John Wall: A letter to my dad The Wizards All-Star opens up about living his dreams and honoring his father’s memory

Dear Dad,

We all go through life hoping and wishing for many things. Many of my wishes have mostly come true, with a successful career that has allowed me to take care of my family.

But there’s one wish of mine that will never be granted. That wish would be bringing you back to life so that you could see me play in the NBA.

You never got the chance to see me play basketball at any level. In fact, we never had a chance to play catch like fathers and sons do, and you were barely around when I took my first steps.

That’s what happens when a parent goes to prison. You went there when I was 2, charged with an armed robbery that I didn’t even know about until years later.

You were an inmate for most of my life. But that didn’t matter because you were my father, and to me as a young boy, prison was just a place where you happened to live.

We’d make the two-hour drive every weekend to see you, sometimes rolling two cars deep. Some of the things I got used to in my early years were getting patted down and thoroughly checked by prison guards and walking down long prison corridors with the sounds of those prison gates opening and closing.

Then I’d see you, and the trip was worth it. In the early visits, we’d be separated by a piece of thick glass, and I still remember the excitement I felt when the prison guards escorted you to the seat in front of us.

Later we were allowed to sit at an actual table with you. And I couldn’t wait for those guards to take those shackles off of you so I could jump into your arms and feel your tight embrace.

Those hugs you gave me were amazing.

When I become a father, I’m going to share your story. Not going to sugarcoat anything. I’ll let my kids know that every generation can be better and that I’m living proof.

Our discussions were never about where you came from, but the places you wanted me to go. Looking back, there you were, an inmate locked away with not much of a future. But that didn’t keep you from encouraging me, a young boy, to get an education and to go to college.

Most importantly, you instilled in me the importance of being a real man. You told me to put myself in a position to one day take care of my mother, something you were unable to do while being locked away.

Then one day you were released, and I could sense you were just as excited as I was when we packed up the car for a family getaway to White Lake, a popular North Carolina resort.

We got a cabin there for a few days, and got a chance to spend time with you for the first time with no restrictions. We went to the fair and we ate, had an artist draw a picture of us, and we played in the water.

That true family gathering was the best day of my young life.

And led to the worst day of my life.

The next day, Dad, you got sick, and I was beginning to learn that you were released because you were terminally ill with liver cancer. We had no clue that the time we spent playing in the water would lead to water getting into your wound, causing you to hemorrhage. That horrific smell from all that bleeding still sticks with me.

As you were rushed to the hospital, me and my siblings were rushed home.

It was at home days later when I overheard a phone conversation that my mother was having with her sister. I heard her say that you had died, and I went into shock. I ran right past her, out the door and down the street with no shirt and no socks. I cried so hard, because hearing you had died is more pain than any 9-year-old should experience.

At your funeral, my older brother was emotional, and promised everyone that he’d take care of the family.

But the next year he got locked up.

All those events sent my life into a downward spiral. I would talk back to my teachers, respond to taunts from kids by fighting, and I disappointed my mother each time I got kicked out of school.

Yes, the man in my life might have existed in prison. But now he was gone, and I was acting out.

Even as I got so good in basketball that people thought it could eventually be my ticket to a better life, I rebelled. When coaches tried to discipline me, I’d pout. I’d get furious my teammates wouldn’t pass to me, or the times when I was taken out of games.

How bad did it get? There were times at Garner High School, where I went in the ninth and 10th grades, when the coach wouldn’t play me. And I’d sit on the end of the bench with my legs crossed, eating a lollipop.

A lollipop. Sometimes I’d eat Skittles. Other times Starburst. I’d eat whatever candy my friends in the stands would give me. When my team called timeout, I wouldn’t even get up to go to the huddle. My attitude was if they weren’t going to play me, why bother.

I lived up to my nickname: Crazy J. And, honestly, I couldn’t have coached me.

When I got cut from my next high school — and it wasn’t because of my skills — I was hurt. My mother was devastated.

Yet at some point after that low moment for me in basketball, everything started to click.

I credit some of the men in my life. The coaches who stuck with me, even though I was a handful to deal with. The teachers and school administrators who believed in me. And my stepdad, a man I didn’t embrace at first but is someone who I would do anything for today because of what he did for my family.

With everyone rallying behind me, I became the best high school player in the nation and had a successful college career that led me to be the top pick of the NBA draft.

And, Dad, you were a part of that success and I want to thank you.

We never had the opportunity to really interact the way a father and son should. But we made the best of the time we spent in prison, forming a bond that is truly unforgettable.

I know you’re proud of the man I’ve become. I’m the first in our family to attend college, and although I have not yet completed my degree, it is a goal that I hope to accomplish. My sister followed behind to become the first in our family to graduate from college and went on to get her master’s.

I’ve taken care of my mom, and taken care of the family just like you told me.

It’s the Wall way.

When I become a father, I’m going to share your story. Not going to sugarcoat anything. I’ll let my kids know that every generation can be better and that I’m living proof. Just like you pushed me, I’ll push them to believe that they can become anything in life, like doctors, teachers, nurses or executives.

My wish of having you see me play will never come true. But just know, Dad, that there’s a reason why I have this tattoo over the left part of my chest of you holding me.

You will always be in my heart. Thank you for inspiring me.

This story appears in ESPN The Magazine’s Feb. 5 State of the Black Athlete Issue. Subscribe today!

Chris Archer: A letter to my parents The Rays ace looks back with gratitude at his childhood home, where he learned to love himself and to embrace the differences in others

The setting is a playground in Clayton, North Carolina, in the early 1990s. We’re playing dodgeball during an outdoor recess in grade school, and I’m on a roll. I nail a kid — as well as any first- or second-grader could — to eliminate him from the game, and, as he walks defeated off the field, he looks back at me and shouts the words that rock me to my core: “I don’t care that you beat me, blackie!”

I stopped dead in my tracks, confused and shaken. To this very day, I vividly remember looking skyward while trying to internalize what he had just said. I asked myself, “Is this really how people see me?”

That was the precise moment that I realized I was black. And by the time I had looked down, I realized that color was now a part of my life that I could not avoid.

Sure, being black was always physically part of my life, but, until that grade school day, I had never seen myself as physically different or faced obstacles despite my slightly darker pigmentation (the result of my white biological mother and my black biological father).

I never knew color because the love my de facto parents — who were technically my white biological grandparents and raised me since birth — enveloped me with was all the unconditional love a child could ever need.

From as young an age as I can remember, my parents Ron and Donna always championed the fact that I, and frankly everybody in the world, was different. My mom was especially proactive and would always say, “Chris, what makes you different is what makes you unique, so embrace that.”

Whether my parents were doing it consciously or subconsciously, they were unquestionably preparing me for obstacles that might arise living in North Carolina in that era.

But, at a young age, I honestly never saw any difference between myself and my parents. And as I got older, even as I began to realize my differences, I was never judgmental of other people’s race, religion, creed or sexual orientation.

And that was largely because of where and how I was raised.

On our cul-de-sac, we had a Mormon family. Between our house and the Mormon family was a lesbian couple. Directly across the street was a gay male couple.

Sure, that’s a lot of differences on the surface. Yet we didn’t see it that way.

I’m a firm believer that all people are born inherently good, and it takes a negative familial and friends environment to shape such aforementioned viewpoints.

We hosted group dinners together, went to church together and had family gatherings together. And while I, the only black kid in the neighborhood, didn’t grow up on a street that was racially diverse, I did understand early in life that we are all just people despite whatever our differences may be.

As I grew older and entered my adolescent years, I was fortunate to live a life where I experienced very little racial strife and tension, which can be especially rare growing up in the South.

That’s not to say that racism didn’t exist in my adolescent life, though.

When I was a sophomore in high school, I spent a lot of time with this girl at school and around town. We texted back and forth for a few months, and I eventually mustered the courage to ask her if I could come over to her house to kick it.

The girl was white, and I’ll never forget her response: “My dad said that I’m not allowed to hang out with N-words, or have a boyfriend that is a N-word.”

The way she said it was a little too casual, just like when the grade school dodgeball victim called me “blackie.” And just like that little boy, this girl was unfortunate to have grown up in an environment where someone else shaped her views about race and culture.

I’m a firm believer that all people are born inherently good, and it takes a negative familial and friends environment to shape such aforementioned viewpoints.

Fortunately, I grew up in an “embrace all” environment that my parents provided me, and participation in youth sports afforded me the opportunity to make friends of all different races. Youth sports also exposed me to a particularly special high school coach, Ron Walker. Ron, who is black, welcomed me and my parents into his family, and their support allowed me to connect with a part of my black heritage and culture that was needed in my life.

You may be asking yourself, “But why was this connection needed?”

The answer:

Even to this day, regardless how welcoming I am of all people, certain people in this world will also see me in a certain light — a biracial man. That’s just a sad reality.

But it’s a reality that doesn’t change my mindset toward people who look at me that way. I embrace being biracial. I enjoy interacting with people of all different beliefs. And I most certainly accept people of different beliefs for who they are — not what they are.

I hold no grudge toward that kid on the grade school playground. And I don’t fault my sophomore year crush for the comment that ended our relationship. They didn’t know what they were saying carried so much hate. They unfortunately grew accustomed to those beliefs in the environment they were raised in, and they were simply regurgitating what their household environment passed on to them.

I just wish they could have grown up in a house and environment like mine. A house where my parents endlessly nurtured me, where they showered me with love, and where, despite my “differences,” showed me and my surrounding environment total acceptance regardless of race, religion, creed or sexual orientation.

And for that, I have three words for my parents:

I love you.

This story appears in ESPN The Magazine’s Feb. 5 State of the Black Athlete Issue. Subscribe today!

Chiney Ogwumike: A letter to my family The WNBA All-Star and first-generation Nigerian-American on how basketball helped her define her identity

I went to my first basketball practice when I was 9, living in Houston. It was my older sister Nneka’s first practice too. We both showed up wearing jean shorts, halter tops, glasses and Keds sneakers. We had no idea what we were doing. I ran to hide in the bathroom, crying while Nneka stumbled through practice — she’s always been the more curious one, while I want to win at everything I do. I made her play me one-on-one at home after every practice. She was basically my first coach.

Nneka and I both play in the WNBA now, and our two younger sisters, Olivia and Erica, are pre-med students who play basketball at Rice. We never could have imagined that basketball would change our lives. Most of the Nigerian parents I knew had very strict ideas about child-rearing: You went to school, got good grades and came back home. That was it, that was your childhood. Any child who didn’t aspire to be a doctor or lawyer had a lot of explaining to do.

I’m a Nigerian-American, which I consider the best of both worlds. I work like my parents and dream like my sisters. I was raised to defy expectations.

But my parents were different. I remember them getting grief from some of their Nigerian friends in Houston when they began to let us play basketball. Sports were viewed as a distraction, especially for girls. I realize now that my parents were doing something momentous and maybe even a little difficult for them when they took us to that first practice. They were teaching us that no matter what you do in life, do it to the best of your ability. And they were also allowing us to inhabit another identity — they were letting us be American girls.

I’ve lived proudly that way ever since. I’m a Nigerian-American, which I consider the best of both worlds. I work like my parents and dream like my sisters. I was raised to defy expectations.

This story appears in ESPN The Magazine’s Feb. 5 State of the Black Athlete Issue. Subscribe today!

Martellus Bennett on the State of the Black Athlete

Warning: This story contains strong language.

“To me, it seemed as if any athlete who signed up to protest or speak out on inequalities on one of the largest platforms in the world ended up with a target on their backs. Peaceful protests by black athletes led to them being attacked by the organizations, fans and even teammates they played for and with. With all of this happening, they still had to find a way to perform at a high level both for those very people spewing hate and their own livelihoods.”

Martellus Bennett, Creative Director of Awesomeness, The Imagination Agency Author of the forthcoming books Dear Black Boy and Hey A.J., It’s Bedtime www.theimaginationagency.com


The talented illustrator and Patriots tight end uses his own provocative art to respond to the backlash against the NFL player protest movement.

This story appears in ESPN The Magazine’s Feb. 5 State of the Black Athlete Issue. Subscribe today!

The Plug, ‘Pure Gold’ (Episode 3): Dave East closes out 2017 with one of the year’s best interviews From Kevin Durant to Lonzo Ball to Mike Beasley and more, the New York MC tells it all

Subscribe: Apple Podcasts | ESPN App | RSS | Embed

Hip-hop artist Dave East joins The Undefeated’s newest podcast, The Plug, for the final episode of 2017. Needless to say, the New York wordsmith does everything but disappoint. No topic is off-limits as the 29-year-old chops it up with Chiney Ogwumike, Justin Tinsley, Kayla Johnson and Tesfaye Negussie on any and everything, including: How and why fatherhood has become the biggest blessing of his life (and approximately when he thinks he’ll allow his daughter to start dating). He also weighs in on:

  • What led to Kevin Durant’s mom nursing him back to health.
  • His biggest lesson learned from prison.
  • Why Lonzo Ball isn’t on his favorite people list.
  • Some stories about Durant, Mike Beasley and more current NBA hoopers that you’re just going to have to hear to believe yourself.
  • His starting five of musicians who can hoop (besides him, of course).

From there, the crew brings in Aaron Dodson to discuss his and Justin’s massive Kobe Bryant epic from this week. Enjoy your holidays and be sure to check for The Plug invading your airwaves all of 2018! Subscribe to The Plug on the ESPN app!

Episode 1: The Debut featuring Fabolous and Jadakiss

Episode 2: Empire State of Mind featuring New York Jets linebacker Demario Davis

The Undefeated does 2017 The highs, the lows and the must-reads

Here at The Undefeated, we spent a trying 2017 attempting to cover the world through your eyes. We had the Colin Kaepernick saga on lock, the NFL protests covered. We learned from Timberwolves center Gorgui Dieng that “the biggest misconception is people thinking Muslims are terrorists.” We reveled at Whitley Gilbert’s wardrobe and watched Tarik Cohen shine at North Carolina A&T before he was a rookie standout with the Chicago Bears. We showed you chic street style at Afropunk, brought back Drumline and demonstrated that love knows no color. 2017 was a tough year, but TU brought it to you, warts and all.

Hey, 2017, we’d hate to miss you but love to watch you leave.

Experiences

Collage of significant black Americans

The Undefeated 44 most influential black Americans in history A collection of dreamers and doers, noisy geniuses and quiet innovators, record-breakers and symbols of pride and aspiration.

Sports

Artist rendition of LeBron James making his way to the court from the locker rooms

LeBron Is Crowned On a Detroit night, about a decade ago — via 48 points in double overtime — LeBron graduated from ‘phenom’ to ‘grown man’

Culture

Artist rendition of Whitley

Whitley’s World “You can’t unsee A Different World. You’ve seen it, it’s kind of engraved in your psyche.”

HBCUs

Photo of the Honey Beez performing

Alabama State Honey Beez bring positive plus-size attitude to HBCU dance scene “Where one of us lacks, the other one will pick up. We’re plus-size girls and we still go through bullying in college. But we’re more confident now, so it’s not as bad. But we have a real sisterhood, and this is our home away from home. The Honey Beez took me all the way out of my shell, and I love it.”

The Uplift

Serge Ibaka and his daughter in a pool

NBA standout Serge Ibaka is a standout single father too “Since I was young I always dreamed of myself traveling, envisioned at least three, four kids, five. And then, I’m living my dream right now and something I always love to do, and it’s fun. It’s really changed my life. It’s changed everything about me. The way I think and the way I live my life. It changed everything.”

Videos

Leon Bridges at his piano

Leon Bridges sings his rendition of the national anthem The critically acclaimed soul singer explores the themes of the anthem, creating a beautiful rendition that feels like both a hymn and a benediction

Original Photography

Woman with a wig made of pink flowers

Inside Afropunk “They’re just the ‘standard of beauty’ and here you can be what you want and THAT’S beauty.”

Podcasts

The Plug podcast logo

The Plug It’s the debut of The Plug, hosted by Chiney Ogwumike, Kayla Johnson, Justin Tinsley and Tesfaye Negussie. In episode 1, the crew dives into current events, discuss LaVar Ball’s latest news, NFL social activism and more. Plus, hip-hop icons Jadakiss and Fabolous join.

  • All Day – The Undefeated Podcast: Clinton Yates spent a day in New York profiling various parts of the culture, when news broke that a legend had died. After spending the morning with the creators of Jopwell, a startup helping students of color in the tech industry, the the afternoon with Nike for a new shoe release, he ends up in Queens to talk with a family friend and musician about the life and influence of Mobb Deep’s Prodigy.
  • America’s Black History Museum: 9/20/16 – Jill Hudson, Justin Tinsley and Clinton Yates talk about the National Museum of African American History and Culture and the 86th Emmy Awards. Plus, Mike Wise discusses his story about Joe Paterno.
  • Morning Roast – The gang is all together, talking national anthem protests, possible NFL players strike, potential renaming of Yawkey Way and latest Bachelor in Paradise drama.
  • The Morning Roast & Live at NABJ – Clinton Yates is in for Bomani, and in hour three he is joined by Marc Spears and Myron Medcalf to discuss all the happenings at the National Association of Black Journalists convention.
  • Rhoden Fellows: HBCU 468: 5/11/17 – Stephen A. Smith praised Isaiah Thomas’ compelling effort in the playoffs and explained Kevin Durant’s impact on Golden State. He also talked about attending a historically black university.
  • O.J.: Made in America: 6/11/16 – Domonique Foxworth is joined by guests Jason Reid, Raina Kelley, Ezra Edelman, Sarah Spain and Carl Douglas as they take a look at O.J.: Made in America.

A South Carolina invite to the White House could only help Trump The Gamecocks have yet to receive a call but have always planned to go if asked

Since at least 1865, when the Brooklyn Atlantics and Washington Nationals baseball clubs were invited by President Andrew Johnson, making the trip to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. has been associated with the glamour of winning a national championship in American sports. Although the practice didn’t become a regular occurrence until the Reagan administration, being honored at the White House for winning a championship has become a long-standing tradition that most athletes seem to take great pride in.

But that moment has yet to come for the South Carolina Gamecocks women’s basketball team. It’s been more than six months since their championship win in April, and the White House has yet to extend them an invitation.

“We haven’t gotten an invitation yet, and that in itself speaks volumes,” Gamecocks coach Dawn Staley said in a phone interview with The Associated Press. “We won before those other teams won their championships. I don’t know what else has to happen.”

During SEC media day, Vanderbilt coach Stephanie White called it a “slap in the face” and Texas A&M coach Gary Blair, who was invited in 2011 after his championship win, agreed: “She deserves that honor, and her team — but, more importantly, the country — needs to see a women’s basketball team in the White House being recognized. That’s something that they’ve earned.”

The Associated Press also reported that the office of U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, a former governor of South Carolina, recently said an invite would be coming later; however, college basketball season is fast approaching and the Gamecocks’ title defense will begin soon. So how long should the reigning champions have to wait?

Blair may be right about one thing: The country needs this. This is a time when protest and political expression have been heightened. And while some individual players have refused to accept an invitation as a form of political objection to the current administration, Staley made clear in April that the South Carolina women would attend if invited because, as she puts it, “that’s what national champions do” and national champions from every major sport this year have been doing it … sort of.

President Donald Trump has been visited by both the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots and the College Football Playoff champion Clemson Tigers. The 2016 World Series champion Chicago Cubs have been to the White House twice, going once during the end of President Barack Obama’s term and making a second trip for Trump in June. The Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins made the customary visit two weeks ago, and the North Carolina men’s basketball team was offered an opportunity to attend but declined because of a scheduling conflict.

The NBA champion Golden State Warriors at least had an invitation rescinded (it was never clear that the team was invited to the White House anyway) after star point guard Stephen Curry stated that he would not cast a team vote in favor of attending. In response to Curry, Trump stated that visiting the White House is considered “a great honor.” Are the women in South Carolina not worthy of such an honor?

Connecticut Sun power forward and ESPN women’s basketball analyst Chiney Ogwumike offers the perspective that women’s basketball is just not a priority for this government.

“The passions of this administration are just not the same as the previous administration, and it’s unfortunate,” Ogwumike said. “But I don’t think this was a jab or slight to the South Carolina team. Women’s basketball is always fighting for legitimacy and respect, and although we had a good year with the Final Four and [Mississippi State’s] Morgan William hitting a huge shot and watching the Lynx and the Sparks go back at it in the WNBA Finals, there are still some people who just aren’t as passionate about women’s basketball. Is it fair? No.”

A case could be made that women’s basketball is still on the back burner, as it has been for years in American sports. Still, snubbing these ladies feels like a missed opportunity to rewrite this administration’s narrative and include a group of people who have felt alienated and excluded since the beginning of Trump’s term of office.

In the current climate of our country, where racial and gender tensions are high, one would hope the White House could see the benefit of having the Gamecocks appear before the president and how that moment could bridge that gap to overturn the public perception that this current government spreads a message of divisiveness as opposed to unity. A genuine congratulatory moment with one of the greatest players in women’s basketball history — who coaches one of the most distinguished collegiate programs, which happens to hail from the same state that not two years ago was torn apart by a racially-driven mass shooting — could very well have been a grace note for this administration for both sports fans and women.

Geno Auriemma and the 2016 champion University of Connecticut Huskies made the trip six times during the Obama administration. Women aren’t going away anytime soon. It’s time this reality is accepted.

On the fifth anniversary of Kendrick Lamar’s ‘good kid, m.A.A.d city,’ California athletes reflect on the epic ‘Sing About Me’ DeMar DeRozan, Chiney Ogwumike and Arron Afflalo remain emotional about Lamar’s most powerful song

I used to be jealous of Arron Afflalo / He was the one to follow.

— Kendrick Lamar, from 2012’s “Black Boy Fly”

Now in his second stint with the Orlando Magic, shooting guard Arron Afflalo, recently of the Sacramento Kings, was one of the key pieces in a 2012 offseason blockbuster: then-superstar center Dwight Howard’s trade to the Los Angeles Lakers. Five years ago, Affalo’s name wasn’t only ringing off in the city internationally known as the home of Walt Disney World — it was also popping off in his hometown of Compton, California.

On Oct. 22, 2012, Afflalo’s fellow Compton native, Kendrick Lamar, had released his much-anticipated second album, good kid, m.A.A.d city (Top Dawg/Aftermath/Interscope). Among big hits songs like “B— Don’t Kill My Vibe,” and “Poetic Justice” (featuring Drake), “Black Boy Fly” was a bonus record — an homage to hometown heroes whose talents survived the streets of South Central Los Angeles: He was the only leader foreseeing brighter tomorrows / He would live in the gym / We was living in sorrow. Lamar rapped these lyrics, remembering the days when Afflalo was the star of their Centennial High School basketball squad: Total envy of him, he made his dream become a reality/ Actually making it possible to swim/ His way up outta Compton/ With further to accomplish.

Caption: Fan-made video of Kendrick Lamar’s “Black Boy Fly.”

Lamar and Afflalo knew of each other, even if they didn’t run in the same crews. Aside from being a star athlete, Afflalo was the school’s biggest supplier of music. “If you heard [50 Cent’s] ‘In Da Club’ coming from a car stereo in Compton in 2003,” he told The Players Tribune, “there’s a really good chance that CD was burned by Arron Afflalo.” Business was so booming that teachers and students alike flooded him with requests ranging from Marvin Gaye to The Hot Boys. One student in particular made an appeal for Jay-Z’s 1996 debut Reasonable Doubt. That classmate was Kendrick Lamar Duckworth, who would eventually become a seven-time Grammy winner with 22 nominations.

DeMar DeRozan #10 of the Toronto Raptors looks on during the game against the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game Four of the Eastern Conference Semifinals during the 2017 NBA Playoffs on May 7, 2017 at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

Good kid, m.A.A.d city, five years old this week, is of course a modern hip-hop classic, one of the true cultural linchpins of the 2010s. The project is a product of a teenage Lamar’s fascination with The Autobiography of Malcolm X as well as his own experiences on Los Angeles’ Rosecrans Avenue, the Louis Burgers where his Uncle Tony was murdered, Gonzales Park, and street corners where gang members served as gatekeepers. It’s a gospel of a Compton life — stories that don’t make it to CNN, and rarely ever leave the neighborhoods. The album reflects growing up in Compton “one thousand percent,” said Toronto Raptors All-Star guard and Compton native DeMar DeRozan. “It takes you back to exact moments of growing up in there. Everything was the norm. Growing up, that’s just what we knew.”

The album’s standout track is an epic bit of storytelling called “Sing About Me. I’m Dying of Thirst.” The song was produced in 2011 by the three-time Grammy-nominated Gabriel “Like” Stevenson of the Los Angeles-based hip-hop trio Pac Div while on Mac Miller’s Blue Slide Park tour. “He hit me back in a couple hours like, this is crazy,” Like recalled Kendrick’s text message after hearing his beat. “I’m writing to it right now in a room with lit candles. I’m like, word, that’s tight,” he said, laughing.

An appropriate setting given the haunting chorus: When the lights shut off and it’s my turn to settle down/ My main concern/ Promise that you will sing about me/ Promise that you will sing about me. The overall narrative of the song is all too familiar to Lamar, Afflalo and DeRozan. The three verses emerge from three different perspectives. The rage inflicted on black bodies unite them. The tales of gun violence, societal ignorance of women’s pain, and survivor’s remorse are common in the United States and around the world.

Arron Afflalo #4 of the Orlando Magic handles the ball during a preseason game against the Dallas Mavericks on October 9, 2017 at the American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas.

Glenn James/NBAE via Getty Images

“[Kendrick and I] grew up in the same environment,” Afflalo says. “I didn’t really get a sense of nobody else seeing big things in their life the way I did. It’s fulfilling to know there was another young kid, at the same school, that had the same types of dreams. If not bigger.” Those dreams, though, were cultivated through nightmares.

Dumb n—-s like me never prosper/ Prognosis of a problem child, I’m proud and well-devoted/ This Piru s— been in me forever/ So forever I’ma push it wherever, whenever/ And I love you ’cause you love my brother like you did/ Just promise me you’ll tell this story when you make it big/ And if I die before your album drop, I hope… **gunshots**

— Kendrick Lamar, from 2012’s “Sing About Me”

“‘[Sing About Me]’ is the song version of an epic movie,” said Chiney Ogwumike, a rising ESPN broadcaster and forward on the WNBA’s Connecticut Sun. The 2014 No. 1 overall pick and Rookie of the Year is a native of suburban Houston. She was a star sophomore at Stanford University — 200 miles north of Compton — when good kid, m.A.A.d city dropped five Octobers ago.

And she’s right. In many ways, good kid, m.A.A.d city is a remix of Tre Styles’ (Cuba Gooding Jr.) viewpoint in 1991’s landmark Boyz N The Hood—a young black male who grew up in the ‘hood and witnessed its daily joys, pains and fears from the frontline. It’s a comparison Lamar embraced on the song’s second half “Dying of Thirst.” Whereas YG’s 2014’s seminal debut My Krazy Life pinpoints the revolving door of gangbanging and street life seen through Doughboy (Ice Cube).

“The whole purpose … is to describe that lost child that you don’t hear about,” said Ogwumike, focusing on the song’s first verse. Featuring a conversation between Lamar and “a friend” (voiced also by Lamar), following the murder of the friend’s brother, the moment recalls the legendary Either they don’t know Tre and Doughboy conversation following Ricky’s death in Boyz. Twenty years year, Lamar’s friend reasons in the song, America still didn’t know didn’t show or didn’t care what happened in his ‘hood and to his brother.

“It’s crazy, because you never notice it until you’re on the outside, when you’re able to look back at it,”said DeRozan. “I went to a Crip high school [Compton High]. I grew up in a Crip neighborhood. I talk just like him. I walk just like him. I do this just like him. It’s instilled in you, and you follow those rules in a sense of what comes with it. It’s crazy. A lot of people don’t make it out.”

“But now,” Ogwumike said, “you do hear about this child. Now … because of these protests.”

DeRozan said a lot of people should just sit down and dissect “Sing About Me.” “They should understand what he’s talking about. This is an everyday thing! It’s still going on all over the world. There’s all types of inner cities.”

Instagram Photo

The verse is deeper than rap. It’s what Keisha Ross of the Missouri Psychological Association describes as historical trauma. Life in the ghetto is traumatizing. I’m fortunate you believe in a dream, Kendrick raps from the perspective of his slain friend. This orphanage we call a ghetto is quite a routine. Anger, hatred and aggression, she said, are both self-inflicted and inflicted on members of one’s own group. “A lot of people know Kendrick Lamar for who I am today,” he said in 2013. “[But] for me to think the way I do, I had to come from a dark space.”

“I think of people I grew up with, that love basketball and love music in my community,” said Ogwumike. “It’s unfortunate because I feel like not a lot of people understand this day-to-day. A lot of hoopers come from certain situations where they are — or they know people that have been — affected by violence. It’s ingrained within sports culture. It’s a humbling reminder that you have to play every possession with a purpose. You gotta live your life with a purpose overall because you want people to sing about you when you’re gone.”

This is the life of another girl damaged by the system / These foster homes, I run away and never do miss ’em / See, my hormones just run away and if I can get ’em / Back to where they used to be, then I’ll probably be in the denim / Or a family gene that show women how to be woman / Or better yet, a leader, you need her to learn something / Then you probably need to beat her.

— Kendrick Lamar, from 2012’s “Sing About Me”

If the first verse is an example of the suddenness of the loss of black life as it relates to men, the second leans into the harrowing experience of how black women are expunged from society. While it’s tempting to think of it as a 2017 version of Tupac Shakur’s 1991 “Brenda’s Got a Baby.” the verse is actually a continuation of the cautionary tale “Keisha’s Song (Her Pain)” found on Lamar’s “final warm-up,” 2011’s Section.80. In it, Keisha is a prostitute who is raped and murdered. In “Sing About Me,” her sister (voiced by Lamar) responds, furious that Lamar would use her life for gain. This, too, is based on real life.

“I met her … and she went at me about her sister, Keisha,” Lamar told MTV days after the album’s release, “basically saying she didn’t want her … business out there and if your album do come out, don’t mention me, don’t sing about me.” Keisha’s sister falls down the same path. How could you ever just put her on blast and s—?/ Judging her past and s—?, he raps, Well, it’s completely my future / Her n—a behind me right now asking for a– and s— / And I’ma need that $40 / Even if I gotta f—, suck and swallow.

She doesn’t die in a hail of gunfire. And with beings such as Shaniya Davis, Sandra Bland and the 276 schoolgirls abducted by Boko Haram as tragic contemporaries, Keisha’s sister, her voice, her pain and the resentment for the only society she knows just fades away. Almost as if she was never here.

Chiney Ogwumike #13 of the Connecticut Sun prepares to shoot a free throw against the Minnesota Lynx during a WNBA game on September 4, 2016 at Target Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Jordan Johnson/NBAE via Getty Images

“When you have a man who uses his platform to show how women are independent, but then also face even more adversity than their brothers — it’s everything,” Ogwumike said with a sigh. “That was superpowerful to me, about how she’s trying to make a way for herself in any way possible. But that way may end up being her demise. It needs to be told. It needs to be destigmatized.”

And you’re right, your brother was a brother to me / And your sister’s situation was the one that pulled me / In a direction to speak on something / That’s realer than the TV screen / By any means, wasn’t trying to offend or come between/ Her personal life, I was like ‘It need to be told’/ Cursing the life of 20 generations after her soul/ Exactly what would happen if I ain’t continue rappin’/ Or steady being distracted by money, drugs and four-fives …

Kendrick Lamar and DeMar DeRozan are friends. They’re both from Compton. Their high schools are separated by three miles. What links the two creatives isn’t recognizable off the rip — both suffer from survivor’s remorse.

For Lamar, stories of those who never escaped Compton are spirits tattooed on his soul as his career continues to ascend, as his all-time great portfolio has fans including former president Barack Obama, Beyoncé, Compton’s own Serena Williams, LeBron James, Russell Westbrook and Dave Chappelle. These tattooed spirits will never see the birth of the “new Compton” led by Mayor Aja Brown. Why did they have to die while I live? How could God let this happen Did they suffer?

For DeRozan, a three-time All-Star and 2016 Olympic gold medalist, success does little to erase the pain of the past. In many ways, it only intensifies. “It’s something I deal with,” he said. “I lost a lot of friends that was with me when I was younger, but I took a different route … Then you get a phone call hearing something happened. You start to say, ‘Damn, if I just would’ve took them with me, or if they would’ve stayed with me, this wouldn’t have happened.’ ”

good kid, m.A.A.d city, a half-decade later, is a form of counseling for DeRozan. It’s way deeper than words over beats. It’s his life on what has become the metaphorical wax. But perhaps more than any lyric from the song, its final lines resonate more than anything as he prepares to enter his ninth season in Toronto — 2,500 miles from the place he first called home: Compton.

Am I worth it, Kendrick ponders. Did I put enough work in?

“That’s everything,” DeMar said. “You get to a point where you start questioning yourself sometimes. People don’t feel my pain, and my passion that I’m putting into it. But in the midst of questioning yourself, you find a new inspiration to keep pushing, and be even greater to get that point across.”

He pauses for a second. “I take that approach in everything that I do.”

WNBA star Chiney Ogwumike does it all The Connecticut Sun forward is getting a head start on her potential post-basketball career

There is one rule of thumb Connecticut Sun forward Chiney Ogwumike continually abides by these days as a WNBA player: Don’t wait to begin your next career until after your current basketball career has ended.

It’s a mantra the 25-year-old repeats to WNBA rookies, and a sentiment that carries her through her many off-court endeavors, including her most recent announcement of joining ESPN as an analyst for its newly launched ESPN channel on Kwesé TV. The channel provides coverage and a unique sports experience to fans in Africa. For nearly three weeks, Ogwumike has faithfully rehearsed lines, shadowed on-air talent and attempted to correct her posture to ready herself for the new role.

“It’s an adrenaline rush, almost like playing in a game,” Ogwumike said. “You’re excited, but you don’t know what’s going to happen. You don’t know if you’re going to win, you don’t know if you’re going to lose. I second-guess myself because athletes tend to be different in broadcast. It’s a cool challenge for me because I love sports, it’s an African audience and, to me, the most important thing is, I knew this was out of the realm of what I imagined myself doing, but I knew representation matters.”

As a Nigerian-American, Ogwumike understands the passion African fans have for sports. Physical activities have always served as a bonding experience in her family, and the love for sports is partially responsible for Ogwumike and her older sister, Nneka, turning to basketball after being told they were too tall for gymnastics.

Staying connected and recognizing the need for in-depth sports coverage not only in her home country but throughout all of Africa is something that has been a priority for Ogwumike since her days as an international relations major at Stanford University.

Growing up, Ogwumike would travel back to Nigeria with her family once or twice a year. While attending Stanford and becoming a mentee of former U.S. Secretary of State and national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, Ogwumike was encouraged to align her passion for giving back with her academic pursuits. For the first time, Ogwumike made solo trips to Nigeria before studying abroad during her junior year. In her free time, Ogwumike traveled the continent, working with nonprofits on basketball clinics and to help raise money to build basketball courts.

“I saw the country with new, educated eyes,” Ogwumike said. “It was a huge educational experience for me, and I left very optimistic because when you think about Nigeria, you tend to think of a place left behind. But the potential is there.”

After being drafted as the WNBA’s No. 1 overall pick in 2014, Ogwumike immediately went to work. She completed her rookie season averaging 15.5 points and 8.5 rebounds before being named the 2014 Rookie of the Year. Shortly afterward while playing in Italy, Ogwumike suffered a right knee injury that required microfracture surgery. She missed all of the 2015-16 season.

“I think athletes tend to make the injury their narrative,” Ogwumike said. “Injuries happen in sports, but I never wanted to be defined by it, and I think that’s my motive. My mindset has always been I love basketball, it’s my passion, it’s opened doors, but it’s not the be-all and end-all for me. When I got injured, it sucked because I was worried about what would be my basketball future, but the injury also gave me time to step back and think and plan on my future. I know I can’t play forever.”

Thinking ahead, Ogwumike focused less on the pain and slow rehabilitation process and more on how she can continue to strengthen and develop relationships on a different side of the sports realm. During her downtime, Ogwumike took advantage of television time, including co-hosting opportunities on ESPN’s First Take and His & Hers, as well as serving as an analyst for NBATV during the 2015 WNBA playoffs. Ogwumike also partnered with NBA Africa to help launch Power Forward, a youth engagement initiative that uses basketball as a tool to develop health, leadership and life skills in Nigeria.

The next season, Ogwumike returned to the court to finish second on the team with 12.6 points per game and 6.7 rebounds per game, earning her Associated Press Comeback Player of the Year honors. In a situation similar to the first, unfortunate circumstances befell Ogwumike again — this time, in the form of an Achilles tendon injury in her left leg while playing overseas in China.

“The second injury in China was a heartbreaker because I knew something was off,” Ogwumike said. “But I always try thinking of the positive. I got home within three days from China and had surgery quick, because I had doctors on speed dial for my other injury. The situation could be worse for me. If I’m going to be challenged in my career, I’d rather it happen now than later. I also know that my worth is not just my stats. As women basketball players, our worth is not just how we play but how we represent ourselves. Yeah, I’m missing my WNBA season and it stinks, but I’m really excited about this opportunity with ESPN.”

Juggling her WNBA career while co-hosting SportsCenter across subSaharan Africa will present challenges, Ogwumike said, only because it’s uncharted territory for her. Yet, Ogwumike is keeping a positive outlook. As she looks forward to returning to the WNBA in the 2018-19 season, her focus also lies in finding a deeper meaning off the court and giving back to the countries that have given so much to her.

“It’s unique for me because being Nigerian, I know what our passions are, and it’s sports,” Ogwumike said. “If you look at who I am, I’m a Nigerian-American female basketball player. And this show caters to all Africans, especially Nigerians because that’s some of the higher viewership, and I think female sports are on the rise. Even though it’s out of what I perceive to be the realm of possibilities for my career, it’s perfect for me.

“I always try to think of my little sisters and young girls that want to do what I’ve had the opportunity to do. That outweighs the fear. At age 25 it feels like an avalanche, but at the same time it’s like that adrenaline rush that I get from playing, and it’s cool. No matter what your lane is, attack it, do it to the best of your ability, and that can be the thing that opens doors.”