The high-flying and unpredictable NBA Rising Stars Challenge in 5 storylines Lonzo Ball, Jaylen Brown, Dennis Smith — Team USA is loaded, but can ‘The Process’ lead Team World to glory?

The NBA Rising Stars Challenge game will certainly deliver swag, poster dunks, a barrage of 3-pointers and bucket after bucket from tipoff to the buzzer. But there are a lot of, shall we say, side narratives as well. For example: Apparently, the impact of an NBA All-Star Game snub can travel across the entire globe, even into the highest levels of government.

Despite a prolific rookie season, and a slew of injured All-Stars who needed replacements, the Philadelphia 76ers’ Ben Simmons won’t be playing on the biggest Sunday of the NBA calendar. The 6-foot-10 Australian phenom didn’t receive a call from commissioner Adam Silver when DeMarcus Cousins ruptured his Achilles, or when John Wall announced knee surgery, or when Kevin Love broke his hand, or when Kristaps Porzingis tore his ACL. Instead, Paul George, Andre Drummond, Goran Dragic and Kemba Walker all got the nod as ringers.

One of Simmons’ countrymen decided to use the floor of the Australian Parliament to express his feelings.

“I rise today to express my outrage at the exclusion of Australian Ben Simmons from this year’s NBA All-Star Game,” said Tim Watts, a member of the Australian House of Representatives. “In a record-breaking rookie year for the Philadelphia 76ers, Ben is currently averaging nearly 17 points, eight rebounds and seven assists per game. He’s already had five triple-doubles, and, frankly, no one with two brain cells to rub together would want Goran Dragic on their team.” Watts’ remarks went viral, and Simmons commented, “The man has spoken [insert crying emoji],” on a video of the speech posted on Instagram.

Simmons will make the trip to Los Angeles, though, where he’ll put on for Australia in the annual Rising Stars Challenge. Per tradition, only first- and second-year players are eligible to compete, and for the fourth straight year, the game features a matchup between Team USA and Team World. With the best American players in the NBA squaring off against the league’s top talent with international roots, Simmons will rep his Aussie set as one of the leaders of Team World, along with the Cameroon-born Joel Embiid, his Philly teammate and an All-Star starter.

Although Team World claimed a 150-141 win in last year’s game, Team USA enters the 2018 contest with an absolutely loaded roster that includes a trio of Los Angeles Lakers in Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram and Kyle Kuzma, a pair of Boston Celtics in Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, as well as Donovan Mitchell of the Utah Jazz and Dennis Smith Jr. of the Dallas Mavericks. Compared with Sunday’s All-Star Game, Friday’s Rising Stars Challenge presents a smaller — albeit almost equally high-flying, ankle-breaking and star-showcasing — spectacle that previews the leaders of the new school in the NBA. Here are five things to watch from the league’s future stars.


TEAM WORLD

  • Bogdan Bogdanovic, G, Sacramento Kings
  • Dillon Brooks, G/F, Memphis Grizzlies
  • Joel Embiid, C, Philadelphia 76ers
  • Buddy Hield, G, Sacramento Kings
  • Lauri Markkanen, F, Chicago Bulls
  • Jamal Murray, G, Denver Nuggets
  • Frank Ntilikina, G, New York Knicks
  • Domantas Sabonis, F/C, Indiana Pacers
  • Dario Saric, F, Philadelphia 76ers
  • Ben Simmons, G/F, Philadelphia 76ers

TEAM USA

  • Lonzo Ball, G, Los Angeles Lakers
  • Malcolm Brogdon, G, Milwaukee Bucks*
  • Jaylen Brown, G/F, Boston Celtics
  • John Collins, F/C, Atlanta Hawks
  • Kris Dunn, G, Chicago Bulls
  • Brandon Ingram, F, Los Angeles Lakers
  • Kyle Kuzma, F, Los Angeles Lakers
  • Donovan Mitchell, G, Utah Jazz
  • Dennis Smith Jr., G, Dallas Mavericks
  • Jayson Tatum, F, Boston Celtics
  • Taurean Prince, F, Atlanta Hawks

*Injured, will not play in game

 

When in doubt, ‘Trust the Process’

Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

The game plan for Team World is simple: “Trust the Process.” That’s the creed of the young-and-promising Philadelphia 76ers, who will likely make a playoff appearance for the first time since 2012. “The Process” is also the nickname of Philly’s 7-foot franchise center Embiid, who will start in both the Rising Stars Challenge and his first career All-Star Game. Embiid will be joined on Team World by Simmons and Croatia’s Dario Saric, the runner-up for 2017 NBA Rookie of the Year. In last year’s challenge, Saric recorded 17 points, five rebounds and four assists as a starter for Team World. Expect the entire Sixers trio, who all stand 6-foot-10 or above, to both start and get buckets. That’s a feared three-man offense right there.

Will Lonzo Ball play?

Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

It’s been a busy few weeks for the new-wave first family of basketball, also known as the Balls of Chino Hills, California. LaVar Ball has been frequenting sidelines overseas while coaching his two youngest sons — LiAngelo, 19, and LaMelo, 16 — who have both been straight-up ballin’ (all puns intended) in their first year of professional basketball in Lithuania. Meanwhile, Lonzo, the 2017 No. 2 overall pick of his hometown Los Angeles Lakers, is reportedly expecting a child with his longtime girlfriend, Denise Garcia, and trying to make it back onto the court after suffering a left knee sprain on Jan. 13. “I didn’t think it was going to be this serious, to be honest …,” Ball said on Feb. 7. “I thought it was going to be dealt with quicker.” The injury might cost him an appearance in the Rising Stars Challenge, which will be played on his home court at the Staples Center. Fingers crossed he can suit up. The people need Lonzo Ball on the hardwood and LaVar Ball courtside.

The dunk contest before the dunk contest

Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images

Two out of the four contestants who make up the 2018 NBA Slam Dunk Contest will get to warm up their bounce in the Rising Stars Challenge. They’re both rookies and both members of Team USA: Mavericks point guard Smith and Jazz shooting guard Mitchell, who was a late call-up to the dunk competition as a replacement for injured Orlando Magic big man Aaron Gordon. Smith has wild leaping ability and crazy in-air flair, while Mitchell plays at a height above his defenders, frequently breaking out his patented tomahawk jams. This is another reason that Ball needs to play in this game. Lonzo + Donovan + Dennis = endless lob possibilities. We’d be looking up all night long.

Can Jamal Murray do it again?

Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

If Jamal Murray shows up, balls out and is named the MVP of the Rising Stars Challenge for the second straight year, Drake has to consider remixing his timeless 2015 diss track “Back to Back” to pay homage to his fellow Canadian. That line from the record in which he spits, Back to back like I’m Jordan, ’96, ’97? How about Back to back like I’m Murray, ’17, ’18? In last year’s game, the Nuggets guard dropped game highs in both points (36) and assists (11). He also shot a whopping 9-for-14 from 3-point land. Oh, yeah, and he did it all after coming off the bench. C’mon, Team World, let the man start this year so he can really eat!

Throwback threads

Both Team USA and Team World will take the court at the Staples Center in vintage get-ups honoring the history of the city’s two NBA franchises. Team USA will rock powder blue and gold uniforms, inspired by the 1940s-’50s Minneapolis Lakers, while Team World will break out an orange-and-black ensemble as a tribute to the Buffalo Braves (now known as the Los Angeles Clippers) of the 1970s. Which is the fresher look? That’s for you to decide. Which squad will emerge from the challenge victorious? On paper, it’s hard to bet against Team USA. But in an All-Star Game, even at the Rising Stars level, you never really know.

Sneak peek: Enjoy some Super Bowl commercials that aired a bit early Steven Tyler discovers his youth and Cardi B transforms into Alexa in some of Super Bowl LII’s top commercials

The time has come.

As the Philadelphia Eagles and New England Patriots gear up for Super Bowl LII, companies are vying equally as hard for a chance to be featured in one of the year’s most important (and expensive) ad slots.

This year, 30-second ads slots are going for an estimated $5 million — about the same as last year, but a slight increase from 2016’s $4.8 million price.

Commercials aren’t only effective advertising, but offer a distraction if your team is on the losing end. Social media have also taken advantage of the discussions surrounding Super Bowl ads by creating polls and hashtags for favorite commercials. If you aren’t a fan of either team playing in this year’s game, you can always peruse some of the advertisements below and anticipate the fun, serious, shocking and downright creative commercials in between the action.


Amazon Alexa

“Alexa Loses Her Voice”

In this hilarious commercial, Amazon’s favorite intelligent personal assistant has lost her voice. Before panic sets in, users are ensured that there are some suitable replacements, including Gordon Ramsay, Cardi B, Rebel Wilson and Anthony Hopkins. The world isn’t ready.

Toyota

“One Team”

Toyota conveys the message that no matter what race, color, or religious creed, we’re all in this thing called life together … and, of course, united by football.

“Good Odds”

As a sponsor of the Olympics and Paralympics, Toyota’s second commercial features Paralympic athlete Lauren Woolstencroft, and the odds of winning a gold medal. Woolstencroft was born without legs below the knee and no left arm below the elbow. The odds continue to flash as Woolstencroft grows, and become even slimmer as an adult. Despite the odds being stacked against her, Woolstencroft has medaled 10 times in the Paralympics — eight of them gold — as an alpine skier.

Wix.com

“Rhett & Link”

Wix.com is back this year to show you how simple it is to create a website using its company. The strategic use of internet comedy stars Rhett & Link, the two handsome guys showing us the tutorial, is just a bonus.

Sprint

“Evelyn”

When artificial intelligence meets human brain power, which one wins? Sprint has found a way to use robots to help us see the light.

Pepsi

“This is the Pepsi”

This year’s commercial features Pepsi throwing it back through the generations. It features some of our favorite from the past: singers Michael Jackson and Britney Spears, retired NASCAR star Jeff Gordon and current basketball star Kyrie Irving as his character “Uncle Drew.” The slot also features model Cindy Crawford, who re-creates her Pepsi from her iconic 1992 commercial.

Bud Light

“Bud Knight”

In this campaign, Bud Light brings viewers into a medieval fight to the death — which looks like an awful scene from Game of Thrones. One fighter realizes his side is losing and awaits the arrival of “Bud Knight” to come and save them. He arrives. He’s a “Bud Knight” in shining armor who conveniently finds a store in the middle of nowhere and saves the day with a case of Bud Light. If only we could stop wars around the world with beer.

Coca-Cola

“The Wonder of Us”

Much like Toyota’s commercial, Coca-Cola reminds the world that although we may look think and act differently, we’re all the same. Oh, and of course there’s a Coke for everything, so enjoy the ice-cold beverage as we celebrate our differences and similarities.

Kia

“Feel Something Again”

This nostalgic ad features Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler all suited up for … a race? But he’s the only one on the track. He approaches a new Kia Stinger, and with freshly painted nails, puts the car in reverse and floors it. Tyler is going so fast around the track that time begins to move backward. By the time Tyler completes a lap around the track, he has rediscovered his youth. Even random fans appear out of nowhere to greet the star at the finish line.

Michelob Ultra

“I Like Beer”

Michelob Ultra gets straight to the point. There are several activities displayed from cycling to yoga. But what unites everyone in this sing-along? You guessed it: beer.

Looking for more ads? Check out the rest here.

Olympic gold medalist and seven-time world champion Brittney Reese believes MLK’s dream is alive and well The long jump star says King’s beliefs influenced her a lot in her journey

On Aug. 28, 1963, King delivered one of his most powerful and inspirational speeches at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. The “I Have a Dream” speech became known as one of his most famous oral addresses in American history.

“I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up, live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal,’ ” King said.

The civil rights movement was also a time when athletes were facing equality issues of their own. And King knew sports. He knew sports was and would become a platform in society, lending cultural relevance to race and politics.

And 50 years later, King is still affecting the sports world today, inspiring athletes like Olympic gold medalist (2012) Brittney Reese. A multitalented athlete who played high school basketball in her hometown of Gulfport, Mississippi, Reese recognizes King knew the significance sports would have on society, although he was never an athlete. The 31-year-old seven-time world champion says his dream is alive.

“I’m in a sport that’s predominantly black, and it just is amazing how we come together as athletes in our sports,” Reese said. “He [King] actually kind of paved the way. And then Muhammed Ali paved the way for us to be able to be in a sport without having any kind of racial tension going on. We still have some bumps in the road and there will be some bad eggs in the basket now and then, but I feel like his dream is still alive and still doing some of the things he preached about in certain sermons.”

In the 1960s, King appeared publicly with Ali at a demonstration for fair housing in Louisville, Kentucky. Track stars such as Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their fists in a Black Power salute during the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City.

These are just a few moments that merge sports and culture that she will never forget.

Reese gained popularity when she began dominating in track and field in high school. The long jump is her area of expertise. It’s a title she wears with pride. She still holds the indoor American record in the long jump with a distance of 7.23 meters.

But through all of her accomplishments, she often recalls the first time she heard of King. It wasn’t in a textbook. It was at home by way of her mentor and grandfather King David Dunomes, who shared stories about the civil rights movement, including the time he traveled to Washington, D.C., to hear King’s speech.

“Growing up, I knew probably a lot more than a lot of other people in my area, but being able to see the effect he’s made across the world, especially for black people, is real remarkable,” Reese said of what she learned about King. “I’m grateful to have a grandfather that was supporting him through those times and was able to walk with him in those times. I got to learn a lot of the insights that most people my age wouldn’t know. He made a big impact in my life.”

Dunomes died suddenly in 2017, which marks one of the hardest times in Reese’s life. But she is an overcomer and keeps all of her memories of her grandfather close to her heart.

Reese is a seven-time USA Track & Field Outdoor Women’s Champion in the long jump, a three-time World Outdoor Champion (2009, 2011, 2013), a three-time World Indoor Champion (2010, 2012, 2016), the current indoor long jump American record holder besides being the 2012 Olympic Games gold medalist and 2016 Olympic Games silver medalist.

She is also the track coach at San Diego Mesa College. Born in Inglewood, California, and raised in Gulfport, Reese began by competing in the high jump and 400-meter dash. She was named Mississippi’s 2004 Gatorade Player of the Year for track and field and enrolled at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College and played basketball before accepting a track and field scholarship to the University of Mississippi.

As she trains daily for her upcoming indoor long jump competition just one month away, she is raising her 10-year-old son Alex, who she says doesn’t experience a lot of racial tension. However, Reese plans to instill King’s memory in him by teaching the importance of equality.

“He doesn’t see a lot of the racial tension. But I want him to understand that he’s a black kid, and what we went through, and what Dr. Martin Luther King did helped allow him to be able to play with the kids that he likes to play with now. He doesn’t see color, which is something I want to teach him. But I also want him to know his roots and his family … Let him know where he came from and what Dr. Martin Luther King stood for, and how he’s able to be around the people that he’s around today.”

Informing Alex of his roots is a priority for Reese. It’s a sentiment she internalized from her great-grandmother Ethel Lee Brooks, who always told her to “know where she came from” and taught her the act of giving back.

“I think that played a significant part in my career and in my life also,” Reese said. “Once I attained the medal [Olympic gold], the first thing I did was come home and show the kids back in Gulfport, Mississippi, what I’ve done. I’ve been blessed and lucky to have a city to be behind me every step of the way. They’ve been behind me my entire life, ever since I was young enough to give a newspaper, they were there.”

To pay homage to Brooks and keep up with King’s ideology of the moral function of education, she launched the B. Reese Scholarship in 2012, which helps one male and one female student annually with upcoming college expenses. In May 2013, the Reese Scholarship was even awarded in Baltimore County Public Schools.

“I want to try to motivate the kids and get them involved in track, and that’s where the scholarship came from — helping other mothers, because there’s a lot of single mothers out there. The scholarships have a lot of funds, but just to help them with books for the first semester or help them get started on their way. And I also have a camp that I like to put on and help show the other kids different drills that they can do to help them be successful in the next part of their life. I think my great-grandmother was the reason that I just got so accustomed to giving back, because her telling me never forget where you came from has always stuck with me.”

She donates turkeys over the holidays and spends a lot of time with the homeless in Gulfport.

“You know, it’s been a tough journey. I’ve had ups and downs, but I’d say one of the better is probably my Olympic medals. That’s been the highlight of my career. Me being able to have that lets them know how hard I worked, and that nothing in life is easy, that you’re going to have to work to get what you want.”

Willie Cauley-Stein on his tattoos, guarding Boogie Cousins and keeping it 100 The Sacramento Kings big man talks about painting, why his middle name is ‘Trill’ and that time he met LeBron in a Vegas elevator

If Willie Cauley-Stein had a creed, it’d be simple: Keep it (insert 100 emoji). That’s exactly how the third-year center of the Sacramento Kings strives to operate — on the court, and especially off.

When he’s not banging in the post or catching lobs, the 7-footer is flicking a paintbrush across a canvas or brainstorming ideas for his athleisure and lifestyle clothing lines — plans are in the works for both. Cauley-Stein is all about sharing his sauce, and he can dress with the best of them. He even has a dope nickname to go along with his unique style. Back in his college days at the University of Kentucky, before the Kings selected him with the No. 6 overall pick in the 2015 draft, his friends began calling him “Trill,” which fit him so well that he made it his legal middle name.

Now in the middle of what’s statistically the best season of his pro career — 12.4 points, 6.8 rebounds and 2.2 assists a game — the 24-year-old hooper from Spearville, Kansas, chops it up about his nickname and jersey number, as well as the most important things he learned from former Kings teammate DeMarcus Cousins. Oh, yeah, and he shoots his shot with his celebrity crush. That’s how trill Willie Cauley-Stein is.


When did you start painting?

I probably started painting when I was in preschool. I remember my first time mixing red and blue and making purple. It was just over from there. But painting, seriously? High school. [And] I took art classes into college. Now it’s on a different level.

How often do you get a chance to paint?

I gotta lot of downtime after workouts and basketball. Whenever I really want to, I can paint. It kinda just goes by my emotions and feelings at the time.

Do you have a favorite painting you’ve done?

I did a Bob Marley piece for one of my barbers. I did it in like 30 minutes, but it looks like I put a lot of time into it. It looks so, so smooth to me. I don’t know why. That’s probably my favorite one.

How would you describe your artistic style?

It’s street art, but not as free as I feel like most street art is. It’s more structured … I don’t know. I’ve never had to explain it before.

Instagram Photo

How would you describe your personal style?

Very free. Definitely an expression of my emotion. How I dress is the way I feel. If I’m wearing bright colors, I’m probably in a great mood. Dark colors … I’m just there.

What’s your favorite piece in your closet right now?

I couldn’t tell you. I have a lot of sauce, dude. I have a huge Bape collection. I gotta pretty big Off-White collection too. A lot of Gucci. I like it all.

What made you want to start your clothing line, Will Change Sports?

I honestly just got tired of spending hella money on other people’s stuff when I can do it myself. So I just decided, why not invest in my own creativity?

Five years from now, where do you see your clothing company?

The sky’s the limit. It’ll go wherever I want it to go, based on how much energy and effort I put into it. This is only the first one; I want a lifestyle brand too. The one that’s dropping next month is a sporting brand, but I have a whole lifestyle brand that I got like four seasons done on already drawn up.

Name one pair of shoes you could wear for the rest of your life.

For the rest of my life? … Probably a classic black and white Chuck Taylor, low-op. That’s because I feel like they’d last forever, and black and white goes with anything.

Why do you wear the No. 00?

Because I’m just 100. I’m real. I’m completely authentic. So me standing up is the one, and the 00 makes the 100.

How’d you get the nickname ‘Trill’?

In college, I had a few friends that were from Houston. They started calling me ‘Trill Will.’ I liked the way they were using the word so much that I started going by just ‘Trill.’ One day I had to go to the courthouse to get my name legally changed to Cauley-Stein. So I was like, ‘Mom, I’m trying to change my middle name too.’ She said, ‘OK.’ Trill it was.

What was your previous middle name?

Durmond.

Who’s the most famous person following you on IG [Instagram]?

Shoot, I don’t even know. Maybe Drake? … LeBron? I’ve never really looked, so now I’m curious.

If you could take one celebrity on a date, who would it be and why?

Wowwwww. Interesting. Probably India Love, honestly. I follow her Instagram, and she just got a lot of sauce, man. I’m interested in how she be thinking, though.

Where would you take her?

Shoot, I don’t know … anywhere! It don’t matter. I’m a big steak connoisseur, so I’d probably have to take her to Miami and check out Salt Bae’s restaurant, see what my man is doing.

Have you ever been starstruck?

About a year ago, I met Allen Iverson for the first time, and that was so surreal to me. Being a big dude but having him as one of your idols growing up was cool to me. When I met him, it was crazy. I was like, ‘This is A.I. … looking like he could still come out here and hoop. But also, maybe right after my rookie year, Cleveland had just won it, and I ran into LeBron in the elevator in Vegas. That was crazy. It was just me, him, Tristan Thompson and one of my homies. I was just like, ‘Wow … I’m with LeBron right now.’ It was completely random … I just dapped him up, said, ‘What’s good?’ and kept it pushing. Went on my way.

What’s your most meaningful tattoo?

I’m emotionally attached to all of them, but I’d probably go with the ones dedicated to my fallen soldiers. My little man, Blake [Hundley] … he had cancer when I was in college. I was with him through the last parts of his life. He changed my life, on some real stuff. So I got ‘Team Blake’ on my neck … everywhere I go, he goes with me. Every time anybody sees me, they’re gonna see his name. That’s pretty important to me. Also, one of my friends died from a Xanax overdose, so I put him on my face. His initials. Those are probably my favorite ones.

If you could dunk on one NBA player, past or present, who would it be and why?

Wilt Chamberlain, for sure. That would be a crazy poster in my room.

His friends began calling @THEwillieCS15 “Trill,” which fit him so well he made it his legal middle name.

Who’s the toughest player you’ve ever had to guard?

Steven Adams … and DeMarcus Cousins is pretty tough, because he’s a big-ass guard. That’s really it. Everybody else is pretty fun to guard.

What’s the most important thing you learned from playing with Cousins?

Just game intensity. Bringing it every night. He’s one of the most consistent dudes I’ve ever watched play the game, especially how he plays it. It’s incredible to me. I learned a lot of stuff not really talking to him but watching him, and watching how he operates off the court. I thought it was really cool how much time he actually spends in the community. I think the media gives him a bad rep … but he does a lot of good s—.

What will you always be a champion of?

Being 100. Being real. Being authentic. Spreading good vibes and love all the time.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The answer:

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

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

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

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

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

I love you.

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

Casting Tessa Thompson in ‘Thor: Ragnarok’ is a delicious way to troll white supremacy Followers of Odinism, the ancient Norse religion, will hate the new Norse goddess

As Dorothy Parker might say: Pardon my glee.

I’m sure there are a lot of things more satisfying than sticking it to white supremacists. But given the re-emergence of their public profile, let’s relish the opportunity to jam a thumb in their collective eye. This time, said thumb comes courtesy of Marvel and its latest movie, Thor: Ragnarok.

Some white supremacists have adopted Odinism, an ancient Norse religion they thought would provide shelter from the brown people they’ve decided are sullying Christianity. So you can imagine their discomfort once they learn that Tessa Thompson, who is very much a black person, with credits in blackity-black movies such as Creed and Dear White People, plays Valkyrie, a Norse goddess, fighter and defender of Asgard. In Marvel comics, Valkyrie is white, blond, busty and scantily clad.

In Thompson’s hands, Valkyrie is an enormously strong wisenheimer who drinks too much. She’s got a cape and her own cool-looking leather getup that’s both practical and attractive and avoids turning into dominatrix cosplay. Oh, and she’s bisexual. As Thompson herself described the character, “she cares very little about what men think of her.” So not only is a black woman co-opting Valkyrie, but heads can now explode over her identification as a feminist.

Here are some of the fantastic things Thompson does as Valkyrie:

  • Her spaceship doubles as a fighting machine that she can activate and control with her wrists.
  • She rescues Thor, the golden-haired son of Odin with bulging muscles and a giant boomerang hammer, after she drunkenly stumbles out of her ship on the planet of Sakaar. Then she drags him by his cape to her ship, where she inserts an electric shock device in his neck that allows her to make him do her bidding.
  • She’s friends with Hulk. Not Bruce Banner, but straight-up Hulk. Somehow, Valkyrie’s managed to be his minder for two years without getting smashed; instead, she has enchanted him — that is, when she’s not taking generous swigs from enormous bottles of liquor.
  • She knows her way around guns. Like giant, loud, phallus-substituting guns. Also swords.

I can’t tell you any more without spoiling the movie. Suffice it to say, Valkyrie is a certified badass.

I’ll be right back, I’m going to find myself a Valkyrie costume so I can go moon a statue of Robert E. Lee before it gets torn down.