door of the unit he shared with Lash, he sensed an eerie quiet.

Police officers in SWAT gear had him on the ground and cuffed in seconds. Booker feigned ignorance at first, but he was picked from a police lineup by witnesses who remembered him from the night he went into the Wendy’s for the robbery.

Within months, Booker, Zack and Wendell were in separate 6-by-8-foot cells at the Texas State Penitentiary at Huntsville – Walls Unit. Named for its brick facade, Walls Unit was where all convicted felons were processed through the state’s penal system. It also housed the state’s execution chamber.

Huffman recalled something his mother once told him: “Junior, you know right from wrong. There’s no gray area in between. If you don’t stop, you’ll end up dead or in jail.”

At 22 years old, he was 1 for 2.


Todd Spoth for The Undefeated

Good behavior allowed Booker to serve just 19 months of consecutive five-year sentences for armed robbery and aggravated assault. Sylvester, by contrast, said he served 9½ years of a 22-year sentence.

Though Booker’s lying killed much of the trust Lash had in him, Lash knew his younger brother wasn’t a career criminal. He told Booker, “I’ll help you get back on your feet. But whatever you do — sweeping floors, washing dishes, digging ditches — you gotta pay your dues and walk a straight line.”

He got a job at American Mini Storage, completing his parole and getting custody of his son, Brandon, 6, who had been turned over to child protective services because his mother was unable to care for him. A part of him missed his old life: the partying, the chaos, the sense he could go buck wild at any moment. But that world couldn’t compare with microwaving Ramen noodles, adding chicken, cheese and crumbled-up crackers, and sharing dinner with his son.

As a lark one afternoon in 1989, Lash went by a small wrestling school in Houston owned by Ivan Putski, the bodybuilder/wrestler whose duels with the Iron Sheik and Jesse Ventura fueled the sport in the 1970s and ’80s. He simply then said to Booker, “Let’s start rasslin’.”

Booker thought he was joking at first, but Lash kept going. “Man, we’ve been fans for so long, and we both need something more in our lives. We’ve both got size, we’re athletic and we’ve got personality off the f— charts!”

Lash said it would cost $3,000, and Booker sulked. He didn’t have that kind of money anymore. But his boss at the storage company, Bruce Gasarch, gave Booker a $3,000 bonus and told him to make him proud.


“Cowboy” Scott Casey, a former World Wrestling Federation star, mentored Booker at Putski’s school. He also came up with his first character at the time the Gulf War had begun: “G.I. Bro, America’s greatest hero.”

Lash was given the character name “Stevie Ray,” and within two years they were on their way to Dallas and the Sportatorium for their first tag team match. Booker wrestled on the Texas Independent Circuit for two more years and kept the job at the storage company until Ted Turner’s World Championship Wrestling signed him for $70,000. Booker left for Atlanta and a life he’d dreamed about as a kid.

“It was an escape for me,” he said. “I had been in prison. I had lost my parents at a young age. I had no high school diploma.

“I finally found something that I really did very, very well. It was like, ‘Wow, I’m better than everybody else at this.’ I’m serious. It was like that. I knew I was better than everybody else. I had done theater and been a drum major for a while in high school. Then when I found wrestling, it was like déjà vu. Like, ‘Man, I’ve done this before in another life.’ ”

In 2000, wrestling’s once-dominant organization, World Championship Wrestling, was in a no-holds-barred battle royal with its rising competitor, the World Wrestling Federation. The WCW decided to pit its world heavyweight champion Jeff Jarrett against Booker T at the end of the season’s tour in Daytona Beach, Florida, in a card titled “Bash at the Beach.”

For the first time in his solo career, it was decided Booker T would emerge with the belt — the exact one (sans a few missing gemstones) that his childhood hero, Flair, had once worn. But in a bizarre turn of events, Hulk Hogan went off script. He had creative control written into his contract. And on the evening of the event, he told the WCW brass he wanted to be champion.

A poster of Booker T wearing the WCW World Championship belt inside of his home gym.

Todd Spoth for The Undefeated

Organizers were furious. But they created a storyline where Jarrett lay down in the ring with the belt at his side. Hogan, looking equally angry, circled the ring with a microphone and called the WCW a “bulls— organization” before half-heartedly climbing atop Jarrett. The referee counted to three for the pin and the lights went down. This was all part of the show, but it was followed by an unusual turn: WCW head writer Vince Russo coming to the ring and launching into a five-minute tirade aimed at Hogan, calling the wrestling legend a “god damn politician,” among other epithets.

Later in the evening, Booker T’s music began playing and everything restarted. Jarrett came out as if he was still champion, and he and Booker T performed the heel-face dance to perfection. For the first time in his individual ring career, Booker T was a heavyweight champion of the world.

No pro wrestler actually wins his title in the ring, of course. The decision is made backstage or weeks before by company presidents and scriptwriters. But once the belt is bestowed on you, it means your employer believes you are ready to be its most important ambassador. WCW believed an African-American with a backstory better than any they could write would sell. And Booker T sold.

Although promoters often wanted him to play a stereotype, he made a conscious decision to try for crossover appeal. He refused suggestions that his walk-up music be gangsta rap. He enunciated all his words. The only from-the-’hood line he used was his trademark slogan, “Can you dig it, sucka?”

“If I was wrestling a white guy and he was a good guy, they would cheer for him and boo me if I was a stereotypical black guy,” he said. “But me not being the stereotypical black guy, I can get away with it and be cheered just as much as him.

“They were cheering for Booker T — not the black guy coming out from the curtain.”

It wasn’t exactly “I’m not black, I’m O.J.” But for many people in the crowd, he seemed like a good guy with a remarkable backstory, and they were happy to cheer for this black man.

Booker realized how famous he had become one night in 1995 at the Sands Hotel in Las Vegas. He was eating a steak dinner when an older gentleman interrupted him. “Are you Booker T? My kids love you. You mind if I take a picture with you?”

Booker did a double take. Frankie Valli of the Four Seasons knows who I am?

“You know why the fans were sad [about the Triple H loss]?” he said. “Because I touched them. And that doesn’t happen very often in this business, where someone of color can make them feel that way. I always worked on emotion. On telling my real story. My goal was to make them cry.”

A year after he was made champion, the WCW was taken over by the WWF and rechristened World Wrestling Entertainment. Huffman signed on. More than a decade after Putski’s wrestling school, he was now contractually obligated to WWE CEO Vince McMahon.


Todd Spoth for The Undefeated

It’s been 14 years since his Wrestlemania loss to Triple H. You want Huffman to be angry, resentful even, that McMahon and his writers wouldn’t let his character win that night.

He’s not.

“I never lost a wink of sleep over that,” he said. “Let all the fans know because they ask me about it all the time. They wanted Booker T to win the title more than I wanted to win myself.”

Triple H, he said, “was just playing his part, however f—– up that part looked.” At the time, Triple H denied any bigotry on his part, saying, “Why would anybody think I am a racist? Did I ever mention the word ‘black’?

Asked for comment, a WWE spokesman responded with this statement: “WWE is committed to embracing and celebrating individuals from all backgrounds as demonstrated by the diversity of our employees, performers and fans worldwide. Just like other TV shows and movies, our entertainment programming features fictional characters who play the role of protagonists and antagonists. Over the years, WWE storytelling has evolved along with the social landscape, and today WWE offers family-friendly, PG-rated programming.”

“They used me and I used them — that’s how I looked at it,” Huffman says now. “I was never down with being the stereotypical brother, and I made sure of that as my career went on.

“But at some point, you also realize white guys invented the sport and still control it. If you want to work, you gotta play by their rules and sometimes be who they want you to be.”

Perhaps that’s how you last in an entertainment genre that routinely traffics in ugly stereotypes about African-Americans.

One in which Rowdy Roddy Piper once pretended to feed bananas to a poster of Mr. T, saying he would “whip him like a slave.” And Ventura used to refer to black wrestler Koko B. Ware (James Ware) as “Buckwheat.” Kamala (Jim Harris) was billed as an almost-mute African savage. Tony Atlas was remade into Saba Simba, replete with shield, spear, headdress and a cringe-inducing “tribal” dance.

When Lash and Booker came to the WCW in 1993, their storyline called for them to play two convicts, won in a card game by cigar-chomping, seersucker-wearing manager/plantation owner Col. Robert Parker. At some of their first shows, the Huffmans dressed in prison jumpsuits and leg shackles because that’s what their white bosses thought would sell. Naming a modern tag team composed of two African-Americans Cryme Tyme seems almost benign in comparison.

Moralizing about it, expecting cultural enrichment and organic diversity is like expecting NASCAR fans to lower those LDL numbers. It’s the world of the Tonga Kid, the Mad Hungarian and an Asian-American man with perfect diction called Mr. Fugi, who practiced speaking broken English. Every minority is crudely stereotyped in the squared circle.

“Understand the only thing that has ever been real for me with wrestling is the entertainment and the performance in front of the crowd,” Huffman said. “In the end, it was all a show. … If it was real, I would have been one-time heavyweight champion because I would have beat up everybody.”

Late in his career, as a heel named King Booker, Huffman won the now-retired WWE World Heavyweight Championship, a belt the company created in 2002 for its Smackdown and Raw brands. But since the WWE’s origin in 1963, through 50 champions and more than 130 belt changes, no African-American has won its highest-profile title, the WWE World Championship. John Cena had 13 title reigns. Triple H had nine. The Rock (Dwayne Johnson, whose mother is Samoan and whose father is African-Canadian) held the title nine times.

“It’s still the one title that no [African-American] has ever won,” Booker said as we ate lunch at a Tex-Mex restaurant in Houston, a few hundred yards from his Reality of Wrestling training gym. (He has another facility an hour south of town where wrestling shows are taped for TV, and he also promotes boxing and MMA cards.)

“Why I never won it? Look, it’s their company. It’s almost like, I went to play a pickup game at the park. The one kid who’s got the basketball, he may be an OK player but maybe not the best player. But he’s on the team. It’s his ball. If I’m not a big person about that, I’m going home.”

It’s worth noting that Booker still works for WWE, where Levesque is now an executive vice president, as an announcer on Monday Night Raw. Booker never slammed the WWE for its decades of race-baiting. But then, how could he when he never objected to playing his part in the wincing black-white bits?

He played Triple H’s victim during that racially loaded promo. A few years later, he and Sharmell, his stage partner and real-life wife, conveniently stood off to the side as McMahon called John Cena “my n—–.” (“Tell me … he didn’t just say that?” Booker responds in what he acknowledges is one of his worst acting jobs. “I got so much grief for that from the black community. Part of the show.”) One time, he used the N-word himself while talking about Hulk Hogan during a promo, although he later acknowledged it was a mistake.

He retired as a full-time wrestler in 2012 and officially in 2016. With distance comes perspective.

“Look at these poor cats, New Day,” he said, referring to a current black tag team, a three-person outfit allowed to keep the two-man title under the “Freebird rule.” (Because why wouldn’t you have three black men following a rule named for three whites who once showed up for a match at Comiskey Park in Chicago with their faces painted as Confederate flags?)

“They’re the new token black guys,” Huffman said. “It’s as racist as it’s always been, most black wrestlers still being put in the back seat. I just never spent too much energy on it, other than not getting my total just due as being a champion, which I deserved.

“I woulda been a great champion, great ambassador. I know I would have.”

Does he get to play both sides of this fence? On his way up, Booker permitted wrestling to use his race. Now that it’s over, he gets reflective.

Was he genuinely hurt by his profession’s racism or not? Again, it’s a false choice.

He cared and he didn’t care. He didn’t care what sold the product. But he did care that he had to play by rules that kept him in the box labeled “Black Guys.”


“I look forward to having a dialogue with the voters of Houston, and if I am so privileged to serve, I will fight for them as hard as I have fought for myself and my family over the last 30 years,

— Booker T. Huffman’s Twitter account, December 2016

“You’re a mess,” Booker says to his 6-year-old son, Kendrick.

“You’re a mess, Dad,” Kendrick says back.

“Yeah, Daddy, you’re a mess,” echoes his twin sister, Kennedy.

Booker never really retired from wrestling. He just went into business as a suburban father. His pectorals and arms are still Royal Rumble-ready. He does 400 pushups each morning, not out of vanity as much as to ensure a 52-year-old father of young twins remains on this side of the soil as long as possible. (Brandon, now 33, had his own trouble with the law growing up. He lives in Houston and works in marketing.)

Booker T speaks on the phone while his twins, Kennedy and Kendrick, play on his shoulders.

Todd Spoth for The Undefeated

The felony conviction from 30 years ago still follows him. When he began traveling for wrestling shows internationally, Booker was frequently questioned by immigration agents. He had trouble at first getting a liquor license for his venue that hosts wrestling shows and boxing cards. And he needs a pardon from the governor before he can legally be a candidate on the November 2019 ballot.

“The paperwork is already in,” Booker said. His three personal references: Stephanie McMahon, Vince’s daughter, Triple H’s wife and the chief brand officer of WWE; Joanne Herring, the Texas socialite who persuaded the U.S. government to train and arm the Afghan mujahedeen fighters during the Soviet war on U.S. Rep. Charlie Wilson’s behalf; and Gasarch, his former boss who lent him the money for wrestling school.

Incumbent Sylvester Turner, an African-American Democrat, was a longtime member of the Texas Legislature before winning the mayor’s office in 2016 on his third attempt. Booker has yet to declare a political party, but he’s serious about his campaign. He’s hired an aide and an adviser to help formulate a platform.

Houston’s growing homeless problem, inspiring the city’s youth and fixing its educational system are his first priorities.

“You’ve got to go to the young people and look at it from their perspective,” he said. “We’ve heard forever, ‘Respect your elders,’ and it’s made us help little old ladies across the street and pay attention to our senior citizens. But I’ve never heard one time, throughout my 52 years, someone say, ‘Respect your young people.’

“We’ve got these classrooms of 40 kids, and it’s so disruptive the kids can’t learn anything. My mother-in-law works in the school district. She sees it daily. Something needs to be done about that. I’m not against public schooling, but I feel like the money that’s going into public schools needs to be appropriated properly.”

No Houston media outlet has taken the town’s temperature over the 2019 election, so it’s hard to say whether Booker’s candidacy will be received well. But he says with conviction, “I think I can win. I’ll get the young vote, the millennial vote.

“Sylvester Turner, Harvard [Law School] grad. He’s a very smart guy. But it’s not about him. It’s about my legacy, how many people I can help while I’m on this earth. Thing about it is, if I win I win, and if I lose I win. It’s not about just winning. It’s about getting off my couch and doing something.”

Maybe 20 years ago, the idea of a pro wrestler becoming mayor of a major American city might have been politically fraught. But we are in the post-Ventura, Arnold Schwarzenegger world now. A reality show host is our nation’s president. Why would we think Booker T can’t win? He’s already completed an apprenticeship of what it takes to move the masses in America.

“I pretty much made some dirt when I was a kid and made sure I got a big broom as an adult so I could sweep it,” he said, laughing. “I’m still sweeping to clean it up.”

Almost exactly 30 years after his robbery conviction, he still has nightmares of that swarm of police in riot gear. Strangely, there is also gratitude for those 19 months in prison, a reminder of the 336 months of freedom that followed.

A few years ago, he was contracted to give a speech to a group of wealthy Houston residents and wondered what he could say to motivate millionaires. “They’re already rich.”

He decided to tell the story of the Wendy’s Bandits feeling young and invincible before their fall. They gave him a standing ovation, unaware that Booker had a surprise for them.

“I want to introduce you to Wendell,” he said, pointing to a man immaculately dressed in fine Italian wool like many of the others in the room.

Booker had run into Sylvester at a gas station. He had no job, hadn’t shaved in weeks and looked hungry. Booker got him cleaned up and asked if he would accompany him to the speech.

Sylvester, who says he’s been straight since he got out of prison in 1995, now works as a driver for a trucking company. Although Booker says he wanted to keep helping him, the two men have since lost touch.

We want a world of bright lines. Heels and faces. But that’s not real life. It’s not the wrestling world, either. Both are messy. Complicated. Good and bad are mixed together, and both can be profitable for anyone willing to play their part.

Can you dig it, sucka?

 100 Black Men of Atlanta welcomes students back to school Organization has been mentoring boys at B.E.S.T. Academy for 30 years

The first day of school took on new meaning at one Atlanta school, thanks to the 100 Black Men of Atlanta, Emerging 100 of Atlanta, The Collegiate 100 and leadership from 100 Black Men of America.

Members from across the organizations surprised students of the B.E.S.T. (Business, Engineering, Science and Technology) Academy by showing up on the school’s campus and dishing out handshakes, high-fives and encouraging words as the students entered their new facility.

“100 has been mentoring kids at this school for over 30 years,” said Curley Dossman, chairman of the 100 Black Men of America. “We are delighted to be able to be here and support these young men as they kind of get themselves back together in school.”

B.E.S.T. Academy educates boys from sixth through 12th grades. The welcome was an annual tradition for the men of the organization to carry out their motto, “What They See Is Who They’ll Be.”

According to the organization’s press release, The 100 Black Men of Atlanta and Emerging 100’s year-round mentorship and leadership program at The B.E.S.T. Academy includes one-on-one conversations, large- and small-group work sessions, and panel discussions with community stakeholders.

With help from the mentorship program, suspension rates at B.E.S.T. have declined by 30 percent and in-school suspensions by 36 percent.

‘Whose Streets?’ pushes back on what we think we know about Michael Brown and Ferguson, Missouri New documentary is a potent combination of social and media criticism

Deep into Whose Streets?, the new documentary about Ferguson, Missouri, after the death of Michael Brown, there’s footage of Darren Wilson, the police officer who shot and killed Brown, giving an interview to ABC’s George Stephanopoulos.

“You can’t perform the duties of a police officer and have racism in you,” Wilson tells him. At the screening I attended, there was an audible mix of gasps and laughter from the audience.

Directors Sabaah Folayan and Damon Davis spent much of the film’s run time up to that point establishing just how much racism lurked within the Ferguson Police Department and the city government. A 2015 report from the Justice Department established that Ferguson provided about as clear an illustration of institutionalized racism as could possibly exist: The city not only targeted black residents for tickets and arrests they couldn’t afford, it was also using the revenue from such stops to fund the nearly all-white police force. The court clerk, police captain and police sergeant were all implicated in sending and receiving racist emails, including one that compared President Barack Obama to a monkey.

Protester Brittany Ferrell hoists a bullhorn as her daughter hugs her in a scene from ‘Whose Streets?’

Courtesy of Magnolia Pictures

And yet here was Wilson telling a national television audience that racism was anathema to policing.

Whose Streets? arrives in theaters Aug. 11, marking the third anniversary of Brown’s death (Aug. 9, 2014) and the uprisings that followed it. It’s a deeply moving work, and the passion of both the filmmakers and their subjects is palpable. “FYI I was literally homeless throughout the first year of production. Worked as a canvasser and put money back into the film,” Folayan, an activist, theater geek and former advocate for prisoners at Rikers Island, tweeted recently. Davis is an interdisciplinary artist whose work is currently featured in the permanent collection at the Blacksonian (aka, the National Museum of African American History and Culture).

The focus of Whose Streets? is the residents of Ferguson and St. Louis who keep marching and screaming for justice till they’re hoarse, who keep agitating long after the national media has turned its attention elsewhere. It establishes the movement for black lives in Ferguson as one driven by young people such as rapper Tef Poe, who are fed up with being targeted by police, and others like organizer Brittany Ferrell and her partner, Alexis Templeton, as well as Copwatch recruiter David Whitt, who want better for their children.

Whose Streets? is likely to serve as a counterweight to Detroit, the new Kathryn Bigelow film about the 1967 Detroit riots and the police murder of three unarmed black people at the Algiers Hotel. It’s not necessarily fair to compare narrative films like Detroit to documentaries, but there’s a similarity in the dynamic between the two that existed with Nina and What Happened, Miss Simone? Both Whose Streets? and What Happened, Miss Simone? end up correcting, or at least augmenting, the record of ahistorical narrative films that struggle with details in which race is central.

Nina made the mistake of casting Zoe Saldana as Simone, then putting her in makeup to darken her skin and prosthetics to make her facial features more closely resemble Simone’s. Detroit fails to imbue its characters with any depth or humanity and devolves into a slog of racist white police officers terrorizing a group of people in the Algiers.

Bigelow’s herky-jerky camerawork and editing in Detroit deliberately create a sense of chaos. Whose Streets?, by contrast, presents real footage of Ferguson buildings in flames after Brown’s death, but the overall effect is far more nuanced. It’s much easier to get a sense of what happened in Ferguson as pockets of violence and property damage pockmarked peaceful, if emotional, protests. Whose Streets? refuses to equate property damage with the loss of human life.

Folayan and Davis offer a potent work of media criticism too. Folayan and Davis communicate just how much cable news, by repeatedly and selectively broadcasting the most violent, hectic footage, was responsible for making Ferguson seem like a war zone whose residents were animalistic and out of control. That narrative was furthered by a distant, largely white media corps accepting police reports as gospel. Whose Streets? challenges that by juxtaposing footage of Ferrell and her cohorts protesting to shut down a highway in Missouri with the official police account of what happened, in which the arresting officer accused Ferrell of yelling out “tribal chants.”

For a moment, we also see what it means to send black journalists into a situation like Ferguson, where police in tanks and armored vehicles are shooting rubber bullets, smoke grenades and tear gas (a chemical agent that the Geneva Convention prohibits in warfare) at the city’s black residents. There’s a clip of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Ernie Suggs walking through Ferguson at night with his hands above his head as police bark orders at black protesters. The police draw no distinction. He’s black, so he might as well be one of them.

Brittany Ferrell leads a line of protesters as they face off with police in ‘Whose Streets?’

Courtesy of Magnolia Pictures

The film gives voice to a community that’s reeling, mournful and frustrated. It has little faith in a government that’s failed it repeatedly. Spliced with footage of white public officials delivering statements that are often canned and worded to avoid legal liability, Whose Streets? brings the idea of two Americas, and two wholly different realities, to life. “Question normal,” it demands of its audience.

Despite the gravity of its subject matter, Whose Streets? has moments of dark levity. One interview follows a clip of President Obama giving a statement about Brown in his trademark style of measured reason.

“I’m waiting on me to have a black president. I still ain’t had me one,” a Ferguson resident named Tory says. “Wasn’t he a constitutional professor? Ain’t no constitution in Ferguson. Tell that n—- he need to teach a new class or bring his a– to Ferguson … and figure out why we ain’t got no constitution.”

Whose Streets? is understandably close in spirit to The Hate U Give, the best-selling young adult novel by Angie Thomas published earlier this year. The Hate U Give is told from the perspective of a teenage girl who is the sole witness as her unarmed best friend is shot and killed by a white police officer. The book, which is heavily influenced by Ferguson, is slated for a film adaptation starring Amandla Stenberg, Regina Hall, Russell Hornsby and Lamar Johnson. It’s early days yet, but I suspect that the film version of The Hate U Give and Whose Streets? will serve as cinematic bookends to understanding what black people went through in Ferguson before and after Brown’s death.

The documentary ends on a hopeful note, but no one in Whose Streets? is a Pollyanna, least of all Ferrell. She’s open about the fact that she’s taking prescription medication to treat anxiety and says she’s not sure the justice she and her partner are seeking will come in their lifetimes. They’re counting on another generation of troublemakers and revolutionaries to carry on. They’re raising one in their elementary-school-aged daughter McKenzie, seen in the film with her mothers leading a crowd and screaming as loud as she can, “WE HAVE NOTHING TO LOSE BUT OUR CHAINS!”

What if it wasn’t all a Dream (Team)? Five 1992 Olympic what-if scenarios — 25 years later Dominique Wilkins’ injury, Jordan sticking to his word and Shaq over Laettner. What if?

Want to feel nostalgic? Great. Better yet, want to feel old? Twenty-five years ago today, the 1992 U.S. men’s basketball team won Olympic gold. Canonized as “The Dream Team,” the squad curb-stomped an entire world of competition, and its international impact is eternal.

The Dream Team opened the NBA’s door into China — and the world’s love affair with the game of basketball. Their Olympic tuneups weren’t as much games as they were red carpet ceremonies as they laughed, galloped and, in Toni Kukoc’s case, smothered the life out of opponents, beating them by 44.3 points per game — second only to the 53.2-point margin of the 1956 squad anchored by Bill Russell. The Dream Team’s song is one to which the entire world knows the lyrics — thanks to the documentaries, features and books in the quarter-century since their summer excursion. But even a crew with some of the game’s most iconic names — Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird — isn’t immune to the “what if” game. It makes for a psychedelic voyage into a parallel universe.

What if Team USA had taken gold in the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, South Korea?

This is, by far, the most important question involving The Dream Team. America winning bronze in the ’88 Games was a watershed moment. The Soviet Union defeated the United States 82-76 in the semifinals (there’s a Russia/America-beating-us-at-our-own-game joke that will not be told right now). Up until 1988, only collegiate players were allowed in Olympic play. That talk soon shifted. “Personally, I would like more of a chance to compete,” Team USA and then-Georgetown head coach John Thompson said. “I’m also an advocate of professionals playing in the Olympics.”

Not everyone was for the change. Bill Wall, executive director of the United States Amateur Basketball Association, touched on philosophical issues: “Do you want to watch the best players beat everyone else?” It turns out the answer was a resounding yes. In Munich, on April 7, 1989, FIBA voted 56-13 to allow pro players to participate.

Many, like Boris Stankovic, FIBA’s secretary general, saw it as Olympic basketball’s “triumphant entry into the 21st century.” Stankovic was a chief proponent of allowing NBA players access, as they were the only professionals barred worldwide. One of its most vocal critics, however, turned out to be the United States Amateur Basketball Association, which took the stance that pro players’ involvement eliminated its opportunity to participate.

So, did America’s bronze medal showing in the ’88 Games lead directly to the introduction of NBA players? Perhaps not 100 percent, but it undeniably aided a process already in motion. Put it this way: If anything defines Big Sean’s Last night I took an L, but tonight I bounce back, it’s Team USA basketball 1988-92. It’s also fair to say that if America had won gold in 1988, the push for NBA stars may never have happened.

NBA players in the Olympics are the norm these days, but in the immediate aftermath of the decision, the desire to play was slightly better than 50-50. Superstars such as Isiah Thomas, Magic Johnson and Karl Malone didn’t hide their excitement. “[I’d] go in a heartbeat and pay my own ticket,” Malone said. But a 1989 poll revealed only 58 percent of NBA players would play if afforded the opportunity. The biggest one to say no? Jordan. Which brings us to the next point …

What if Michael Jordan had stuck to his word and not played in the 1992 Olympics?

Let’s get the elephant out of the room. The Isiah Thomas/Jordan factor was a real issue — a beef with origins in the 1985 All-Star Game, known in hoops circles as the “freeze-out game.” How do we know Jordan didn’t want anything to do with Thomas as a teammate? He said it himself. “That was one of the stipulations put to me [on the team] — that Isiah wasn’t part of the team,” he said in a 2012 Dream Team documentary. The Thomas exclusion remains a thrilling subplot of ’90s basketball because of how the selection committee did whatever it had to do to get Jordan while sacrificing Thomas.

The Detroit Pistons’ floor general wasn’t one of the first 10 players selected. The Olympic selection committee began choosing players shortly after the 1991 playoffs ended. It was in those same playoffs that the Pistons, swept by Jordan and the Chicago Bulls in the Eastern Conference finals, infamously walked off the court before time expired in Game 4. Thomas was seen as the linchpin in one of the most infamous examples of pettiness in sports history. But even with Thomas on the outside looking in, Jordan still wasn’t a lock. Peep the timeline:

April 1989 Jordan says he’s not interested in playing in the Olympics again (he won gold in 1984). The thought of giving up another summer didn’t appeal to him.

May 1991 In one of the more revealing yet often forgotten interviews of his career, the ’91 MVP once again states his hesitation to Pat Riley. The season was long enough, and adding the Olympics would only shorten recovery time. But he doesn’t slam the casket shut either. “The only reason that I would wanna go is,” he says, only semi-joking, “if we feel that we certainly can’t win with the team we put out there.”

“Do you want to watch the best players beat everyone else?” It turns out the answer was a resounding yes.

July 30, 1991 — Agent David Falk denies that both of his clients, Jordan and Patrick Ewing, are undecided about what to do the next summer.

Aug. 1, 1991 — Playing in his first competitive golf tournament at the Western Amateur in Benton Harbor, Michigan, Jordan seemingly deadens any hope of Olympic dreams. “There are a lot of professionals who want to play and, being that there are a lot of professionals that haven’t played — and I’ve played — I don’t mind giving the other guys an opportunity,” he says. “Right now it’s a closed door for me.” For the golf aficionados wondering, he shot an 85 that day.

Aug. 10, 1991 — “I’m working on him,” Magic Johnson says. “I even told him I’d give him a million dollars if he’d do it. But so far he hasn’t changed his mind.”

Aug. 25, 1991 — Few remember the attacks on Jordan’s patriotism because of his reluctance to play in the Olympics. Three weeks after his statement about sitting out, Jordan reconsiders, promising to make the decision in a few days but saying it would be his and his alone. “Not one forced on me by what somebody else says or wants,” he said.

Sept. 4, 1991 — Thomas says if he’s not invited to the ’92 Games later that month he will not blame Jordan. “While I cannot speak for Michael,” Thomas says, “I can say that such a feud does not exist.”

Sept. 24, 1991 — The selection committee releases the names of 10 players invited to form the 1992 Olympic men’s basketball team: Charles Barkley, Larry Bird, Ewing, Johnson, Malone, Chris Mullin, Scottie Pippen, David Robinson, John Stockton and, yes, Jordan. Jack McCloskey resigned from the selection committee over Thomas’ snub, calling the omission “ridiculous.” As for Jordan’s response? “If I had anything to do with the selection, I would’ve selected my mother and my sister. I didn’t have anything to do with it.” Riiiight.

March 18, 1992 — By now, Jordan is openly stating he wants to play. But not until the money ceases looking funny. Jordan’s camp was unhappy about marketing rights — in particular, the official Olympic T-shirt that bore semblances of all team members. He had no issue with USA Basketball, a nonprofit organization, making money. He did, however, have beef with the NBA making coin. It was a subtle but undeniable example of what The New York Times at the time called a “deteriorating relationship with the NBA over the issue.” Jordan was adamant that money wasn’t the motivation for holding out. However, “This is a business,” he says. “This is what happens when you let professional players in.”

March 20, 1992 — Turns out that headache lasts only 48 hours. Jordan’s agent, David Falk, confirms that a compromise will be reached, and Jordan will be in Barcelona, Spain, that summer. USA Basketball had secured the face it so desperately coveted. Without Jordan, Team USA likely still wins gold. But it begs the question, is the NBA the global international force it is now if Jordan stayed stateside in the summer of 1992?

What if Shaquille O’Neal had been chosen over Christian Laettner as the Dream Team’s college player?

Love him or hate him — and many did both — Laettner’s star power was undeniable heading into the Summer Games. His resume at Duke was drunk with achievement: back-to-back national championships in ’91 and ’92, a three-time All-American, Final Four MVP and National Player of the Year in ’92. Combine all that with one of the most iconic plays in college basketball history, and Laettner’s stock was sky-high. Surrounded by elite talent that trumped his, it’s beyond understandable why he barely got much tick in the ’92 Games. That said, if you ever want to win a bar bet, ask who averaged the fewest points on the Dream Team. Chances are most will say Laettner (4.8), who went on to have a solid NBA career, averaging 12.8 points and 6.7 rebounds over 13 seasons. The correct answer, though, is Stockton (2.8), as the future Hall of Famer missed the first four games with a broken leg.

“I’m working on him,” Magic Johnson said. “I even told him I’d give him a million dollars if he’d do it.”

But let’s keep it a buck. This is Shaq we’re talking about. In 1992, the feeling was post-up centers would have difficulties in the trapezoid-shaped lane of the international game. Hindsight is 20/20, but it’s violent to envision what a 20-year-old O’Neal would have done to the likes of Angola or Germany. Seriously, picture this: Johnson leading the break, with Jordan and Pippen on the wings and a young, nimble 20-year-old O’Neal as the trailer:

It’s fun to imagine young O’Neal running fast breaks in Barcelona, because we already know how destructively poetic young O’Neal was running fast breaks in Orlando with Penny Hardaway. O’Neal would later receive his own gold medal at the ’96 Olympics in Atlanta, but the four-time NBA champion didn’t like his ’92 omission. “I was pissed off. I was jealous,” O’Neal said in 2012. “But then I had to come to the realization that I was a more explosive, more powerful player. Laettner was a little bit more fundamentally sound than I was.”

What if Dominique Wilkins never ruptured his Achilles?

The Original ATLien was one of the more entertaining and beloved players in the ’80s and into the ’90s. His 47 points in Game 7 in Boston Garden vs. Larry Bird and the Celtics in 1988 remains one of the all-time great playoff performances (despite being in a loss). He won two dunk contests, in 1985 and 1990. Even Jordan admits Wilkins was robbed in 1988 when he lost in Chicago. “I probably would’ve given it to [Dominique],” Jordan said years later. “But being that it was on my turf, it wasn’t meant to be.”

Wilkins is also one of five non-centers in NBA history to average at least 26 points for a decade — the other four being Jerry West, Jordan, Allen Iverson and LeBron James. In layman’s terms, Wilkins was that deal. The issue with Wilkins’ legacy, however, is what plagues Chris Paul today — his teams never advanced past the second round. But by the start of 1992, there seemed to be momentum building for Wilkins to become the 11th professional player to be added to the Dream Team. Unfortunately, Wilkins ruptured his Achilles tendon against the Philadelphia 76ers in January 1992, ending his season and whatever shot he had at making the Olympic squad. At the time of his injury, he was putting up 28.1 points per night.

How the story played out: Portland’s Clyde Drexler was announced as the final NBA player to make the squad in May 1992. Wilkins eventually played on the second iteration of the Dream Team two years later, a dominant squad in its own right. But we’re all left to wonder how differently Wilkins’ Hall of Fame career might have been remembered. What an acrobatic light show the fast break of Johnson, Jordan and “The Human Highlight Reel” would’ve produced in Barcelona! It’s the second time we missed out on a Magic and Dominique tag team — the Los Angeles Lakers had the chance to select Wilkins No. 1 overall in the 1982 draft, opting instead for James Worthy (a selection that worked out extremely well for the Lakers in the ’80s).

What if Magic Johnson had been unable to play?

For context, only 263 days had passed between Johnson’s announcement that he had HIV (Nov. 7, 1991) and Team USA’s first Olympic game (July 26, 1992). In the immediate aftermath of his announcement, America began to emotionally distance itself from Johnson. Advertisers and marketing agencies ceased using him in their campaigns. How sick was he? Would he wither away in front of our eyes? And should he even be allowed to play basketball? The debate became one of the most polarizing of its day.

“If Magic Johnson is prohibited from participating in the Olympics,” a New York Times response to the editor ran in February 1992, “then the accepted risk factor for all sports should be re-evaluated.”

“Americans have always regarded our Olympic athletes as role models for our boys and girls, which Magic is not,” another stated. “Let him use his energies and money setting up a trust fund of a few million dollars to pay the medical bills of the women he may have infected.”

On Feb. 3, 1992, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) ruled that athletes with HIV were eligible to participate. Later that same week, Johnson not only participated in the NBA All-Star Game in Orlando, Florida, but he also took home MVP honors with 25 points, nine assists and a spine-tingling 3-pointer that has since transcended sports. Johnson, of course, went on to become one of the faces of The Dream Team and a beloved executive, broadcaster and ambassador of the league.

But what if history were different, and the IOC had ruled differently? Not only would that have been tragically inhumane, but athletes with HIV being ruled ineligible means no Magic Johnson. No Magic Johnson means no Larry Bird and no Michael Jordan. No Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and Michael Jordan means no Dream Team. One decision quite literally changed the world.

LeBron James wants to beat up Kyrie Irving and other news of the week The Week That Was July 24 – 28

Monday 07.24.17

President Donald Trump, when asked about his thoughts on health care reform, told a female reporter to be “quiet.” President Ron Burgundy Trump later read from a teleprompter that the Affordable Care Act has wreaked havoc over “the last 17 years.” The internet was still upset that Olympic gold medalist swimmer Michael Phelps wasn’t eaten by a shark. Former Fox News host Bill O’Reilly, who once said slain 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was killed because he dressed like a “gangsta,” said 36-year-old Jared Kushner “looks like a high school senior.” In Georgia news, a small airplane modeled to look like a Nazi Germany aircraft, complete with a swastika on the tail, landed on a state highway; the plane’s pilot said the Nazi design was “just for fun.” 2 Fast 2 Furious director John Singleton, not known for bad decisions, said there’s nothing wrong with singer R. Kelly keeping a sex cult because the occupants are “adult women.” Boston Red Sox pitcher David Price cursed out an old man last month because the 62-year-old, Hall of Fame pitcher Dennis Eckersley, said, “Yuck.” If Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James were to come face-to-face with teammate Kyrie Irving, he’d reportedly be tempted to “beat his ass.”

Tuesday 07.25.17

James booed the report. The environment is in such trouble that even holy water has been shut off by the Vatican. A New York City barber who posted on social media that “N—-s taking shots can’t stop me” was fatally shot in the head. Former House Speaker John Boehner, who once held a meaningless vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act just so freshman lawmakers could vote on it, said Republicans will never replace the health care law. Tech CEOs Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg are currently beefing over whether or not robots will eventually kill humans. Energy Secretary Rick Perry was tricked into talking about “pig manure as a power source” with a Russian (of course) man posing as Ukrainian Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman. Twin sisters from Australia, who’ve spent over $200,000 on plastic surgery to look more alike, want to get pregnant by their shared boyfriend at the same time. Chicago officials are trying to control their rat problem by making the rodents infertile. Former Dallas Cowboys receiver Lucky Whitehead was cut from the team a day before police realized they had the “wrong guy.” Former Denver Broncos coach Gary Kubiak, who once almost died on the job, is returning to the Broncos. Former NFL quarterback Michael Vick got a job before Colin Kaepernick. A Michigan man suing Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green for allegedly hitting him in the face last summer said, “I still feel his hand on my jaw.” A retired NFL player is suing Attorney General Jeff Sessions over weed.

Wednesday 07.26.17

The Defense Department, responsible for national security and the military, was caught off guard by a Trump tweet invoking national security and the military. Meanwhile, the U.S. armed forces spend at least 10 times as much on erectile dysfunction pills as they do on gender-transition-related medical treatment. A Michigan man was sentenced to two years of probation for wrapping a cat in duct tape; a person at the man’s home said the tape was used to stop the cat from itching. A self-described journalist and comedian created a list of places where Ohio residents and Cavs fans could burn the jersey of Irving. Arthur Lambright, the former boyfriend of the mother of LeBron James and best known as “Da Real Lambo,” has sided with Irving in the two teammates’ dispute. Green Bay Packers tight end Martellus Bennett, realizing he’s the “only black person in this scary movie,” was worried about ghosts while sleeping in front of his locker room. Future emergency room admittees are now playing “soap hockey.” Atlanta Falcons receiver Julio Jones, putting his $71.25 million contract to good use, paid a dive team to retrieve a $100,000 earring he lost while Jet Skiing. NCAA investigators were shocked to learn that black men get their hair cut more than once a month.

Thursday 07.27.17

Sessions, the president’s proverbial punching bag the past week, said Trump’s criticism is “kind of hurtful.” A New Jersey man was arrested after being accused of not paying nearly $88,000 in tolls. The Washington Nationals hit the most home runs in one inning in MLB history, but all attention was paid to a pigeon that made its way on the field. LaVar Ball is telling women to stay in their lanes again. A market research study found that 26 percent of NFL fans who watched less football last season did so because of national anthem protests; that percentage, though, represented roughly 287 people. Kid Rock finally stopped lying about running for U.S. Senate. Instead of signing Kaepernick, who’s been to the Super Bowl, the Baltimore Ravens signed arena league quarterback David Olson. Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith received $2 million just for showing up to work. White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci, who earlier in the day accused chief of staff Reince Priebus of feloniously “leaking” the Mooch’s financial disclosure form, called Priebus a “a f—ing paranoid schizophrenic, a paranoiac” and alleged that chief strategist Steve Bannon engages in autofellatio. Houston Rockets guard and 2017 MVP runner-up James Harden reportedly had his jersey retired at a Houston strip club.

Friday 07.28.17

Republican lawmakers failed (again) to repeal and/or replace the Affordable Care Act. A New York City couple jumped to their deaths because “both have medical issues, we just can’t afford the health care.” The hosts of Fox & Friends, critical of “Obamacare,” unwittingly discovered the core definition of health insurance, stating that “the healthy people are paying for the sick people.” Some guy has already announced his plans to run for president in 2020. Trump, an avid Liam Neeson fan, told undocumented immigrants, “We will find you. We will arrest you. We will jail you, and we will deport you.” The NFL, purportedly serious about brain research, meddled its way out of paying $16 million to the National Institutes of Health. The Tennessee Titans released guard Sebastian Tretola five days after he was shot.

The air up there: Five black men jump out of a plane in Baltimore A skydiving tale of conquering fear and forging a brotherhood at 13,000 feet

I gather my senses, and a weird sense of calm overtakes me. My eyes water up. Everything whips past at speeds that feel closer to breaking the sound barrier than anything I’ve ever experienced. Wind crashes against my face at 130 mph. It’s impossible to hear. Feeling completely defenseless makes me alive in a way I have never experienced. Makes me alive in a way I never knew existed.


The opening triplet of Young Jeezy’s 2005 zenith Let’s Get It: Thug Motivation 101: “Thug Motivation 101,” “Standing Ovation” and “Gangsta Music.” When it fails to elicit a reaction, there’s cause for concern. But when Meek Mill’s 2012 “Dreams & Nightmares” doesn’t do the trick, we all quietly panic.

Hold on, wait a minute / Y’all thought I was finished?/ When I bought that Aston Martin / Y’all thought it was rented …

“Turn that down for a second,” George says from the back seat.

There are five of us. Me, Trevon (Tre), Chris (whom we all call Mayo) and Derek (who met us at the spot). We were all there for George, who is getting married in Atlanta in November and wants to cross an item off his “living list.” He hates the term “bucket list.”

“That sounds too much like death,” he told me an hour before, outside Tre’s parents’ house in Bowie, Maryland. He was scarfing down a bowl from Chipotle. “Let’s do everything we wanna do while we’re here. It makes for a better life story.”

But now, as Tre’s 2011 Nissan Maxima — “The Swain Train,” as we dubbed it — turns into the gravel driveway of Skydive Baltimore in Mitchellville, Maryland, it hits us. The driveway leads to an open field with parked cars, a mini-warehouse and planes. “I done did the DOAs / I done did the KODs,” Meek raps, with the volume nearly on mute. “Every time I’m in that b—- / I get to throwin’ 30 G’s …

We are on the cusp of embarking on the most extreme sport on the planet. The five of us are about to jump out of a plane.

July 16, 2017. For months, it seemed nothing more than a fictional date. It would never get here. And even if it did, the weather wouldn’t cooperate. A pipe dream would be left as just that.

But what was a group chat idea in April spawned into May reality as we all watched blowout after blowout during the NBA playoffs. When Derek got the ball rolling by copping his Groupon ticket first, the stage was set. Talking about it was cool, but being about it was a totally different monster. Weeks went by. Eventually a quintet took shape.

“Damn, we’re pretty high up. This it?”

Derek, Tre, George and I all went to Hampton together. Mayo is Tre’s oldest friend, from high school. We asked other friends, men and women, if they were down. Some initially committed but backed out for scheduling reasons. One friend asked, “Why the f— would I wanna jump out of a perfectly good plane?” Silently, it’s what we’d all asked ourselves.

In the weeks leading up to July 16, a brotherhood — we call it #FlightTeam — formed. What else would you call five people crazy enough to jump out of a plane? We’re all either in our early 30s or, in Tre’s case, months away from the landmark birthdate. We’re blessed with jobs in which we’re excelling. Some of us are in committed relationships. Life just feels good. And we wanted to try something new — something we’d remember for the rest of our lives. It was about seeking a thrill, but it was more about breaking the status quo. It’s hard to find statistics about black people who skydive. We knew of friends and acquaintances who’ve done it, but for the most part, what statistics wouldn’t tell us, the reactions we got when we told folks surely did.

“ ‘Brother, black people don’t do that,’ ” is what the author Touré playfully recalled a group of black men telling him before his 2007 jump. “I was breaking the rules of blackness as they saw it.”

ESPN Video Player

“Skydiving?” Brian, a bartender at my local bar quizzed me. “Man, y’all n—–s wilding, for real. If you come back, at least I know you didn’t die.” He then proceeded to show me a video another customer at the bar pulled up on her phone of a woman slipping out of her harness.

“Well, you only live once, I guess,” Ryan, a childhood friend, said to me via text. He’s currently serving overseas in the military, and even he thought the idea was asinine.

“Y’all like the only black people I know personally … crazy enough to do this,” Mayo said with a laugh when he agreed to go. “Or the dumbest. But I’m with y’all, so what’s that make me?”

The peculiar truth about skydiving is there are two types of first-timers: those who research everything they can on the internet and those who go in blind. For myself — a reporter, writer and naturally inquisitive person — it was the former. There are the horror stories. There’s video of President George H.W. Bush jumping for his 90th birthday. The most impactful to me, however, is Will Smith describing his first skydive, in 2013 in Dubai. It spoke to a lesson far larger than that of jumping from a plane.

The tutorial? Literally the instructor telling you what and what not to do.

Fear, in a lot of ways, is death in breathing form. A byproduct of living in the world, fear is the reason so many wake up years later saying, “I wish I would have,” instead of “I’m glad I did.” Combating fear is why The Fresh Prince went skydiving. Anticipation is usually worse than the event itself. “You realize at the point of maximum danger,” Smith said, “is the point of minimum fear.”

Skydiving is actually quite safe. Just last year, the United States Parachute Association recorded 21 skydiving deaths out of approximately 3.2 million jumps — one death per 153,557 jumps. The number shrinks with tandem skydiving (with the instructor strapped on your back), with one student death per 500,000 jumps over the past decade. Since 2000, 413 skydiving deaths have been reported out of 48.6 million jumps. The fatality rate was 0.00085 percent. A person is far more likely to die from being struck by lightning or stung by a bee.

If we were going to die doing this, we had the worst luck known to man. Or it was just our time to go. We were cool with those odds. More importantly, though, none of us wanted to back out on our word.


Telling your mom you’re about to jump out of a plane is almost as much of a rush as jumping out of the plane itself. “Ma,” I said the night of July 15. “I wasn’t gonna tell you, but LaToya said I probably should.”

“Justin, what? Is she OK? Is she getting married? I can’t lose out on a potential daughter-in-law. Are you in trouble? Boy, I told you don’t go messing up this good job!”

“Huh? What? No! I’m skydiving tomorrow. I’ll be fine. Trust me.”

“Going by yourself?”

“It’s like four of my boys going with me. Tre’s going.”

“I mean, are you jumping out by yourself?”

“Hell, nah! I might pass out. I need someone to pull the cord.”

“OK, fine. Call me when you get on the ground. We ain’t telling your grandma until you get back on the ground, though.”

In the car, we swap stories about telling our loved ones. In George’s words, he had to get his “affairs in order.” We’re an hour away from doing something we never really believed would happen, and we’re laughing. It’s these small moments that define a brotherhood. The order of jumping is finalized. I demand to go first (if you’re considering doing this, jump first, because watching your friends get vacuumed out of an airplane is a haze of monumental proportions). We crack jokes on each other. We predict what we’ll say as we jump.

“I’m definitely yelling ‘Free Ghost!’ ” I say, alluding to this season of the Starz series Power.

“Maybe I’ll yell out, ‘It took four All-stars to beat LeBron in the Finals,’ ” Tre says moments later.

The mileage on the GPS slowly trickles away. The weather is sarcastically perfect — as if Mother Nature is telling us, “Y’all ain’t blaming me. You’re jumping out that damn plane.” The wardrobe: Fatigue shorts, Nike Air Max and a black tee with, in hindsight, a fitting lyric from Future and Drake’s 2016 loosie “Used To This”: Beat the odds/ Do numbers/ And remain humble.

The moment was at our fingertips. The five of us knew we’d leave this field as different people. First, the paperwork. “Basically, you’re signing your life away,” Derek said. “You either sign it and jump, or don’t sign it and don’t jump. Either way, they’ve already gotten your money.”

Speaking of dead presidents, we all paid $125 for the “media” package that came with 200-plus pictures and video of the experience. Then came the wait. This was the worst. Groups in front of us went up in planes, jumped and parachuted to the ground. They resembled giant, colorful snowflakes. We all stood and watched, occasionally placing videos on Snapchat, as well as Instagram stories. The jumpers were all supportive and energetic, the consensus being, “You’ll thank yourself for doing it while you’re in the air.” As we expected, we were the only group of black people jumping together, although two people came after us — but one stayed on the ground and worked on his laptop as his daughter got set to skydive. Then came the moment three months in the making.

Trevon, George, Chris, Justin and Derek, come to the front.

Immediately, we all realize there isn’t a “class” we’ll take beforehand. The tutorial? It’s the instructor telling you what and what not to do. Within 10 minutes, we are strapped in harnesses and later to our instructors on the seatless plane — which holds 10 people at the most. My queasiness, which had been faint 30 minutes before, increases in severity the higher the plane climbs. There’s no backing out. We are at the point of no return.

Talking about it was cool, but being about it was a totally different monster.

“Damn, we’re pretty high up. This it?” I ask, looking out the window.

“Nah, bro,” says Mike the instructor nonchalantly. He’s on his 11th and final jump of the day. “We’re about halfway there.”

The Maryland terrain now resembles a Google map. I look around the plane, attempting to gauge the collective mindstate. Mayo is quiet. Derek doesn’t seem too much bothered. George is at peace in the back of the plane. But Tre? Tre, he has What the entire f— did I get myself into? written all over his face.

The door opens. It’s a passage to the rest of our lives. That’s another aspect you’re not truly prepared for: seeing a door open on a plane and clouds breezing by underneath. Mike inches us closer to the edge. He asks me if I prefer a straight plunge or to backflip out. Not that it matters, as I was kind of seated in the doorway and my legs were already dangling out.

It’s at this point where a person simultaneously feels heaven, hell, life and death. It’s a high, the greatest sex, the greatest weed … the greatest anything, really, could never replicate (OK, well, never is pushing it). But, true to form, “Free Ghost!” were my last coherent words.

As quickly as the free fall begins, though, it’s over. The parachute deploys. Whipping wind gives way to an eerie silence as I float toward the launchpad. You see how big the world is. And how small you are. You realize how peaceful the moment is. How the freedom of that exact moment surpasses the trepidation of the months, weeks, days and hours before. Skydiving made no sense at all until it made all the sense. I was temporarily suspended in air and left to my own thoughts. The air up there isn’t the enemy. It’s the ground where the problems lie.

The entire experience is over in five minutes. I was back on the ground quicker than it took to get in the air. Tre, Derek, Mayo and George are soon behind. The ride-back recap session was legendary. Viewing our videos, we saw the same experience from each other’s point of view. Over a week later, the five of us still laugh about the moment that brought us together and put us face to face with our own mortality. It’s a feat we’ll take with us to homecomings, weddings, baby showers and certainly George’s wedding later this year.

“A week later and it’s still a trip,” Tre says with a laugh. “[I just keep thinking], did we really do that?”

A thought populated my mind that night after the jump, as I boarded a flight to Boston. It was a piece from Jay-Z’s 2009 “Forever Young.” It spoke to not only what we five had just done, but succinctly about conquering fear.

Fear not when, fear not why / Fear not much while we’re alive/ Life is for living, not living uptight / Till you’re somewhere up in the sky …

Jay-Z inadvertently reminded me of something George had said. His words applied to life, personally and professionally. It applied to taking the great risks to produce the great rewards we all seek in life. “When I realized I could die,” said the groom-to-be, “that’s when I started living.”

The 30 best NBA throwback jerseys ever Nike will release classic uniforms for eight teams this year, but we’re doing the whole league

The NBA just got some new swag. After 11 years with Adidas as its official apparel provider, the league is now with Nike. The partnership that makes Nike the NBA’s exclusive on-court uniform and apparel supplier as of Oct. 1 was originally announced in June 2015. Nike recently revealed a first-glance look at the league’s new uniforms earlier this week.

For the first time in history, the logo of an apparel partner will appear on the NBA’s uniforms, which Nike crafted using Alpha Yarns and recycled plastic bottles. How does that translate? Compared with Adidas’ current product, the Nike uniforms are more flexible, dry 30 percent faster and also feature larger armholes and a reshaped collar. Nike has even re-envisioned uniform designation by eliminating the traditional concept of “home” and “away” jerseys. With four options to choose from at the beginning of the season, each NBA team will select the jersey it will wear at all home games for the entire year, while visiting teams will decide on a contrasting uniform. This means teams won’t be restricted to wearing white at home.

Lastly, yet most importantly to the culture, Nike will provide eight teams with “Classic Edition” uniforms — aka throwback jerseys, set to be unveiled in October — to celebrate the most memorable on-court looks of the past.

But why do just eight? The NBA’s other 22 teams deserve throwbacks too. So, which oldie-but-goodie jerseys would we like to see each team wear during the 2017-18 season? Man, there are a lot to choose from, and The Undefeated is here to throw it all the way back — to the times of Afros, short shorts, O.G. franchises and now-legendary hoopers — with the best throwback jerseys for all 30 NBA teams.

EASTERN CONFERENCE

Atlanta Hawks

Dikembe Mutombo (No. 55) of the Atlanta Hawks looks on against the Golden State Warriors on Feb. 4, 1997, at San Jose Arena in San Jose, California.

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Dikembe Mutombo, 1997

*Wags finger* “No, no, no,” as Hall of Fame big man Dikembe Mutombo would say — there is no jersey in Atlanta Hawks history that’s better than this red, black and yellow edition from the ’90s that features a hawk clutching a ball in its talons. In 2016, the Hawks retired Mutombo’s No. 55. Hope this one is in the rafters.

Boston Celtics

Bill Russell (No. 6) of the Boston Celtics moves the ball up court during a game played in 1967 at the Boston Garden in Boston.

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Bill Russell, 1967

The Boston Celtics’ jerseys have barely changed in the 71-year history of the franchise. Same colors. Same font and lettering. Same classic feel. However, back in the days of Boston legend Bill Russell, Celtics players didn’t have names on the backs of their jerseys. So, if you ever see Isaiah Thomas with just his No. 4 behind him, you’ll know Boston is going retro.

Brooklyn Nets

Julius Erving (No. 32) of the New York Nets looks on against the Boston Celtics during a game played circa 1975 at the Boston Garden in Boston.

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Julius Erving, 1975

The Brooklyn Nets were once the American Basketball Association’s New York Nets. This was when Julius Erving, a three-time ABA MVP, was at the peak of his powers — and so was his beautiful Afro — and wearing the iconic American flag-themed uniforms. A cartoon version of Erving, donning the same jersey and glorious ’fro, appeared on the 2003 video game NBA Street Vol. 2.

Charlotte Hornets

Larry Johnson (No. 2) high-fives teammate Muggsy Bogues (No. 1) of the Charlotte Hornets during a game against the New Jersey Nets played circa 1991 at Brendan Byrne Arena in East Rutherford, New Jersey.

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Larry Johnson and Muggsy Bogues, 1991

From 1988 to 2002, before the franchise relocated to New Orleans, the Charlotte Hornets were a force in style. It’s hard not to reminisce about strongman Larry Johnson, 5-foot-3 point guard Muggsy Bogues, a young Alonzo Mourning and Steph’s sharpshooting pops Dell Curry in their white, teal and purple pinstriped uniforms. After a two-year layoff without a pro hoops team in the city, the NBA established the Charlotte Bobcats as an expansion team in 2004. The Bobcats wore less-than-memorable blue, orange and white uniforms for 10 years before the team got its Hornets name and colors back from New Orleans in 2014. Atop franchise majority owner Michael Jordan’s to-do list should be finessing Nike into bringing back these classic uniforms. With the Jordan Brand Jumpman logo on the jerseys, of course.

Chicago Bulls

Michael Jordan (No. 23) of the Chicago Bulls stands on the court moves the ball at the perimeter against the Los Angeles Clippers at the Sports Arena in Los Angeles.

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Michael Jordan, 1984

Nothing says rookie-year Michael Jordan more than the images from the 1985 dunk contest, in which the then-21-year-old version of the greatest of all time took flight, with his gold chains swinging in the breeze, while he wore a red Bulls jersey with “Chicago” in slanted cursive. This is no question the best Bulls jersey of all time. You know who would wear it with some swag? Jimmy Butler. Actually, never mind.

Cleveland Cavaliers

Terrell Brandon (No. 1) of the Cleveland Cavaliers reacts against the Sacramento Kings during a game played on March 11, 1997, at Arco Arena in Sacramento, California.

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Terrell Brandon, 1997

Even doper than these late ’90s alternate Cleveland Cavaliers uniforms in black, blue, orange and white (which are much sleeker colors than the Cavs’ wine and gold) are the team’s warm-ups, featuring a ball swishing through a hoop on the backs. LeBron James would look too tough in these during his final season in Cleveland. Just kidding. Kind of.

Detroit Pistons

Grant Hill of the Detroit Pistons moves the ball during the game against the Houston Rockets on Feb. 15, 2000, at Compaq Center in Houston.

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Grant Hill, 2000

In the summer of 1996, the Detroit Pistons revamped their uniforms, changing their colors from red, white and blue to teal, black, yellow and red. They also introduced one of the fiercest logos in league history. The new design takes the engine part after which the team is named, a piston, and plays off the concept of a car’s horsepower by incorporating a stallion with a flaming mane. To add to the flair, the S’s in “PISTONS” on the front of the jerseys elongate into exhaust pipes. Nike needs to bring back whoever created this design ASAP.

Indiana Pacers

Reggie Miller of the Indiana Pacers pictured on Nov. 30, 1995, at Arco Arena in Sacramento, California.

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Reggie Miller, 1995

This is the uniform in which Reggie Miller, the greatest Indiana Pacer of all time, had the two greatest moments of his career: his eight points in 8.9 seconds and his infamous choke sign directed at filmmaker and Knicks superfan Spike Lee. Honorable mention: The 1989-90 away jersey in a more pale blue, with “PACERS” in a yellow panel stretching across the front. Both uniforms are way nicer than the hideous Hoosiers-themed “Hickory” jerseys that Indiana wore in 2015.

Miami Heat

Alonzo Mourning (No. 33) of the Miami Heat celebrates against the Sacramento Kings on Nov. 22, 1996, at Arco Arena in Sacramento, California.

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Alonzo Mourning, 1996

Simply put, these red alternate Heat jerseys from the ’90s are flame emojis 🔥 🔥 🔥.

Milwaukee Bucks

Glenn Robinson of the Milwaukee Bucks gets into position against the Sacramento Kings during a game played on March 13, 1996, at Arco Arena in Sacramento, California.

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Glenn Robinson, 1996

This is the best jersey the Milwaukee Bucks have ever worn, an alternate hunter green number with a huge buck on the abdomen and the team’s name that fades from white to purple. Born in 1994, Bucks superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo was a toddler when these jerseys popped in the mid-1990s. If Nike brought them back, the Greek Freak would surely make them pop.

Orlando Magic

Anfernee Hardaway (No. 1) and Shaquille O’Neal of the Orlando Magic return to the court during a game played circa 1994 at the Boston Garden in Massachusetts.

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Shaquille O’Neal, 1993

The most iconic uniform pinstripes belong to the New York Yankees. But a close second are certainly the stripes on the jerseys that the Orlando Magic wore in the 1990s. Is there a swaggier tandem in NBA history than Shaquille O’Neal and Penny Hardaway? Nope, and it’s not even close. They changed the game in their white, royal blue and black uniforms, embossed with stars on the chest as the letter A in either “ORLANDO” or “MAGIC.” And don’t get us started on the warm-up jackets. Too much sauce.

New York Knicks

Patrick Ewing (No. 33) (left) and Larry Johnson of the New York Knicks talk while playing the Sacramento Kings on Feb. 20, 1997, at Arco Arena in Sacramento, California.

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Patrick Ewing and Larry Johnson, 1997

As with the Boston Celtics, the uniforms of the New York Knicks haven’t changed much over the years. Yet, in the mid-’90s, the team added a nice touch of black trim to its road jerseys, which were worn by countless Knicks, from Patrick Ewing, John Starks and Charles Oakley to Allan Houston and Latrell Sprewell. One player who never got to rock this jersey — and probably never will, with his days as a Knick numbered? Carmelo Anthony.

Philadelphia 76ers

Philadelphia 76ers rookie guard Allen Iverson.

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Allen Iverson, 1996

A rookie Allen Iverson with no cornrows, one tattoo and “SIXERS” on the chest of a bright red jersey — paired with his red and white Reebok Questions, of course — is nothing short of iconic. Take notes, Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz. This is where #TheProcess began.

Toronto Raptors

Vince Carter of the Toronto Raptors seen during the game against the Houston Rockets on March 25, 1999, at Compaq Center in Houston.

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Vince Carter, 1999

The Toronto Raptors should’ve kept the 1995 uniforms that they entered the league with forever. In more than two decades, the franchise has yet to top its 1990s purple away jersey, with red, black and gray trim, featuring a roaring raptor dribbling a basketball. Swagged by both Tracy McGrady and Vince Carter early in their careers, this is one of the greatest NBA jerseys of all time. To celebrate the team’s 20th anniversary during the 2014-15 season, the Raptors broke out the “Dino” uniforms in throwback fashion. It won’t be another anniversary year, but why not do it again for the 2017-18 season?

Washington Wizards

Earl Monroe (No. 10) of the Baltimore Bullets looks on against the New York Knicks during an NBA basketball game circa 1969 at the Baltimore Coliseum in Maryland.

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Earl Monroe, 1969

Forget the classic red, white and blue Washington Bullets jerseys that inspired what the Washington Wizards currently rock on the court. Bring back the blue, orange and white Baltimore Bullets uniforms from the late 1960s. Nowadays, they would be dubbed the “Hands Up Don’t Shoot” jerseys, given the extended-arms design of the L’s in “BULLETS.” #BlackLivesMatter

WESTERN CONFERENCE

Dallas Mavericks

Adrian Dantley of the Dallas Mavericks dunks during an NBA game against the Los Angeles Lakers at the Great Western Forum in Los Angeles in 1989.

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Adrian Dantley, 1989

The Dallas Mavericks should definitely return to the logo that features a big blue letter M topped with cowboy hat — inside a green basketball. For decades, this classic design made its way onto the shorts of Mavericks uniforms, the best of which came in the form of alternate green jerseys with Wild West-esque font on the front. Pull some strings, Mark Cuban!

Denver Nuggets

Alex English of the Denver Nuggets shoots a free throw against the Washington Bullets during an NBA basketball game circa 1990 at the Capital Centre in Landover, Maryland.

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Alex English, 1990

Sweet 8-pound, 6-ounce, newborn infant Jesus, these multicolored Denver Nuggets uniforms from the ’80s and ’90s are sweet. Name a throwback NBA jersey with a centerpiece logo as loud as Denver’s rainbow city skyline. But it works, as there certainly isn’t one as bold and beautiful as what Hall of Famer Alex English wore on his chest before several players on Denver’s current roster were born.

Golden State Warriors

An October 1968 photo of Al Attles of the San Francisco Warriors. (AP Photo)

AP Photo

Al Attles, 1968

In eight games during their 73-9 NBA record-setting 2015-16 season, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green balled out in the alternate yellow edition of the team’s vintage “The City” uniforms, originally released for the 1966-67 season, nearly 10 years before the franchise won its first NBA title. Like Golden State’s current uniforms, the throwbacks, worn by the likes of Rick Barry, Nate Thurmond and Al Attles, feature the Bay Bridge in a circular illustration on the front of the jersey, with the words “The City” in bold letters over it. The best part of the jersey is each player’s number on the back, which is illustrated in a Bay Area cable car above his name. As the Warriors chase their third title in four years, these uniforms must be in rotation.

Houston Rockets

(From left) Guard Clyde Drexler, center Hakeem Olajuwon and forward Charles Barkley of the Houston Rockets stand on the court during a May 7, 1997, playoff game against the Seattle SuperSonics at the Summit in Houston.

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Clyde Drexler, Hakeem Olajuwon and Charles Barkley, 1997

The season after winning back-to-back NBA titles in 1994 and 1995 in legendary red, yellow and white uniforms (which the team still frequently wears), the Houston Rockets switched it up with a completely different color scheme to complement its Hall of Fame trio of Clyde Drexler, Charles Barkley and Hakeem Olajuwon. The pinstriped red, navy and white uniforms are complete with an intricately designed rocket ship that swirls around the team’s name on the front of the jersey. Perhaps a new Rockets big three of Chris Paul, James Harden and Anthony could take the court in these this season. Not so fast, though. Houston has to lock up that trade for Anthony first.

Los Angeles Clippers

Bob MacAdoo (No. 11) of the Buffalo Braves stands on the court against the Boston Celtics during a game played in 1974 at the Boston Garden in Massachusetts.

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Bob McAdoo, 1974

This was a tough decision. It was hard not to go with the throwback Zeke McCall cursive-lettered Clippers jersey, worn by a young Quincy McCall in Love & Basketball. Long before the 2000 film, and current Clippers stars Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, the franchise began in New York as the Buffalo Braves, led by Hall of Famer Bob McAdoo. As simple as the baby blue jerseys that McAdoo and the Braves wore for eight years before the team moved to California in 1978 were, they’re superclassic. Even Jay-Z knows about the retro McAdoo jersey.

Los Angeles Lakers

Magic Johnson of the Los Angeles Lakers passes against Terry Porter of the Portland Trail Blazers at the Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Portland, Oregon, circa 1988. (Photo by Brian Drake/NBAE via Getty Images)

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Magic Johnson, 1988

Imagine rookie point guard Lonzo Ball dropping dimes in the purple road uniforms in which Magic Johnson and the “Showtime” Lakers dazzled en route to five championships in the 1980s. C’mon, Nike. Bring these back for Lonzo, and for the people.

Memphis Grizzlies

Shareef Abdur-Rahim of the Vancouver Grizzlies during a game against the Golden State Warriors played on Jan. 8, 1997, at San Jose Arena in California.

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Shareef Abdur-Rahim, 1997

The 1995-2001 teal Vancouver Grizzlies jerseys are the dopest uniforms in NBA history — don’t @ us. The bold team name sprawling across the chest, the funky color scheme and trim that includes red, brown, black and white, the ferocious logo of a grizzly bear clawing a basketball on the shorts — what is not to like about this jersey? After six seasons in Canada, the franchise relocated to Memphis while maintaining the same mascot. So it’s only right that Nike allows Memphis to pay homage to the team’s former city with these glorious jerseys.

Minnesota Timberwolves

Kevin Garnett of the Minnesota Timberwolves during a game against the Houston Rockets on Feb. 26, 1998, at Compaq Center in Houston.

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Kevin Garnett, 1998

A young Kevin Garnett in the black alternate Minnesota Timberwolves uniforms, with Frankenstein-esque lettering and green pine trees lining the jersey and shorts — SO tough. As Minnesota pushes to make some noise in the deep Western Conference this season, the team’s young core could use some intimidating flair — like Garnett and the Timberwolves had way back when.

New Orleans Pelicans

Chris Paul of the New Orleans Hornets directs the offense against the Houston Rockets on Feb. 27, 2011, at the New Orleans Arena.

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Chris Paul, 2011

What’s the best throwback jersey for a 15-year-old franchise that gave up its first mascot to another city? Look no further than the Mardi Gras-themed “NOLA” uniforms the team formerly known as the New Orleans Hornets wore several years ago, when Chris Paul was still the point guard of the squad that drafted him. It’s hard to imagine that folks in the Big Easy wouldn’t welcome a return of these purple, green and gold jerseys, especially come next February.

Oklahoma City Thunder

Gary Payton of the Seattle SuperSonics dribbles against the Los Angeles Clippers during a game at the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena circa 1991.

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Gary Payton, 1991

How crazy would it be if Russell Westbrook, Paul George and the Oklahoma City Thunder paid tribute to the franchise’s former city by taking the floor next season in throwback Seattle SuperSonics jerseys, circa the Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp days? It was a sad time when the team left Seattle in 2008. Hope the city will get another franchise one day. But until then, it’s only right that Nike and the Thunder pay respect to the team’s roots.

Phoenix Suns

Jason Kidd of the Phoenix Suns moves the ball during the game against the Charlotte Hornets on Jan. 29, 2000, at Charlotte Coliseum in Charlotte, North Carolina.

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Jason Kidd, 2000

You can’t tell us that the Phoenix Suns’ talented young trio of Devin Booker, Marquese Chriss and Josh Jackson couldn’t swag these black alternate throwbacks out. The Valley of the Sun needs these blast-from-the-past jerseys.

Portland Trail blazers

Clyde Drexler of the Portland Trail Blazers dribbles the ball against the Washington Bullets during an NBA basketball game circa 1992 at the Capital Centre in Landover, Maryland.

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Clyde Drexler, 1992

We can already see it: the starting lineup of the Portland Trail Blazers being announced to the tune of the Drake, Quavo and Travis $cott More Life track “Portland,” before the players take off their warm-ups to reveal the vintage Blazers uniforms that Clyde Drexler & Co. made iconic. What a moment that would be.

Sacramento Kings

Nate Archibald of the Kansas City Kings dribbles the ball up court against the Washington Bullets during an NBA basketball game circa 1975 at the Capital Centre in Landover, Maryland.

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Nate Archibald, 1975

Before journeying to Sacramento in 1985, the franchise was known as the Kansas City Kings, with royal blue, red and white uniforms and a logo that’s been updated to fit the team’s new purple, black and gray color scheme. If the Kings threw it back with jerseys to the Kansas City days, Nike would definitely have to make rookie point guard De’Aaron Fox a visor.

San Antonio Spurs

George Gervin of the San Antonio Spurs shoots a free throw against the Washington Bullets during an NBA basketball game circa 1980 at the Capital Centre in Landover, Maryland.

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George Gervin, 1980

The San Antonio Spurs still wear the old-school gray jerseys with the letter U in “Spurs” illustrated as a cowboy boot spur. Another subtle throwback could come through the reissue of the black 1980s Spurs jerseys that feature “SAN ANTONIO” on the front in white trim. These are definitely not too flashy for the modest Kawhi Leonard.

Utah Jazz

Karl Malone (No. 32) and John Stockton of the Utah Jazz talk during a game against the Sacramento Kings circa 1997 at Arco Arena in Sacramento, California.

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Karl Malone and John Stockton, 1997

Karl Malone, John Stockton and the Utah Jazz took back-to-back L’s in the 1997 and 1998 NBA Finals to Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls — but they did it in style, with purple road uniforms adorned by a Utah mountain. Too bad Gordon Hayward never got to wear this jersey before dipping out to Boston this summer in free agency.

The show, the after-party, the hotel — live from The 2017 ESPYS Peyton Manning, LL Cool J, Ice Cube made all the memories

It’s one thing to watch an awards show on TV. It’s different to be there in person. And it’s totally different to actually have to work it. You see everything. You hear everything. And, most importantly, you feel everything. For example, it was impossible not to shed tears when Jarrius Robertson was handed the Jimmy V Perseverance Award. Goose bumps arrived when former first lady Michelle Obama graced the stage to honor Special Olympics founder Eunice Kennedy Shriver. But for those who require a more intimate view of what The ESPYS were like, I’m glad you’re here. Follow along.

The Red Carpet Hustle

This was my first red carpet experience. I didn’t know what to expect going in, but as the great songwriting philosopher Jay-Z once said, Fresh out the frying pan/ Into the fryer. Once it’s on, it’s on. Publicists coming up to you asking if you want to speak to their clients. Jumping on the carpet and chasing people down to speak to them. It looks glamorous on TV, but it’s a haze in real life. From Malcolm Jenkins, Draya Michele, Josh Norman, Dak Prescott, Derrick Johnson and more. Sweating in a suit and standing for three hours isn’t glamorous. But if you get a chance to do it, I recommend it.

Peyton Manning’s opening monologue

Manning didn’t say, “Omaha!” which remains a severe disappointment, but his opening monologue? Yeah, he did that. There wasn’t much doubt as to whether the two-time Super Bowl-winning signal-caller would do well at hosting. He’s one of the more personable athletes in sports, with a list of comedic moments to his name already — his Saturday Night Live appearances are some of the funniest spots in the show’s history. But believe me when I tell you this: His Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook joke had everyone in the building laughing while also saying, “Yikes.” K.D.’s and Westbrook’s reaction was all that needed to be said. Then he followed it up with a quip about the Atlanta Falcons blowing the biggest lead in Super Bowl history. For what it’s worth, Jamie Foxx is still the greatest of all time ESPYS host. Justin Timberlake and Drake were pretty good as well. But The Sheriff was on one last night.

LL Cool J’s catalog is certified

I’ll be the first to admit I was hesitant about attending a party that featured LL Cool J as headliner. He’s a hip-hop icon and should be the next rapper inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. But it’s 2017, LL’s a TV star, and music doesn’t necessarily feel like his main objective anymore (which is totally understandable), combined with the fact that Naughty By Nature had performed at ESPN The Magazine’s Body Party the night before with extremely limited success (for the record, Naughty was cool, but the trio really only has a handful of songs that cross over).

Needless to say, any concerns I had about LL walking into the Microsoft Theater in downtown Los Angeles were quickly alleviated. His catalog is deep. He came out to “Mama Said Knock You Out.” Then there was “I’m Bad.” “I Can’t Live Without My Radio,” too. By far, though, the highlight of LL’s set was the Total-assisted “Who Do You Love.” The entire venue instantly went back to 1996. Everyone danced with each other and sang the hook in unison, Who do you love?/ Are you for sure?

The ESPYS Post Party Presented by Coors Light.

Kohjiro Kinno / ESPN Images

The energy kicked up when LL brought out Ice Cube and WC to perform “Bow Down” and “Gangsta Nation.” Also, if you ever needed proof that Cube is a living legend, check and see how a room full of people react to his (and N.W.A.’s) “Straight Outta Compton.” There’s something about yelling, Straight Outta Compton, crazy m—-f—– named Ice Cube/ From a gang called N—-s With Attitude. All in all, LL won last night. The only complaint I had was he didn’t do “Paradise” with Amerie. Or “I Need Love.”

There’s always an after-party to the after-party

About 2 1/2 hours into the official after-party is when people begin planning their next move. It’s Los Angeles. There’s always another move. There was a Vanity Fair move. And an Uninterrupted one that was apparently full before it even began because everyone was texting everyone else to see who they knew who could get them in. The trick is, if you’re going out, you can’t overdo it at the open bar. Which, let me be perfectly clear, is much easier said than done. You’re always convincing yourself one more drink can’t hurt when it doesn’t hurt your bank account. And nights like that normally end with 3:30 a.m. trips to Subway. I should know.

The hotel

Just don’t be that guy, slightly inebriated at near 4 in the morning, standing on the elevator wondering why the JW Marriott has a dysfunctional elevator because it won’t take you to your floor. You’re pressing “7” to take you to your floor, but it’s not going anywhere. You’re standing with a delicious Subway sandwich in your hand, and all you want to do is eat and fall asleep, but you can’t because the elevator is broken. You seriously waste a good five minutes mad because the establishment won’t let you be great — or maybe it was doing you a favor, because did you really need Subway at near 4 in the morning? Of course you didn’t, you savage. Then you realize you have to scan your card, and you feel like an idiot. I should know.

Timbaland on Missy Elliott’s ‘Supa Dupa Fly’ and how hip-hop got its groove back The Grammy-winning producer reflects on the songs that made Missy’s debut a classic

“I made hits with Total, Madonna and so many more,” says Tim “Timbaland” Mosley. “But far as chemistry? That just don’t come. Me and Jay[-Z] got it. Justin [Timberlake] too. Of course, Missy. When you think about it, it’s not a lot of people.”

The Grammy-winning Timbo is busy being an “architect” on the ABC competition show, Boy Band, but there’s always, always time to talk about the music. Especially when it involves his longtime friend and musical soulmate Missy “Misdemeanor” Elliott. Collaboration creates hits. But chemistry? That’s the ingredient from which classics are built.

Mention Missy’s genre-bending debut Supa Dupa Fly turning 20 this week — Rolling Stone named it one of the 100 best albums of the ’90s — and you can just about feel the twinkle in Timbo’s eyes over the phone. “We did our job. We impacted the world,” he says proudly. He goes silent for a second. It’s long enough, though, to get that he realizes the magnitude of the achievement. “We made history.” He won’t go as far to say they shifted the culture. “But we came in and shifted the tempo, and the bounce.”

“We made history … we came in and shifted the tempo, and the bounce.” — Timbaland

Missy and Tim are but one in a line of Siamese twin-like creative musical partnerships: Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre, Nas and DJ Premier, Big Boi and Andre 3000 of OutKast and Organized Noise, and, in more recent years, Drake and Noah “40” Shebib. Missy and Tim are bound by creativity and trains of thought best described as “outside the box.” And by ZIP codes as well. Missy, a Portsmouth native, and Tim, from Norfolk, hail from the Seven Cities region of Virginia — an area Teddy Riley helped put on the map, and one Missy and Timbaland (along with The Neptunes) stamped as a songful hotbed between the musical metropolises of New York City and Atlanta.

Timbaland, Supa’s sole producer, and Missy, the visionary who wrote just about everything save a song or two from Timbaland mainstay Magoo, weren’t looking to change the game. They wanted to do what they’d always done with music: have fun. And fun is what rap desperately needed in 1997. The officially unsolved murders of Tupac Shakur and The Notorious B.I.G. in 1996 and 1997, respectively, hovered over the scene. Shakur and Biggie’s music still dominated airwaves, and their videos were on constant circulation on MTV and the now-defunct The Box. Missy attended the Vibe after-party after which Biggie was murdered. “We were young,” says Timbaland. But Missy remained steadfastly focused on her songwriting even in the midst of an industrywide depression. “Her whole thing,” said Timbaland, “was, ‘I gotta do this and make it fun.’ ”


Supa Dupa Fly almost never got off the ground. Famously shy, Missy Elliott was content behind the scenes. She’d already crafted a name for herself with composer credits on works from artists like Jodeci, Gina Thompson, New Edition, 702, Ginuwine and more. She and Timbaland were the chief architects of Aaliyah’s 1996 double-platinum masterpiece, One In A Million.

A frame from Missy Elliot’s “The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)” video

Courtesy of Atlantic Records

But the occasional times Elliott stepped in front of a mic or camera, the entire music industry took notice. Sean Combs had positioned himself as the hip-hop King Midas, but Missy’s scene-stealing appearances on Thompson’s “The Things You Do (Remix)” (see below) and 702’s “Steelo” proved she was of the same crossover caliber. Her sound and wardrobe were unique, appealing and new. Her hip-hop Michelin Woman look shocked the world.

“Best Friend” was about us coming together as “superfriends” as we called ourselves when we did a record together.

Missy’s dream was to own an imprint and build her own crew of artists. The idea was a brilliant one as far as then-head of Elektra Records, Sylvia Rhone, was concerned. But under one condition: that Missy release a solo album of her own. “People think I did this for the money, but I was comfortable just writing for people,” Missy told SPIN in 1997. “And I mean really comfortable.”

Missy’s debut peaked at No. 3 on the Billboard Top 200 album chart. She immediately became a bona fide star. And 20 years later, it still sounds ahead of its time: a gumbo of hip-hop, R&B, soul and dance. She and Timbaland’s musical, lyrical and stylistic vision was free and futuristic and helped make Missy a clubhouse leader in evolving discussions around feminism.

Missy’s body-positive and sex-positive lyrics thrived alongside the overt sensual raunchiness of Lil Kim. I’m the stewardess of the plane / Feel the turbulence and maintain, she coos on “Friendly Skies.” Please refrain and stay in your seats / Until we reach the gate. She didn’t need a plane to join the “mile-high club.” She was the club.

“It was a girl power thing … She was never a hater. Every girl that came out, she championed.” — Timbaland

In 1997, Entertainment Weekly dubbed Missy and the album “a wickedly innovative singer-rapper who favors expansive song structures and trip-hoppy textures. In the process, she creates an evocative space-age soul all her own.” SPIN said Supa could become “the most influential album since Dr. Dre’s The Chronic” and “everything here has ‘hit’ stamped all over it.” And a year before Lauryn Hill’s Miseducation declared her independence and became a blueprint for the matriarchal fusion of rap and singing, All Music Guide called Missy’s premiere project “the most influential album ever released by a female hip-hop artist” and spoke of its “tremendous impact on hip-hop, and an even bigger one on R&B, as its futuristic, nearly experimental style became the de facto sound of urban radio at the close of the millennium.”

Ahead of the album’s anniversary on Saturday, and Friday’s vinyl re-release, The Undefeated caught up with Timbaland. The legendary producer breaks down Supa Dupa Fly’s standout cuts as well his own memories of how the album Missy originally didn’t want to record changed their lives.


If Missy was going to be “forced” to do her own solo project, best believe she’d bring her friends along with her for the ride.

“Sock It 2 Me” feat. Da Brat

Timbaland: Da Brat is one of her good friends. They’re still best friends to this day. She wanted it to be like an all-girls thing. Like, ‘These are the top girls.’ It was about hooking up with women that were creative like her. She always looked at it that way. She always made friends with other women who were doing it like her. It was a girl power thing. Even when Eve came out, Missy was like, ‘That girl Eve is hot!’ She was never a hater. Every girl that came out, she championed. And she championed hard.


For “Not Tonight,” Missy links up with one of her closest friends in the industry: Lil Kim.

“Hit ’Em Wit Da Hee” feat. Lil Kim & Mocha

Timbaland: Oh, now that was dope! When we did that we [were] in New York. Missy was always cool with Kim. She always wanted to do songs with her friends. Mary J. Blige was her friend. Lil Kim was like the closest. When Missy heard [the beat for] “Hit ’Em With The Hee,” she was like, “I’ma get Lil Kim on this.” It was more like just getting her girls together. Watching her do that and watching her have so much fun, I don’t think the record had any intentions. Missy just wanted to make Missy music and make the world be like, ‘Whoa!’


The record not only changed the sound of hip-hop and R&B in 1997, it changed Missy’s life altogether.

“The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)”

Timbaland: That one I was going through my keyboard and I had this little loop. Missy was like, ‘What’s that?! That’s dope!!’ And I just kept doing it. Then I just put the bass line in it and she just started going off! ‘This about to be crazy!’ Next thing you know, ‘All right, all right, y’all gotta get out.’ I’m like, ‘Gahhh, damn!’ But we kinda created that one kinda together. Missy knew it was gonna be a hit the moment she heard the beat. We were both hype. After that, she took it to the radio station. I remember it was DJ Al B. Sylk, back in the day. She took it up there to 103 JAMZ [Norfolk’s WOWI-FM 102.9]. She was hype about that record. That was like one of the first records. And then after that, she tapped into a zone.


Timbaland dubs this duet one of the more underrated cuts on Supa Dupa Fly. It’s tough to argue its staying power either, with artists such as Bryson Tiller sampling it for last year’s “Let Me Explain,” and Drake sampled it for 2009’s “Bria’s Interlude” from his landmark mixtape, So Far Gone.

“Friendly Skies” feat. Ginuwine

Timbaland: If you’re from Virginia, man, it was about being in the studio. That may be how kids do it now, but they also do it a little differently. We just had fun. I think when I do the track it made them feel a certain way. Both of them [Missy and Ginuwine] start, they’re laughing, and once again I’m getting kicked out the room (laughs). I come back in and the song is done (laughs). And I’m like, ‘Oh this is dope,’ but I’m like, ‘Change this, change that.’

Timbaland, Supa’s sole producer, and Missy didn’t seek to change the game. They wanted to do what they’d always done with music: have fun. And fun is what rap desperately needed in 1997.

That’s how it usually is, and it’s cool for me that way. It gave me time to go play my PlayStation. And if I’m in the studio [when they’re recording], I’ma critique it. … I put so much time into the music part, making sure that their emotions are there. I gotta walk away. I can’t really pay attention to how they write the song. It’s hard, but it’s kinda good she kicked me out. But also, I’d probably walk out. I want to hear what emotions they came up with versus what I was feeling.


Missy and Aaliyah — so much potential. While not their most famous collaboration, “Best Friend” is Missy and Aaliyah’s most personal duet.

“Best Friend” feat. Aaliyah

Timbaland: How we vibed in the studio, we was family! Missy and Aaliyah had a very close bond. Missy is a person who is fun and jokes around. Aaliyah was the same way. She could make you laugh all the time. So “Best Friend” was about us coming together as “superfriends,” as we called ourselves when we did a record together. Missy just made the title “Best Friend.” When I created music, she’d go in her own space and create lyrics. She don’t talk about it. She kicked me out the room! (laughs)


Music is defined by its eras, but more truly by those who dominated them. It’s why Def Jam, Death Row, Bad Boy, Roc-A-Fella, Cash Money, No Limit and now October’s Very Own and Top Dawg Entertainment have such a fascinating hold on cultural history. The conglomerate of Missy, Timbaland, Magoo, Aaliyah and the late Static Major never had an official name. But their output is on par with the best of the best.

“We did stuff with feeling,” said Timbaland. “We know how we felt from a small place called Virginia. We knew if it felt overjoyous to us … it would flow to other people … We didn’t know how big it was gonna be, but we knew we had a sound.”