‘Black Panther’ magazine covers are missing black photographers Why that matters and 11 who should be considered

The decision by Essence to publish three different covers in honor of the release of Black Panther took the internet by storm over the past 24 hours. That means five major magazines — Time, Essence, Variety, Allure and British GQ — have published cover stories on the highly anticipated film in the past few days. And all five elected not to use a black photographer to handle the representation of the all-black starring cast of Black Panther. Instead, five white men, one white woman and one Asian woman were tasked with creating the pictures, which have immediately gone viral, especially on Black Twitter. (Kwaku Alston did shoot a Black Panther cover for Entertainment Weekly last fall.)

From the Time cover shot of Chadwick Boseman, along with the supplementary photo of him and director Ryan Coogler, which were photographed by the duo Williams+Hirakawa to the Essence covers, which were all photographed by Dennis Leupold, one wonders whether anyone took a hint from Barack and Michelle Obama. The first African-American president and first lady had their images immortalized in the halls of the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery by African-American artists Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald, the first African-American artists to create presidential portraits for the gallery. In the case of the Obamas, the message behind who created the picture can be just as powerful as who is in them.

Unfortunately, this is far from the first time that magazines have missed an opportunity to make a statement with who they hire to shoot their covers. When Colin Kaepernick graced the cover of GQ magazine in December with photos inside echoing the famous photos of Muhammad Ali shot by African-American Howard Bingham, the work was done by Martin Schoeller, a white man. When you look at three of the largest magazines that write about and reflect African-American culture — Essence, Ebony and GQ — you see the lack of African-American photographers is nothing new. In 2017, between the three magazines, just 4.25 covers were made by a black photographer, and three of them were done by the same person. (The .25 comes about because a photographer shot one photo in a series for a cover image.)

At The Undefeated, we are here to throw you some options of amazing black photographers who could have been the Kehinde to Barack when it came to making a cover image for Black Panther.

Kwaku Alston

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Wayne Lawrence

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Marcus Smith

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Itaysha Jordan

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Jeffery Salter

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Andre D. Wagner

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Kareem Black

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Carrie Mae Weems

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G L Askew II

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Jabari Jacobs

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Shaniqwa Jarvis

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The legendary ‘XXL’ Jay-Z, LeBron James, Kanye West and Foxy Brown cover It helped launch then-Def Jam honcho Shawn Carter as a ‘business, man’

By 2005, in the post-The Black Album era, Jay-Z was almost two years into a retirement from releasing solo albums. Kanye West was soon to erase any doubts about a sophomore slump with his second studio album, Late Registration. LeBron James had delivered on the prep hype: He finished his second season with the Cleveland Cavaliers averaging 27.2 points, 7.4 rebounds and 7.2 assists. The best was yet to come for all three, as they stood together on the August 2005 cover of XXL, alongside Foxy Brown, who was signed to Def Jam Records at the time and preparing an album titled Black Roses.

Shot by Clay Patrick McBride (whose website opens with a look from the shoot), it was a gatefold cover, and the fold featured Freeway, Memphis Bleek, Young Gunz, Teairra Marie, Peedi Peedi and DJ Clue. Incoming Island/Def Jam CEO Antonio “L.A.” Reid, in one of his first moves, had hired Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter as president of the historic Def Jam Records, and under that umbrella came the relaunch of Jay-Z’s R0c-A-Fella Records — without co-founder Damon Dash. The 2004 split between Jay-Z and Dash was the No. 1 topic in hip-hop. And as for James, he was not signed to any label, but he appeared on the magazine as a symbol of his close relationship with Carter and of Carter’s reach to the world of professional athletes with Roc Nation Sports.

The cover idea was President Carter’s cabinet, and the XXL cover captured a moment in time before Jay-Z, West and James, all household names in 2005, were catapulted into another stratosphere of social impact, cultural influence and financial success. More than a decade later, Jay-Z is one of the most successful creative entrepreneurs, West is arguably the most influential cultural figure on this globe, and James, in his 15th NBA season, is still the best basketball player in the world.


In 1996, music journalist Andrea Duncan-Mao was throwing a party. Among the invitees were Jay-Z, Dash and Kareem “Biggs” Burke. At the tiny New York City Bar, they told anyone within earshot about a record label they co-founded called Roc-A-Fella Records and about Reasonable Doubt, an album from Jay-Z. Drinks flowed late into the evening. “It was fun,” said Duncan-Mao, who profiled Young Gunz for the XXL cover story. “Dame was a visionary … really good at his job. But I think he started to really enjoy the fame, power and the lifestyle.”

By 2005, XXL was the pre-eminent hip-hop publication, and the monthly competition with The Source and other magazines meant battles for landing the most influential images and stories was intense. “The covers were everything,” said Elliott Wilson, who was editor-in-chief from 1999 to 2008. “I was being judged by how many units these magazines sold. I used to stress over the numbers. I [always] had [handy] printouts of what every XXL, The Source and VIBE sold.”

With Jay-Z transitioning into an executive role, and his recent break-up with Dash, Wilson knew who he could turn to for a splash. “Whenever there was a drought,” Wilson said, “Jay was always relevant.” The cover would serve two purposes: to bump up sales numbers on the newsstands and to have the No. 1 name in hip-hop tell his side of the Roc-A-Fella breakup.

Dash had already had his opportunity. In June 2005, Wilson and his team had put Dash and the rapper Cam’ron on XXL’s cover with the tagline Jay-Z Can’t Knock These Harlem Boys’ hustle, a callback to a classic Jay-Z song. Dash had started his own Damon Dash Music Group. Among the statements Dash made to XXL: “I don’t understand what’s going on with Jay.” So it was time to reach out to Jay-Z for the other side of the story. “You knew things weren’t good,” said Wilson. “but you couldn’t actually see it coming. … They were such a symbol of brotherhood.”

For Wilson, who joined XXL after working as music editor at The Source, and at College Music Journal, the hip-hop magazine wars were a real thing. Wilson joined XXL with a goal of outselling The Source at the newsstands within a year. It took him until 2003, and by 2005, Wilson was aiming to cement XXL’s reputation as the go-to music publication.

Jay-Z agreed to appear on the cover of the August 2005 issue and even suggested to Wilson his vision of a cover concept. Jay-Z wanted to do a presidential cover to reflect his new role at Def Jam. The photo shoot took place at New York City’s Chelsea Piers inside a mock Oval Office, and while all this was going on, team XXL included a teaser for the Jay-Z cover in the July 2005 issue: The last page in the magazine featured a Roc-A-Fella chain displayed prominently. The tagline was The Chain Remains — Wilson drew inspiration from Naughty By Nature’s 1995 “Chain Remains,” from Poverty’s Paradise.

When Wilson listened to Jay-Z’s guest verse on West’s “Diamonds From Sierra Leone Remix” there’s the line: The chain remains, the gang’s intact … but the XXL presidential cover actually reflected a more popular line from “Diamonds”: I’m not a businessman. I’m a business, man. Jay-Z, West and James were in very businesslike black suits, and Foxy Brown was in a sleek black dress. Because of Jay-Z’s ownership stake with the Brooklyn Nets, an early version of the cover included Vince Carter and Jason Kidd — instead of James. “I was thankful Vince and Jason didn’t make the [final] cut,” said Wilson. “I knew LeBron … would be a big deal.” It would be a few more years until Barack Obama became the 44th president of the United States, but Jay-Z was making himself an unofficial black president on the cover of a magazine.

In the one-on-one interview with XXL features editor David Bry, Jay-Z addressed his split with Dash, saying, “I’m not in the business to talk about guys I did business with — I want you to print all this — been real tight with, for over 10 years. But since there’s so much out there, so much has been said, I will say this one thing: I’ma just ask people in the world to put themselves in my shoes. However the situation happened, whether we outgrew the situation or what have you, it was time for me to seek a new deal in the situation.” Shawn Carter was speaking to Bry. The beloved Bry, an author and hip-hop scholar, recently died of brain cancer.

Jay-Z stepped away from his role as president and CEO of Def Jam in 2007. During his tenure, artists such as Young Jeezy and Rick Ross had huge successes. West, Rihanna and Ne-Yo became global stars. At the same time, projects involving Ghostface Killah, Method Man, Beanie Sigel, Memphis Bleek and the Young Gunz sputtered. Artists such as LL Cool J spoke out in frustration. Jay-Z also came out of “retirement” and released Kingdom Come in 2006, to mixed reviews. Questions were raised about whether Carter was focused as a music executive, and whether there were creative conflicts of interest.

Music journalist Amy Linden profiled Memphis Bleek for that presidential issue. “Sometimes I wonder whether having an artist as the head of the label is a good thing or bad thing,” said Linden. “On one hand … artists recognize art in other people. On the other, you can wonder [whether] an artist is going to worry about someone competing with him.”

Wilson has fond memories of the presidential cover, in particular an inside shot: Jay-Z and West re-created an iconic Robert Kennedy-John F. Kennedy shot. “I did a lot of great covers,” Wilson said. “Unfortunately, this cover doesn’t always get mentioned. It definitely deserves its rightful place. … It marked the beginning of Jay-Z moving on to the next stage of his life.”

More than a decade later, the impact of the split between Jay-Z and Dash still resonates. Then-senior editor Anslem Samuel Rocque, now managing director at Complex, who profiled Freeway in the issue, believes the breakup was inevitable. “I don’t think Jay would be where he is now if he continued to be a big fish in a small pond,” Rocque said. “He couldn’t keep rolling with [the] same folks. I don’t want to diminish anyone … but they were holding him back. In retrospect, it was what he had to do.”

As for Wilson, who went on to become co-founder of the popular hip-hop site and podcast Rap Radar and now works as an editorial director of culture and content for Tidal, there is one regret about the presidential cover. “No disrespect to Foxy, but as good as a career as she’s had, she’s not the cultural icon that Jay-Z, Kanye and LeBron are,” Wilson said. “When I look back … I’m like, holy s—, I had Jay-Z, Kanye and LeBron. If I had Rihanna, it would have been one of the greatest magazine covers of all time.”

A look back at Latrell Sprewell’s very angry ‘Sports Illustrated’ cover The image was after the P.J. Carlesimo incident and at the tightest possible intersection of sports and race — not in a good way

What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the name Latrell Sprewell? His 35-point performance at Madison Square Garden with the New York Knicks facing elimination in the 1999 NBA Finals? Him dunking on Jaren Jackson in the third quarter of that game?

Maybe it was his return to the Garden for the first time in more than a decade, last year, as a “friend” of Knicks owner James Dolan, not a foe. Perhaps it’s this recent Priceline commercial, supposedly a display of Sprewell’s sense of humor — at his own expense.

Or is it a moment obscured from the public’s eyes: Sprewell choking then-Golden State Warriors head coach P.J. Carlesimo during a December 1997 practice, leaving the gym and returning, apparently to attack Carlesimo again?


Or is what you recall the aftermath, when the 24th pick in the 1992 NBA draft became a pariah? His name and likeness became synonymous with violence. The Warriors voided the then-three-time All-Star’s contract, and the NBA, a season removed from celebrating its 50th birthday, suspended him for a year after the episode escalated into an avalanche of bad press that the league did not need one month into the pivotal 1997-98 season. Several stars — Hakeem Olajuwon, Shaquille O’Neal and Scottie Pippen among them — were injured, Michael Jordan was all but certainly retiring, and a lockout was looming.

Then, in addition, the Milwaukee-born, Flint, Michigan-raised Sprewell, one of the NBA’s rising (albeit reluctant) stars, was labeled persona non grata. He’d admittedly committed an act of violence against his coach. It was an act that seemed to confirm every absurd fear about the rise of the overpaid, petulant, violent (and *gasp* black) athlete. It was the problem with sports, to let sportswriters and fans alike tell it. And although Sprewell acknowledged that his actions were inexcusable — “I don’t condone what I did,” he told The New York Times in 1998 — he took issue with how he was portrayed. This was epitomized by the cover of Sports Illustrated’s Dec. 15, 1997, issue.

“It’s always a picture of me looking mad or being aggressive,” he said during a news conference one week after the incident, for which he was initially suspended 10 games without pay. “I never saw pictures of myself where I had a smile on my face. It was always negative.”

The enigmatic Sprewell was easy to cast as the villain. The former University of Alabama and Three Rivers Community College standout was an aggressive slasher and defender. His appearance was menacing — to people who associated cornrows with criminal activity. And Spree had previously fought teammates. He absolutely considered himself a fighter, but only in self-defense.

“I don’t get upset unless somebody’s doing something to me or to my family, disrespecting me to where I just can’t tolerate it,” Sprewell told Time in 2000. That’s how he viewed the altercation with Carlesimo.

The choking itself, said to have happened in practice during an argument about Sprewell’s effort (“Put a little mustard on those passes,” Carlesimo reportedly told him), triggered revealing discourse, in the pre-social-media era, about the very often uncomfortable intersection of race and sports.


Sports Illustrated flew into the eye of the storm and made a valiant effort to unpack the situations. And while the story itself excellently contextualized the NBA’s head-on collision with race, the image — Sprewell, in mid-scream — chosen for the Dec. 15, 1997, issue’s cover was provocative for the wrong reasons. Sports Illustrated was the de facto bible of sports at the time, in an era before breaking news spread via Woj Bombs and trending topics. A time when writers discussed stories with editors via phone calls — not yet in Google Hangouts, or Slack.

Phil Taylor doesn’t remember exactly how he heard about what transpired between Sprewell and Carlesimo, but as a senior writer for Sports Illustrated at the time, he called his editors to discuss how they planned to cover it. “This was a huge story … right in my backyard, and as lead NBA writer, I knew I was going to be writing something lengthy,” said Taylor, now a contributing writer for The Athletic. “I’ve often thought that if it happened now, we would have obviously been able to put something out on Twitter and everyone would have just written stories immediately. But I remember thinking that [as a weekly publication] we were not going to be able to get an immediate story out there.”

“One of my first thoughts was, at least put P.J. on there looking angry too.”

The Sprewell-Carlesimo incident took place on a Monday — the worst-case scenario for the magazine, which was finalized for the mass printing on Sundays. Back then, hundreds of thousands of issues would be sent to subscribers and would be available on newsstands on the Wednesday/Thursday of the following week. Local outlets such as the San Francisco Chronicle were already on top of the story. That extra time, though, did allow Sports Illustrated to fine-tune its coverage, and Taylor ended up writing two of the three stories: a look at who Sprewell was and an essay about race and the NBA.

“We knew that by the time the story came out, the story might have advanced beyond what we knew at the time we were writing,” Taylor said. “So we wanted to come up with something to better put this into context, and that’s where we started talking about the issue of race in the NBA and what the Sprewell incident had to do with that.”

In a break from covers that featured full-bleed photography, a particularly incisive excerpt from Taylor’s essay was featured — white type on a black background:

“Latrell Sprewell has been publicly castigated and vilified, and any player who gets a similar urge to manually alter his coach’s windpipe will surely remember Sprewell’s experience before he acts on that impulse. Problem solved. But the Sprewell incident raises other issues that could pose threats to the NBA’s future, issues of power and money and — most dangerous of all — race … ”

Placing that much text on the cover of a magazine was rare for SI. “The editors liked what I wrote, and I think it was our managing editor Bill Colson … thought it was so strong that we should put those words on the cover.”

Part of Taylor’s satisfaction came from his belief that the cover would differ from what had quickly become a typical characterization of Sprewell as angry. Until he saw it, that is.

“My words … but they added that picture of Sprewell, and that was disappointing to me,” said Taylor, who didn’t see the cover until the issue came out. “One of my first thoughts was, at least put P.J. on there looking angry too. But maybe that would have been inflammatory as well, because then you would have had a black man screaming at a white man. That sort of anger could be interpreted as racial, but … would have at least been more fair.”

It was unfair to Sprewell because although what he did was undeniably wrong, Carlesimo was far from … docile. He was notoriously hard on his players, and notoriously unpopular for it. “We’ve been face-to-face on many occasions,” Rod Strickland, who played for Carlesimo while with the Portland Trail Blazers, told the Baltimore Sun.

“I’ve often thought, that if it happened now, we would have … put something out on Twitter, and everyone would have just written stories immediately.”

“I played under him, so it doesn’t surprise me,” Tracy Murray, who began his career with Portland, added.

After the Warriors hired Carlesimo in 1997, he was the focal point of their “No More Mr. Nice Guy” campaign, appearing on billboards with his coaching staff dressed like a team of FBI agents. Carlesimo was depicted as an enforcer; he was celebrated for an approach that alienated players and, more importantly, never translated into success in the NBA.

“P.J. was a guy who stirred it up, and was as bellicose and belligerent as Sprewell was,” Taylor said. But Carlesimo had a vastly different relationship with the media, Taylor added. He was very cooperative and affable and would ask about the reporters’ well-being. He’d remember their first names. That charm likely played a factor in Carlesimo receiving more favorable coverage than Sprewell, who was tight-lipped with the press.

Imagery is as important to a story’s narrative as reporting or analysis. A March 2002 issue of Sports Illustrated featured Charles Barkley in shackles. It drew criticism from Sports Illustrated staffers, readers and Barkley’s friend and colleague Kenny Smith alike. Golfweek’s infamous Tiger Woods “noose” cover, from January 2008, got its editor and vice president fired. LeBron James’ historic moment as the first black man to grace the cover of Vogue that spring was sullied by the black man-as-savage beast stereotype it projected. According to Taylor, the media routinely overlooks the reverberations of such editorial decisions.

“The media in general has always, and definitely at that time, underestimated the power of the images of black athletes,” said Taylor. “I don’t think the implications of putting an angry Sprewell out there occurred to them. I’m not even sure the implications of putting Barkley in chains occurred to them — until the backlash came.”

Taylor noted that no black editors were involved with the Sprewell story. “I might have been the only black writer or editor at that time,” he added. The magazine could have placed an expressionless Sprewell on the cover, and it would’ve been just as captivating. That’s how great the treatment is, and how powerful Taylor’s words are. But the cover — and all of the more incendiary examples that preceded it, and will surely continue to follow — represent a more hazardous issue: a failure on the part of many media professionals to grasp the complexity of stereotypes and the way they’re bound to black identity, and how all of that affects the way black people are viewed and treated.

Still, though, Taylor gives Sports Illustrated’s editors credit for deciding to explore the NBA’s racial undercurrent. After discussing the atmosphere with them, he said, Colson asked if the magazine should write about it. Taylor was stunned, as that was “edgy” for Sports Illustrated — and really for any mainstream sports publication of that era.

“They were willing to take on a controversial issue, although they kind of regressed on it … by choosing the picture they chose,” he said. “I wish they hadn’t done that.”

Sprewell survived his figurative public stoning and continued his career with the Knicks and then Minnesota Timberwolves. The clothing and footwear company AND1 even branded him “The American Dream” upon his return to the NBA in 1999 — the last time the Knicks made the Finals. The events of December 1997 never impeded Sprewell’s career, but it ended abruptly in 2005 after he claimed he couldn’t feed his family on the three-year, $21 million deal the Timberwolves offered him. That Priceline commercial, where he pokes fun at his mistakes, is poignant considering the headlines that have emerged since his retirement.

Despite Sprewell’s success after the incident, he remains symbolic of poor decisions and explosive anger. Regardless of Sports Illustrated’s intentions, that’s all their cover screams about him too.

‘The Rumble in the Jungle’ — and the poster that sold it Remembering The Champ’s historic comeback

 

In the darkest night part of morning they came 60,000 strong — to watch undefeated world heavyweight champion George Foreman take on challenger Muhammad Ali. It was another time. The 20th of May Stadium in Kinshasa, Zaire, is now the Stade Tata Raphaël in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and The Rumble in the Jungle, as it was known, was scheduled to begin at 4 a.m. local time on Wednesday, Oct. 30, 1974. This was so the match originally titled From Slave Ship to Championship would air live on closed-circuit television in U.S. theaters at 10 p.m. EST.

From backstage, journalist Norman Mailer described the scene. Although his entourage was somber, Ali appeared relaxed as he addressed himself in a mellifluous tone: “I been up and I been down. You know, I been around. It must be dark when you get knocked out. Why, I’ve never been knocked out. I’ve been knocked down, but never out.”

Ali was about to prove, once again, why he was the greatest of all time. Ever since the boxing commission stripped the champ of his title and suspended his boxing license for refusing to serve in the U.S. armed forces during the Vietnam War, Ali had been on a mission to reclaim all that had been stolen from him. Ali fought the law — and won, taking his case all the way to the Supreme Court, where he was vindicated in June 1971.

“No one had heard the word ‘Zaire.’ ”

Boxing license back, Ali took on then-world champion Joe Frazier in The Fight of the Century in March 1971. It was the first time that two undefeated heavyweights had battled in a title fight. They went the full 15. Frazier won by unanimous decision, handing Ali his first loss.

By 1974, George Foreman held the title. Undefeated, Foreman had more than 35 knockouts under his belt, and at 25, seemed an unstoppable force, but Ali, seven years his senior, never lost heart.

On most fight posters, the location was not a visual part of the story. Whether held in Las Vegas, Chicago or Miami, the location was simply a matter of logistical information. But with The Rumble in the Jungle, Africa was a central character. “No one had heard the word ‘Zaire,’ ” recalled sports photographer Neil Leifer. “If you want to put your country on the map — what a way to do it. If you wanted the world to know who you were, get the most popular black man on earth to promote it. It was probably a good business move for Mobutu.” Dictator Mobutu Sese Seko, who was noted for his cruelty and for being a master of terror on a grand scale, died in exile in 1997.

Set against a blazing yellow background, black and white photographs of Foreman and Ali floated above the continent of Africa, silhouetted in verdant green, perfectly matching the colors of the flag of Zaire. The poster had gone through slight modifications after Foreman cut his right eye during training, pushing back the date of the match, and it ran in both English and French. The French version of the fight poster included the words Un cadeau du President Mobutu au peuple Zaïrois et un honneur pour l’homme noir: “A gift from President Mobutu to the people of Zaire and an honor for the black man.”


Leifer, a boy wonder who began his professional career in 1958 at the age of 16, produced arguably the most famous photograph of Ali on earth: the image of him standing above Sonny Liston after throwing “the phantom punch” that sent the challenger to the mat during the first round of the 1965 world heavyweight title fight.

A photographer, like a boxer, has to be fully prepared for the fight, to be in peak condition and determined to make history. With more than 200 magazine covers and 17 books to his name, Leifer’s most recent book, The Fight (Taschen) is a triumph of book publishing. Limited to just 1,974 copies, the book features photographs by Leifer and Howard L. Bingham, Ali’s best friend, who died in 2016.

Using abridged copy from Mailer’s 1975 The Fight as its departure point, the Taschen volume follows Ali’s path through Zaire, crafting a comeback that blew people away. The book comes inside a slipcase that is modeled after the fight poster, using the same colors and design concept. “An image has to stop you — otherwise you will walk right by it,” said Leifer. “A cover is a poster — and if you take a second look at it, you might want to look inside. That yellow just jumps out at you … you can see it from half a block away.” But it’s the image of Ali and Foreman floating over the continent that invoked the Pan-African sentiment that had resurfaced in the wake of the civil rights movement and the African independence movements.

It’s the image of Ali and Foreman floating over the continent that invoked the Pan-African sentiment that had resurfaced in the wake of the civil rights movement.

The story belongs to the champion. This is increasingly clear when paging through The Fight. The Rumble in the Jungle was Ali’s return to glory. Unlike Foreman, whose strengths did not translate outside the ring, Ali took advantage of every opportunity that came his way, never meeting a camera or a reporter he did not like.

As Mailer reported, after shaking hands, Ali told Foreman, “You have heard of me since you were young. You’ve been following me since you were a little boy. Now, you must meet me, your master!” Foreman blinked.

The bell rang, and 30 seconds into the fight, Foreman had Ali on the ropes. They sparred, landing blows. It was an intense round, but people feared Ali would not be able to sustain that level of aggression. They weren’t wrong. Somewhere in the second round, Ali switched it up: rope-a-dope.

Ali hung back against the ropes, inviting Foreman to charge, then ducked, bobbed, weaved and blocked the champ’s fists of fury. Everyone was stunned. “What Muhammad did was so unusual, I honestly didn’t know when he would win,” Leifer recalled. “Any sensible person said, ‘What is he, out of his mind? He’s letting himself get hit.’ Foreman was an incredible puncher. You had to assume that at some point he’s going to break through Ali’s defense … but it didn’t happen that way.”

By the eighth round, Foreman was spent and Ali was prepared, landing several hooks followed by a five-punch combination that sent the champ sputtering to the ground. Mailer reported, “Vertigo took George Foreman and revolved him. Still bowing from the waist in this uncomprehending position … he started to tumble and topple and fall even as he did not wish to go down. His mind was held with magnets as high as his championship and his body was seeking the ground. He went over like a six-foot sixty-year-old butler who has just heard tragic news … ”

Determined to rouse himself, Foreman made it back on his feet after a count of 10, but he was finished. With two seconds remaining in the round, referee Zack Clayton stopped the fight. Ali had won the title back. Then he fainted.

Soon after the fight, the sky broke open and the rains came pouring down. The rainy season had been two weeks late, and the torrents flooded the stadium, drenching the batteries until the generators gave out. Half of the Telex machines shut down, and pictures and words could no longer get out — but they didn’t need to. Ali lived up to the poster — and did what he came to do as the whole world watched.

Bernie Mac, his ‘Mr. 3000,’ and black baseball’s field of dreams On what would have been his 60th birthday, Mac is remembered for his love of all of Chicago’s games

Mitch Rosen walks into an elegantly furnished condo in Chicago’s South Loop. He doesn’t know what to expect. It’s the spring of 2008, and the longtime program director of influential local sports radio station 670 The Score is about to make a pitch.

Just a day earlier, Rosen had asked a friend for a contact for Bernie Mac, the beloved stand-up comedian, television icon (Fox’s The Bernie Mac Show, 2001-06) and big-screen scene-stealer (Friday, The Players Club and the Ocean’s Eleven trilogy). In 2004, Mac co-starred with Angela Bassett (as an ESPN reporter) in Mr. 3000, a film about a retired Milwaukee Brewer Stan Ross, who comes back to major league baseball to go for 3,000 hits. Even before Mac’s star-making 1994 national television debut on the first iteration of HBO’s Def Comedy Jam, Mac had taken the baton from Robin Harris (who died in 1990 at age 36) as the Windy City’s funniest homegrown talent.

It was well-known around Chicago that Mac, a chest-beating, born-and-raised South Sider, was a hard-core White Sox fan. “I always knew Bernie to be around the Sox’s ballpark,” said Rosen. “He’d rent a suite at [then U.S. Cellular Field] for a number of games. I knew he would be fun to have on the postgame show.”

When Rosen made the call, Mac’s daughter, Je’Niece McCullough, answered. “Hold on, please,” she said. Seconds later, a booming voice jumped on the line. “Mitch, this is Bernie. What are you doing tomorrow afternoon? Here’s my address. Come see me.” During their one-hour meeting, Rosen discovered that not only was Mac an unapologetic homer, he was also an animated listener of sports talk radio. Imagine the multimillionaire calling in to passionately debate why a random utility player on the Sox deserved more at-bats.

“Chicago was a different place in the late ’60s and ’70s. This was before the era of Michael Jordan. There was a Little League team in damn near every neighborhood. Bernie was a product of those times.”

“And he was a huge fan of Ozzie [Guillen],” Rosen said, referring to the outspoken White Sox shortstop and Gold Glover who in 2005 managed the team to World Series glory. “We left it at, ‘Hey, let’s follow up in a few weeks and see where the season goes.’ At the time I remember he had an oxygen tank … so it was obvious something was wrong. He told me he was doing a movie out west in California. But we never got the chance to do his segment because he became really sick.”

Mac’s creative work was often deeply rooted in sports fandom. He portrayed a homeless man in 1994’s Above The Rim. In Pride, the 2007 Jim Ellis biopic, Mac scored a role as assistant coach of the first all-black swimming team. The actor detailed his love of competitive sports during a 2007 ESPN SportsNation chat. “I wish I started playing golf earlier,” said the 6-foot-3 Mac, who possessed the frame of a tight end. “But I played baseball, basketball, football, volleyball, and I boxed. In high school,” he repeated wistfully, “I played baseball.”

On Aug. 9, 2008, Bernard Jeffrey McCullough died at the age of 50. He’d been secretly battling a rare immune disease called sarcoidosis. Today he would have been 60 years old.


Bernie Mac sings “Take me out to the Ballgame” during the 7th inning stretch of game six of the National League Championship Series between the Chicago Cubs and the Florida Marlins on October 14, 2003 at Wrigley Field in Chicago, Illinois.

Elsa/Getty Images

Bernie Mac made it out of the notorious Englewood neighborhood of Chicago to become one of the most successful comedians of the post-Eddie Murphy era. The onetime janitor, school bus driver and fast-food manager decided that comedy would be his family’s ticket out of the ’hood. During the day, Mac told jokes on the L train, where he often pulled in as much as $400 daily.

At night, he delivered those same routines in front of notoriously tough audiences — when he was even allowed to get onstage. It was only after winning a top prize of $3,000 at 1990’s Miller Genuine Draft Comedy Search that he decided to pursue stand-up full time. His popular Emmy- and Peabody-winning television series The Bernie Mac Show was a layered revelation that went beyond usual laugh-track-fueled sitcom high jinks.

Mac got to live out his high school dream of becoming a professional ballplayer when he starred in the family-friendly Mr. 3000. His comically arrogant character, Ross, finds out that because of a clerical error, he’d retired three hits shy of one of baseball’s most hallowed benchmarks. Only 31 real players are in the 3,000-hit club. Adrian Beltre is the most recently crowned member; Barry Bonds just missed the cut. Albert Pujols is currently closest, with 2,825 hits. Other players in the 3,000 community include Roberto Clemente, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Ichiro Suzuki, Rickey Henderson, Alex Rodriguez, George Brett and Derek Jeter. Quite the list.

The film is fun, but it’s Mr. 3000’s on-field scenes, shot at New Orleans’ Zephyr Field and the Brewers’ Miller Park, that jump off the screen like a love letter to the emotional highs and lows of baseball and its idiosyncratic rituals. “Bernie and I would always talk about the MLB player that didn’t know when to retire,” said Charles Stone III, director of Mr. 3000, Paid In Full and the upcoming basketball comedy Uncle Drew, which features the Boston Celtics’ Kyrie Irving, as well as Lisa Leslie, Nate Robinson, Reggie Miller and Chris Webber. “We even joked about doing an entire documentary about athletes who didn’t know when to walk away. It was obvious Bernie had a real passion for sports.”

Michael Wilbon, a Chicago native and co-host of ESPN’s Pardon the Interruption, made a cameo appearance in Mr. 3000. He first met Mac in 2001, at a Chicago Bulls game. They bonded. “We both grew up watching the Bears’ Gale Sayers and Walter Payton, the Cubs’ Ernie Banks and Billy Williams, and the White Sox’s [Walt] ‘No Neck’ Williams,” Wilbon said. “Chicago was a different place in the late ’60s and ’70s. This was before the era of Michael Jordan. There was a Little League team in damn near every neighborhood. Bernie was a product of those times.”

Which is one of the reasons that, when Mac was asked by the Chicago Cubs to sing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” for the seventh-inning stretch at Wrigley Field, just months after wrapping Mr. 3000, it was a surreal moment. The prominent Chicago White Sox fan is forever connected to the infamous “Bartman” Game 6 of the 2003 National League Championship Series in which the North Siders suffered a monumental collapse. Some Cubs fans even blamed Mac for purposefully jinxing the team when, instead of singing, “Root, root, root for the Cubbies,” he sang, “Root, root, root for the champions!” Mac admitted to Wilbon that he grew up hating the Sox’s crosstown rivals.

Bernie Mac sings a “black version” of “Take Me Out To The Ball Game.”

“This is how you came up as a South Sider,” Wilbon said. “You hated the Cubs because back in the days they were not very hospitable to people that looked like my father. Bernie and I come from that tradition. But a lot of those great black Cubs players like Ernie Banks lived on the South Side with us, so while he didn’t always root for the Cubs, Bernie was a civic person. He didn’t actively root against them. When it came to the [playoffs], he rooted for all teams that had Chicago on their chest.”

Mac of course understood the historical significance of Mr. 3000’s lead character being African-American. Jackie Robinson’s peerless legacy is rich with immortals such as Roy Campanella, Mays, Bob Gibson, Reggie Jackson, Bonds and Ken Griffey Jr., as well as current stars like Giancarlo Stanton, Andrew McCutchen and Addison Russell. But African-American participation in professional baseball over the decades has steadily declined.

At its height in 1981, professional baseball boasted a robust 18.7 percentage of black players. Today that figure is 7.7 percent, according to MLB. “Blacks no longer being a huge part of baseball is something we’d always talk about,” said Chicago-based SportsCenter analyst Scoop Jackson. When Mac was cutting his teeth at local nightclubs such as All Jokes Aside in the early ’90s, the two would often discuss their mutual admiration for the underrated 1976 Negro Leagues baseball film The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars & Motor Kings.

“We both loved that film,” said Jackson. “How important Bingo Long was … you had James Earl Jones, Billy Dee Williams and Richard Pryor speaking on the importance of the Negro League. It wasn’t just black history … it was baseball history. I know what a film like Mr. 3000 was rooted in.”

And there’s even more to the legacy of Bernie Mac the sportsman. Mac frequently sent messages to Kenny Williams, then the White Sox’s general manager (now the team’s executive vice president), imploring him to improve the staff’s pitching. Mac also grew up idolizing aforementioned legendary Pittsburgh Pirates right fielder Roberto Clemente. Mac’s standing as the quintessential sports guy was so high that even before he was starring in films alongside the Oscar-winning likes of George Clooney, Julia Roberts, Matt Damon and Billy Bob Thornton, he was given the unofficial title of 13th Man by the Jordan-led Chicago Bulls during their historic six-title ’90s run.

The Bulls adopted Mac’s signature “Who You With?!!!” catchphrase as their championship battle cry. “When Bernie came into the locker room, that’s all Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and the others would scream,” Jackson said. “That meant a lot to Bernie personally. He never really left Chicago, or his love of its teams. … Bernie was a true sports fan.”

The summer of Mo’ne Davis’ magical Little League World Series A play-by-play of the historic 2014 ‘Sports Illustrated’ cover that almost didn’t happen

LeBron James told the world, “I’m coming home.New York Yankees captain Derek Jeter embarked upon a farewell tour in his 20th and final season. The U.S. men’s basketball team won gold at the FIBA World Cup in Spain, and Germany’s national soccer team emerged victorious at the World Cup in Brazil. And Serena Williams became the first woman to win three consecutive U.S. Open titles since the 1970s. The summer of 2014 revitalized the typically dreaded period of the sports calendar with memorable performances from the most dominant competitors around the globe. Yet somehow that brief era belonged to only one athlete: Little League phenom pitcher Mo’ne Davis, 13.

Sports Illustrated writer Albert Chen reported on Davis’ unprecedented 2014 Little League World Series run. “She was the biggest sports story,” he said, “in a summer full of sports stories.”

Mo’ne — who is now 16 and still chasing her dream of playing Division I college basketball, though she hasn’t given up pitching just yet — led Philadelphia’s Taney Dragons into Williamsport, Pennsylvania, becoming the first African-American girl to play in the Little League World Series. But the history-making didn’t stop there. She also became the first girl to pitch a shutout and earn a win, after a 4-0 victory over Nashville in her first start of the tournament. With long, swinging braids, piercing hazel eyes and undeniable ability on the mound, Davis threw a 70 mph fastball that she paired beautifully with an array of off-speed pitches. And on Aug. 25, 2014, she appeared on the front of Sports Illustrated — the first Little Leaguer in history on the cover of the magazine.

Leading up to the 2014 Little League World Series, longtime Sports Illustrated cover photographer Al Tielemans, a native of North Philadelphia, pitched a story to the magazine about the star female pitcher of his home state Dragons. The magazine sent two reporters to join him in Williamsport. Yet, as much potential as there was in the story, many things had to fall into place for Mo’ne to actually make the cover.


On Aug. 9, 2014, while on a two-day vacation in Philadelphia with his wife, Tielemans picked up an issue of The Philadelphia Inquirer. He stumbled across a story about a local Little League team playing the following night in Connecticut for a spot in the Little League World Series. By the end of the next day, Taney was headed to the Little League World Series to represent the Mid-Atlantic Region after a three-hit, six-strikeout, shutout performance in an 8-0 win over a team from Newark, Delaware — from a 13-year-old female pitcher named Mo’ne Davis. Slowly but surely, Mo’ne became the focus of sports chatter around the country, and Tielemans wanted to capitalize on the buzz. He quickly drafted an Excel spreadsheet for Sports Illustrated managing editor Chris Stone that mapped out the entire double-elimination tournament of the Taney Dragons and, more importantly, what it would take to get Mo’ne on the cover of the magazine.

Meanwhile, Chen had just wrapped a cover story on Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder Andrew McCutchen (the story would appear in the magazine’s Sept. 8, 2014, issue), before boarding a plane departing from Pittsburgh. Soon, he’d receive a call from his editor about a Little League pitcher he’d never heard of.


Leading up to the 2014 Little League World Series, how much did you know about Mo’ne Davis?

Tielemans: I heard a team from Philly was playing for a regional championship. I saw that they won and that they were going to the Little League World Series. That Monday morning, they started having Mo’ne Davis on the morning talk shows, just kind of mentioning it as a blip, like, ‘Oh, a girl pitcher pitched the Philadelphia team’s way to the Little League World Series.’ But that was about it.

Chen: I got off the plane having just finished a story. I was kind of in a cave for that story, not really aware of what was going on. The magazine’s baseball editor at the time, Steve Cannella, I remember getting this phone call from him as I’m getting off the plane. He asks me, ‘Does the name Mo’ne sound familiar to you? … Have you been following her story?’ My answer is, ‘No, what are you talking about?’ I think it was that afternoon when she had the breakout game, struck out a lot of hitters and threw a shutout. I think Twitter went nuts and by the time I landed a lot of people had heard about her, and all those people were tweeting about her. I hadn’t checked my phone, or watched ESPN or anything. … It just goes to show you how quickly things snowball in this day and age. You wake up one morning and no one’s heard of Mo’ne Davis. Then you get a phone call and you’re one of the last people who’ve heard of her story. It wasn’t the huge sensation it would become, but within the sports world it was already exploding. I had no plans to go to the Little League World Series. We had no plans to send a writer.

Tielemans: I felt like the media was restrained about her and the team going into the Little League World Series. It wasn’t overboard. It was respectful about the fact that they were kids. Then, when she pitched on Friday, obviously it blew up.

Starting pitcher Mo’ne Davis #3 of Pennsylvania pitches during the 2014 Little League World Series.

Drew Hallowell/MLB Photos via Getty Images

Can you set the scene of Taney’s Friday afternoon game against Nashville, and Mo’ne’s shutout?

Chen: I had a great reporter working with me in Williamsport. Her name is Emily Kaplan (now of ESPN). We kind of tag-teamed. I wrote the story, but she did a huge amount of reporting … I went to Philadelphia and did a lot of reporting on the city and Mo’ne’s school. I watched the game that Friday on TV. Of course, I show up there and everyone in Philadelphia is rooting for her.

“She was just like a rock star, or Brazilian soccer player — she only needed one name to be recognized.” — Albert Chen, Sports Illustrated

Tielemans: It was an overcast day. Kind of threatening rain, but it never did. It was your classic first day at Williamsport. There was a buzz because it was getting started. … It was a great day to shoot. … Williamsport is a great place to shoot. You’re just so close. Just the fact that I had proposed this story … I felt like I was sitting on something that could really explode, and that’s always exciting. Everybody was there talking about Mo’ne.

Chen: If they lose, if she doesn’t do well in her start, it’s still a wonderful story, but is it a story we should be running in the magazine the following week, when there are many other things going on in the sports world? If they had lost that game on Friday, then the conversation is obviously every different.

Tielemans: When she won, and was dominant, it became a great story.

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The first girl to appear at the Little League World Series for a U.S. team in 10 years, Mo’ne dominated. In Taney’s 4-0 win over Nashville in the opening round of the tournament on Friday afternoon, Mo’ne threw 70 pitches, with eight strikeouts and zero walks, while allowing just two hits. Before her performance, no girl had pitched her team to a win or thrown a shutout at the Little League World Series. The victory advanced Taney to a game against Pearland, Texas, on Sunday night. With Sports Illustrated going to press on Monday night, Taney needed to win for Mo’ne to make the cover of the magazines that would hit newsstands on Wednesday. A loss on Sunday would’ve brought Taney to face double-elimination on Monday and potentially be eliminated before the magazine’s release. Down 6-5 in the bottom of the sixth and final inning against Texas, Taney rallied with two runs to win the game, 7-6, which kept the team alive until Thursday and meant Mo’ne was destined to grace a national cover.

At what point did you realize you were writing, or shooting, for a possible cover?

Chen: After her performance Friday, when she threw the shutout and won the game against Nashville, when I woke up Saturday morning and knew she was the talk of the sports world, I knew that this was potentially a cover story.

Tielemans: That’s essentially what I originally proposed. It was like, ‘Hey, this is a story. Here’s the deal — if this and this happens, you can put her on the cover and you’ve got three days before they can even be eliminated.’ But if something else happened that was more important, it could’ve been bumped easily. You go in with the idea and the people at the magazine make the decisions. You give them your material and just deal with whatever happens. It just so happened that it played out.

“It was totally cool that a girl went in and mowed down a team of Little League players.” — Al Tielemans, Sports Illustrated photographer

Chen: I had to start writing the story on Sunday knowing that there was a chance it wouldn’t run. Sunday night is the night that they played the game where they were down 6-5 going into the final inning and they scored two runs in the sixth inning to win that game. If they had lost that game, there wouldn’t have been a story in that issue of the magazine, and she obviously would not have been on the cover.

I didn’t know, for sure, that I was writing a cover story until Sunday evening around 9:30, 9:45, when that winning run was scored. I turned in the story the very next morning, and I don’t know why I remember this, but I was actually a little bit early filing.

What are some of Sports Illustrated covers of note that you’ve written or shot for? And where does the Mo’ne Davis cover rank in the conversation?

Chen: I had the Andrew McCutchen cover. Probably one of my more prominent ones was I did the cover story on the baseball player Josh Hamilton. That got a lot of buzz. I have a bunch of college football covers as well.

Tielemans: Max Scherzer and Bryce Harper on the baseball preview issue. I had the picture of Anthony Rizzo when the Cubs won the World Series for the cover. I did the NBA preview in 2014 with LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love. I did Nick Foles’ snow game. I did when Bubba Watson won the Masters. Portraits of David Price with the Rays and Joey Votto. I did the cover when the Steelers beat the Cardinals in Super Bowl XLIII.

Chen: The Mo’ne cover got more attention than any other cover I’ve written. I don’t think there’s any question about it. Spike Lee did a short documentary on Mo’ne. I went to Philadelphia to talk to him about it and was interviewed on camera. Spike Lee definitely has not called me up for any other cover stories I’ve done.

Tielemans: It’s wayyyyy up there. It’s kind of hard to match the Cubs win the World Series for the first time in 108 years. But a lot of the Mo’ne cover has to do with the fact that I pitched it, I mapped it out, I explained it, and all of the pieces fell into place. There’s so much luck involved in this business. I don’t get any attention out of getting the cover, but when the cover gets attention, it is cool. It’s pretty fun when your cover gets a lot of play, and it got a lot of play when Mo’ne was on TV. It was a cool feeling.

Chen: What makes me feel good about it is it was really the right 13-year-old. I imagine there are very few 13-year-olds on the planet that can really handle that kind of attention and pressure, everything that goes with being on the cover of a magazine. She was the right 13-year-old in terms of her being able to handle the attention, and the craze, and the history and the frenzy that came along with it. She was able to handle it. … All credit to her for that.

Tielemans: Going into it, I did not know that there had never been a Little Leaguer on the cover.

What do you think Mo’ne’s story meant to the sports world at the time in 2014? And what does it mean now?

Chen: A lot of things happened that summer, but August of 2014 will always be remembered as the summer of Mo’ne. She stole the show. She was front and center. She was just like a rock star or Brazilian soccer player. She only needed one name to be recognized.

Tielemans: What made it cool for me was she was just a kid … a normal 13-year-old kid. She was very friendly, very respectful, and as shy as the 13-year-old you’d expect her to be. She fit in with those guys completely normally.

Chen: I think it’s still a unique story for sure, because you peel away all the layers and it was a story about so many different things. About gender, about race, about so many larger things. But at the end of the day, it was a story about pitchers blowing away hitters in the Little League World Series, so I think her name still resonates with some people.

Tielemans: It was totally cool that a girl went in and mowed down a team of Little League players. She really went out and did it. Just a kid out there throwing baseballs. The normalcy of it all is what made it so absolutely cool.

Tanya Muzinda inspires the children of Zimbabwe to Thrive Beyond Illness How an 11-year-old motocross prodigy became the face of a children’s hospital

Keith M. Phiri/Saint Productions

In a baby-blue, navy and white AXO racing kit, courtesy of the European Union, a girl, 11, poses on her motorbike. It’s December 2015, and she’s ready to race. The poster girl for motocross in Zimbabwe, and a beacon of hope for her entire country, she’s living proof to young people that they can, with proper care, thrive beyond illness.

The rider’s name: Tanya Muzinda. Her racing number: 61. The hashtag #TeamTanya is stamped on the front license plate of her racing bike, which is sponsored by Armored Graphix. The custom bike graphics company’s stickers cover almost every inch of the bike. Motocross is a timed motorcycle race over a closed winding dirt/mud trail with hills, jumps, and turns. When Tanya was 5, a friend of her father’s invited the family to Harare’s Donnybrook Raceway. Tanya’s father allowed her to try motocross, and Tanya, who already raced go-carts, instantly fell in love. She placed second in her first competition, and became the first Zimbabwean girl to win a local motocross championship. Since then, Tanya, who hails from Harare, has traveled the world to compete.

She had been working with a bike borrowed from that family friend, but the burnt orange 65 cc motorbike in the poster was a gift to Tanya, now 12, from the European Union Delegation of Zimbabwe. It was sent as a goodwill gesture, as Tanya had been selected by the United Nations as honorary ambassador for gender, youth and sport that August. Motocross is growing in popularity in Zimbabwe, where the most popular sports are soccer and croquet, and it was that honor, along with her fierce motocross abilities, that led to her appearance on the poster.


The Children’s Hospital in Zimbabwe’s capital, Harare, is filled beyond capacity. One of four facilities belonging to Harare’s Central Hospital, it’s the only pediatric hospital in Zimbabwe.

The Children’s Hospital treats kids who have been mauled or have HIV/AIDS, those who are malnourished, and those suffering from pneumonia or waterborne illnesses such as cholera and typhoid fever, along with other ailments. HIV is particularly prevalent, with nearly 15 percent of the country’s population infected, according to data from AVERT, an epidemic that has created nearly 1 million orphans. Surgeries, and even some common treatments, are difficult to perform amid the overcrowding and uncertainty. In 2008, the hospital was forced to close for two years when record-setting hyperinflation hit Zimbabwe. Some say there are issues dating to the country’s independence British colonization in 1980 that have hampered the hospital’s chances of prospering.

“I want to show people you can’t spend the rest of your life being scared. I think I will inspire girls from all over the world.”

When Zimbabwe native and social entrepreneur Phillipa Sibanda returned to her homeland in 2014, she knew she had to do something. After 12 years as a respiratory care practitioner with Kaiser Permanente in the U.S., Sibanda believed she was “called to go back to Zimbabwe.”

“I realized I have much to offer. They needed a lot of skills,” she said. “I noticed as an entrepreneur [that] what was lacking in Zimbabwe was good branding, great visibility that could be global, and great marketing and advertising. Having lived in Silicon Valley, it was a no-brainer for me.” Sibanda teamed up with local entrepreneur Solomon Jama and founded Global Business Innovations, a company aimed at improving marketing and branding efforts in Zimbabwe and around the world.

Soon after the move, Sibanda’s son became ill with typhoid fever and had to be admitted into care. Sibanda placed him in Harare’s Children’s Hospital, where she was pleased that they cured her son, but concerned about their lack of resources. “Just an amazing recovery, but … they had limited resources and supplies. They’re recycling things that ordinarily [hospitals] throw away in the U.S. So, when I was thinking about a platform we could use to showcase what was happening … I thought of Thrive Beyond Illness.”

Courtesy of Phillipa Sibanda/Dominion Innovative Creations

They needed a face, someone who personified thriving, and someone who the kids could look up to. “When Phillipa [Sibanda] told me about the idea, I almost shed a tear,” said Tawanda Muzinda, Tanya’s father. “I thought, this is a good chance for Tanya to give back. She can be a role model for sick children and show them even if you’re sick today, you can be well tomorrow, and do what you want to do.”


Nine months after Tanya was born — she’s the oldest of three siblings — her immune system weakened. Tawanda Muzinda and his wife Adiyon sent Tanya to live with her grandparents in the country’s “rural areas” for nearly four years. She returned to Harare feeling stronger, and was able to attend the local school.

By mid-2015, a press conference was held to announce that Team Tanya – composed of Tawanda, Adiyon, Tanya and her Italian mentor, two-time women’s motocross champion Stefy Bau — was partnering with Harare Children’s. “It was a good feeling, because I got sick when I was younger, so I’m lucky I got to work and have the opportunity to give them hope,” said Tanya.

Tanya has known since she was 7 years old — the first time she placed on the victory podium at Donnybrook Raceway — that she wanted to become a motocross world champion. Her new goal is to break her mentor/trainer Bau’s 2x Women’s National Pro Champion record. And within the past few years, she’s been named the Junior Sportsperson of the year, received the Teen Female Sport Award, Zimbabwe’s Rising Star award, and those are just a few of her accolades. Tanya hopes to compete in the British Women’s Motocross Championship this month.

“Motocross in Africa, most girls don’t really do it,” said Tanya. “I want to show people you can’t spend the rest of your life being scared. I think I will inspire girls from all over the world.”

That time Michael Jordan left the Bulls, went to baseball’s minors, and chased his childhood dream Where would Jordan be if he’d chosen baseball over hoops? Where would we be?

On a fall night on the South Side of Chicago, the hero of the city, and greatest basketball player on the planet, took the mound of Comiskey Park’s diamond. It was Oct. 5, 1993. Game 1 of Major League Baseball’s American League Championship Series between the Chicago White Sox and Toronto Blue Jays. Chicago Bulls superstar Michael Jordan was the home team’s guest of honor.

Four months before the ALCS, Jordan led the Bulls over the Phoenix Suns in a best-of-seven NBA Finals series to claim their third-consecutive title. The summer of celebration for Jordan, however, was overshadowed by the murder of his father, James Jordan Sr., who was found dead in a South Carolina creek in August 1993. Yet heading into a new NBA season, the expectation remained that Jordan’s dominance on the court would continue — that not even family tragedy could stop His Airness’ reign. So, as the White Sox looked to clinch their first World Series berth in 34 years, who better to launch a chase of history than a man emblematic of fortitude and perseverance?

In front of announced crowd of more than 46,000, Jordan threw out the game’s ceremonial first pitch, the ball sailing low and outside of the strike zone framed by White Sox catcher Ron Karkovice. The 6-foot-6 shooting guard then delivered the ballpark wave and a sly smile before taking his seat in the skybox suite owned by Bulls and White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf.

“The Chicago Bulls have called a press conference for tomorrow morning … and there’s high speculation that Michael Jordan will retire from basketball forever.”

In the seventh inning, the shape of the night — and the landscape of the entire sports world — took an abrupt and unexpected turn: The game’s broadcast cut to on-field reporter Pat O’Brien for a breaking news update. “The Chicago Bulls have called a press conference for tomorrow morning,” O’Brien said, “and there’s high speculation that Michael Jordan will retire from basketball forever.”

The next morning, the Chicago Sun-Times published a story with an official statement from Jordan, while The Denver Post received confirmation of the retirement from Bulls head coach Phil Jackson. Later that day — Oct. 6, 1993 — in a news conference held at the Bulls’ training facility, Jordan officially announced his departure from the game of basketball. “If you ride a roller coaster for nine years, don’t you want to ride something else? That’s the way I feel right now — I want to ride something else.”

Less than a week later, Toronto defeated Chicago, 6-3, in a ALCS-clinching Game 6 at Comiskey. With the loss, the White Sox fell a mere two games shy of winning the pennant and reaching the World Series, though the club’s performance inspired the city with hope for another deep playoff run the following season. Led by 1993 AL MVP Frank Thomas, the White Sox were on a short list of 1994 World Series contenders.

“In ’94, the anticipation was for even more,” said Mark Ruda, an MLB reporter for Chicago’s Daily Herald at the time. “But the White Sox said, ‘Let’s see what can we do. Let’s bring Michael Jordan to spring training to spice things up.’ ”

On Feb. 7, 1994—10 days shy of his 31st birthday — Jordan inked a minor league contract with the White Sox, effectively channeling his newfound freedom into fulfilling a childhood dream of playing Major League Baseball. Upon retiring from basketball, Jordan had informed Reinsdorf of his baseball aspirations. So, the transition was seamless. The White Sox chairman made it happen.

“The Sox didn’t need that crap,” added Ruda, who also served as a Chicago correspondent for Baseball America, a national (and still printed) publication dedicated to identifying the game’s top prospects. On the brink of spring training in 1994, which Jordan was scheduled to attend as one of the newest members of the White Sox, the magazine reached out to Ruda for a potential cover story for its AL Central top prospects issue.

His assignment? “Scouting Air Jordan.”


“This is just a nuts two-page package, in retrospect,” Baseball America editor-in-chief John Manuel said via phone. He’s perusing a copy of the issue that hit newsstands across the country on Feb. 21, 1994. The issue went public before Sports Illustrated’s infamous March 14, 1994, “Bag It, Michael!” issue — the cover of which, and accompanying story, “Err Jordan,” ticked the greatest of all time off so much that he hasn’t spoken to the magazine since.

Back then, Manuel was a college senior (ironically at Jordan’s alma mater, the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill), months away from graduation, and two years removed from his first job at Baseball America. He looks back fondly on this unique period in baseball history, when the best hooper in the world ventured to become a major league right fielder.

“I wish I’d gotten to write something this cool,” Manuel said while examining Ruda’s scouting report on page 6, which breaks down Jordan’s baseball skills in five categories — hitting, fielding, throwing, speed and makeup (aka personality and character). The story traces Jordan’s baseball roots back to his days as a pitcher at Laney High School in his hometown of Wilmington, North Carolina, where he led the “junior-varsity team by hitting .433, and later played varsity ball before becoming ineligible for his senior season after playing in the McDonald’s basketball all-star game.”

“At first, Jordan ruled out playing in the minor leagues.”

Jordan quit baseball at the age of 18, just two games into his senior season at Laney, which meant that by the time Jordan, at 31, reported to spring training in February 1994, approximately 13 years separated him from his last official baseball game. So one line from Ruda’s report really stands out, still to this day: “At first, Jordan ruled out playing in the minor leagues.”

“Yeah … that’s what I heard back then,” Ruda said, “ … a rather vainglorious attempt by him to think he could just go right into the major leagues.”

Yet Jordan ultimately wanted to be treated like any other prospect, starting in spring ball in Sarasota, Florida, where he met Cleveland Indians star outfielder Kenny Lofton. Having played four years of college basketball at the University of Arizona, Lofton was Jordan’s archetype in the realm of making a transition from basketball to baseball (opposite of Ruda’s scouting report in the Baseball America issue is a full-page feature, titled “Lofton Shows Jordan the Way”).

The two outfielders immediately connected. Jordan shared with Lofton why he chose to go after a spot in the major leagues at the peak of his NBA supremacy. Despite rumors that his foray into baseball resulted from a secret suspension levied by the NBA for gambling, Jordan maintained that he gained inspiration from his late father, who played semi-pro baseball and frequently had conversations with his son about making the switch.

“Michael told me, ‘Baseball was my first love,’ ” recalled Lofton, a six-time All-Star, four-time Gold Glove Award winner and five-time AL stolen base leader in his 17-year MLB career. “He was … this great basketball player, and maybe he felt like he accomplished whatever he needed to accomplish … at the time, like, ‘Lemme try to accomplish my childhood dream.’ But [baseball] players looked at it as: ‘You know what? We understand you’re the greatest basketball player ever, but in baseball, man, you ain’t gonna have no chance.”

Jordan was far from a top prospect, not even listed in Baseball America’s 1994 Chicago White Sox top 10 — but he was Michael Jordan. So, the magazine slotted him in the AL Central cover’s lead photo, which was draped over a thumbnail of the division’s highest-rated prospect — a young Cleveland Indians outfielder named Manny Ramirez, whose 555 career home runs ranks 15th all time in MLB history.

“Michael Jordan could’ve gone to be a curler somewhere and people would’ve been really interested in how he was going to do in curling,” said MLB.com senior writer Jim Callis, a former managing editor of Baseball America. “We were just kind feeding off that.”

(Jordan’s image) was draped over a thumbnail of a young Cleveland Indians outfielder named Manny Ramirez, whose 555 career home runs ranks 15th all time in MLB history.

The cover photo itself, taken by Tom DiPace, is one of few pictures from Jordan’s brief baseball career in which he wore his famed basketball No. 23 on the back of a White Sox uniform (The covers of an April 1994 issue of Beckett Baseball Card Monthly and May 1994 issue of Sports Cards magazine also feature Jordan in No. 23.) “He was supernice to me, and respectful,” DiPace recalled of shooting Jordan early in spring training for both Baseball America and the Upper Deck trading card company. “He wasn’t acting like Air Jordan. He was trying to fit in as a regular guy.”

On team photo day, before his debut at White Sox spring training, Jordan didn’t pose in No. 23, but rather donned the No. 45, which he sported on the diamond as a kid and took with him in the minors. Ditching the No. 23 was a statement — the beginning of his quest to rebuild Jordan the basketball superstar into Jordan, the baseball prospect.

“I remember thinking like, ‘Wow.’ It’s going to interesting to see how he’s going to try to transform his whole mindset from being the best player ever,” Lofton said, “to go from flying on private jets to playing in the minor leagues — when you’re going to be on a bus.”


When spring training came to a close, the White Sox assigned baseball’s biggest project to the club’s Double-A affiliate Birmingham Barons. And in Alabama, playing in the Southern League under future World Series-winning manager Terry Francona, while making $850 a month with a $16 meal allowance on road trips, Jordan’s baseball education began.

“The Sox gave him every darn chance with that setup. Birmingham, even back then, that was really the launching pad for all the prospects,” Ruda said. “If you were a hot-stuff prospect in the Sox organization, you may have very well made the jump to the bigs from Birmingham.” Yet in 127 career games in the minors, Jordan posted a meager slash line (batting average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage) of .202/.289/.266, with 51 RBIs on 88 total hits, including 17 doubles and three home runs.

“He had a .566 OPS [on-base plus slugging] and hit .202. It’s not that impressive, but the guy hadn’t played baseball in 13 years and he went to Double-A,” Callis said. “He drew 51 walks. He didn’t strike out excessively. Were they great numbers? No. But it looked like he had reasonable command of the strike zone. In retrospect, hitting .202, even if it was a soft .202, after that layoff, is impressive when you put it in context.”

The greatest athlete in the world simply couldn’t hit a baseball — or at least not with the same ease he could hit jump shots, drive the lane and dunk a basketball. “You take a guy who had the most impact on the culture, and on basketball of anybody, arguably, ever in sports,” said Manuel, “then you put him in baseball, and as player he had very little impact with the bat.”

Yet Jordan kept grinding in the batting cage, at the plate, and beyond. After his year with the Barons, he traveled out West to play in the Arizona Fall League, where he hit a respectable .252 in 35 games. But as he continued his chase of playing in the majors, basketball found its way back into the mind of the slowly improving right fielder.


The longest players strike in MLB history began Aug. 12, 1994. It led to the cancellation of the final six weeks of the regular season, and entire postseason, including the World Series. Come February 1995, Jordan arrived a week early for spring training, eager to get back to work on the field. But the strike still dragged on, and Jordan had no intention of crossing the picket line or becoming a replacement player if a settlement wasn’t reached. So, he chose another path. On March 2, 1995, he packed his bags and left Florida. Eight days later, he announced his decision to leave baseball. And eight days after that, Jordan released a famous two-word statement, “I’m back,” marking his return to the NBA.

“I was having fun down there playing baseball. And it was an opportunity to prove something.”

“I had no idea of coming back. I don’t think I would have come back if there hadn’t been the baseball strike. They started throwing me into that dispute, something I had nothing to do with,” Jordan wrote in his 2005 best-selling biography Driven From Within. “I was having fun down there playing baseball. And it was an opportunity to prove something. I was getting better all the time. All I needed to get that urge back was to hang around the basketball court for a while.”

It’s difficult to look back Jordan’s nearly 13-month baseball career, which feels like it ended before it began, and not contemplate two big ifs:

First, if not for the 1994 strike, would Jordan really have made it to the majors? Lofton didn’t give Jordan a chance, though Callis believes otherwise. “If there hadn’t been the strike and the lockout, I think we might have seen Michael Jordan in the big leagues,” he said. “Would Michael Jordan have earned it solely on merit? Probably not. But if not for the lockout, and he wasn’t going to cross the picket line, we might have seen Jordan in the big leagues in 1995.”

Secondly, if Jordan began his baseball career earlier in his life, how far could he have gone? The sense was that it was already too late when he retired in 1993 and pursued baseball. For any 30-year-old returning to the game after more than a decade, it’d be an uphill battle, even for an athlete as immortal as Jordan. But maybe his baseball story tells us that the truest “everything happens for season” moment in sports history took place when an 18-year-old Jordan chose basketball over baseball. For a brief moment in 1994, he gave the game he first loved a shot. And in the process, baseball proved that even a small part of Jordan could, athletically, be human.

This was of course until he made the return to basketball, won three more NBA titles, presented the world with performances such as the “Flu Game” and Game 6 of the 1998 Finals, and turned his signature line of basketball sneakers into a billion-dollar brand. The culture needed Michael Jordan on the basketball court, not on a bus.

“I’ll give him credit. I saw a lot of trying. I saw a lot of effort being put forth,” said Ruda. “Had he done it sooner, who knows? But then again, would the world have been denied an all-time great basketball player at the possible expense of maybe an average baseball player? Who knows? But, from what I saw, I don’t think there would’ve been ever been a Michael Jordan statue in front of Comiskey Park. He’s got one in front of the United Center — and it’ll always be there.”

André 3000 on the 10th anniversary of his ‘Class of 3000’ soundtrack The music icon talks everything from Sonny Rollins to ‘Dead Poets Society’ to Tyler, The Creator to the creative life

Where we were on July 3, 2007, the day the soundtrack to André Benjamin’s animated series Class of 3000 was released: It had been a year since the premiere of Outkast’s movie and soundtrack Idlewild. Three years since the duo won the Album of the Year Grammy for Speakerboxxx/The Love Below.

Yet the musical futures of Three Stacks and Big Boi were up in the air. André 3000, especially, was keeping mum about any future projects but was dropping unannounced guest verses — “International Player’s Anthem (I Choose You)” and “Walk It Out” among them — and stealing the show each time. The world was clamoring for more output from André, even dreaming of a solo album (fans are still begging for that album in 2017). But what many don’t know is that 3000 actually released a full-length album — just not what anyone was expecting.

Class of 3000 is the soundtrack to Andre 3000’s short-lived but brilliant Cartoon Network series. In it, André plays a music teacher who exposes his class to adventures and a new appreciation for their respective instruments. The show is like if you put The Magic School Bus in a deep fryer and put a side of yams next to it. He produced the entire album, provided vocals and, yes, even rapped. A decade later, the album is still as innovative and replayable as it was in 2007.

“It actually happened right after Speakerboxxx/The Love Below,” said Benjamin via mobile. “Adult Swim was getting aggressive with television and for new content. [Then-vice president of programming for Cartoon Network] Mike Lazzo heard The Love Below and said, ‘Man, I gotta reach out to that guy and make The Love Below into some kind of animated thing.’ The show was originally supposed to be an Adult Swim show. It was going to be more edgy. But I felt The Love Below was its own entity. I wanted to create something new.”

“You don’t have to rest on what you’ve done in the past. It’s beautiful.”

André and Lazzo were at a loss as to what their new concept should be about until they took a trip around Atlanta. “André started talking about his youth,” said Lazzo, now a senior executive vice president at Cartoon Network. Andre took Lazzo to his neighborhood in southwest Atlanta — and to Sutton Middle School on the other side of town, in the wealthy Buckhead area. “It was two completely different worlds. His mom insisted he get a great education, so she got his transportation arranged. As I’m listening to all this I’m thinking, ‘André, this is the show I want to see.’ ”

Andre “3000” Benjamin during Andre “3000” Benjamin And Cartoon Network Present “Class of 3000” Premiere Event at The Fox Theater in Atlanta, Georgia, United States.

Rick Diamond/WireImage

As the concept for Class of 3000 began to take shape, loosely based on Benjamin’s childhood at a performing arts school, it became apparent that the show would be better off geared toward kids than on the Adult Swim imprint. André 3000 had only one demand: The show had to be about Atlanta. There’s never been a cartoon set in Atlanta, and setting Class of 3000 in the city was a way to expose its culture to a wider audience.

“I know these kids. I grew up with these kids. My childhood was put in those characters. I was [character] Lil D. I grew up in Bankhead, and I went to school in Buckhead. So I know that world. I had to ride the bus through the projects and through these rich a– houses. I was that kid; I knew both sides of it.” André 3000 tells me all of this over the phone while I’m sitting in front of the painting of Outkast in my man cave.

Wait, let me back up.


Any parent can relate to the sheer eye-gouging boredom of driving their young kids around and trying to find music that won’t warp their brains and lead them to a life of crime and sexually transmitted infections. For the most part, the kid-friendly music options available are somewhere between Radio Disney, gospel music, about three Chance the Rapper songs and an endless library of children’s movie soundtracks.

I remember buying the Class of 3000 soundtrack when it came out in 2007. It was out of a fevered desire to hear any amount of new Outkast music, and I figured it’d be great for my kids to listen to as well. Listening for the first time in years reminded me of the funkadelic, eccentric fantasy world André created with the soundtrack by immersing the listener in a jazz- and drum kit-laced fusion of unforgettable melodies and whimsical comedy. The songs are accessible to kids but deeply engaging enough for adults.

“That wasn’t supposed to be my voice on that song. That was supposed to be Lil D’s voice on that song.” — André 3000

The more we listened, the more I looked into the show. After two seasons, it had disappeared. There’s no way to get a physical copy of any season, and the soundtrack is available from only the first season. I sent feelers out, as well as direct messages for answers. Then on a Sunday morning I got an email. From André 3000. One of the artists who defined my childhood and Southern upbringing, who gave voice to my lifestyle and represented me whenever he spoke. Not only was he interested in talking about the soundtrack, he sounded downright excited to talk about a passion project that has been overlooked by so many. For someone who’s revered for his brilliance and past works, the feeling of an unheralded project has to be unfamiliar to him. Especially one so masterfully constructed.


“I watched Peanuts growing up,” said 3000, “and the music was always strong. Vince Guaraldi, a great jazz artist, was doing all the music for Peanuts. And at the time — I know it’s a sensitive subject now — but Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids had music involved. So I was really looking for a vehicle to do music. I thought it’d be dope for kids to hear something different than what they hear every day. I wanted to expose them to different sounds, and instruments they might not be hearing … on the radio.”

He said that, coming off The Love Below, he was already producing. “I decide to produce whole songs for Class of 3000. The premise is every show would feature a song that had something to do with the story.”

The actual recording of the songs for the Class of 3000 soundtrack provided a challenge somewhat foreign to André 3000 at the time: deadlines. “It was … a learning process,” he said. “I had to have those songs ready for each episode because they had to animate around those songs. I’ve always been a leisurely music producer, so it was sort of pressured.” One rushed moment led to a snafu and the most unforgettable song on the album.

“We Want Your Soul” is all frantic drums, a haunting horn and devilish laughter. And most importantly: It’s eight monstrous bars from André 3000. The problem is, those bars weren’t supposed to be there. At least not as rapped by André himself. The recording process for the album was simple. André would lay reference tracks — he’d speak in the voices of the kid characters from the show and send the track over to Cartoon Network, and they’d get the kids to say the lines over the tracks. But that didn’t happen for “We Want Your Soul.”

“There was a mistake made because we were rushing to get that song out,” Benjamin recalled. “That was supposed to be Lil D’s voice on that song.” Instead, it’s a fully rapped André 3000 song hidden in an obscure, decade-old album. A treasure trove of Outkastian excellence.

Overall, the process of trying to record as a group of children was another challenge for 3000, especially as he was fresh off a sexually charged album of lovemaking and songs such as “Spread.”

“I’d have to change my voice to act like a kid,” Benjamin said. “Had to think like a kid, and that was the hardest learning curve musically. I knew I wanted to introduce kids to certain instruments and keep it upbeat. But it was a challenge to bring my inner kid out.”

It’s a fully rapped André 3000 song hidden in an obscure, decade-old album. A treasure trove of Outkastian excellence.

He found his motivation in the form of a movie and a real-life jazz inspiration. “One of my favorite movies is Dead Poets Society, and I felt like doing that with kids. I also thought it’d be great to have this teacher teach kids in an unorthodox way, so I stepped in as the teacher, Sunny Bridges. People don’t know that the name is a nod to saxophone player Sonny Rollins. There was a legend that he stopped playing music live at a certain point and he’d just play his horn under a bridge. So that’s how the name Sunny Bridges came together.”

And for a whole generation of kids, André 3000 will be known as Sunny Bridges first and rap Mount Rushmorian music luminary second. At least, that’s how my son will first learn about Andre Benjamin.

“That is the coolest thing about the show. I’ve had a blessed career. I’ve had the Isley Brothers’ career. They came up from the ’50s and survived through the ’90s. Kids know them from different eras. Some kids know early Outkast. Some kids know ‘Hey Ya,’ singing. And some kids know Class of 3000. So when I hear a kid who knows nothing about rapping, who knows nothing about The Source Awards but who knows me from the show, it just shows you that you don’t have to stop. You don’t have to rest on what you’ve done in the past. It’s beautiful.

Andre 3000 performs on stage at Lakewood Amphitheatre on September 10, 2016 in Atlanta, Georgia.

Paul R. Giunta/FilmMagic

“When I first talked to Tyler, The Creator, one of the first things he said was, ‘Man, those songs like the crayon song and the peanut song … we were kids!’ I forget these guys that are superstars now were kids listening to the songs. It’s like, ‘Wow, those kids actually paid attention.’ They got it.”

Unfortunately, Class of 3000 now mostly only lives in the memories of people who saw the show when it aired in 2007. The show is only available for purchase on iTunes, and of course there are random clips on YouTube. Class of 3000 simply came at a time when Cartoon Network was transitioning from landmark kid-friendly shows such as Dexter’s Laboratory, Samurai Jack and The Powerpuff Girls to its Adult Swim imprint. Class of 3000 was the last show that Lazzo greenlit before heading over to Adult Swim to be a senior executive vice president.

“It was a victim of that transition,” said Lazzo. “Had I stayed at Cartoon Network, I would have been superfocused on Class of 3000. It was some of the best creativity I had seen.”

There’s clearly a need to revisit the show, though, a fact not lost on Lazzo and Benjamin. You never know which shows will stick with people years later,” Lazzo said. “I think maybe it’s time to bring it back.”

I don’t want to be too idealistic — but maybe this very essay will persuade them to at the very least release the songs from the show’s second season, or get the full episodes from the series a proper Blu-ray release.

“Sometimes you just have to bring attention back to something,” André Benjamin said with excitement. “There’s room to bring the show back. Cartoon Network owns the property. It’d be up to them to bring it back in some kind of way. You know what? I think it’ll happen now.”

The Geto Boys’ gruesome ‘We Can’t Be Stopped‘ The shot of Bushwick Bill’s eye injury made everyone stop and listen to what the South had to say

Twenty-six years ago, the Geto Boys were quickly becoming one of the most controversial groups on the Houston music scene. A year before, in 1990, they released their eponymous album The Geto Boys, which contained music from their first two albums, Making Trouble (1988) and Grip It! On That Other Level (1989). The Geto Boys was remixed by producer Rick Rubin, whose Def American label they were signed to. However, the Boys had a falling out with Geffen, the label’s distributor, who didn’t want anything to do with the Boys’ graphic, violent, misogynistic lyrics. This prompted Rubin to arrange alternative distribution through Warner Bros. Records.

For their following album, We Can’t Be Stopped, the Boys went back to Houston’s Rap-A-Lot Records, the label that created the group in the first place. Now a three-man unit consisting of Willie “Willie D” Dennis, Brad “Scarface” Jordan and the diminutive Richard “Bushwick Bill” Shaw (Collins “DJ Ready Red” Leysath quit the group during the album’s production), the Boys were in an unapologetic mode, making sure the industry suits who shook in their loafers at their previous work knew that they weren’t watering down their sound. Willie D was still a brash cad, turning out such lyrical insolence as “I’m Not A Gentleman” and “Trophy,” while Bushwick Bill teetered between being a raving psycho (“Chuckie”) and a threesome-igniting playboy (“The Other Level”). But it was Scarface who was the group’s most conflicted MC, unloading his personal and mental demons on wax. Nowhere is this more apparent than on Stopped’s first single, and the group’s biggest hit, “Mind Playing Tricks on Me.” Scarface starts off lamenting the thoughts that keep him up at night:

At night I can’t sleep, I toss and turn

Candlesticks in the dark, visions of bodies bein’ burned

Four walls just starin’ at a n—a

I’m paranoid, sleepin’ with my finger on the trigger.

As “Mind” went gold and eventually became one of the most popular tunes to come out of the gangsta rap genre, the Boys became known as hip-hop artists who didn’t mind forcing people out of their comfort zones. Even Stopped’s cover — Dennis and Jordan wheeling Shaw, sitting up on a gurney with an injured, exposed right eye and talking on an old-school cellphone — was meant to be disturbing. But the Boys were also illustrating a point: Not even a trip to the hospital can prevent them guys from igniting and inciting.

Jordan would later go on record, in a 2010 Vibe interview, with how uncomfortable he was with the whole thing.

Dennis still remembers that day. He got a call from tour manager Tony “Big Chief” Randle to go to Ben Taub Hospital in Houston. While under the influence of PCP and Everclear grain alcohol, Shaw had apparently egged on his girlfriend to shoot him and, during the tussle, got shot in the eye. (He later told Howard Stern it was a scheme for his mother to collect his life insurance so she could pay the deductible on her medical insurance.) While Dennis doesn’t remember who showed up in what order, he recalls Jordan and Leysath being there, as well as Randle and Rap-A-Lot co-owner Cliff Blodget. “We were all concerned,” said Dennis. “The first thing we’re thinking is, you know, ‘Don’t die.’ Everybody wants to make sure he’s all right. So we get there, we find out that he’s all right. He lost an eye, but he will survive. After I go up to check on Bill, Brad goes to check on him and we come back downstairs [and] congregate in the lobby of the hospital. And, then, there is where Cliff tells us, ‘Hey, we’re finished with the album. What are we gonna do about the album cover?’ ”

And that’s when Dennis decided, even with an incapacitated Shaw, there was no time like the present. “Well, s—, he alive!” Dennis said back then. “We can shoot the album cover right now!” Blodget was concerned Shaw wouldn’t be up for it, so Dennis went back up to Shaw’s hospital room and asked if he wanted to do it. “He was drowsy, but he could hear me,” Dennis said. “I was like, ‘Hey, we’re fixin’ to shoot this album cover. We need to shoot this album cover.’ I said, ‘Are you down?’ He was like, ‘I don’t care.’ ”

After asking a nurse for a gurney, Dennis and Jordan wheeled their injured friend down the hall, and Blodget took the shot. “Somebody asked Bill to take off the bandage, because he had a bandage over his eye,” Dennis said. “And he peeled the bandage off, and that’s how you got that cover.” Was he talking to someone on that phone? “Nah, he was just holding it.”


Over the years, the other members have had regrets about taking this photo. Shaw admitted he wasn’t feeling the situation in Brian Coleman’s 2007 book Check the Technique: Liner Notes for Hip-Hop Junkies:

“It still hurts me to look at that cover because that was a personal thing I went through. I still feel the pain from the fact that I’ve got a bullet in my brain. To see that picture only brings it back more so. I think it was pretty wrong of them to do it, even though I went along with the program at first. I really didn’t understand why that picture was so important for them, important enough to take the IV out of my arm and endanger my life by taking the patch off my eye. I could have been blinded for life. And Face was against it the whole time. That’s why he has that look in his eye in those pictures.”

Jordan would later say, in a 2010 Vibe interview, how uncomfortable he was with the whole thing:

“If you look at my face on the We Can’t Be Stopped album cover, you can tell I didn’t want to be a part of that photo shoot. Bill was still in the hospital. He was highly sedated, man. … I strongly believe that what goes on in this house stays in this house. I didn’t really want to put Bill out there like that. How many people have gotten their eye shot out and captured it on an album cover for everyone to remember? It’s hard to wake up in the morning and deal with that one.”

Dennis thinks they’re entitled to their opinion, but he also wants it known that they still did it. “All I know is, at the time, we all was down with it and we agreed to do it,” he said. “Look, man — it’s me and you and we go inside this damn restaurant and we say we’re fixin’ to rob this m—–f—– and we go in there and rob it. Together, we both make a conscious decision. I didn’t drag you in there. I didn’t put a gun to your head. We both got out the car and walked inside and robbed that m—–f—– … and then, later down the line, you start talking about how you regret that you did that. That’s fine. Me, on the other hand, I may feel like it was worth it, you know. So, I got my views and you got your views.”

“All I know is, at the time, we all was down with it and we agreed to do it.”

Regardless of the guilt that may have come afterward, this unsettling sight worked in their favor. We Can’t Be Stopped went platinum in 1992, and the cover has gone on to be one of most iconic of all time. And thanks to New York apparel line Supreme, which collaborated with Rap-A-Lot in releasing a Rap-A-Lot clothing line earlier this year, you can now wear hoodies and T-shirts with the cover on it.

Dennis still looks back fondly on that time, when he and his partners showed that nothing could keep them from being the most hardcore hip-hop group in the South. As for the Geto Boys themselves, they’ve had their highs and lows since Stopped. They’ve released four studio albums — some with the original lineup, some with a member missing, some with a new member. They’ve all released solo albums. Dennis launched a Kickstarter campaign for a reunion album called Habeas Corpus. Unfortunately, the campaign didn’t reach its $100,000 goal, and Jordan later said the album wasn’t going to happen. Dennis, who these days can be heard on his Willie D Live podcast, say three Boys do get together on occasion to do live shows.

“After the experience with Rick Rubin and Geffen Records not wanting to press up our album, not wanting to distribute us, I was like, you know what, with this new album, we should name it We Can’t Be Stopped,” he said. “That was the whole mentality. When Geffen tried to do what they [did], we [couldn’t] be stopped. When we had stores that refused to sell our records, we [couldn’t] be stopped. We had venues that didn’t want to have us perform; we were like, we can’t be stopped. Even before that, when we were coming from impoverished backgrounds, we couldn’t be stopped. And when Bill got shot in the eye, we [couldn’t] be stopped.”