The NBA’s second string is refusing to back down to the Cavaliers and Warriors We do some trash-talking on behalf of the Pistons, Magic, Grizzlies and Clippers

Somebody forgot to tell the rest of the NBA that we’re supposed to be waiting for a fourth straight Golden State Warriors-Cleveland Cavaliers Finals.

In the West, the Memphis Grizzlies and Los Angeles Clippers are rocking rims and raising eyebrows. In the East, the Detroit Pistons and Orlando Magic are killing, while doormats are giving the Cavs’ new-and-not-improved roster the business. Yeah, we know the Dubs are laying in the cut after a draining preseason trip to China. We know, at some point, LeBron’s gonna LeBron. But a big chunk of the NBA is living by the words of this site’s favorite inspirational author and refusing to be defeated, despite the overwhelming talent and aura of these two historically dominant teams.

As we wait for the whole superteam concept to kick in this season, here’s what we’d like to pretend the NBA’s up-and-comers are tweeting at the Cavs (3-4 record, including four losses to non-playoff teams) and Golden State (5-3):

DETROIT PISTONS, 5-3, Second in Eastern Conference

You like dressing up for 🎃🎃🎃, @Warriors? We ain’t scared.

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REAL TALK: First the Pistons came from behind to beat the undefeated Clippers in Los Angeles, then they knocked off the Warriors in Oakland, California. Stephen Curry rode into the arena dressed as Billy the Puppet from the Saw horror films — but the Dubs’ 26 turnovers were the real horror show. The Pistons lost to the young Lakers on Tuesday night, but they are still one of the Association’s biggest surprises.

ORLANDO MAGIC, 5-2, tied for Eastern Conference lead

Yo @NBA: Don’t 😴. We 😱😱😱 this year. Like a game-winning 👌from the dunker @Double0AG:

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REAL TALK: Orlando’s red-hot offense powered the Magic to a 21-point win over the LeBrons in Cleveland. Aaron Gordon is rising above mere dunks to become a legit Most Improved Player candidate. The Magic could actually make the playoffs for the first time since 2012, when Dwight Howard turned from Superman back into Clark Kent.

MEMPHIS GRIZZLIES, 5-2, first in the Western Conference

111-101 W vs @Warriors 🤔

98-90 W vs @HoustonRockets 😳

103-89 W vs @HoustonRockets 😈

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REAL TALK: What vat of barbecue sauce did Memphis find Jarell Martin in? What about this other starter named James Ennis III? Where has Andrew Harrison been hiding since losing two NCAA titles at Kentucky? It doesn’t matter who plays for the Grizz as long as they have Mike Conley and Marc Gasol.

LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS, 4-2, second in the Western Conference

CP Who?

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REAL TALK: OK, they got blown out by the Warriors on Monday night in the Dubs’ bounce-back game from the Detroit debacle. But the Clippers are defying predictions of a collapse after the exit of cancerous control freak All-Star point guard Chris Paul. The team belongs to Blake Griffin now. And not only is BG splashing game-winning 3s, he’s back to being THAT Blake Griffin.

How Michael Jordan’s original starting five — from Ray Allen to Michael Finley — became Team Jordan’s first stars Before Russ, Kawhi, Melo, CP3 and Jimmy Buckets, Jordan Brand got its start with All-Stars and future champions

Oct. 15, 1996, will forever be ingrained in Ray Allen’s memory. It was the night he met Michael Jordan for the first time. A young player like Allen viewed Jordan as a god in a league that had already deemed him the greatest of all time. As Jordan chased his fifth NBA title that year, he brought with him a $33 million contract, the richest in team sports history. Off the court, Jordan had brought in millions of dollars for Nike through the sale of his signature Air Jordans, the single most important line of sneakers to hit the market. Yet, as Jordan began looking toward life after basketball, he needed the help of Allen, and others, to continue to make his mark on the business world and the culture.

A 21-year-old rookie, and four months removed from being selected with the No. 4 overall pick in the NBA draft, Allen entered a matchup between his Milwaukee Bucks and Jordan’s Chicago Bulls at the United Center. He’d face his hero, the man from the posters Allen hung on his wall as a kid, in an exhibition game. “I’m intimidated,” recalled the future Hall of Famer, now 42, “because I’m not supposed to be in this moment. I’m supposed to be on the other side, watching and cheering for him. I’m like, ‘You know how many times I rooted for him to destroy whoever was on the other end of the floor? Now I gotta beat him? Now I gotta stop him?’ Now I’m this kid in this position … thinking, ‘Is this situation, this moment, too big for me?’ ”

Before tipoff, Allen and Jordan walked out onto the hardwood, met at half court and shook hands. “ ‘What’s up, Ray?’ Welcome to the NBA,’ ” Allen remembers Jordan saying. “I was like, ‘Man … Michael Jordan knows my name.’ ”

Jordan actually knew Allen quite well. He was the one who’d decided which shoes the rookie wore on his feet that night — and for most of his NBA career. Months before this pregame moment, Allen backed “out of a deal with FILA,” he said, to sign with Nike. The company planned on giving Jordan his own brand and imagined Allen as the young face of a fresh new line of products. So, in his first encounter with Jordan, Allen took the court in Team Jordan Jumpman Pros — the first sneakers designed outside of the Bulls superstar’s signature Air Jordan line.

“I was like, ‘Man … Michael Jordan knows my name.’ ”

“I was the one guy in the league who had Brand Jordans on my feet,” Allen said of his rookie season. “But I didn’t know how connected and linked in M.J. was with what was going on … if it was the company, or if he was making all the decisions. Not yet did I understand what the Brand Jordan meant, or what it was.”

M.J. had in fact selected Allen to be the first player to endorse Jordan Brand, which wouldn’t officially launch until September 1997. His Airness, however, imagined a whole squad of ambassadors representing his brand in the NBA. As a reflection of his own skills, style and swag, he wanted to build “Team Jordan” — and every team needs a starting five.


In 1997, before playing a single minute in the NBA, Derek Anderson traveled to Nike headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon, ready to be pitched a potential endorsement deal. “I had no idea who I was meeting,” he says now. “I thought I was meeting with Nike itself, because I didn’t know anything about the Jordan Brand.” He finally got to a boardroom, “ … and there’s Michael Jordan. He says, ‘Hey, D.A., how’s it going?’ and I’m thinking, ‘Wow, Michael Jordan actually knows who I am.’ ”

His Airness sat before the now-retired NCAA and NBA champion Anderson, having done his research on the 22-year-old prospect. Anderson played only 19 games during his senior year at the University of Kentucky before tearing the ACL in his right knee, so Jordan asked about the progress he’d made in his recovery, and Anderson informed him that he could, once again, throw down windmill dunks. The conversation soon turned into an offer from Jordan that Anderson couldn’t refuse.

Derek Anderson (right) of the Cleveland Cavaliers drives against the Golden State Warriors on Dec. 3, 1997, at Oracle Arena in Oakland, California.

Sam Forencich/NBAE via Getty Images

“The way I worked hard, and how I fought back from the adversity of my injury, he really appreciated that, and wanted me to be a part of the Jordan Brand family,” said Anderson, who the Cleveland Cavaliers took with the 13th overall pick in the 1997 draft. “I gave him a, ‘Yes, sir, absolutely … I would be honored.’ It wasn’t even a thought process.” Anderson had previously met with Converse but turned down the opportunities discussed there. He also canceled the rest of his scheduled visits with other shoe companies.

Eddie Jones, then a third-year shooting guard with the Los Angeles Lakers, found himself up for endorsement renegotiation with Nike after rolling with the sneaker giant for the first few years of his NBA career. In hopes of luring the 1997 All-Star (the first of three such honors) who played in the glamorous Hollywood market, Reebok, Adidas, FILA and PUMA all went after Jones. Yet the bidding war came to a screeching halt once Jordan came calling.

“When the best player on the planet, the best player to have a basketball in his hand, really wants you to be a part of something, I mean, you jump onboard,” said Jones, now retired and living in Florida.

Allen’s All-Star Milwaukee Bucks teammate Vin Baker also joined the mix (Baker struggled with alcohol over the course of his All-NBA and Olympic gold medal-winning career, but now sober, he coached this summer at a Massachusetts summer camp). Michael Finley of the Dallas Mavericks began hearing rumors swirling around the league about a master plan that Nike and Jordan had cooking.

“My agent called me,” Finley remembered, “and said, ‘Michael Jordan and his reps are starting their own Jordan Brand and want to know if you want to be a part of it.’ I was like, ‘C’mon, man. That’s a no-brainer. Of course.’ To have M.J. pick you as one of the originals, that’s an honor. It was just us five … our own little fraternity.” (These days, Finley, an assistant vice president of basketball operations for the Dallas Mavericks, is something of a film producer.)

“The goal was to hopefully find athletes that had a little bit of Michael in them.”

Jordan, the alpha and omega of the basketball universe at the time, had handpicked and created an eclectic group of players in his own image to put on for the new brand. “The goal was to hopefully find athletes that had a little bit of Michael in them. In our mind, Michael was the greatest at what he did, and he was great because he did so many things really well,” said former Jordan Brand product director Gentry Humphrey, now vice president of Nike Golf footwear. “And while you may never find that one guy that has the complete package, you can find a little bit of some of those things in several athletes.”

A pure shooter in Allen, a high-flying, acrobatic athlete in Anderson, a Swiss army knife guard in Jones, a skilled stretch four in Baker, and a versatile swingman in Finley — together, they formed Team Jordan.

“Everyone brought something different, but everyone brought something from him. Everything from us was an entity of M.J.,” Derek Anderson said. “It’s almost like we were his kids. Like every kid has genes from his parents, we were a genetic build of him.”


On Sept. 9, 1997, Nike officially announced the launch of the Jordan Brand.

“A sub-brand of NIKE, Inc. the JORDAN brand is a pure, authentic basketball brand of premium, high-performance basketball footwear and apparel inspired by the performance legacy, vision and direct involvement of Michael Jordan,” reads the third paragraph of Nike’s press release from this historic day. “The brand will carry the Jumpman logo and will be packaged together to make its retail debut on November 1 for the Holiday ’97 season.”

Never before in the history of sports had a player, not to mention an African-American one, “entered into a solo venture on such a sweeping scale,” according to a Chicago Tribune report published the day the brand debuted in 1997.

“I have been involved in the design of everything I have worn from Nike since we began our relationship in 1984,” Jordan said at the introductory news conference in New York. “The launch of the Jordan Brand is simply an extension of that process.”

The Air Jordan logo is displayed at a Jordan promotional event July 31, 2001, in Harlem, New York.

Mario Tama/Getty Images

More than a decade had passed since Nike signed Jordan before his prolific rookie season and released his first signature sneaker, the timeless Air Jordan 1.

“I always felt like Jordan was its own brand, and I approached it that way,” said iconic Nike shoe designer Tinker Hatfield, who believed the move that catapulted Jordan into his own stratosphere of the sportswear industry was long overdue. “Jordan’s shoes were as advanced as possible for the best player in the world, but also were a little more sophisticated and with … nicer materials,” continued Hatfield, who’s crafted some of Jordan’s most legendary shoes, starting with the Air Jordan 3s that dropped in 1988.

“I placed Jordan on a pedestal in my own mind, like it was its own separate brand. I was actually the one who thought up the Jordan Brand in the first place,” Hatfield makes clear, “and tried to pitch that numerous times over the years and didn’t get anywhere with it, until it finally did happen. I’m glad it did.”

Nike celebrated the momentous occasion with a huge launch party at NikeTown in New York. The guest list was loaded with stars from all walks of the culture. NBA Inside Stuff host Ahmad Rashad emceed the event, attended by everyone from Sheryl Swoopes, Kym Hampton and Dawn Staley, to rhythm and blues singer Kenny Lattimore, musical groups BLACKStreet and A Tribe Called Quest, and actors Kadeem Hardison and Damon Wayans. “It was like All-Star, Grammys and Emmys all mixed up into one,” Finley remembered.

From day one, everyone wanted a piece of Jordan Brand, which analysts projected to generate more than $300 million in worldwide revenue in the fiscal year 1998 (the Air Jordan line alone raked in $70 million in sales for Nike in fiscal 1997). On Nov. 1, 1997, the Air Jordan 13s, the first shoe under the Jordan Brand umbrella, were released at $150 a pair. The brand’s first Team Jordan sneakers, the Jumpman Pro Quicks and Jumpman Pro Strongs, wouldn’t hit until May 1998. Until then, Jordan entrusted only Allen, Anderson, Jones, Baker and Finley to wear them on the court, and to promote Jordan Brand in its inaugural NBA season.

“The brand was big before I even knew it,” Derek Anderson said. “It took off that way.”


At the end of the NBA calendar, when the season finally ends, players partake in the annual ritual of cleaning out their lockers at their home arenas. During his first season with Team Jordan, after the playoffs ended with Karl Malone, John Stockton and the Utah Jazz sweeping the Lakers in the Western Conference finals, Jones recalls arriving at The Forum in Los Angeles a little late.

By the time he got there, boxes of his Jordans were missing. And the ones that were left? Jones’ teammates were already calling dibs — and mustering up the courage to see if they could get Jones to come up off of his shoes. “I swear, every guy that wore a size 13, size 14, they were like, ‘Eddie, man, I gotta have these. I didn’t want to take them without you knowing, but can I have them?’ ” said Jones, one of two members of the original team to ever get his own signature Jordans: 1999’s Jumpman Quick 6 and 2000’s Jumpman Swift 6. The brand also gave Baker the Jumpman Vindicate in 1999. “I gave them so many sneakers that day, it was crazy. I had no sneakers by the time I left.”

To get a pair of even Jumpman sneakers in the early days of the brand, you had to go through one of the members of Team Jordan. “As original endorsees of the brand, we had exclusive rights to shoes that [other players] didn’t have, and shoes before they hit the market,” Finley said. “We had the ups on guys who considered themselves sneakerheads in the league, whether it was teammates or opponents. Even referees commented on my shoes at the jump ball.”

Eddie Jones (second from right) of the Los Angeles Lakers passes against the Utah Jazz in Game 3 of the Western Conference finals played on May 22, 1998, at the Great Western Forum in Inglewood, California.

Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

This was the era before the brand diversified its color palette, so most Air Jordans released in a combination of red, black and white, the team colors of the Chicago Bulls. Yet, for Team Jordan’s Jumpman sneakers, the brand blessed its ambassadors with pairs in their own team colors. Lakers purple and gold for Jones; Cavs sky blue for Anderson and Mavs royal blue for Finley; Bucks purple and green for Allen; and white and black Pro Strongs, with SuperSonics green, red and yellow accent, for Baker, who was traded from Milwaukee to Seattle a few weeks after the brand launched.

“I always feel very humble about being having been with Jordan Brand since day one.”

“Most people were like, ‘I want THAT color right there.’ I had colors that were against what was normal in the market, and what people would see in shoe stores anywhere in America. It created a fervor for wanting those shoes,” Allen said. “The ball kid used to come in the locker room almost every game and say, ‘Hey, so-and-so wanted to know if you could send him your shoes.’ ”

The requests didn’t only come from hoopers.

“Fat Joe literally chased me down from the time I started. That dude, he would be on my heels for shoes,” Anderson said of the Terror Squad rapper from the Bronx, New York (who in 2016 opened up his own sneaker store, which was greenlit by Michael Jordan).

Jones has his own stories: “I remember Usher asking for some sneakers!”

When they weren’t rocking exclusive Jumpmans in the late 1990s and early 2000s, Team Jordan members could be seen on the court in custom, player exclusive (PE) Air Jordans, especially after Jordan retired for the second time in 1999 and not many players were wearing his retros on the court. Jones, who landed with the Miami Heat in 2000 after a trade, received red and black Air Jordan 13s with “E. Jones” inscribed across the tongue.

Ray Allen (right) of the Boston Celtics dribbles down the court wearing a pair of green and gold Air Jordan 11s on Dec. 31, 2010, at the TD Garden in Boston.

Steve Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images

Anderson loved playing in low tops, so he persuaded Jordan and the brand to make him low Air Jordan 11 Space Jams and Concords. Finley’s PE Air Jordan 16s, with “FIN 4” on the lace cover, became such a go-to shoe in his arsenal that players across the league thought they were his own signature Jordans. Baker also wore PE 16s, as well as PE Air Jordan 9s with his No. 42 on the heel. Allen’s extensive collection of PEs could fill a museum. His favorites? The green, white and gold, and red, white and gold Air Jordan 11s that the brand presented him to honor his two career NBA championships in 2008 with the Boston Celtics and 2013 with the Miami Heat.

“I gave him a, ‘Yes, sir, absolutely … I would be honored.’ It wasn’t even a thought process.”

Nowadays, there’s of course a new Team Jordan, featuring Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul, Jimmy Butler, Kawhi Leonard and Russell Westbrook, who all get the PE Air Jordan treatment like their predecessors. In the Oklahoma City Thunder’s opener to the 2017-18 NBA season, Westbrook took the floor in a pair of PE Air Jordan 32s, a little more than a month after signing a 10-year extension with Jordan Brand. The reigning NBA MVP struck the most lucrative deal in the company’s history on Sept. 13, almost 20 years to the day that Nike hosted the event to announce the launch of the Jordan Brand.

Westbrook is the new face of the now billion-dollar brand’s Team Jordan, which all began with Michael Jordan’s first pick in 1996, Ray Allen.

“I always feel very humble about being having been with Jordan Brand since day one,” said Allen. “For me, long term, it ended up being one of the best decisions I made in my career.”

The other original members would say the same. All five took a leap of faith when Jordan asked them to be a part of his vision. And the rest is history.

“We were young kids who admired M.J. so much. He was our mentor, and was putting this thing together,” Jones said. “We knew it was going to be big, only because it was him. Whatever he does, it kind of works out … it’s always big. And everybody wanted to wear Jordans.”

Are we entering the end times for the NFL? Professional basketball offers the NFL a blueprint for success: embrace the black culture of the majority of your players

The National Football League, the American sport that comes closest to resembling a religion, has its end times in sight: the year 2021. “The likelihood,” NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith said in August, “of either a strike, or a lockout is in ’21 a virtual certainty.”

Doomsdays. Humanity has always been obsessed with them.

Every religious text has mention of the end times. In just the past 30 years, we’ve survived Halley’s comet, Y2K, the end of the Mayan calendar and the rapture that was supposed to happen in September. But nothing lasts forever. The NFL has survived lockouts and strikes before and has seemed like Teflon for the past decade with sky-high broadcast ratings, massive revenues and an annual American holiday called Super Bowl Sunday. But the league has serious competition for American pastime status from the National Basketball Association.

This may seem far-fetched now, while the NFL’s television ratings lead the NBA’s by a wide margin (although numbers were down last season, and some wonder whether television ratings, in a streaming world, matter as much as they used to). And the NBA doesn’t have anything close to dominating a whole day in America like the Super Bowl. But the NBA, which is as popular as ever in this social media era, continues to embrace an important fact about American culture: Black culture and black people determine cool. Cool resists linear structures. If the NFL wants to maintain its dominance, it needs to embrace black culture or get left behind. Just like baseball.


Let’s be clear: The 2017 NBA Finals between the Golden State Warriors and the Cleveland Cavaliers was the league’s most watched Finals since Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls played the Utah Jazz in 1998. But the average 20.4 million viewers who tuned into each game is equal to the average viewership for a single Sunday Night Football game in 2016. And the NFL is still an unmitigated cash cow, with a net worth of more than $13 billion, dwarfing the NBA’s $6 billion figure. The average NFL franchise is worth $2.5 billion. Worth of the average NBA franchise: $1.36 billion, a 3.5-fold increase over the past five years. Over at Major League Baseball, the average team is worth $1.54 billion, but 50 percent of viewers are 55 or older, up from 41 percent in 2010. And in its defense, the MLB can still captivate the country when it has historic World Series matchups like last year’s battle between Cinderellas in the Chicago Cubs and Cleveland Indians. And they almost doubled back with a monster championship series between the Yankees and Dodgers if the former hadn’t lost to the Houston Astros. ESPN data shows the average age of baseball viewers at 53. The average age is 47 for the NFL, and it’s rising. The average age is 37 for the NBA, and it seems to be staying there. Baseball’s television ratings continue to trend downward.

Howard Bryant, ESPN senior writer and author of Shut Out: A Story of Race and Baseball in Boston, summarizes the NFL’s stance in relation to the NBA and MLB: “Post-ABA merger,” he says, “basketball has done by far the best job of adapting to the people who play the sport, baseball the worst. The NFL has been in between, leaning towards a bad job.”

Why might the NFL be on its way to becoming MLB? Because the NFL is looking at a 2021 season that may not even be played. Because the NFL’s ostensibly mainstream stars — Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Eli Manning — who have dominated the past decade, are getting old. And many kids are being steered away from playing the game in its tackle form. “Participation has dropped,” Mark Murphy said in January. He’s president and CEO of the Green Bay Packers and a board member at USA Football. “There’s concern among parents about when is the right age to start playing tackle, if at all.” In a recent (nonrandom) study of NFL players, 110 out of 111 brains examined showed signs of the degenerative brain disease chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).

But the NFL could spiral mostly because, perhaps more than at any other time in pro football history, the league is at a crossroads when it comes to race. League news right now leads with racial conflict. Players are protesting. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and owners are somewhere between demanding and begging them not to. And in the middle, fans fight over whose boycott of the NFL is actually having an impact on the ratings, if any at all.

“The NBA has caught up or passed the NFL on the cool factor. Whether that translates on the revenue side, that’s hard to know.” — Andrew Brandt, director, Moorad Center for Sports Law at Villanova

Free agent Colin Kaepernick, to bring attention to systemic racism and police brutality, opted on Aug. 14, 2016, not to stand for the national anthem. This has placed the NFL at the center of a discussion about race and sports. Kaepernick’s protest has spread around the world, from European soccer games to Midwestern high school football games. By most accounts, the NFL has botched the handling of the protests. A year later, Kaepernick isn’t in the league despite evidence of him being good enough to start on some teams, and he could surely be a backup.

The reason the anti-protest backlash has become so impactful for the black community is because there’s an understanding of what the fervor about protests is really about—silence. There are contradictions in just about every sentiment of outrage about the protests. Just look at the viral image of an NFL fan wearing a “I stand for the National Anthem” shirt while sitting on a flag. And at the fact that the NFL didn’t even start requiring players to stand for the Anthem until 2009—after the Department of Defense paid the league $5.4 million for “paid patriotism.” And at the fact the NFL actually violates flag codes in some of their representations of patriotism. Jerry Jones himself sat during the anthem at his first Cowboys game, in 1989. And Donald Trump’s finger-pointing at players (and owners) doesn’t erase the fact he insulted John McCain for being a prisoner of war and has lied about calling Gold Star military families who lost soldiers in battle this year. The anger over protests isn’t about patriotism, it’s about silencing black athletes. Steps the NFL may or may not make to quell protests will be seen as an endorsement of that silence.

On Oct. 15, Kaepernick filed a formal grievance against the NFL alleging collusion by team owners. “I think he should be on a roster right now, the Packers’ Aaron Rodgers said in August. “I think because of his protests, he’s not.” Jay-Z rocks a custom Kaepernick jersey on Saturday Night Live, and his actual jersey leads the 49ers’ sales, even though he hasn’t taken a snap for them this season. Kaepernick’s likeness rules the streets. All the while, Kaep rarely speaks, instead continuing his push to donate a million dollars of his own money to various charities across the country, volunteering to donate backpacks to students and suits to parolees. Without so much as a news conference, Kaepernick is part of a daily news cycle, thanks to a massive social media following that watches his every move.

What Kaepernick is learning is something NBA players have known for years: Their social media channels are the best ways to get their points across. So when NBA commissioner Adam Silver sent out a memo reinforcing the rule that players had to stand for the anthem, NBA players (J.R. Smith notwithstanding) mostly took it in stride. That’s because they understand their social impact reaches further than the average NFL player’s. (Odell Beckham Jr., with 9 million Instagram followers, has the most by far of any NFL player.)

LeBron James, who has 39 million Twitter followers and 33 million Instagram followers, expressed that much in a news conference after he called Donald Trump a “bum” on Twitter: “My voice … is more important than my knee. What I say should hit home for a lot of people [to] know where I stand. I don’t believe I have to get on my knee to further what I’m talking about.”

The NBA, its individual players, and fan community have used social media to become a 12-month sport.

Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors goes to the basket against the Houston Rockets on October 17, 2017 at ORACLE Arena in Oakland, California.

Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

And that’s where the NBA dominates the NFL: at social media, where everything is happening. On Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, NBA teams have an average of more than 7 million followers, while NFL franchises average 4.6 million. Even during the NFL’s last season, there were more hashtags on Twitter dedicated to the NBA. In 2016, Forbes ranked the top athletes on social media: Four of the top 10 players were from the NBA, and the rest were international soccer stars. NFL players didn’t crack the top 10. The NBA social media connection allows players to enter lives and households in new and intimate ways.

Another major reason for the NBA’s ability to lap the NFL in social media is the NFL’s draconian rules about sharing videos online. Last October, the league sent out a memo barring teams from posting clips or GIFs of games. Teams that did so would be fined up to $100,000. While teams such as the Atlanta Falcons use clips from Madden video games to “show” highlights every Sunday, the NFL’s hard line limits many teams’ ability to deeply connect with fans where they are — which is, so much of the time, on their phones.

“The NBA is the more progressive league when it comes to digital,” said Jaryd Wilson, digital content manager for the Atlanta Hawks. The Hawks have become an online darling thanks to creative Twitter posts and engagement with fans online. “In-game highlights are our highest digital performers and our most engaging types of content.”

The NFL’s limits on social media, and teams’ subsequent mockery of the decision, exposes a blind spot about American culture. African-Americans dominate what’s trendy on social media, and if “Black Twitter” determines that something is viral, it often becomes an American cultural phenomenon. Think of phrases such as “lit” and “on fleek” or crazes like the mannequin challenge — these began in blackness. On any given week, a new black-centered sensation, such as the NSFW #ForTheD challenge that dominated social media last month, takes over the country.

The NFL had that viral moment with Cam Newton doing his signature dabbing celebration in 2015, but he was as chastised for it as he was celebrated. Letters were written to newspapers about his “pelvic thrusts,” and Newton’s “arrogance” became the center of the story. And after a humbling Super Bowl loss to the Denver Broncos, Newton seemed put in his place. Instead of embracing him, the NFL demonstrated that it didn’t understand what moves the needle in American culture. It cut down one of its viral superstars — something the NBA just doesn’t do.

“The NBA has been significantly ahead of other leagues in diversity since the ’80s, and excitement has grown since.”

“Diversity is very important to us,” said the Hawks’ Wilson. “We know our demographic, and our audience, and it is about keeping up with those trends. We always think about how can we tap into diverse communities while trying to push ourselves forward.” It affects the Hawks’ bottom line significantly. The organization has taken things a step further by offering a full-on embrace of Atlanta music: acts such as T.I., Gucci Mane and Big Boi perform at halftimes throughout the season, which has resulted in increased ticket sales and price inflation every time a concert is announced. The Hawks’ Philips Arena is even now home to rapper Killer Mike’s Swag barbershop.

The NBA understands that rock is no longer the dominant genre of music. Last year’s Finals marketing soundtrack featured songs from Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN. while the NFL featured the return of Hank Williams Jr. — who was dropped from ESPN’s Monday Night Football six years ago for likening President Barack Obama to Adolf Hitler. And while the NBA features a list of rap stars and rhythm and blues singers during All-Star Weekend festivities, this year the Super Bowl will feature Justin Timberlake, whose last, 2004 Super Bowl performance featured him pulling off a piece of Janet Jackson’s clothing, exposing her breast. Whether or not the move was planned, it went awry, and Jackson caught the backlash as Timberlake’s career flourished. These kinds of things resonate, and the NFL’s de facto pardoning of Timberlake is another reminder to the black consumer that the league doesn’t cherish their concerns the way the NBA so often does.

“The NBA has caught up or passed the NFL on the cool factor,” said Andrew Brandt, director of the Moorad Center for the Study of Sports Law at the Villanova University and host of The Business Of Sports podcast. “Whether that translates on the revenue side, that’s hard to know.”

Yet, even as black America is ravaged by socioeconomic disparities, a 2015 Nielsen study explains that we’ve reached a tipping point with regard to black economic influence. “Today’s American mainstream is rapidly changing, and that change can be attributed in part to the growth and activities of African-Americans in the marketplace. Social media and the internet have become go-to communications platforms for African-American stories and content.” The study goes on to state that black consumer power is growing at unprecedented levels, reaching $1.2 trillion in 2015, a 275 percent increase from 1990. So the appeal to the black consumer is about more than just what’s “cool.” It’s about a consumer base that is increasingly vital.


The NBA season kicked off last Tuesday with a display of the chokehold professional basketball has on compelling storylines. LeBron James faced off against his former teammate and passive-aggressive foe Kyrie Irving. The Warriors lost a buzzer-beater to the newly constructed Houston Rockets that now boast Chris Paul — all while a Klay Thompson doppelgänger was the social media joke of the night. But the NBA’s offseason was almost as entertaining, full of memed stories and social media buzz, from the petty feud between Irving and James to Thompson’s Ferris Bueller’s Day Off-like adventures in China, Hoodie ’Melo and Kevin Durant’s bizarre Twitter dramas. The NBA, its individual players and fan community have used social media to become a 12-month sport.

Meanwhile, the NFL is years-deep into a seemingly never-ending barrage of Spygate, Bountygate and Deflategate. There was the Ray Rice domestic abuse case. Accusations about covering up CTE analysis. All of this, though, seemed only to slightly dent the NFL’s impenetrable shield: People seemed to have accepted the judge and jury status of Goodell, the misogyny and abusive history of too many players who continue to play despite domestic abuse cases, and folks kind of knew that playing football was damaging to athletes in the long term. But Kaepernick’s protest and its fallout illuminated a sharp and deep conflict within the NFL—and among its fans—that many weren’t expecting.

“Go back to Ken Griffey Jr. wearing his hat backwards in batting practice and they all lost their minds.” — Howard Bryant

An Oct. 11 study by The New York Times makes clear that the NFL is now one of the “most divisive” brands in America. The league doesn’t have to choose between its black players and white audience, but it does have to find a middle ground between black players and fans, and its white fans, a dilemma unique to the National Football League. The NFL is the only major male American sport that has mostly black players and a mostly white audience. The NFL is 67 percent black, but its audience is measured at 77 percent white. And although the league is two-thirds black, its top stars are white. In 2015, seven of the NFL’s nine top endorsement earners were white. Since then, black athletes such as Cam Newton and Odell Beckham Jr. have stormed the top ranks, but endorsements largely focus on quarterbacks. The New York Giants are the only team in the NFL that has never started a black quarterback. Of the 32 teams in the NFL, there were six black starting quarterbacks as of Week 7.

But by the time of the 2021 labor negotiations, the aforementioned Brady/Brees/Rodgers/Manning quadrumvirate will be out of the league. Andrew Luck, Derek Carr and Marcus Mariota are the quarterbacks most poised to be the league’s next torchbearers, and with them are Russell Wilson, Jameis Winston and Dak Prescott. So what happens when the faces of the league are as black as the rest of the players? How the NFL reacts will determine the future of the sport. Major League Baseball and the National Basketball Association have both been at the same racial crossroads. One league offers the NFL a blueprint for success, and the other a cautionary tale.


The NBA has had multiple eras in which it has had to realign based on demographics and its top stars. In 1979, three years after the NBA merged with the ABA, the league had a nearly identical demographic makeup as the NFL. Seventy-five percent of the NBA’s players were black, up from 60 percent a decade before, and only two of the league’s top 20 scorers were white. At the same time, 75 percent of the audience was white. Attendance was down, as were ratings, to the tune of a 26 percent decrease against the previous season. A 1979 Sports Illustrated article titled There’s An Ill Wind Blowing For The NBA laid out the question plainly: Is the NBA too black?

The article examined the feeling among fans and some owners that black athletes were “undisciplined,” “overpaid” and played “playground basketball” — all dog whistles. An unnamed executive was quoted: “The question is, are they [the black players] promotable? People see them dissipating their money, playing without discipline. How can you sell a black sport to a white public?”

There was a time when it seemed impossible for major league baseball to fall out of favor as the leading American sport.

The NBA answered that question two ways. One, David Stern became commissioner in 1984. “Stern said, ‘I’m just going to put the best people on the floor,’ and he said the same thing for the front office,” said Richard Lapchick, founder/director of The Institute for Diversity and Ethics In Sports (TIDES). “The NBA has been significantly ahead of other leagues in diversity since the ’80s, and excitement has grown since.”

The league also lucked up by being able to lean into its racial divide with a ready-made rivalry between the bombastic and very black Los Angeles Lakers, led by Magic Johnson, and Larry Bird’s Boston Celtics. Stern, to his credit, embraced the clash, marketing the rivalry and letting the racial subtext become one of the main storylines. The league rode that popularity through the ’80s and ’90s with respectable black stars like Michael Jordan who didn’t upset the American status quo. Jordan was, in many ways, the perfect black athlete for corporate America. He stayed out of politics, seemed nonthreatening, and was a money machine.

Then came the NBA’s next racial crossroads: Allen Iverson. AI, the anti-Jordan, had cornrows, tattoos, jewelry — and he just did it his way. Iverson tested the limits of Stern’s acceptance of black culture. Iverson was from the ’hood, had been embroiled in a nasty fight before going to college, and didn’t bother cleaning up his language. While the NBA struggled with Iverson’s imaging, Reebok embraced his persona, tying their AI shoe to urban culture. They called it The Answer, and it was a monumental success.

A generation of athletes looked up to Iverson. And as those players mimicked his style, the NBA cracked down. In 2005, Stern instituted a dress code for the NBA, making players drop the baggy clothes and dress business casual. LeBron James, just entering his third year, was amenable to the change: “No it’s not a big deal, not to me.” The usually reserved Tim Duncan had stronger thoughts: “I think it’s a load of crap.” Of course now NBA players are the most style-forward athletes in the world. Every night is a runway show.

In 2014, when a tape of the Clippers’ then-owner Donald Sterling uttering racial slurs leaked online, new commissioner Silver was quick and decisive, issuing a lifetime ban. It was the only viable option. The fans were ready for Sterling (who had a long history of animus toward African-Americans) to go, and the Warriors’ Stephen Curry had planned on walking out during a game if Sterling kept his status. There could be no wiggle room. In fairness, the NBA had to work out many of its racial battles before the era of social media. So while the league’s virtual expulsion of Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf in the mid-’90s was just as despicable as what’s happening to Kaepernick, the league didn’t have to fight those issues in real time on social media, like the NFL does now.

“There’s a cottage industry in predicting and hoping for some sort of downfall in the NFL due to concussions, or domestic violence or whatever the latest crisis people seem to make of it,” said Brandt. “I kind of smile when I hear that, because we’ve been talking about that for a long time and NFL continues to grow financially.”

But it’s important to remember that there was a time when it seemed impossible for major league baseball to fall out of favor as the leading American sport. There are numerous reasons for baseball’s dwindling cultural impact: steroid scandals, strikes and shrinking attention spans. However, it’s undeniable that baseball’s lack of connection with America as a whole is directly tied to its refusal to embrace black culture.

“You go back to Ken Griffey Jr. wearing his hat backwards in batting practice and they all lost their minds,” said ESPN’s Bryant. “It was the greatest threat to the integrity of the game because the best player in the game, who all the young people loved and wanted to emulate, was doing something cool, and they shot it down. That was baseball’s last opportunity to catch people and be hip to Madison Avenue, because drugs ruined the game for the next 25 years.”

Baseball’s tacit insistence upon “tradition” and unspoken rules are all too often coded language for a refusal to accept cultural norms that aren’t firmly white American. Bat flips and celebrations are seen as being anti-baseball when they’re really bits of culture inserted by nonwhite athletes. In 2015, Chris Rock landed a scalding indictment of baseball’s popularity during a video for HBO’s Real Sports.

Calling himself an “endangered species, a black baseball fan,” Rock insists that baseball’s focus on its history, a history that excluded African-Americans for the first half of the 20th century, is a turnoff for black fans who aren’t into a time when only white players were allowed to play. And Rock suggests that baseball will fall further away from mainstream popularity as long as it continues to ignore the black fan and players. “Maybe if baseball can get a little hipper, a little cooler and just a little more black, the future can change,” he said in the monologue. “But until then, blacks and baseball just ain’t a good match anymore. Blacks don’t seem to care, but baseball should be terrified.”

The NFL may be gaining an understanding of its need to let black players express themselves to their fans. The league has loosened up the penalties for touchdown celebrations, which has so often been a vibrant space for black player expression and trash talk on the field. Now, players can celebrate while using the football as a prop, celebrate as a team and celebrate on the ground, which were previously 15-yard penalties. And the ESPN Twitter account promoted a Week 5 Packers vs. Cowboys game with a video of battle rappers DNA and K-Shine rhyming about their favorite teams at a barbershop. It’s a start, and a sign that the NFL is inching toward some of the cool points that the NBA snatched. But with Kaepernick still unemployed, the league, stuck in its ways, continues to scramble without a sophisticated strategy or uniform approach in place.

Doomsdays. Humanity has always been obsessed with them. But the NFL is at a crossroads at a time when black culture is simultaneously as powerful, relevant and under attack as at any point in American history. What side of that history is the NFL going to stand — or kneel — on? The almighty National Football League has decisions to make, and so do its players and fans.

The NBA season has started and Paul Pierce already has a lot to say The former league vet talks Celtics, Chris Paul and more

Former NBA player Paul Pierce has a lot to say and a new platform to say it. Spending the first 15 years of his NBA career with the Boston Celtics, he was once the captain and part of an unstoppable Big Three in himself, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen. The trio led the Celtics to two NBA finals (2008 and 2010) and one NBA championship (2008), for which he was awarded the Finals MVP.

Now he is sitting in the analyst chair, alongside Jalen Rose, Chauncey Billups and Tracy McGrady on Countdown hosted by Michelle Beadle. He will also make appearances on The Jump with Rachel Nichols.

On Monday, just ahead of Wednesday’s NBA opening day during a media conference call, the four-time NBA All-Star gave his take on what to expect in Boston. He also weighed in on Chris Paul and the Houston Rockets and offered his take on players and the 2017-18 NBA season.

Pierce said the Celtics’ big three of Kyrie Irving, Al Horford and Gordon Hayward have a chance at winning a championship in the Eastern Conference, but that was before Hayward suffered a dislocated left ankle and fractured tibia during the Celtics’ 102-99 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers in Tuesday’s season opener. According to ESPN’s Michael Wilbon, Hayward will have surgery Wednesday.


Some people are calling Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward and Al Horford the Celtics’ new Big Three. Do you feel they deserve to be called the Big Three? How do you feel they compare to you, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen?

The reason they’re called the big three is because they’re the three All-Stars on the team. They’re a lot younger than we were when they got together. I think only time can tell. Who knows who’s going to go on and have a Hall of Fame career and who’s going to go on and win a championship.

But when you get three All-Stars together, they’re going to be a big three. Only time will tell right now. I’m sure they’re going to win a lot of games, but they are definitely going to have a great chance in the Eastern Conference to win a championship together, if they’re together a long time.

Do you expect them to get to the Finals?

I think they’ve got a great chance, man. I think what they’ve been able to do with signing Gordon Hayward as a free agent. They made the trade to get Kyrie Irving. And hopefully some of these young guys can help contribute this year, guys like Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum. These are going to be two huge wild cards for them. If they can find some consistency from either of those two guys, then I think they’ve got a great chance.

But at the same time, it’s hard. Our situation was unique. We came together and did it in one year even though we had all new faces. That’s hard to do. It’s hard when you bring a whole new team together and say, look, we’re going to go out here and get to the NBA Finals or win an NBA championship. The chemistry has to be right. You have to be healthy. Guys have to understand their role. A number of things have to go right for that to happen.

Could you sense Chris Paul getting kind of frustrated with the Clippers, maybe losing his belief they could win there? Were you surprised he moved on, or did you think he would end up back there this year?

Truthfully, I didn’t think there was no way that Chris would leave the Clippers. He really built up something special, you know, with getting the Clippers back to being legitimate, make the playoffs every year, 55 games. He just bought a new home like less than a year ago. He had a $200 million offer on the table. So that really shocked me that he would leave.

Obviously, sometimes him and Doc [Rivers] had their differences, but what star players don’t have differences with their head coach? Especially when you guys have been together four or five years and things haven’t really panned out the way you really wanted them to. Same thing happened in Boston. Me and Doc, we didn’t look eye to eye all the time.

But that really shocked me seeing him leave, especially what he had built in L.A., on and off the court, and he had a huge contract in front of him and with him getting a new house. So that really shocked me. I didn’t think there was no way he would leave Los Angeles.

After you did the last two NBA Finals, what made you gravitate toward this TV role as something more expansive? What did you enjoy about it?

It gives me a chance to be around the game. When you’ve been around the game so much for so many years, it’s just like it’s a part of you. It’s like, man, when I was on the set during the NBA Finals, it’s funny that we’re on tape and we have microphones and suits on, but it’s like this is stuff we did every day in the locker room, talked hoops. We talked our opinions.

And after I did the first NBA Finals, I thought this is like, I had a good time. I developed a good chemistry with the team there. I did the second one, and I just thought maybe this is something I could do after basketball. I enjoyed talking about the game. I enjoyed being around it. I’ve been around it my whole life, so why not make this a second career out of this?

I saw the opportunity talking to people with ESPN/ABC, and we made it happen. So I was really excited about it, that I could still be around the game and talk about it, because it’s something I enjoy doing even when I wasn’t in the studio.

Is it easy for you to speak the truth about players who you were playing against just last year?

Yeah, it’s easy. That’s just who I am. I give my honest opinion. Whether it’s right or wrong, but it’s an opinion that I’ll make. It’s easy, man. None of these guys are calling my hotline saying they want to come beat me up or anything. Everybody is entitled to an honest opinion. What does it matter that I played against these guys than somebody else who didn’t play against them?

You kind of connected again with Ray [Allen] in Japan. Can you talk about that? What are things like now? Will he be at the 10-year reunion? What can you tell me about that?

Well, I knew I was going to see Ray. The crazy and, I guess, the funny thing about it is like, when we did we addressed the whole Ray Allen situation and reunion and our relationship and how it all kind of fell apart, the one thing I said to the guys also, I said, man, at some point we’re going to have to end all this. At the end of the day, Ray was a big part of what we accomplished. So we’ve got to eventually get over there.

I just saw opportunity, when I was able to see him, kind of like bury the hatchet, put it all behind us. I was just excited because the funny thing, our families, our wives still have a relationship, and our kids — you know, we did things together with our kids. So it was more than just a working relationship. We were all like brothers and friends, and it was just like, you know what, I’m pretty much over it.

And then what me and him discussed was, my biggest issue with the whole thing was not talking to him. So we talked about that. You know, why I couldn’t get a callback, and the funny thing Ray said was that was the one regret he had was not talking to me during that process. But then hearing his side of the story, you know, the things that went on as far as the trade rumors and the conversations with Doc and Danny and him almost getting traded, I think, the year before, I think that really put a sour taste in his mouth. And that was a lot of stuff that I didn’t really know too much about. And him having a reduced role if he came back or taking less, you know, less of a role and less money. So a lot of the little things I didn’t really understand until he kind of broke it down.

So a man has to make his decision for his own happiness, and I think that’s something Ray did. We talked about it, and now we can move forward. And the funny thing about all this, when we were in China, you know, the hurricane is going on in Miami where he lived. So he had to deal with all that. It’s a real concern for his family and things, and we just opened our relationship back up. I got his number. I texted him since leaving China, seeing how his family has been doing, and hopefully we can bring everybody together and really do a reunion trip or whatever we need to do to get everybody back together.

What’s the biggest challenge you think with this new Celtics team, in particular Al, Gordon and Kyrie?

Those are the leaders of their team. I’m not sure how they were with the other teams, if Gordon was a leader or Kyrie was a leader there. That will be a challenge being a bigger voice than they probably have in the past.

Also, on the court is going to be the chemistry issue. You’ve got pretty talented players. Who’s going to be willing to sacrifice? Who’s going to be willing to take less or do more? Those things come up. When you look at Gordon, he was the leading man in Utah. Kyrie, he was the leading man at some point, but then he became the second fiddle to LeBron. Now he’s probably going to be the leading man again. How will Gordon Hayward take to that? How will the rest of the guys, the rookies and the young guys fall into their role?

Everybody has to understand what their role is going to be and accept it if they want to go from a good team to a great team. Some people don’t always do that. But us being the older team, we realized we didn’t have a lot of time left, so we was ready to do anything possible to make it work. So sometimes you’ve got to put your individual goals out the window if you want to accomplish something bigger than that in winning the championship.

With your jersey retirement coming up in February, when you’re looking forward to that, what goes through your head?

Oh, man, you know what, I haven’t really given a lot of thought. I know — I don’t know what I’m probably going to say. There’s probably going to be a lot of nervousness because this is, like, a huge deal for me. It’s like everything I accomplished as a Celtic, now to go up into the rafters, this is like the final stamp on what I was able to do in my career in Boston. So this is a big moment for me.

I don’t know what the right words are going to be. There’s a lot of things going through my mind. I don’t even know what to wear. I haven’t given much thought to that. It just kind of happened so fast. I knew it would happen eventually, but when Wyc Grousbeck called me and said, ‘Do you want to do this in February?’ I was kind of overwhelmed by it. This is a huge deal for me.

Like the feeling I had on draft night. It’s like what to say on the stage, or what do I do? It’s a hell of an honor, knowing that I’m going up there with so many of the Celtics greats from the past and able to leave my mark on this franchise.

Have you ever envisioned doing the work you’re going to do now as opposed to an athletic career? What things have you done to really prepare yourself to be a solid analyst?

Well, I’ve done some work in the past over the course of my career. I’ve done some local things in Boston. I’ve done things with other networks. You know, it’s just something that was always in the back of my head, I guess, since I’ve always accepted when you get the network saying, ‘Do you want to come out and analyze the game?’ It’s something over my 19-year career I’ve done.

Did I know it was something I wanted to do after basketball? I think the challenging part is a lot of players from different sports sometimes don’t always know what they want to do. You kind of just fall into it, and then once I was working the NBA Finals a year ago, and it was just like really feeling comfortable and doing stuff that I did on an everyday basis in the locker room, talking hoops and talking about different players and talking about the games. It’s like something I’ve been doing my whole life.

Now you’re just doing it to where people can hear your opinion on certain games and certain players. It just felt I was feeling comfortable right at home. Now I’m doing it on the big screen. We’re in a coat and tie doing it instead of sitting in the locker room with my jersey on talking about the stuff with other players. So I just feel like it’s right at home for me because I always had an opinion about different players.

How did you work to find your voice in this broadcasting world?

I’m just being me socially. People sometimes want to hear the opinion of players that have done it and been in the trenches and being called a champion, you know, a voice that the people respect their opinion. I just think that’s pretty much what it is.

I’ve been talking basketball pretty much my whole life. Now I’ve garnered the respect of my peers to hear me speak about the game. I just think it’s going to take on a life of its own.

How do you feel about the term ‘superteam’? What’s your take on that?

Superteams have been part of the NBA for as long as I can remember, going back to the Celtics when they had all the All-Star members on one team. It’s just something that happens once every decade. You look at the ’80s and the Lakers. Each generation has a superteam.

When teams draft well and find a way to get other greats in. Who knew Kyrie would be the player he is today? Who knew Draymond Green would be the player he is?

I just had a question for you about the NBA locker rooms that you’ve been in, of course, in Boston, Brooklyn, Washington and, of course, with the Clippers. Who do you think had the best locker room pertaining to sneakers that you’ve ever been in?

Man, it has to be Boston, because I was on the team with guys that had probably like three or four guys with their own signature shoe. And there’s something we used to compare. I remember us having to compare our shoes every All-Star: me, [Rajon] Rondo, Kevin and Ray. We always took pictures of our shoes, so everybody would post a picture of the shoes up. It was a lot of fun, man. Boston, by far, because I spent the most time there.

And who do you think, as an individual this year, would have the best year in sneakers? Who’s your favorite? Who do you like to watch what they wear?

Man, I’d probably have to go with — man, that’s a good one. I like Paul George’s shoe. I got a couple pair of those already. I already like his shoe. Or the Kyrie Irvings. I like Kyrie’s shoes a lot too.

Can you talk about Avery Bradley and what you expect him to bring to the Pistons this season?

Oh, man, he’s going to bring a defensive mentality. Avery is one of the best defenders in the NBA. I was really shocked he didn’t make the All-NBA defensive team. He’s a veteran now. He’s going to be able to bring his leadership qualities now. And somebody that can help him get to the playoffs. The Pistons are a team that I feel like should have been in the playoffs, but hopefully Avery’s presence and his leadership and his defensive mentality can help them get over that hump this year.

When you predicted on The Jump that Oklahoma City would be winning this year, people considered it a hot seat. What do you think that some people aren’t seeing with that position that you are?

I mean, you got three All-Stars. You need minimum three All-Stars to win a championship. What other team outside of OKC, Golden State and maybe Cleveland that can produce three All-Stars? So they have the criteria that you need to win a championship. I mean, when’s the last time a team won an NBA championship without three All-Stars? So I just figured that you’ve got men at the point in their career that they’re willing to sacrifice for it. It’s not like they’re all young guys.

And anything matchup-wise you saw that favors OKC?

PIERCE: Well, OKC is going to play basketball. You’ve got guys that can play multiple positions. You can put Russ [Russell Westbrook] at the 2. You can put Melo [Carmelo Anthony] at the 3, 4, or 5. You can also put [Paul] George at the 2, 3, 4. So they really have the versatility to match up with anybody in the NBA.

Just wanted to ask you mainly about the Isaiah Thomas-Danny Ainge debate. You similarly didn’t want to be traded from the Celtics. What advice do you have for Isaiah Thomas? Do you think he’ll ever get that feeling back in Boston? He left Boston, but he’s also kind of got that bitter taste in his mouth at the moment.

A lot of guys are bitter when — you know, I can understand Isaiah’s frustration because he felt like he’s given so much to the franchise, and he came back and played after a death in the family and played through injury. He just thought maybe that was worth something.

But at the end of the day, we’ve all got to realize this is a business. This is a business we’re in, and no matter what sacrifices you make as a player, the sacrifice is not always mutual on the other end because, at the end of the day, it’s not about the player, it’s about the franchise. I think he’ll understand it, get over it, and he’ll use it for motivation for this upcoming season.

I just wanted to follow that up with the guy that’s coming to the Celtics to replace Isaiah in Kyrie. Obviously, it’s going to be an interesting matchup Tuesday when he returns to the Cavaliers. What do you expect of the reaction with what he’s been saying this past week? What do you expect to be the reaction and how he’s going to react to the reaction, if you know what I mean?

Kyrie’s a competitor. He’s going to cancel out the crowd noise. He’ll probably see a lot of boos, but Kyrie is a competitor, and I don’t think it will affect him. Not one bit. He has some nervous energy from going back to a team that he played for his whole career, but I think after maybe the first couple minutes, he’ll get over it and be fine.

The NBA rookie style quiz Forget your jump shots, newbie. It’s time to get your design game on.

.cls-1fill:#231f20Undefeated_HorizLogo_LThe NBA rookie style quiz Forget your jump shots, newbie. It’s time to get your design game on.

Whether you’re a rookie or a vet, a day-one fan, or someone who watches whatever NBA game is on in the background, you’re living the dream — the new season of professional basketball is here. And so is that undeniable NBA swag: pro hoopsmen have turned the stroll from the parking lot to the locker room into a runway as influential as any in New York, Paris, or Milan. And postgame looks? Those outfits make more statements than perturbed power forwards. But don’t worry. Upping your own style is not nearly as hard as you might think. Just follow this chart before you shoot your shot.

Complex flowchart detailing the various paths one could take in the search for his NBA style muse

You are Studied Elegance

You are Mr. Classic

You are All-American

You are Rock’n Baller

You are Iconoclast

Style Icon
Future Candidate
Designer Soulmates

Share your result:

Do you need to look good?


Go on with your pleated khaki self

What’s your restaurant vibe?


Your bag is …



If you were rebuilding your personal brand, you’d prefer to be …


Last night was rough. You want to hide your face with …


This isn’t the WWE

Your dream pet would be …


Your ideal jeans are …



You posterized Westbrook, celebrate on …


Your worst nightmare has come true. You have this on your face …



Your favorite head accessory is …



Your bae?



What’s on your wrist?


Your vacation hot spot is …



Guilty pleasure on your playlist would be …



Your fave shirt pattern is …


You represent …



Zendaya is …


Stop. Really. We can’t help you.

Your shorts are …



Your fave footwear is …


Shoulder pads are back, and you are …



Rocking pads that would also work in the NFL.

Do you care what people say about your style?


On every playlist?


All-Star Break. Your drink of choice is …



Your favorite shirt is a …



Hi, Jaden Smith.

James … Bond or Baldwin?


You’re presenting an award; you choose a …



If we are picturing you rolling, you’re in a …


My leather is a …


When you stream, it’s …


Fave hue?


Your style is Studied Elegance

Style Icon
LeBron James, Dwayne Wade
Future Candidate
Dennis Smith Jr. (Dallas Mavericks)
Designer Soulmates
Balmain, Dolce & Gabbana, Tom Ford

NBA fashion royalty. Everything they wear, from red carpet to street style, is impeccable and often custom. No one just wakes up this level. It takes years of experimentation, confidence and a very good stylist to get here. The easiest way to start? Go bespoke.

Your style is Mr. Classic

Style Icon
Chris Bosh, Kevin Durant
Future Candidate
De’Aaron Fox (Sacramento Kings)
Designer Soulmates
Giorgio Armani, Hermes, Louis Vuitton

Classic styling doesn’t have to mean you’re a square. You can jazz it up without tiptoeing into edgy. Cuff links, a pocket square, a bold watch or a scarf can illustrate your personality.

Your style is All-American

Style Icon
Chris Paul, Stephen Curry
Future Candidate
Lonzo Ball (Los Angeles Lakers)
Designer Soulmates
Tommy Hilfiger, Dsquared2, Junya Watanabe

European styling (read: tight) is never going to be for everyone. If you want to look good and be comfortable, here’s the only thing you need to know. Your top or your bottom can be loose. NEVER. BOTH.

Your style is Rock’n Baller

Style Icon
Tyson Chandler, J.R. Smith
Future Candidate
Zach Collins (Portland Trail Blazers)
Designer Soulmates
Givenchy, Saint Laurent, Raf Simons

If you exhale swagger, don’t know why all clothes aren’t black, and dream of a second act as a multimedia mogul, this is you. Immediate must-have: biker jacket.

Your style is Iconoclast

Style Icon
Russell Westbrook, Nick Young
Future Candidate
Markelle Fultz (Philadelphia 76ers)
Designer Soulmates
Gucci, Haider Ackermann, Balenciaga

This is not fashion for people who skulk out of news conferences. For you, fashion needs to be an expression of just how exceptional you are or it’s pointless. If you’re worried about Twitter making fun of you, remember this: Nobody ever became fashion royalty without a stop here.

Share your style on


See all other styles






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David Robinson’s advice on effective social change: ‘Slow down’ ‘The Admiral’ says it took years to get his school and investment fund up and running

SAN ANTONIO — The students making their way through a first-floor corridor at Carver Academy and College Prep grew wide-eyed when they bumped into the school’s founder. A few gasped when the still-trim, 7-foot-1 Spurs legend David Robinson stopped to wave, and they beamed when he posed for a few selfies.

Most of these young people were not yet born when Robinson’s Hall of Fame NBA career ended in 2003. But, to them, the man nicknamed “the Admiral” is as much a star for what he has done off the court as for what he did on it.

Robinson launched what was then called Carver Academy 16 years ago with $10 million of his own money. It began as a small parochial school serving elementary students, but it is now a publicly funded charter school that enrolls more than 1,100 pupils. Most of the students are Hispanic or black, and most of them are from low-income families. Nearly all of them are on track for college, school officials say.

We’re in an age when athletes are embracing social activism in a way that rivals anything in the past. Following the lead of former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, scores of NFL players have stirred a national debate by taking a knee or sitting during the national anthem to call attention to police brutality and racial injustice. Others have worn T-shirts or hoodies to protest the deaths of Eric Garner or Trayvon Martin. Many athletes have started foundations or otherwise tried to leverage their wealth and fame to spur social change.

It is a level of consciousness that heartens the 52-year-old Robinson. And while Robinson is careful not to criticize any protesting players, he says it remains to be seen whether their strong words will be matched by meaningful deeds — or make the kind of difference that is happening at Carver.

“There is certainly more awareness now. Guys understand their influence and opportunity,” Robinson said. “I’ve talked to a lot of young athletes. They care. They want to do something significant. The question is, how? How do they do it?”

It is something Robinson knows firsthand. It took him years to turn his dream of a school into reality. He says the athletes eager to make change should be prepared for a similar struggle.

A line of students eagerly greet David Robinson as they walk to their next classroom at the IDEA Carver College Prep campus. “I’m a teacher at heart,” said Robinson. “I’m a lifelong student.”

Julysa Sosa for The Undefeated

“Guys in the NBA visit Carver all the time. Some of them say, ‘This is great. I want to start a school too,’ ” Robinson said. “My reaction is usually, ‘Wait. Slow down.’ You’ve got to be sure this is what you want to do. There is so much to learn. It is daunting. When a lot of guys come into the league, they are not prepared to write a check, much less run a school or build something.”

Robinson’s patient brand of activism led him to not only open a school but to also co-found Admiral Capital Group, a private equity firm that helps pay for his good deeds. Admiral controls more than $1 billion in office space, hotels and apartment developments. The company also has invested alongside several NBA and NFL team owners in an online platform that helps coaches at all levels break down game film as well as a separate online platform that automates management of youth athletic leagues. The firm sets aside 10 percent of its profits for donations aimed at making social change.

“The business is a sustainable way of making a long-term impact,” said Daniel Bassichis, a former Goldman Sachs banker and the firm’s co-founder, who once served on Carver’s board. “It has a constant income, which is key. Most [athletes’] foundations do not have this kind of income.”

Admiral has also helped guide investments by other professional athletes, including Spurs guard Tony Parker, former NFL defensive lineman Justin Tuck (who served an internship with the firm as an MBA student) and retired major league outfielder Torii Hunter. Not only are the investors immersed in the details of their investments, but they also receive advice on how to make lasting social change.

“There is so much to learn. It is daunting. When a lot of guys come into the league, they are not prepared to write a check, much less run a school or build something.”

For instance, each year the firm hires 25 Houston-area high school students to work in a Hilton Garden Inn hotel it owns there. The idea is to expose young people to careers in the hospitality industry. If students take to the work, they are given scholarships to the University of Houston, which they attend as Admiral scholars.

Robinson’s vision for social activism came into focus three decades ago during a two-year military commitment after his graduation from the Naval Academy. During that time, Robinson visited a couple of dozen Washington, D.C.-area high schools to deliver a simple message: Just say no to drugs.

Most students seemed thrilled to have the basketball star in their midst. Still, Robinson’s words frequently fell flat, particularly with the students who most needed to hear them. He realized he had to do more than say something. He had to do something.

“I realized it was like trying to put a Band-Aid on a big wound,” Robinson recalled. “Some of the kids would say, ‘This ain’t reality to us.’ From what they knew, drug dealers were making money. Or education wouldn’t change their lives. I found myself wondering, what can I do to help these kids? How do I make change?”

Robinson, a devout Christian, prayed on it. The answer he got convinced him that he should one day open a school to help guide young people to make better choices, regardless of the difficult circumstances they may confront.

“You can talk until you are blue in the face, but you can’t change people,” he said. “But you can plant seeds, and education is a natural way to plant seeds.”

Robinson nurtured his dream for most of his NBA career, making donations and connections and learning what he could about educational policy. Finally, he made his move, opening Carver Academy in 2001, two years before he retired from basketball. As a parochial school, it had just 120 students. To expand its reach and relieve the constant fundraising pressure, Robinson agreed in 2012 to convert Carver into a publicly funded charter school by joining forces with IDEA, a nonprofit that operates 61 schools serving 36,000 students across Texas. Robinson is now a member of IDEA’s San Antonio regional board.

The school, renamed Carver Academy and College Prep, now has more than 1,100 students in kindergarten through 11th grade. (It will add 12th-grade classes next year.)

David Robinson originally founded George W. Carver Academy in 2001. Eleven years later, he partnered with IDEA Public Schools to expand his goal of accessible quality education for all children.

Julysa Sosa for The Undefeated

“When I started Carver, I did not know what I was doing,” Robinson said. “It is a huge undertaking: fundraising, curriculum, finding partners. It is a commitment, and it takes a long time to learn.”

Carver is located not far from the Spurs’ home arena. “We have students in homeless shelters, or who have lived in cars for periods of time. There are all kinds of life issues,” said Guadalupe Diaz, principal of Carver’s elementary program. “But there is an abiding belief that they can overcome. They can do it.”

One of Robinson’s core beliefs is that tough circumstances should not be seen as insurmountable obstacles to achievement. He named the school after George Washington Carver, who was born into slavery but nonetheless went on to become a widely respected botanist, inventor and teacher. He thought Carver’s life story contained a lesson for young people today.

“If you think you have a bad situation, that man grew up in a worse situation,” Robinson explained. “But Carver knew there was a reason he was here. That led him to do amazing things. We have to start where we are, use what we have and make something of it. And never be satisfied.”

Robinson says another one of his core strategies is to inspire young people to tap into their own gifts and leverage whatever opportunities they have.

“Every time you turn on the television, people see rap stars, athletes and actors. You don’t see the everyday people who are doing well. The culture points us to these unattainable roles. How many of us are going to be athletes? Practically nobody. Success is not being Jay-Z. There is only one Jay-Z. Who is telling kids that this long journey of being a father is crazy important? The idea is to get them excited for the life before them.”

Too often, Robinson said, schools that serve low-income students succumb to the instability and low expectations that often accompany poverty. It is a problem identified by many educators but one Carver has apparently found a way to conquer. Its elementary school students consistently score near the 70th percentile on standardized math and reading tests, an achievement that officials attribute to their individualized focus on the students. Parents have responded: This year the school could enroll just 120 new students out of 300 who applied through a lottery.

“Who is telling kids that this long journey of being a father is crazy important?”

“What I think Carver has figured out is how to help students grapple with community issues that might come up and not hold them against the kids,” said Brittany Hibbert, an assistant principal at Carver’s upper school. She said students and administrators do home visits, staff Saturday school and take calls from students at night. “We literally do whatever it takes.”

High expectations and individually tailored instruction help. But it is also helpful that one of San Antonio’s best-known celebrities is a regular presence at Carver. The first floor of the upper school has a small museum dedicated to Robinson, a two-time NBA champion, 10-time All Star and former league MVP. There are jerseys from the Naval Academy, the Spurs and the two U.S. Olympic teams he played for. There are also medals and trophies, and even a small section of basketball floor marked with the footprints of Robinson and some of his former teammates and coaches.

“His presence is significant,” said Chang Yu, principal of Carver’s upper school. “His name appeals, and it resonates quality, sportsmanship, education — all good things that people gravitate toward. He definitely is a factor in our success.”

Robinson says that is where many people who command the spotlight can be helpful. Robinson applauded stars such as LeBron James, Chris Paul and others who have backed up their calls for social justice by donating millions of dollars for things such as after-school programs and college scholarships. As he watches more athletes find their voice embracing the new civil rights movement, he said he will be dividing them into two categories: those who just say things, and those who back their words with action.

“I can say anything I want to say, but you can also go back and track what I’ve done over the last 20 years to see if what I’m saying matches up,” Robinson said. “Where is your money going? What have you given to? So you have the nerve to make a public statement. Now I am going to check and see how much you’ve done so I can determine whether your statement has any value.”

DeMarcus Cousins said Trump needs to ‘get his s–t together’ and other news of the week The Week that was Sept. 25- 29

Monday 09.25.17

A Pittsburgh fire chief said he regrets adding Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin to his “list of no good N—–s” on his Facebook page and wants to apologize because “This had nothing to do with my Fire Department” and “My fire department should have never been dragged into this.” Republican Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore, very on brand in a leather vest and cowboy hat, pulled a (tiny) gun out during a political rally. Donald Trump Jr. posted a map that supposedly showed an overwhelming number of Americans who supported NFL players standing over kneeling with the caption “where else have I seen this???”; the map was county-level results from the 2016 presidential election. A Texas pastor said NFL players “ought to be thanking God” that they live in a country where they don’t have to worry about “being shot in the head for taking a knee.” New Orleans Pelicans center DeMarcus Cousins, who has the most technical fouls in the league since 2010, said Trump “needs to get his s— together.” Former New England Patriots offensive lineman Matt Light, a teammate of convicted murderer Aaron Hernandez for two seasons, said after some New England players knelt during the national anthem on Sunday, “It’s the first time I’ve ever been ashamed to be a Patriot.” Retired college football coach Lou Holtz, who is white, said he doesn’t understand why black athletes demonstrate during the national anthem because “I’ve been unfairly ticketed. I was given a ticket when I didn’t exceed the speed limit, because I was coaching at one school, and the patrol officer graduated from the other.”

Tuesday 09.26.17

Four assistant basketball coaches from Arizona, Auburn, Oklahoma State and the University of Southern California — which, combined, make more than $300 million in total revenue across all sports and do not pay players — were arrested on federal corruption charges for taking thousands of dollars in bribes to direct college players to certain sports agents and financial advisers. New York Giants owner John Mara, who continually employed a kicker who abused his wife and didn’t sign Colin Kaepernick because of possible fan protest, said he is

very unhappy” that Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. simulated a dog urinating on the field on Sunday. To make room for more terrible sports and Insecure takes, Twitter will increase its famed 140-character limit to 280. Another person left the Trump administration, and another former member of the administration has hired a lawyer. Professional wrestling legend and Wilt Chamberlain rival Ric Flair estimates that he had sex with 10,000 women: “I wish I hadn’t said that because of my grandkids,” Flair said in an upcoming ESPN documentary.

Wednesday 09.27.17

Longtime adult actor Ron Jeremy doubts Flair had relations with that many women: “It’s very difficult to get numbers like that.” Los Angeles Chargers unofficial mascot Boltman said he risked being beaten “like Rodney King” by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department after he refused to remove his mask at last weekend’s home game. A bar in Missouri, a state for which the NAACP has issued a travel advisory for people of color, displayed recently purchased NFL jerseys of Marshawn Lynch and Kaepernick as doormats with the two jerseys spelling out “Lynch Kaepernick.” Another airline was caught violently dragging a customer off one of its airplanes. A Madison, Wisconsin, gyro shop worker was charged with “first-degree reckless endangerment … possession of cocaine with intent to deliver and carrying a concealed weapon” after he shot a man at his place of work when the man tried to run off with $1,300 worth of cocaine without paying for it; “Dude shot me in the back,” the “victim” told police. Taken actor Liam Neeson, two weeks after announcing his retirement from action movies because “Guys, I’m 60-f—ing-five,” said he’s not retiring from the genre and that “I’m going to be doing action movies until they bury me in the ground.” Trump, who was an owner in the USFL, which folded after just three seasons, said the NFL is “going to hell” unless it prohibits players from kneeling during the national anthem. Former action “star” Steven Seagal, currently a resident of Moscow, said demonstrations during the national anthem were both “outrageous” and “disgusting.”

Thursday 09.28.17

Hours after posing an anti-DUI video on Instagram with the hashtag #dontdrinkanddrive, a Los Angeles police officer, under suspicion of driving under the influence, caused a three-car crash that killed three people. Trump, blowing a dog whistle so loud a deaf man could hear it, said NFL owners, some of whom are his “friends,” don’t punish players who kneel during the national anthem because “they are afraid of their players.” During the all-male Presidents Cup tournament, the PGA Tour, still trying to rid its long-held sexist label, held a cook-off among WAGs (wives and girlfriends) of the competitors. Reality TV star Rob Kardashian, per a lawsuit, accused former girlfriend Blac Chyna of smashing his gingerbread house during a December 2016 incident. Just hours after Georgia Tech football coach Paul Johnson joked that he was glad “that we were with Russell [Athletic]” when the Adidas and college basketball corruption case news broke, Russell Athletic announced it will “transition away from the team uniform business”; Georgia Tech will switch to Adidas in 2018. A Canadian woman who tattooed purple dye into her eyeball may lose her sight in the eye; “I took my eyesight for granted,” the woman said. Philadelphia 76ers guard Ben Simmons, just piling on at this point, called Trump an “idiot” and a “d—head.” In “it’s about respect for the military” news, the message “go home n—–” was written on the whiteboard of a black cadet at the Air Force Academy Preparatory School.

Friday 09.29.17

Proving what we already knew, Boston Celtics guard Kyrie Irving said teammate Gordon Hayward and coach Brad Stevens “have an unspoken language already.” Cleveland Cavaliers guard Dwyane Wade said it was not his idea to ride on the back of a banana boat with Gabrielle Union, LeBron James and Chris Paul: “I remember saying, ‘Guys, I didn’t wanna get on there,’ but, you know, peer pressure.” Trump, who aced geography in college, said Puerto Rico is “an island. Surrounded by water. Big water. Ocean water.” Former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who recently received a presidential pardon after being convicted for essentially racial profiling Latinos, traveled to California to continue his investigation of former President Barack Obama’s birth certificate. Former NFL player Chad Johnson, who once legally changed his last name to “Ochocinco” because he thought it was Spanish for “85,” compared the NFL’s “whitewashing” of protests during the national anthem to “a goddamn Ice Bucket Challenge.” Third-graders in the Washington, D.C., area said they don’t like Trump because “ever since he was president a lot of bad things have been happening,” “Trump doesn’t like black people and Hillary Clinton does,” and because “he’s orange.” Another person resigned from the Trump administration.

Trump vs. the wide world of sports: a timeline The president’s comments about Stephen Curry as well as the NFL are just the latest in a long and combative, but sometimes cozy, relationship between Trump and sports

As it stands right now, President Donald Trump is at odds with three of the most influential names in pop culture: Colin Kaepernick, Stephen Curry and LeBron James. This, though, is not Trump’s first go-round with the world of sports. The 45th president of the United States’ connection to teams, leagues, players, owners and sporting events has roots. Very deep roots.

Trump’s involvement in the short-lived United States Football League is the president’s introductory claim to sporting fame/infamy. The league lasted from just 1983 to 1985, and its demise is largely placed on Trump’s shoulders. During a 1984 interview, Trump noted that he “could have” purchased the Dallas Cowboys. He believed, however, that the New Jersey Generals were a better investment. As for the “poor guy” who would eventually buy the Cowboys: “It’s a no-win situation for him, because if he wins, well, so what, they’ve won through the years, and if he loses, which seems likely because they’re having troubles, he’ll be known to the world as a loser.” Jerry Jones purchased the Cowboys in 1989 for $140 million. Nearly three decades later, the Cowboys are the world’s most profitable franchise, valued at nearly $5 billion, and Jones, a Trump supporter to the tune of at least $1 million, is now a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

There’s also Trump’s longtime association with boxing. In 1990, Trump took the stand in a trial over contractual disputes with regard to a Mike Tyson-Buster Douglas rematch. (Atlantic City’s Trump Plaza, prior to its shuttering, had been a premiere destination for prizefights.) Golf, too, is a much-chronicled obsession of the president — he owns 17 clubs worldwide. His decades-long involvement in the sports world, which included a failed 2014 bid to purchase the Buffalo Bills, has won him legions of friends and supporters, including golfer John Daly, Dennis Rodman, Bobby Knight, Mike Ditka, retired mixed martial artist Tito Ortiz and UFC president Dana White, and that number has only grown since he announced his intention to run for president of the United States in June of 2015.

The following is a timeline of Trump’s increasingly antagonistic clashes with the world of sports since his candidacy and election.

July 14, 2015 — Candidate Trump takes on the LPGA

A week earlier, candidate Trump stood by controversial comments he’d made surrounding Mexican immigrants. The LPGA Tour was immediately forced to distance itself from the remarks since its British Open would be held at Trump’s Turnberry Alisa course in Scotland. Trump, in response, addressed a letter directly to tour commissioner Michael Wahn. “You have an absolutely binding contract to play the great Turnberry Ailsa course but, based on your rude comment to the press, please let this letter serve to represent that, subject to a conversation with me on the details, I would be willing to let you play the Women’s British Open in two weeks, at another course rather than magnificent Turnberry [which I own].”

Sept. 3, 2015 — Abdul-Jabbar calls Trump a bully; Trump shoots back

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar — the NBA’s all-time leading scorer, a six-time league MVP, author and civil rights activist — wrote a Washington Post column criticizing what he felt was Trump’s lack of respect for the media’s rights. Why is this so ironic? Well, for one, Abdul-Jabbar’s distant relationship with the media has long been documented. And two, Trump’s response was exactly what Abdul-Jabbar was talking about in the first place: attempting to bully a writer. “Now I know why the press has treated you so badly — they couldn’t stand you,” Trump wrote, also in the Post. “The fact is that you don’t have a clue about life and what has to be done to make America great again!”

Sept. 8, 2015 — That’s a “Make America Great Again” hat in Tom Brady’s locker

It’s the hat that’s dogged New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady ever since. In 2015, only three months into Trump’s candidacy, the #MAGA hat introduced itself to pop culture and hasn’t looked back. Brady probably had no clue how a Trump campaign and ultimately Trump’s presidency would play itself out on the fabric of American history. Back then, it was a gift from a friend who’d occasionally call and, per Brady’s own admission then, offer motivational speeches.

Sept. 18, 2015 — AHL executive: Prove to me you can run a hockey team before the country

One of the most known-unknown vocal Trump critics is Vance Lederman, chief financial officer of the American Hockey League’s Syracuse Crunch (an affiliate of the NHL’s Tampa Bay Lightning). Running a country isn’t exactly the same as running high-end hotels. That’s how Lederman saw it when he challenged Trump to come run his team. “You running for president is like a Brooklyn boy being a professional hockey coach,” he said in a YouTube video. “So, Donald, here is what I’m going to do: I got an invite for you. You’re a big man, you want to be all for the people. I invite you to come to Syracuse to learn how to be a professional hockey coach.” Trump never responded, prompting Lederman to amend his offer. Coaching was off the table. He now wanted Trump to prove he could run a sports team.

Nov. 2, 2015 — Following in George Steinbrenner’s footsteps

On the campaign trail, presidential candidate Trump stopped by Colin Cowherd’s show. Trump said he’s just fine with gambling in sports because “it’s happening anyway.” Fair enough. And, given the chance, he noted that if the circumstances were different, he’d like to buy the New York Yankees — and follow in the footsteps of his “great friend” George Steinbrenner. The Yankees are not for sale, and as the most valuable team in Major League Baseball, one would need in excess of $3.5 billion just to make an offer.

Dec. 7, 2015 — Trump forgets Muhammad Ali and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar ever existed

Dec. 14, 2015 — Trump comes to the defense of Pete Rose

President goes to bat for baseball’s all-time hits king.

July 7, 2016 — MLB’s Latin community wary of a Trump presidency

Major League Baseball has made a commitment to expand its game further into Mexico. One of Trump’s biggest campaign promises was to build a wall along the Mexican border. In a statement that becomes more prophetic by the day, then-San Francisco Giants infielder Ramiro Pena expressed concerns. “It does worry me a lot that he could be elected president,” he said. “For the Latin community … it would make things more difficult when it comes to immigration, based on what he has said. The comments he has made about Mexicans worry you.”

Aug. 29, 2016 — Trump says Kaepernick should find another country to live in

The biggest story in sports over the past year has been Colin Kaepernick and his refusal to stand for the national anthem (for the record, a controversial piece of music when taken literally) last season. “I think it’s a terrible thing, and, you know, maybe he should find a country that works better for him, let him try, it’s not gonna happen,” Trump said. This won’t be the last time the newbie politician addresses the quarterback.

Oct. 30, 2016 — Trump blames NFL ratings decline on the 2016 election … and Kaepernick

That’s because he would do it again two months later, just days before the 2016 election. When reports confirmed the NFL’s ratings had taken a double-digit hit, for Trump, only two things explained the trend. Politics was one, and in a sense he was right. The election was the story in America at the time. This was during the final weeks of the 2016 election, the most volatile and explosive perhaps in U.S. history. The second, Trump asserted, was, “Kaepernick. Kaepernick.”

Nov. 9, 2016 — LeBron searches for answers

LeBron James had officially endorsed Hillary Clinton for president. The day after the election, the four-time MVP joined millions across the country struggling to come to grips with the fact that candidate Trump was now officially President-elect Trump. With Kendrick Lamar’s classic rallying cry, “Alright,” as the soundtrack, ’Bron took to Instagram with an inspiring message. “Minorities and Women in all please know this isn’t the end, it’s just a very challenging obstacle that we will overcome!!” he said. “Even if who’s in office now doesn’t, Know that I LOVE [Y’ALL]!!” This wouldn’t be the last The King would address the 45th president.

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Nov. 16, 2016 — Mayweather visits Trump at Trump Tower

The photo of Floyd Mayweather, then sporting a 49-0 record, visiting Trump Tower did exactly what seems to be intended: ignite controversy stemming from both men’s past transgressions, in particular with women. Mayweather doubled down on the picture by attending the Trump inauguration two months later. As he’d said a week before to TMZ Sports, “Y’all gonna see me in D.C. looking good. I got a tux and everything ready.” More on Floyd/Trump shortly …

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Dec. 2, 2016 — Trump stiff-arms NFL’s ratings

President-elect Trump again relishes the NFL’s ratings debacle. “Down 20, 21 percent,” he gloated at a rally in Cincinnati, “and it was because of us.” Keyword there being us.

Dec. 5, 2016 — LeBron says no to a stay at a Trump hotel

Don’t expect to see LeBron James at Trump SoHo’s Bar d’Eau — or anyplace else on the property. James and several teammates refused the Trump accommodations during a New York road trip. When asked about his decision? “It’s just my personal preference,” he said.

Dec. 13, 2016 — Jim Brown, Ray Lewis have ‘fantastic’ meeting with Trump

Jim Brown and Ray Lewis are two of the greatest football players to ever live. The Hall of Fame running back and longtime activist and future first-ballot Hall of Fame linebacker have been two of Trump’s most prominent black supporters — and also two of the most prominent black athletes to denounce Kaepernick. Both apparently believe the Trump administration will stimulate economic development in urban areas and “change the whole scheme of what our kids see.” Brown and Lewis’ “fantastic” meeting with Trump two weeks before Christmas came just hours after Kanye West met with the president-elect.

Dec. 19, 2016 — Trump picks Florida Panthers owner Vincent Viola as nominee for Secretary of the Army

Billionaire Wall Street trader Vincent Viola, a 1977 West Point alum, served in the 101st Airborne Division and stayed in the U.S. Army Reserve after his active duty. Also? Viola is the owner of the NHL’s Florida Panthers. Two months later, Viola withdrew his name from consideration, citing the difficulty of “untangling himself from business ties.”

Feb. 8, 2017 — Stephen Curry wasn’t feeling Under Armour’s Trump love

First, Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank called President Trump an “asset” to the country. Second, and almost immediately, the company’s No. 1 ambassador, Steph Curry, denounced the company’s praise. Third, Under Armour released a statement saying the praise was meant from a business perspective only. Curry understood and appreciated the statement, but: “If there is a situation where I can look at myself in the mirror and say they don’t have my best intentions, they don’t have the right attitude about taking care of people,” Curry said. “If I can say the leadership is not in line with my core values, then there is no amount of money, there’s no platform I wouldn’t jump off if it wasn’t in line with who I am … that’s a decision I will make every single day when I wake up. If something is not in line with what I’m about, then, yeah, I definitely need to take a stance in that respect.” Bonus: Former WWE CEO and president Linda McMahon joined the administration in February 2017 as the head of the Small Business Administration.

March 21, 2017 — President Trump takes pride in Kaepernick’s exile

Four days before, Bleacher Report’s Mike Freeman reveals, per an unnamed AFC general manager, that some teams fear Trump’s response should Kaepernick be signed. This was all the 45th commander-in-chief needed to get him riled up. “Our inner cities will find a rebirth of hope, safety and opportunity,” he said during a speech in Kentucky. “Your San Francisco quarterback, I’m sure nobody ever heard of him.” He wasn’t done. “It was reported that NFL owners don’t want to pick him up because they don’t want to get a nasty tweet from Donald Trump. Do you believe that? I just saw that.”

April 19, 2017 — Half of the New England Patriots don’t make the trip to the White House

A total of 68 players were invited to pull up on President Trump at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. Only 34 made the trip. More than a few of them — most notably Martellus Bennett, who said so before even taking his shoulder pads off after the Patriots’ historic comeback victory in Super Bowl LI — were adamant their motivations for not going were strictly political. Tom Brady, a longtime Trump friend and proponent of Kaepernick’s return to the league, was a no-show as well.

May 14, 2017 — Popovich unloads on Trump

Legendary San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich has a well-documented history of going directly at Trump. Pop’s pre-Spurs life — graduation from the Air Force Academy with a degree in Soviet Studies, time spent as an intelligence officer in Eastern Europe — gave added context to his criticisms of the president. Prior to Game 1 of the Western Conference finals vs. the Warriors, Pop gave his own impromptu State of the Union: “… To this day I feel like there’s a cloud, a pall, over the whole country, in a paranoid, surreal sort of way that’s got nothing to do with the Democrats losing the election,” he told reporters. “It’s got to do with the way one individual conducts himself. It’s embarrassing. It’s dangerous to our institutions and what we all stand for and what we expect the country to be. But for this individual, he’s at a game show and everything that happens begins and ends with him, not our people or our country. When he talks about those things, that’s just a ruse. That’s disingenuous, cynical and fake.” Tell ’em how you really feel, Pop.

June 14, 2017 — That’s gonna be a ‘no’ from Steph, dog

While the two-time MVP made news recently about not visiting the White House, let’s not act like he hasn’t been saying the same thing since the Warriors captured their second title in three years. “Somebody asked me about it a couple months ago, a hypothetical, if a championship were to happen: ‘What would I do?’ ” Curry said at his exit interview. “I answered that I wouldn’t go. That hasn’t changed.”

June 30, 2017 — Cubs reportedly wanted Trump to tell recently released catcher Miguel Montero he was “fired”

Backup Chicago Cubs catcher Miguel Montero was already going to be released. Three days prior, he threw starting pitcher Jake Arrieta under the bus after a stolen base fiasco. He was released from the team. On the surface, that was not necessarily a huge deal, but according to baseball savant Peter Gammons, some players and front-office personnel wanted to really rub it in on Montero by having Trump tell him, “You’re fired” (his Apprentice catchphrase) during an unofficial team White House visit. They ultimately decided against doing so.

Aug. 15, 2017 — LeBron, Steve Nash and the sports world react to Trump’s Charlottesville response

The entire country was fixated on the protests in Charlottesville that turned deadly. President Trump’s infamous comment about blame being on “both sides” doused gasoline on an already uncontrollable blaze, leading many athletes to voice their opinion.

Aug. 17, 2017 — Kevin Durant keeps it a buck

If there’s anyone who benefits from Trump going full Trump, it’s Kevin Durant — who recently has been the butt of jokes after his recent Twitter debacle. However, back in his hometown of Seat Pleasant, Maryland, last month, the 2017 Finals MVP let his feelings on visiting the White House be known. “Nah, I won’t do that,” he said. “I don’t respect who’s in office now.”

Sept. 13, 2017 — The White House calls for Jemele Hill’s job

The Six’s Jemele Hill sent the tweets heard ’round the world when she called Trump a white supremacist. The situation, however, spilled overboard when White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders dubbed the tweets “outrageous” and called for Hill’s job.

Sept. 15, 2017 — Mayweather co-signs Trump’s “locker room talk”

The biggest controversy Trump encountered on the campaign trail was, by far, the leaked audio from his 2005 Access Hollywood appearance, which included the phrase “grab them by the p—y.” Through a chain of events that no one saw coming, the gaffe didn’t cost Trump the election. And one person who didn’t have an issue with the comments was Floyd Mayweather. In the 50-0 champion’s eyes, Trump spoke how “real men” do. “Real men speak like, ‘Man, she had a fat a–. You see her a–? I had to squeeze her a–. I had to grab that fat a–.’ ” This is what Mayweather told Hollywood Unlocked. “So he’s talking locker room talk. Locker room talk. ‘I’m the man, you know what I’m saying? You know who I am. Yeah, I grabbed her by the p—y. And?’ ”

Sept. 22, 2017 — The ‘son of a bitch’ speech

For an administration that operates under anything but the veil of normal presidential decorum, last Friday’s speech was a special breed of aberrant. “Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners,” he said, “when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out. He’s fired! He’s fired!’ ”

Sept. 23, 2017 — Trump takes to Twitter to call out the sports world

On his platform of choice, Trump called out both Stephen Curry and the NFL for, essentially, not “sticking to sports.”

Sept. 23, 2017 — The NBA/NFL claps back at President Trump

While he would later post a video further expressing his thoughts, LeBron James caused all hell to break loose shortly before when he came to the defense of a man he’s squared off against during the past three NBA Finals. ’Bron, who is careful with his words, spared no feelings delivering a certified haymaker (which may or may not affect the fashion world):

Steph then saluted ’Bron for having his back and running the 2-on-1 political fast break with him. All while rhetorically wondering why the president chooses to demean certain individuals and not others.

Instagram Photo

The responses came in droves. Dell Curry expressed unwavering support for his son. Kobe Bryant essentially said Trump lacks the #MambaMentality. Chris Paul responded with a two piece and a biscuit.

Draymond Green joined the party. As did his coach Steve Kerr. Kerr doubled back just in case his stance wasn’t clear the first time. Bradley Beal is still searching for answers. J.R. Smith is praying for Barack Obama’s return while seriously contemplating living in the gutter. Damian Lillard used a well-placed sleepover analogy. Commissioner Adam Silver was disappointed the Warriors opted out of a White House visit but said he was proud of the league’s players speaking out on issues resonating with them.

That’s just the NBA. Coincidentally, the University of North Carolina men’s basketball team announced it would no longer be visiting the White House. Oakland Athletics rookie catcher Bruce Maxwell became the first MLB player to kneel for the anthem. As for the NFL, the league released a lukewarm statement, whereas the NFLPA’s was far more direct. The league stands on the cusp of a truly monumental line in the sand. How the players respond Sunday and Monday night is a historic, generational defining moment that will assume immediate residency in the annals of the game’s legacy. Many wasted no time in expressing grievances, including Richard Sherman. Despite his comments regarding Kaepernick as a “distraction” last month, Bills running back LeSean McCoy tweeted, “It’s really sad man…our president is a asshole.” Others, like New Orleans Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan, called to mind Colin Kaepernick’s original protest. Yet, it’s Teresa Kaepernick whose response may have reverberated the most. She is, for the record, the mother of the athlete who helped light a fire to this entire movement.

Jay Z — an artist truly made in America — makes his case for an authentic rest of his life From Bun B to Styles P to T.I. — the grown men of rap are having a moment

In May, Jay-Z inked a new $200 million deal with Live Nation. Before this weekend, his last major tour was in 2014 with his wife Beyoncé for their ($100 million-grossing) On The Run excursion. Jay-Z’s return to Made In America, a music festival he founded with Budweiser in 2012, was to be the culmination of a chain of events that started with speculation, leading up to June 30 release of 4:44, about just how much Jay-Z did or didn’t have left in the creative tank.

Rap, historically, has been a young man’s game. Could Jay-Z, at 47, still shift the culture as he’s done countless times before? Could he successfully coexist in a world of Futures and Cardi Bs and Lil Yatchys and Migos — all of whom were either gracing the Made In America stage this year or in years past? Would Jay’s first major solo performance in three years be his next Michael Jordan moment?


Music fans in ponchos attend the 2017 Budweiser Made in America festival, day one on Benjamin Franklin Parkway on Sept. 2 in Philadelphia.

Lisa Lake/Getty Images for Anheuser-Busch

Sunday morning. On Philadelphia’s Chestnut Street. Jay Z’s new “Meet The Parents” blasts from a black Toyota Avalon. People on the sidewalk rap along — the car’s speakers are an impromptu appetizer for what’s to come later. He can’t explain what he saw / Before his picture went blank / The old man didn’t think / He just followed his instincts,” Jay-Z rhymes at the stoplight. Six shots into his kin / Out of the gun / N—a be a father / You’re killing your sons.”

On that day — before the Labor Day holiday and Night 2 of the sixth annual Budweiser Made In America Festival — a group of friends walking down 20th Street playing cuts from 2009’s Blueprint 3 on their mobile phones. Thousands of iterations of Shawn Corey Carter stared back from T-shirts worn by the crowd that swarmed Ben Franklin Parkway.

Then, it happened. An explosion lit up an adjacent stage. Just Blaze on the turntables.

And then there was the young man working at UBIQ, a chic sneakers store on chic Walnut Street. Looking like a student from Penn, he said he planned on taking in Jay-Z’s headlining Sunday set. At least for one day at the end of summer, the City of Brotherly Love bled blue, Jigga’s favorite hue. “It’s a skate park like right across the street,” Penn Guy said as cuts from Jay-Z’s lauded 4:44 play from the store’s speakers. “I’ve never seen him live. I’m excited.”

Jay-Z’s return to rap — there’s been no new solo album since 2013’s middle of the pack Magna Carta Holy Grail — has been a summer-long process. First came the rumors of a new album watermarked by mysterious “4:44” signage that covered everything from city buses to websites all across the country. Then, at the last of June came the album itself, which was met with immediate and widespread love. A slew of “footnotes” — videos, conversations between people such as Chris Rock, Tiffany Haddish, Will Smith, Jerrod Carmichael, Chris Paul and more — followed, which detailed the album’s creation and inspirations.

From there, in mid-August, the most-talked-about music interview of the year showcased Jay-Z alongside Tidal and Rap Radar’s Elliott Wilson and Epic Records and Rap Radar’s Brian “B.Dot” Miller. The podcast left no stone unturned. In a two-part, 120-minute conversation, they peeled back layers of Jay-Z’s thought processes about music, life, love, motivation, depression and, even LaVar Ball.

On the heels of that talk, and through a Saturday of unseasonal chilly downpours, Jay-Z and Beyoncé watched a new generation of stars command muddy crowds. Family from both sides of the Carter-Knowles union cheered Solange on through her Saturday set. Was may well have been a kind of moment Jay-Z envisioned throughout the recording of 4:44. At 47, he had to wonder about his creative mortality, and if he could shift the culture as he’d done so many times before.


Bun B performs onstage at The Fader Fort presented by Converse during SXSW on March 16, 2013, in Austin, Texas.

Roger Kisby/Getty Images

The Los Angeles Lakers’ rookie point guard Lonzo Ball said it: “Y’all outdated, man. Don’t nobody listen to Nas anymore […] Real hip-hop is Migos, Future.”

On one hand, it’s difficult to fault a 19-year-old for backing the music of his youth. Younger generations of artists and fans alike have always bucked back at generations who view their contributions as destructive. Tupac Shakur openly dissed De La Soul on 1996’s seething battle record “Against All Odds:” All you old n– tryna advance/ It’s all over now take it like a man/ N– lookin’ like Larry Holmes, flabby and sick/ Tryna playa hate on my s–, eat a fat d–. And only weeks before he was murdered, The Notorious B.I.G. vowed to never rap past 30. On the other hand though? Right now is a particularly good time for a handful of statesmen who dominated hip-hop before Big Baller Brand was just a twinkle in Lavar Ball’s eye.

How generations before talked about Marvin Gaye, Prince, Whitney Houston and Michael Jackson, he’s hip-hop’s them.

Run The Jewels’ Killer Mike and El-P (and their soundman, Trackstar the DJ) have consistently been one of the decade’s most impactful groups. They tour the world — and, in particular, amassed a melting pot crowd of various races and ages moshing at the Sunday Made In America set. Nas’ 2012 Life Is Good is, in many ways, rap’s interpretation of Marvin Gaye’s Here, My Dear, and one of the great late-career albums from any MC. OutKast’s 2014 tour was weird, but Big Boi of OutKast has quietly been responsible for several stellar albums — 2010’s Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty, 2012’s Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumors and 2017’s Boomiverse — in this decade alone.

Jay-Z wasn’t the only artist in the pre-Lonzo Ball era displaying moments of clarity over the last few years either. A handful of hip-hop’s mature and notable names have been creating art and expressing — via conversation and on social media — everything from encounters with their own mortality to the pain and occasional beauty of survivor’s remorse.

Rice University instructor Bernard “Bun B” Freeman (currently working with Beyoncé and Scooter Braun on a telethon to benefit the victims of Hurricane Harvey), one half of the legendary Port Arthur, Texas, rap group UGK, sat down with Queens, New York’s own N.O.R.E. for an installment of the MC’s popular Drink Champs podcast. Per tradition, both parties swap hip-hop war stories and imbibe for the better part of two hours. The most emotional segment centered around memories of Freeman’s partner in rhyme, Pimp C, who died in 2007.

“The illest s— Pimp [C] ever said was ‘I don’t need bodyguards. I just need mighty God.’ Ever since he said that, and I never told him, I move like that,” Freeman said. A single tear streamed down the right side of his face. “If you wasn’t moving with me within God, I’ll just move by myself. That’s the way life should be.” He continued, “If you are who you say you are, and you’re honoring that in a real way, you can move anywhere in this world. Pimp and I are proof of that.”

When it comes to honoring a fallen comrade, T.I. (who was not feeling Lonzo’s comments) understands all too well. In May 2006, T.I’s best friend Philant Johnson was murdered in Cincinnati following a drive-by shooting. Phil, is inspiration behind T.I.’s massive Justin Timberlake-assisted single “Dead & Gone.” Phil had been by T.I.’s side that same evening — holding his mobile while the rapper performed. Hours later, his lifelong friend lay bleeding to death in his arms. “I told him I had him, and it was going to be all right,” T.I. told MTV in 2006. “That was what I said. And he said, ‘All right.’”

The death could be viewed as the trigger that disrupted T.I.’s massive mid-2000s success. His 2007 weapons arrest and subsequent incarceration was seen by many as a response to Johnson’s murder. T.I. contemplated quitting rap. But T.I.’s moved forward. While not at just this minute the Billboard and box office star he split time as a decade ago, the film producer, actor, and two-time Grammy winner born Clifford Harris is still a recognizable figure in rap. Particularly on his very active Instagram account.

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Last month, Tip (a father to six who is who has experienced his own share of public marital ups and downs with singer-songwriter Tameka “Tiny” Harris) posted the video of him presenting Phil’s daughter with a new car. She’s now a high school senior. In a heartfelt caption, Tip used the moment as a social media therapy session. “Making straight A’s and maintaining a 3.8 GPA, all the way through school, staying away from all the things we were eyeball deep in when we was her age, & doing any & everything that’s EVER been asked since you left,” he wrote. “How can we not make sure she rides cool & in comfort her senior year? We miss you more than we can express…but we fill in for you everyday until it’s all said and done.”

He promised to send her to college. And that she’d never suffer for anything. It was more than an Instagram caption. It was remaining true to a promise to a man who died in his arms 11 years ago. “Our loyalty lives forever!”

Lastly, it’s Styles P — one-third of ’90s Bad Boy trailblazers The LOX. He and his wife, Adjua Styles, visited Power 105’s The Breakfast Club in August. Among other things, the couple discussed the benefits of healthy eating, and Charlottesville, Virginia. They also talked about their daughter’s suicide.

It’s what performances like these are masked for—regular season games for a championship run.

In June 2015, Styles P’s stepdaughter, Tai Hing, took her own life. She was 20. Styles P addressed the tragedy a month later via Instagram, detailing the difficulty he and his family faced, and would face. Hing’s death, her mother believes, could have been the boiling point of depression, issues with her biological father, and perhaps her sexuality.

Fighting back tears, Styles P was emotional about never having been able to take the place of Hing’s biological father. The dynamic bothered him deeply, but was beginning to understand as he, himself, was a product of a similar situation. “If we knew she was depressed she would’ve been home with us,” he said. “ We all deal with depression on some sort of level … You expect your child to bury you, not to bury your child.”

Honesty has always been a prerequisite for hip-hop in its most soul-piercing form. Beyond the flash, the lights and the flossing, at its core, rap was necessary to explain the fears, dreams, joys and pains of a people so often still struggling. And dealing with police brutality, poverty, misogyny, and more. So Styles P’s pain, T.I.’s memories, Bun B’s instructions from Pimp C, and Jay-Z’s vulnerability aren’t new grounds for rap. But their grief, and willingness to shred the cloak of invincibility rap often mirages is living proof of the power behind the quote a wise man said nearly a decade ago. Ain’t no shame in holding onto grief. As long as you make room for other things, too.


Music fans attend the 2017 Budweiser Made in America festival – Day 2 at Benjamin Franklin Parkway on September 3, 2017 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Lisa Lake/Getty Images for Anheuser-Busch

The weather Sunday proved to be Mr. Hyde to the Saturday’s Dr. Jekyll. The only visible fingerprint from Saturday was the mud that essentially became a graveyard for shoes. Jerseys were popular with the crowd. UNC Michael Jordan and Vince Carter. Cavaliers, Heat and St. Vincent-St. Mary LeBron. Sonics and Warriors Durant. Nuggets Jalen Rose, Sixers Ben Simmons. Lakers Kobe, and Hornets Glen Rice. UCLA Russell Westbrook, and Lonzo Ball. Arizona State James Harden, University of California Marshawn Lynch, Niners Colin Kaepernick, LSU Odell Beckham and Georgetown Allen Iverson. Obscure jerseys such as Aaliyah’s MTV Rock n’ Jock and Ray Finkle’s Dolphins jersey (from the 1994 Jim Carrey-led comedy classic Ace Ventura: Pet Detective) were sprinkled among the sea of thousands.

Afternoon sluggishly careened into evening. 21 Savage, Run The Jewels and The Chainsmokers all commanded large crowds. Felicia “Snoop” Pearson from The Wire dapped up fans. Hometown young guns Markelle Fultz and Joel Embiid of the Philadelphia 76ers walked through the crowd. Festivalgoers camped near the main stage for hours in hopes of landing an ideal viewing spot for Jay-Z’s performance. To pass time, cyphers were had. Weed smoke reclined in the air. Guts from dutches and cigarillos were dumped. All to pass the time.

Months ago, many, especially on Twitter, wanted to act like Jay-Z wasn’t a headliner. No one even saw an album coming. Now here they were minutes from history. That’s what Jay-Z is in 2017. How generations before talked about Marvin Gaye, Prince, Whitney Houston and Michael Jackson — Jay-Z is hip-hop’s them. He’s a throwback to the genre’s yesterday lyricism while embracing the newer generation he still attempts to impart game on and learn from.

The oversized Balloon Dog by famed sculptor Jeff Koons took the stage: It was time. “I’ve been waiting for this all summer,” one concertgoer said as he wrapped his arms around his girlfriend. “I know one thing, Jay better do the songs I wanna hear!” demanded another young woman.

So he did. Jay-Z’s set lasted nearly an hour and a half. He blended 4:44 cuts with classics from his catalog — the radio-friendly and the graphic street narratives. Jay-Z commanded of the crowd, but critiques did exist.

In his Rap Radar interview, Jay-Z mentioned that he was still toying around with the set list for his upcoming tour (slated to start in October). While it’s not a question to 4:44’s quality, Jay-Z weaving in old classics such as “Where I’m From,” “H to the Izzo,” “N—as In Paris,” “Big Pimpin’,” “Hard Knock Life,” “Run This Town,” “Empire State of Mind” and “Heart of City” captivated the crowd, cuts from his most recent album seemed to dissipate from the energy those helped muster. 4:44, after all, does not have a big radio single.

4:44 is Jay-Z’s most personal album to date. His thirteenth solo effort revolves around the complexities of his marriage, his mother’s sexuality and societal issues that continue to create systematic disadvantages for people of color. Its intimacy can get lost in an outdoor crowd of tens of thousands. For an album of that nature, it’s tough to ask even Jay-Z to plan for such.

Breath control was expected to be off-center in his first major performance in three years — though coaxing the crowd to sing Beyoncé happy birthday was a great diversion. Are these flaws that will doom his upcoming tour? No. He still has three more festivals on deck before setting sail on his own on Oct. 27. It’s what performances like these are made for — regular-season games for a championship run.

“It’s Jay, so he did all the songs I wanted,” a concertgoer told me. “But I’m greedy. I wanted more.”

Jay-Z performs at Budweiser Made in America festival on Sept. 3 in Philadelphia.

Arik McArthur/FilmMagic

Jay-Z’s catalog: a litany of hits he can employ at any time to wrap a crowd around his fingers. People filmed Instagram and Snapchat videos of themselves rapping along. People yelled to him from the back of crowd as if it were a Sunday service. And cyphers between friends sprouted everywhere. Another element Jay-Z kills with is the element of surprise. He concluded the show with a tribute to Coldplay’s Chester Bennington, who committed suicide in July: an inspired performance of his Black Album single “Encore.”

As he left the stage, crowds swarmed to the exit. Some concertgoers voiced their displeasure. Jay-Z did his thing in the 90 minutes he gave Philly. But there was still something missing. “That’s it? He didn’t even do half of the songs I wanted,” said a girl as she walked toward the exit. “It was aight, I guess. It’s Jay, so he did all the songs I wanted,” another concertgoer told me. “But I’m greedy. I wanted more.” Made In America was over.

Then, it happened. An explosion lit up an adjacent stage. Just Blaze on the turntables. Some slipped in the mud trying to get there, ruining their clothes, but those concerns were faint. Hundreds were already on the street heading back to their apartments, AirBnB’s or Ubers when Jay-Z informed Philly that the party wasn’t over yet. This set was only for his “Day Ones.”

Jay pulled his “Pump It Up Freestyle” out his back pocket. This bled into “Best of Me,” “I Know,” “Hola Hovito,” “Money Ain’t A Thing” and more. Hometown kid Meek Mill’s guest appearance gave an already frenetic crowd an HGH-sized boost of adrenaline as the rapper ran through his catalog’s zenith and most intense track, 2012’s “Dreams & Nightmares (Intro).”

As Jay-Z closed the second set with [his favorite track], “Allure,” the mood was ceremoniously serene. Michael Jordan finished with 19 points on 7-of-28 shooting in his first game back in versus Reggie Miller and the Indiana Pacers in 1995. The 21 misses are footnotes in history. It’s a moment everyone remembers for two simple words: “I’m back.” Grown as hell, Jay-Z is too.