Meet Krystal Clark, the Junior League of Nashville’s first African-American president She plans on making JLN a welcoming place for all women

Being president of the Junior League of Nashville (JLN) was never a thought that crossed Krystal Clark’s mind.

Presidents were older and wiser with a tad bit more experience, Clark thought. Besides, she had been a member of this particular branch for only six years.

Ambitious and naturally curious, Clark stood out. And now, at 34 years old, Clark has the distinct honor of becoming the first African-American president of the Junior League of Nashville in the organization’s 96-year history, and one of the youngest too.

“It’s been pretty rewarding,” Clark said of her new position. “I get a little emotional sometimes thinking about all the good that’s coming out of the organization.”

Although news stories of Clark’s appointment were published in September, Clark and the JLN committee have been preparing for the official announcement since 2015. Clark spent half of that year as president-elect-elect, president-elect in 2016 and president for the 2017-18 year.

“[The presidency] didn’t hit me until November of my president-elect year, because that’s when I found out who was going to be on my board,” Clark said. “That’s when I thought, I need to get my life in order. I needed to get my energy together and solidify my vision. Before that, you’re training and learning things that you don’t know about the organization. But that November, it hit me that people who are on my board are now going to be looking at me for leadership.”

There were still things to figure out, but Clark had already begun to prepare for her exciting new role. Taking risks and chances on things that matter most to her wasn’t new, and becoming president would be no different.

Clark, who is originally from Portsmouth, Virginia, made her first big move once she accepted a job offer to work as a program coordinator for fraternity and sorority life at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. Clark didn’t really know too much about the area, and she had no friends or family there. But this was an opportunity worth traveling for, and Clark accepted the challenge.

While in Durham, Clark was introduced to the Junior League after a league member named Kelly invited Clark and a group of young professionals out to lunch. Kelly believed the Junior League would be a great fit for the group and could help them navigate the world around them with the help of experienced women who would be there to lend support.

Since 1901, The Association of Junior Leagues International Inc. has dedicated its platform to helping women around the globe through volunteerism and improvement of communities. Some issues that remain a primary focus for the organization include pollution, illiteracy, domestic violence and fostering children without a safety net, according to its website. With the organization’s core values and mission in mind, Clark was sold.

Shortly after the meeting, Clark and a friend joined the Junior League. At first, Clark said, she and her friend naturally stuck together since they’d already known each other. But as the two began to meet other women in the organization, more friendships blossomed.

“Most of us joined because we wanted to meet people, so being able to be social with each other and do community service with each other, I started bonding,” Clark said.

Through the league’s events and community service initiatives, Clark also began to learn more about Durham and the environment around her. It was refreshing, given that Clark had not known much about the area nor anyone who lived there when she arrived after earning a master’s degree in college personnel from the University of Maryland.

After working at Duke for four years, the more confident Clark was ready for change. During the search for her next career move, Clark was offered a position as associate director of Greek life at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee.

“My career is important to me, and I’m a pretty ambitious human,” Clark said. “I’d never been to Tennessee, and I didn’t know anyone once again, but I also knew Vanderbilt was a really good school and the interview was really fun, so I took a chance and went. I actually do love country music too, so I figured I’d go and see what happens.”

Clark said her goodbyes to her Junior League sisters in North Carolina and began her journey to Tennessee. As with North Carolina, Clark was starting anew. There were no friends or family members to greet her in Nashville, but transferring membership and familiarizing herself with her new Junior League family is something Clark looked forward to.

Clark spent time meeting the members, both newcomers and veterans, and getting acquainted with Nashville. Although Clark enjoyed her work and time volunteering with the group, she’d never thought about taking on a larger role in the organization.

“When I get involved in something, I commit to it,” Clark said. “I certainly wanted to play a role in the organization, but I didn’t think I would be president. I thought I needed to be older to be president, and I thought that I needed to be in the organization longer to be president. I guess it didn’t cross my mind when I first started.”

What stood out to other women in the organization was Clark’s dedication. She was one of the most active members. She eagerly showed up to meetings and asked a lot of questions — the right questions. She coordinated events and fulfilled all of her duties.

“There were women in the organization who believed in me,” Clark said. “Throughout my time in the league, there were multiple women who let me know they believed in me and that I should aspire to be more in the organization.”

One morning, Clark was taken out to breakfast by a fellow Junior League member who suggested that she put her name in the running for president. Although she hadn’t given it much thought at first, the idea didn’t seem as far-fetched.

“I took a chance and did it,” Clark said. “I didn’t feel like I had much to lose, so I did it.”

Clark is continuing to adjust to her new leadership position but has already identified some of her top priorities, including member engagement, member involvement and making their presence known.

“We’ve been around for 96 years, and we also created a ton of other nonprofits that are still up and running. Sometimes people forget that the Junior League of Nashville is a philanthropic and service organization. We want to make sure we’re at the right tables and in the right rooms to be able to continue driving community change.”

And most importantly, as the organization’s first African-American president, Clark wants all women to feel welcome.

“It obviously can be hard to be the first and the only and the different one, but I sort of owned the fact that in order for this organization to be great for tons of women, regardless of their social identities, I have to put myself out there and I have to put my story out there,” Clark said. “I really try to go out in the community and be very present, going to meetings and introducing myself to people, because I think that’s the only way we can change that perception.

“I think sometimes we have a lot of self-limiting beliefs. We think people are going to look at us a certain way or we think people aren’t going to like us or be rude to us, but I think you have to give people an opportunity to prove you right or prove you wrong. … The only way that I’ve been able to be successful is just by owning what I want and going after it. Sometimes, I think we’re our own worst enemy. And we don’t have to be.”

Five new TV shows worth watching this fall Last year’s bonanza of blackness hasn’t repeated itself, but you should still plug these shows into your DVR

What’s new in TV this season? Worth checking out? Honestly, the pickings this fall are slimmer than last year’s bonanza of blackness. Both The Carmichael Show and Pitch have been canceled. Atlanta’s second season was delayed so creator and star Donald Glover could go be Lando Calrissian, and Insecure became the most celebrated and discussed show — of the summer.

Empire, black-ish and ABC’s Shondaland lineup have been around long enough that they’ve morphed into reliable fall standards: This Is Us, though still young in television years, has clearly captured the country’s imagination — along with its appetite for Kleenex. And the OWN juggernaut and prestige drama Queen Sugar returns this week for the second half of its second season. We’ll finally get to see those episodes directed by Julie Dash!

[‘Queen Sugar’s’ second season explores a fraught mix of family and historical legacy]

So what’s left? Allow me to walk you through the best of the rest.

Big Mouth (Netflix)

Netflix’s oddball animated show about puberty is currently streaming. It features Jordan Peele as the ghost of Duke Ellington (he lives in one of the character’s attics) and Maya Rudolph as a hormone monstress. Yes, she’s a hairy, horny, imaginary monstress who puts bad ideas in the head of a 12-year-old girl named Diane.

Big Mouth follows the lives of a group of 12-year-olds navigating the hellacious road map of wet dreams, peer pressure, unfortunately timed boners, first periods and, yes, hormone monsters. Big Mouth also contains its share of meta TV and Hollywood jokes — there’s a shocking stinger about director Bryan Singer that I didn’t see coming — but mainly it really gets just how awkward, fraught, miserable — and, in hindsight, quite funny — puberty can be. It is not a show for 12-year-olds, but it is fun for anyone who felt like a mess as their hormones went bonkers for several years.

The Good Place (NBC)

If it feels like all of your favorite smart internet people are talking about The Good Place on Twitter, it’s because they are.

The Good Place, which recently began its second season on NBC, is a sitcom about ethics and philosophy — yes, the stuff Immanuel Kant spent so much time noodling in his brain about. It’s smart, funny, fresh, inventive and quite good at anticipating the questions viewers will form in their own minds. It’s also like The Good Wife in that it excels at finding ways to circumvent and poke fun at profanity restrictions on prime-time network television (and The Undefeated). You can’t curse in The Good Place, and so “f—” has been replaced by “fork.”

The show stars Ted Danson as Michael, the architect of what he hopes will be The Worst Place in the Afterlife. His grand plans for reinventing hell — or The Bad Place, as it’s known — keep getting upended by his wards, Eleanor Shellstrop (Kristen Bell), Chidi Anagonye (William Jackson Harper), Tahani Al-Jamil (Jameela Jamil) and Jason Mendoza (Manny Jacinto). Eleanor, Chidi, Tahani and Jason are all dead and have been sentenced to spend eternity in The Bad Place, though they don’t know it. They think they’re in The Good Place, although they all (except for Tahani) have a sneaking suspicion that they’re not supposed to be there.

By the end of season one, Eleanor, Tahani, Chidi and Jason have figured out that they’re in The Bad Place and that Michael is using them to experiment with a new form of torture. Rather than subjecting folks to lakes of fire — you know, your run-of-the-mill hellish unpleasantries — he’s created an elaborate scheme of psychological torture and gaslighting, mostly by making an environment that’s supposedly perfect a bit of a drag. To Michael, hell is the suburbs.

Now that we’re at season two, there’s just one problem with Michael’s scheme: Eleanor, Chidi, Jason and Tahani keep figuring out what he’s doing and Michael constantly has to erase their memories so he can start over with his experiment. Being middle management in hell is tough, man. Michael’s problems just keep compounding: Even though Eleanor and Chidi are deliberately mismatched as soul mates, Eleanor’s begun to fall for him anyway. Even Jason, the dumbest of the bunch, has independently figured out what Michael’s up to. There’s also a very helpful android named Janet (D’Arcy Carden). Every time Michael has to wipe the memories of Eleanor, Chidi, Tahani and Jason, he has to reboot Janet too.

There’s a lot to like about The Good Place, from its critique of our conceptions of utopia to its interrogation of what it means to be truly “good” or “bad.” The show follows four characters who are kind of terrible, but not genocidal maniac terrible. They’re terrible in an everyday, narcissistic, common sort of way — and they’re capable of change.

The Good Place also works in diversity in a way that doesn’t feel forced or like an afterthought, or as though it came from a network on a cookie-seeking mission. It just feels natural. Anagonye is one of the few African characters on television. (While both Issa Rae and Yvonne Orji are kids of African immigrants in real life, their ethnicity hasn’t come up in Insecure.) There’s such a dearth of characters who are Africans living in America, which is why I was disappointed to hear that HBO would not be developing the K’naan Warsame pilot Mogadishu, Minnesota.

Loosely Exactly Nicole (Facebook)

After garnering less-than-impressive ratings in its first season as an MTV comedy, Loosely Exactly Nicole, starring Nicole Byer, has moved to Facebook for its second season.

Given the return of Curb Your Enthusiasm, there’s obviously still an audience for shows about people who are awful and also unaware of (or maybe simply don’t care about) their awfulness, and the comedy that ensues as a result.

[The temerity to be terrible]

Byer is quietly daring in that the Nicole of Loosely Exactly Nicole is sexual, nervy and self-obsessed in a way that’s generally reserved for Beckys. Like Gabourey Sidibe’s Empire character (actually named Becky), Nicole hooks up with cute guys (white guys, at that). She’s not consumed with hatred of her body or her hair or her blackness, and she’s not an irritated government employee in the way that fat, dark-skinned black women often show up on television.

I want to see success for Byer, for Yvette Nicole Brown, for Retta, for Amber Riley, for Leslie Jones and for all the funny black women who don’t necessarily look like Yara Shahidi or Tracee Ellis Ross but are still bawdy, dangerous and funny. What’s more, their youth and sexuality deserve acknowledgment, and I don’t just mean in the predatory, Leslie-Jones-is-obsessed-with-Colin-Jost sort of way either.

That’s part of the reason that the summer show Claws was such a hit. In many ways, Niecy Nash is a precursor for a lot of these younger women. It’s taken years for her talents to be acknowledged, although playing Nurse Didi in Getting On may have been what it took for her to be taken seriously — she was nominated for Emmys twice for the role. Octavia Spencer is a terrific comic actress (see: Spencer as Harriet Tubman in Drunk History). There’s no doubt her career has blossomed since The Help, but I hate seeing her typecast as dowdy, matronly figures, and the more women like Byer insist on playing otherwise, the more that will hopefully change.

The Mayor (ABC)

From creator Jeremy Bronson and executive producer Daveed Diggs, The Mayor (which debuts Tuesday on ABC) stars Brandon Micheal Hall as Courtney Rose, a rapper who just wants to get some shine — so he decides to run for mayor of his hometown of Fort Grey, California. And, as you might have guessed from the title, he wins. So now you’ve got a person with zero experience or qualifications, who really just wanted a bit more fame, in public service as the head of the executive branch of a city.

I know — impossible to imagine something like that happening, right?

The Mayor reminds me of the 2003 Chris Rock movie Head of State, in which Rock stars as alderman Mays Gilliam, who is engaged in a long-shot bid for president (mostly for the publicity) with Bernie Mac as his take-no-prisoners, blackity-black hype man and brother. Head of State found comedy in the process of running for office, and the movie ends just as the awesome, weighty reality of being president is falling on Gilliam’s shoulders.

The premise of The Mayor is certainly interesting, but what I’ve seen so far doesn’t necessarily make me excited about where the show will go once Courtney has to actually start governing. It’s hard to avoid cynicism there, but maybe as the mayor, Courtney will grow into something a little more like Leslie Knope. Otherwise, there’s a scenario that’s so serious, there’s little to laugh at. Yvette Nicole Brown, who was such a treasure in Community, stars as Dina Rose, Courtney’s mother. It’s a bit of a waste to see Brown, who in real life is young and vivacious in the role of churchy, kinda sexless (though quite funny) mom. Which again, says something about the type of woman Hollywood sees as plausibly forkable.

White Famous (Showtime)

White Famous, the new comedy from creator Tom Kapinos starring former Saturday Night Live actor Jay Pharoah, joins the ranks of shows that expose, comment on and make fun of the artifice of Hollywood, such as BoJack Horseman, Episodes and Entourage.

In terms of the callouts that raise eyebrows for torching real-life relationships, White Famous, which premieres Oct. 15 on Showtime, does not disappoint. Pharoah plays an up-and-coming comic named Floyd Mooney who’s a bona fide star with black people but still gets mistaken for a restaurant valet by white Hollywood producers. Within the first 15 minutes of the show, Pharaoh has already thrown two symbolic middle fingers at director, producer and vocal Bill Cosby critic Judd Apatow.

It’s a tricky jump. Mooney has a meeting with the thinly veiled Apatow character named Jason Gold (Steve Zissis), who is directing a movie about an imaginary attorney who was the first woman Cosby assaulted. Gold wants Mooney to play the woman, a la Eddie Murphy or Tyler Perry. Mooney tells Gold that focusing solely on Cosby’s lechery is racist, although he makes the unfortunate misstep of downplaying the accusations against Cosby of drugging and sexual assault from more than 50 women.

[Why the hot black bodies on ‘Insecure’ are more revolutionary than you think]

White Famous engages in a practice I find annoying about premium cable shows: It treats naked women as mostly silent pets that can be sent to another room when their nude bodies are no longer useful to a scene. Sometimes that works as a reflection of the actual sexism that pervades Hollywood and makes pretty women disposable. For example, there’s a scene in which Mooney and Gold walk in on Jamie Foxx going to town on some unnamed woman in his trailer, and he just keeps going while continuing to hold a conversation. But sometimes, like the moment we’re introduced to a clothed Gold sleeping next to a naked woman, it’s not saying much of anything except, “Hey, I too have the power to put naked women on TV for no reason except to show boobs and butt.”

How novel.

Despite its sexist deficiencies, White Famous is still engaging. It confronts race and success in Hollywood head-on, raising questions about when and why artists end up compromising their own principles.

Ibram Kendi, one of the nation’s leading scholars of racism, says education and love are not the answer Founder of new anti-racism center at American University sees impact of policy, culture on black athletes

It’s a Wednesday night at a bookstore in a well-off part of Washington, D.C., and every seat is taken. More than 100 people spill into the aisles or crowd the stacks past the philosophy and cookbook sections to hear Ibram X. Kendi talk about the racist ideas that founded the nation. About how racial progress is always followed by new and more sophisticated racist progress. And, especially, about the deeply held beliefs that most Americans, including black people and liberal whites, woke up with this morning that they don’t even know are racist and wrong.

For instance, “Black neighborhoods are not more dangerous than white neighborhoods and neither are black people,” Kendi tells the crowd. Layers of racist ideas account for why we think so.

Last year, the 35-year-old scholar became the youngest person to win the National Book Award for nonfiction in 30 years for Stamped from the Beginning, The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America.

And this year, his moment continues. He’s just moved to Washington, where he is launching the Antiracist Research and Policy Center at American University next week. He’s a historian of racism at a time when our public conversation is fixed on it, when successive presidents have triggered the tribal apprehensions of our Mason-Dixon lines, and when the threat of shoot-you-down, run-you-over racial violence feels as close at hand as the peril to the republic from fake facts and revisionist history. This convergence of circumstances keeps him perpetually on book tour.

Ibram Kendi, right, addresses the audience as Washington Post reporter Wesley Lowery, who was the presenter for the event, stands by.

André Chung for The Undefeated

A diverse group made up a standing-room-only audience during Dr. Ibram Kendi’s recent book promotion event at Politics and Prose.

André Chung for The Undefeated

With the breadth of his scholarship and expanse of his reach, Kendi has been compared to the famed late historian John Hope Franklin, except he wears his locs long and his edges laid. He used to fantasize about a career in the NBA — or, at the very least, on SportsCenter. He’ll hit you back on Twitter.

Just so you know, black people are not inherently better athletes than white people, Kendi says. We only think so because “black people have not only been rendered inferior to white people, they’ve been rendered like animals,” and thus physically superior creatures. It’s an old racist idea that helped justify African-Americans’ suitability for backbreaking labor and medical experiments and the theft of their children. “When we embrace this as part of our identity,” Kendi says, “we don’t understand.” He wants to correct our misunderstandings.

Education, love and exemplary black people will not deliver America from racism, Kendi says. Racist ideas grow out of discriminatory policies, he argues, not the other way around. And if his new center can help identify and dismantle those policies in the U.S. and around the world, he believes we can start to eliminate racism. At least that’s the goal.

As the evening wears on in the crowded bookstore, people line up at microphones to question, challenge or offer up hosannas to this young scholar, who, in many ways, is just getting started.


Ibram Kendi is the new founding director of The Anti-Racist and Policy Center at American University. He is a leading thinker on race and his 2016 book, “Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America” won the National Book Award.

André Chung for The Undefeated

Kendi apologizes for the spare office space he shares with a colleague inside American University’s School of International Service. The walls are bare, and his name has not yet made it outside the door. He’s still unpacking from the move to D.C. with his wife, Sadiqa, a pediatric emergency room physician at Children’s National Health Center, and their 1-year-old daughter, Imani. It’s an ambitiously busy life.

Besides being the founding director of the research center, he’s teaching history and international relations as part of a joint appointment that brought him from the University of Florida, where he was a professor of African-American history.

He’s learning the city, and working on priorities for the center — part think tank, policy shop and incubator for anti-racism strategies — which formally launches next fall. It joins dozens of other customized centers of racial research. One of the earliest and most notable, the W.E.B Du Bois Research Institute at Harvard University, rose to prominence under the leadership of Henry Louis Gates Jr. This year, “year zero,” is to raise funds and recruit researchers, faculty and students.

The goal is to identify inequalities, identify the policies that create and maintain those inequalities, and propose correctives in six areas: criminal justice, education, economics, health, environment and politics. Kendi also hopes to create an online library of anti-racist thinking. He’s still considering initial projects.

But when he talks about racism, he is not still puzzling out his ideas. Kendi has spent thousands of hours reading thousands of documents, including “some of the most horrific things that have ever been said about black people,” to uncover the origins of racist thought. His words are distilled, precise, authoritative. His voice never rises. He is, temperamentally, an antidote to the heat of the subject matter and the hyperbole of the times.

“We have been taught that ignorance and hate lead to racist ideas, lead to racist policies,” Kendi said. “If the fundamental problem is ignorance and hate, then your solutions are going to be focused on education, and love and persuasion. But of course [Stamped from the Beginning] shows that the actual foundation of racism is not ignorance and hate, but self-interest, particularly economic and political and cultural.” Self-interest drives racist policies that benefit that self-interest. When the policies are challenged because they produce inequalities, racist ideas spring up to justify those policies. Hate flows freely from there.

The self-interest: The Portuguese had to justify their pioneering slave trade of African people before the pope.

The racist idea: Africans are barbarians. If we remove them from Africa and enslave them, they could be civilized.

“We can understand this very simply with slavery. I’m enslaving people because I want to make money. Abolitionists are resisting me, so I’m going to convince Americans that these people should be enslaved because they’re black, and then people will start believing those ideas: that these people are so barbaric, that they need to be enslaved, or that they are so childlike that they need to be enslaved.”

Kendi boils racist ideas down to an irreducible core: Any idea that suggests one racial group is superior or inferior to another group in any way is a racist idea, he says, and there are two types. Segregationist ideas contend racial groups are created unequal. Assimilationist ideas, as Kendi defines them, argue that both discrimination and problematic black people are to blame for inequalities.

“The actual foundation of racism is not ignorance and hate, but self-interest.”

Americans who don’t carry tiki torches react viscerally to segregationist ideas like those on display at the white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, that left one young counter-protester dead. Assimilationist ideas are more subtle, seductive and coded.

“You can be someone who has no intention to be racist,” who believes in and fights for equality, “but because you’re conditioned in a world that is racist and a country that is structured in anti-black racism, you yourself can perpetuate those ideas,” says Kendi. No matter what color you are.

Anti-racist ideas hold that racial groups are equal. That the only thing inferior about black people is their opportunities. “The only thing wrong with black people is that we think there is something wrong with black people,” a line that Kendi uses like a mantra.

The Blue Lives Matter (the problem is violent black people) Black Lives Matter (the problem is the criminal justice system, poor training and police bias) and All Lives Matter (the problem is police and black people) arguments are extensions of the same, three-way debate (segregationist, anti-racist and assimilationist) that Americans have been having since the founding of the country.

“We’ve been taught American history as a steady march of racial progress,” but it’s always been a dual march of racial and racist progress, which we see from Charlottesville to “their Trump Tower,” Kendi says.

This is the jump-off Kendi uses to frame the most roiling issues of the day. But before he could build that frame, he first had to deal with his own racism.


Ibram Kendi

André Chung for The Undefeated

Kendi was born Ibram H. Rogers in Jamaica, Queens, New York, to parents who’d been student activists and were inspired by black liberation theology. He grew up playing basketball and still is an ardent New York Knicks fan.

The family moved to Manassas, Virginia, where Kendi attended Stonewall Jackson High School (named for the Confederate general) and dreamed of a career on the hardwood. The slim, 6-foot-1 former guard says he specialized in the no-look pass. “I consider the beautiful pass the most beautiful part of the game of basketball,” he says.

Sweet passing aside, his basketball aspirations were irrevocably dashed his sophomore year when he failed to make the junior varsity team. “I was so crushed,” Kendi says.

He studied journalism at Florida A&M University and initially wanted to be a broadcaster or a sportswriter. But after internships at The Mobile Register and The Atlanta Journal Constitution, he began to shift his career focus. He wound up getting a doctorate in African-American studies from Temple University. His first book, on the black student protest movement in the ’60s and ’70s, was published in 2012. He began researching Stamped from the Beginning the following year.

That’s when he started to re-examine some of his most deeply held beliefs about race. “I was born into a world of racist ideas, many of which I had consumed myself,” says Kendi. “I had to come to grips with … some of the things that I imagined and thought,” about black people “and one of the first and most obvious ones was the idea that black neighborhoods are more dangerous than white neighborhoods, which is a very popular idea.”

The highest instances of violent crime correspond with high unemployment and poverty, and that holds true across racial lines, Kendi found. Most white poverty, unemployment and thus violent crimes occur in rural areas, while for blacks those ills are more concentrated in densely populated urban neighborhoods. If impoverished white communities “had five times more people, then that community would have five times, presumably, more violent crime.”

“I was born into a world of racist ideas, many of which I had consumed myself.”

Another racist idea: “I believed that black children were achieving at a lower level than white children. And I believed in the existence of an achievement gap,” says Kendi. Standardized tests prioritize reading and writing as measures of verbal proficiency, as opposed to the wider ability to articulate. And they test subject areas where black schools are vastly underresourced.

“I certainly am somebody who advocates equalizing the resources of school and creating a situation in which we actually live up to our pronouncements that we live in a meritorious society,” says Kendi. “But even if these schools persist in being resourced unequally, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the students in the schools with lesser resources are intellectually inferior to the students with better resources.” He reaches into history to illustrate his point: Just because slaves’ lives were circumscribed, they faced more adversity and they dealt with more violence, that doesn’t mean enslaved people were inferior to people who were free.

A “more lighthearted area” he had to confront was his ideas about dating black women. “Black women were angry, they didn’t know what they want, they’re difficult,” he’d heard. “And from my standpoint, those are some of the things that I said when I was having some difficulties in dating.” When we have negative experiences with individuals, “we often say there’s a problem with that black group,” without realizing those are racist ideas.

Now, he’s a poster child for black love. He and his telegenic wife met on Match.com and debuted their new last name Kendi (“loved one” in the Kenyan language of Meru) at their 2013 wedding in Jamaica, which was featured in Essence magazine.

Mark Anthony Neal, a professor of African and African-American studies at Duke University, calls Kendi part of a vanguard of young black historians, which includes Treva Lindsey at Ohio State and Brittney Cooper of Rutgers, who are transforming the field. Part of what makes him right for the moment is his ability to speak to millennials, who have access to lots of information but can’t always decipher what is good or bad. “What he has written is an accessible history of black folks,” said Neal. In terms of a book for general readers “that covers such a wide historical period, the only thing I can think about in terms of comparison is John Hope Franklin’s From Slavery to Freedom.”

Kendi’s book resonates like the 2015 National Book Award winner, Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, said Neal. “Ta-Nehisi’s was kind of an emotional analysis of what this moment is. Kendi’s was to bring that kind of energy, except to do it in a historical context. I think it’s important to be able to talk about the history of these racist ideas, the impact they’ve had on black people and black life.”

With regard to the most front-and-center issue in sports today, athletes and activism, Kendi says it’s important to remember that the athlete/activists of the 1960s — Muhammad Ali, Jim Brown and Tommie Smith — all spoke out in the context of the Black Power movement, which is “precisely what’s happening now” with Colin Kaepernick and others who were inspired by Black Lives Matter. “We look for athletes to generate movements, when historically athletes have been good at being athletes, which is precisely what they should be good at, and we should be looking to activists to generate movements.” There will then be those athletes who use their platforms to support those movements and ideologies.

Kendi says that while the numbers of black players on the fields, courts and arenas have increased dramatically over the past 50 years, it’s been harder to make shifts at other positions.

“We should determine diversity in sports, just like outside of sports, not by the transient players but by the people who are permanent, like the owners, like the coaches, like the sports writers, like the executives.” If those groups “are lily-white, then [a sport] is simply not diverse.”

This kind of analysis gives Kendi cachet beyond the ivory tower and makes him popular with students, Neal said. Young people see Kendi with his locs and his ability to communicate in a vernacular they know and that expands their thinking about the possibilities for their own lives. They’ll say, “This is somebody I can imagine being somewhere down the line,” said Neal.

“We should determine diversity in sports, just like outside of sports, not by the transient players but by the people who are permanent, like the owners, like the coaches, like the sportswriters, like the executives.”

Peter Starr, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at American University and one of those responsible for bringing Kendi to the university, cites Washington as an organic place to do anti-racist work. “To make real lasting change, change that lasts beyond changes of administrations and flips from one party to the next, you really need to reach out to people who are making more fundamental policy on the ground, in the agencies and throughout the government,” he said.

Starr calls Kendi’s vision to use researchers from around the country an approach that mirrors what happens in the sciences. “He’s got a very expansive vision of the center, and we really think this is a center that’s not just the usual, relatively small, one-person shop,” he said.

He calls Stamped from the Beginning the kind of book scholars write in their 50s and 60s. But Kendi’s impact will transcend the written words, Starr said. Especially since American has struggled with racist incidents recently.

In May, bananas were found hanging from nooses at three locations on the American University campus. This followed racist social media messages and a banana thrown into a black student’s dorm in the past few years.

For students of color and “all students, being able to look to someone like Ibram Kendi, who is a model of intelligent scholarship and activism informed by deep contextual and historical understanding,” is powerful, said Starr. He’s got “a fire to make a difference in the world that I’m not sure I’ve ever seen in another scholar, frankly.”


Ibram Kendi greets fans at Politics and Prose after discussing his book.

André Chung for The Undefeated

At the bookstore, the questions, and disquisitions posing as questions, continue as the crowd grapples with, or pushes back against, Kendi’s ideas about race and America.

“I think that the issue is that the Africans and the Europeans really can’t mix,” one person steps to the mic to say.

Across the room, another questioner says, “Gentiles are underrepresented on Wall Street. White males are underrepresented in the NBA. At what point does the assimilation shift into something where other factors come into play?”

“All right now, tell it like it is,” says E. Veronica Pace, a genealogist who steps to the microphone and identifies herself as a student of Howard University sociologist E. Franklin Frazier. She asks about the book’s title, which was taken from a speech in which Confederate President Jefferson Davis called racial inequality “stamped from the beginning.”

Finally, the talk is over and people form a line that stretches toward the door to have him sign their books. “If we are all mindful about this and put our hearts and souls into it, we can turn this ship around,” says James Kilgore, whose wife is in the line. He’s says he’s waiting to see what Kendi is going to do.

For starters, he’s working on another book, a memoir entitled How to be An Anti-Racist. “Racist ideas become almost like a drug. Once you hear them and become hooked, you need more in order to sustain the way you see the world, right?” Kendi says. “I was hooked for a long time,” and now “I’m trying to relieve other people.”

And he’s focused on launching the center he’d like to help change the world. The former sports reporter reaches for a metaphor. It’s a rare moment where his equanimity seems to falter, just for a bit, perhaps from the weight of the task at hand. “I’m on the court and I’ve suited up. Now the game is about to start and I have to be ready to perform,” Kendi says. “And to win.”

Growing up Gucci Mane With a new book, new album and new reality show, the Atlanta star is ready for prime time

Radric Delantic Davis wanted the Christmas his mother couldn’t afford to give him — and the eighth-grader was willing to sell slabs of dope to make it happen. Toward the end of 1993, Davis, then 13, had his eyes on a pair of jeans, some new Air Jordans and a Starter jacket. Going back to school, postholiday break meant his classmates would show off their gifts from Santa.

But when his mom told him that bills were really tight and that she could only give him $50, Davis, today known as hip-hop star Gucci Mane, left the apartment with the money and walked to the other side of Mountain Park in East Atlanta’s Zone 6. Davis, who was already selling marijuana for his older brother, Duke, handed a dope man his mother’s $50 in exchange for two tightly wrapped slabs of crack cocaine, roughly 1.5 grams each.

“Now you owe me $50,” Gucci recalls the drug dealer telling him. “Get it?”

It was the moment Gucci realized he was officially waist-deep in Zone 6’s drug game — even if he didn’t have a clue of what he was getting himself into. “I remember … trying to carve out my own individuality,” he said. “I felt like fashion [was] a way to express myself, and I knew the only way I could get it at the time was that route: selling crack. I felt like dope would be the best route … at that time. That wasn’t one of the best decisions I ever made, but I was young.”

“There’s a lot of pain and heartache associated with the drug game that kids need to know about.”

Gucci’s family life, drug dealing and arrests — as well as the perfection of a musical style that would help elevate the careers of a slew of young Southern artists such as Migos, Young Thug and Zaytoven — are on full display in the new The Autobiography of Gucci Mane. In the book, co-authored by Neil Martinez-Belkin, Gucci, who has four top-10 rap singles — including this year’s hit with Migos, “I Get the Bag” — digs deeper into his upbringing than ever before, offering insight into how a kid caught up in Atlanta’s drug game made it through violence, rap beefs, a crippling addiction to the drug lean and run-ins with the law, including a 2005 murder charge (which was eventually dropped), to become the undisputed king of trap music.

“I finally know what it’s like to be a professional, to feel what’s going on,” Gucci said just ahead of the release of the book and his 11th studio album, Mr. Davis (due Oct. 13). The BET reality show Gucci Mane & Keyshia Ka’Oir: The Mane Event, featuring his fiancée, is set to debut Oct. 17. “I now appreciate that, and I’m not trying to take my talent or those opportunities for granted.”


By the time Gucci moved to Atlanta with Duke and his mother, Vicky, in August 1989, he had already experienced the highs and lows of family life.

Growing up in his grandfather’s house at 1017 First Ave., an olive-green two-bedroom near the train tracks in Bessemer, Alabama, young Radric took to his grandfather, the closest thing he had to a father. Gucci remembers Walter Davis Sr. as someone he’d run to and help walk with the rest of the way. He’d dive under his bed in laughter when his granddaddy chased him. But his granddaddy was a drinker, with bourbon often fueling those drunken stumbles home.

Amanda Dudley

When Radric was 7, his grandfather suffered a fatal heart attack. Losing the patriarch of the family triggered infighting that went on for years — his mother and aunts spilled blood on multiple occasions. “My granddaddy’s death divided the family,” Gucci said somberly. “Eventually, we figured it out, to be a tight-knit family again. But I learned a lot in that house.”

“I didn’t want to get caught up in that corner again, so I had to get creative.”

His brother Duke would head down to the Bessemer Flea Market and come home with whatever hip-hop cassettes he could find. The brothers would listen to the albums they could get their hands on, from Run-D.M.C. to N.W.A., committing lyrics to memory, rhyming back and forth. Soon, the bedroom they shared was covered in posters ripped from Word Up! magazine. “He definitely helped shape my taste in music,” he told me. “It kind of formed my love for hip-hop.”


This was long before Gucci’s idea of reaching out to local bootleggers (as a way to get his music out to the locals) came to fruition. With Bessemer in the rearview mirror, Gucci was living in deep financial fear in East Atlanta, worried about how his mother was seemingly always behind on rent and why they couldn’t pay the light bill. “I learned young that if I ain’t got s—, then I just ain’t got s—,” Gucci writes in the book. “If I wanted something in life, I would have to find a way to get it myself.”

Gucci said that while he’s glad he experienced what it was like to sell drugs, it’s a part of his life he never wants to return to — a point he’s trying to make clear to young people tempted by the hustle and the money. “Everything isn’t as glamorous as it seems,” he said. “It ain’t all glitz. … There’s a lot of pain and heartache associated with the drug game that kids need to know about in order to deter them from taking that route.”

Brandon Putmon

By the time he was 21, Gucci was hustling every day on the corner of a Texaco gas station, which had become a place of trade. He was in college at Georgia State University’s Perimeter College when his formal education came to an end. In April 2001, he was arrested for criminal possession of a controlled substance and sentenced to 90 days in jail. It was the first time Gucci had been charged with a crime — and the experience made him think about pursuing music.

“It forced me to make a choice,” he said. “I didn’t want to get caught up in that corner again, so I had to get creative. It made me go, What else can you do? I wanted to challenge myself to try to make a career of being a rapper.”

More than a year removed from a stint in a federal prison in Terre Haute, Indiana, for possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, Gucci, who started writing the memoir while incarcerated, knows his comeback was never a sure thing. If he could do some things over again, he would. But the trap king’s roots, and his past, remain close to his head and his heart.

Cam Kirk

“I would tell my young self, ‘Hey, Gucci, you got an amazing future ahead of you. You’re a fascinating person. You’re going to be one of the most remarkable people to ever walk the face of the earth,’ ” he said. “So with that being said, you gotta conduct yourself with class, you gotta conduct yourself professionally, because the world is going to watch you and the world is going to imitate you.”

Grace Jones, Andre Leon Talley and a chance to see people of color in all your movies Day 2 at the Toronto International Film Festival

TORONTO — For a person of color, looking for yourself in major box office releases can feel like a frustrating series of one-offs, each with impossibly high stakes. Film festivals can offer a different experience, especially since there’s no box office pressure at them.

One of my favorite things about film festivals is the way they create a temporary, friendly, idealistic, artistic bubble. The audiences, Blackstar and other minority-centered fests notwithstanding, can be overwhelmingly white, and their reactions can offer a skewed perception of films. (See Dope and The Birth of a Nation, both of which were Sundance darlings that didn’t live up to box office expectations. Crown Heights found itself in a similar position.)

But festivals also offer a great opportunity for people to see film after film starring or about people of color. The first time I went to Sundance, I was astonished to see multiple feature films by or about Native Americans. This year, Columbus and Gook, both from Asian directors, made big splashes at Sundance.

So on Friday morning, a day after seeing Mudbound and The Carter Effect, I found myself immersed in the world of fashionable, brilliant black people with screenings of two documentaries: Grace Jones: Bloodlight and Bami and The Gospel According to André.

The similarities in these two people seem obvious at first glance. Jones is 69 and Andre Leon Talley is 67, and they’ve both established careers in fashion by being intriguing, unique individuals who are impossible to ignore.

But something deeper and more soul-stirring connects these two individuals to many black people of their generation. Jones and Talley both soared to tremendous heights, Jones as a model and singer and Talley as a Vogue editor and arbiter of taste in the fashion world. As they’ve reached the top, they’ve taken the pain of their earlier lives with them. Sometimes it’s creative fuel, but in one way or another, everyone has to wrestle with the demons of their younger selves.

For Jones, it was the cruelty of the man who raised her, simply referred to as Mas P, who terrorized Jones and her siblings with beatings and offered scant gestures of love. Jones became notorious for her temper after she slapped television host Russell Harty live on the air in November 1980.

Jones is up front about her penchant for striking people. “I always warn them first,” she says.

In Bloodlight, directed by Sophie Fiennes, Jones says that she struggled to channel her anger as an adult. Rather than talk to a therapist, Jones worked through her anger in one-on-one acting classes and revealed that her acting coach would have to hypnotize her to draw her out of her uncontrolled fury.

Fiennes captures footage of Jones visiting family and friends in her native Jamaica, and it feels like the audience discovered a decoder ring for the woman behind images such as the Jean-Paul Goude photograph that graced the cover of Island Life.

Jones tells her origin story through her song lyrics. She bounces all over the globe, code-switching from Jamaican patois to accented English to perfect French. But everything comes back to Jamaica. Frankly, Bloodlight and Bami is an unstructured mess, but it does a fair job of contextualizing Jones’ art through her Jamaican roots. The things and the place that are a source of so much of her anger still fill her with joy, love and artistic inspiration. She’s not just a curiosity — everything she does, everything she wears, including her extravagant performance headdresses, has a purpose and an origin. We see Jones bring her mother a hat that’s a variation on one she wears onstage. On Jones, coupled with a black velvet leotard, makeup and 6-inch heels, the hat is an avant-garde statement. On her mother, offset with flowers and a church dress, it’s a crown fit for sharing a rendition of “His Eye is on the Sparrow.”

Bloodlight and Bami does not yet have a distributor, though I suspect it will find one, if the masses lined up for a glimpse of Jones at the Thursday night premiere of the film are any indication.

The Gospel According to André

As black people, Jones and Talley came of age at a time that allowed them to take advantage of the tremendous changes taking place in the world. The documentaries about them aren’t just about the costs of being trailblazers. They’re more personal than that. Instead, they’re about the traumas people carry with them, and the way they infect and influence those around them.

André Leon Talley

Maarten de Boer/Getty Images

With Talley especially, it became apparent just how much his blackness was a part of that trauma, and how much he’s held it in service to a bigger vision. As a Vogue staffer responsible for assembling and conceiving fashion editorials, Talley had the rare power to make something like Scarlett in the Hood happen. Scarlett in the Hood was a magazine spread that offered Talley’s commentary on Gone with the Wind. Talley selected Naomi Campbell to play Scarlett O’Hara, and he placed white designers around her dressed and cast as slaves. The price for being in a position to do that, however, was that Talley had to keep mum about the microaggressions directed at him by the industry he loved.

The hurt Talley carries from having stones thrown at him by white boys when he would visit Duke University’s east campus as a teen, simply to buy the latest issue of Vogue, is the same hurt he carries from colleagues in the fashion industry accusing him of sleeping with every designer in Paris and playing the role of black buck for curious whites. Talley tears up at one point, recalling a colleague he was too much of a class act to name, who cruelly referred to him as “Queen Kong.”

Over and over, fashion industry figures such as Marc Jacobs, Valentino and Tom Ford remarked to director Kate Novack about Talley’s “childlike” qualities. The takeaway from all of them was that the intangible that makes Talley such a talented curator stems directly from the same wonderment he felt as a teen flipping through the pages of Vogue. Somehow, even as an adult, he kept it. For Talley, who grew up in Durham, North Carolina, and attended the segregated Hillside High School, Vogue offered an escape from that reality. His talent and his hurt are inextricably linked.

The NFL has a Kaepernick problem that’s bigger than just Kaepernick now Thanks, in part, to current events, the question has switched from ‘Who will stand up with Kaepernick?’ to ‘Who could possibly stand against him?’

Last August, the story was about Colin Kaepernick refusing to stand for the national anthem, decrying racism and police brutality with a method that harkened back to the nonviolent protests of the civil rights era. The then-Niners quarterback asked at the time: “At what point do we do something about it? At what point do we take a stand as a people and say this isn’t right?”

This August, a rally against the removal of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee turned deadly when white nationalists, including neo-Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan — many dressed in combat gear, some carrying firearms, others torches — infested Charlottesville, Virginia, with their bigotry and violence, only to be confronted by large numbers of protesters who would not back down.

Sandwiched within that reality was an act of domestic terrorism — a car plowed into a crowd of protesters, killing one and injuring 19 others, some critically. Suddenly, the much-discussed racial divide in America was right there for everyone to see. And guess who’s looking more right — more righteous — than anyone could’ve ever imagined:

Mr. Kaepernick himself.

Why? Because Kaepernick’s lawful protest now stands in the context of David Duke telling the press, “We are determined to take our country back.” In the context of President Donald Trump’s not only refusing to directly condemn white nationalism but also creating a moral equivalency between them and the ones who came out to fight to keep America free for everyone. A stance Trump walked back only after extreme pressure and a tweet insulting the black CEO of Merck. Enough with the cries of “This is not our America.” This is our America. Maybe the connection between Kaepernick expressing his rights as an American to draw attention to his belief that black lives matter and the events in Charlottesville isn’t a straight line, but it’s not that crooked either. Who can now doubt that the racism that Kaepernick was protesting is real — and far more dangerous and deadly and visceral than previously believed?

That is why Kaepernick needs to get a job in the NFL. Not as a backup in the middle of the season when the quarterbacks start going down. Now. If the NFL thought giving him a job would prove a distraction or somehow damage its brand, it was wrong. Now it’s facing down the opposite problem. First, it was just Kaepernick’s voice needing to be silenced. Now it’s Beast Mode, Michael Bennett, Malcolm Jenkins, Richard Sherman, and the list will only grow. All of them using their megaphone to talk about the “blackballing” of the former 49ers quarterback.

http://www.espn.com/video/clip?id=20340614

Kaepernick’s absence from NFL stirring a movement Stephen A. Smith hopes that the events in Charlottesville, Virginia, over the weekend will open the eyes of NFL owners to what Colin Kaepernick stands for.

And now in one weekend, the question for many inside and outside the NFL quite literally has transitioned from “Who will stand up with Kaepernick?” to “Who could possibly stand against him?”

For now, though, let’s turn our attention just to NFL owners, who have the cash and the platform to provoke change — not TO mention also the power to give him a job. NFL owners not only have their players to contend with but, potentially, millions of football fans to answer to — many of whom never had a problem with Kaepernick exercising his constitutional right in the first place.

Owners want their pockets fattened. By folks watching and patronizing the NFL shield. Once upon a time, they thought they’d be able to LIMIT any damage by simply allowing Kaepernick to drift into unemployment, believing he couldn’t possibly affect their bottom line because he’d offended too many fans who just wanted him TO shut UP and play.

And while some may agree, others may disagree, I have no doubt that it was far easier for owners to give Kaepernick the proverbial finger and tell him to take his activism elsewhere last Friday than it is for them to tell him so now. No owner wants to be seen as being dismissive and detached from what’s going on in this country today. No owner wants to come across as indifferent to the current plight of minorities of all races, colors and creeds.

Charlottesville HAS made Kaepernick’s question — “At what point do we take a stand as a people and say this isn’t right?” — visible. Much like the wildly diverse protesters who came out to fight white nationalists, there are masses of widely diverse NFL fans who once dismissed Kaepernick as a distraction but can now see the bigger picture.

A woman died. Others are fighting for their lives. A 20-year-old has been charged with second-degree manslaughter and malicious wounding. The motive was racism. Bigotry. Anti-Semitism.

Last summer, Kaepernick said, “I want to bring attention to the racial oppression that exists in this country.”

If he was faulted before, he certainly can’t be blamed now.

Not by billionaire businessmen perpetually hesitant to say or do what is right.

Not with the specter of Charlottesville still infesting our collective consciousness.

Not when another Charlottesville is always on the horizon.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What if Dominique Wilkins never ruptured his Achilles?

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

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

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

What if Magic Johnson had been unable to play?

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

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

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

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

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

BIG3 league shows signs of promise in Brooklyn debut Despite injuries and rust, former NBA players were competitive in Ice Cube’s new venture

NEW YORK — There was no mic in his hand. No sound check. No Raiders cap. But O’Shea Jackson, better known as Ice Cube, was still center stage, sharply dressed in a suit and tie as he stood courtside an hour before the debut of his BIG3.

The day wasn’t perfect: Allen Iverson was clearly not Hall of Famer Allen Iverson anymore. Chauncey Billups didn’t attend because of ongoing talks about a front office job with the Cleveland Cavaliers. There were injuries, and some kinks still needed to be worked out. But for the most part, the debut of Ice Cube’s 3-on-3 league of former NBA players was competitive and well-attended by a star-studded crowd of 15,177 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn.

“It’s a great environment,” NBA All-Star James Harden told The Undefeated. “It’s rare to get these actors, actresses, stars of whoever you are, all in one building for one circumstance. It’s a dope event. Dope environment. Good music. Good vibes. And I’m happy to be a part of it and a witness of it. … The way this turned out, Ice Cube and whoever else put this on did a really good job.”

The game of 3-on-3 basketball has been popular in the United States for decades and is growing worldwide. It will debut as a sport in the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games. Perhaps by then, the United States might want to bring the best players from BIG3 to represent the country.

Power’s DeShawn Stevenson tries to go for the layup while Tri-State’s Jermaine O’Neal defends during the game between Power and Tri-State on June 25 at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York. The BIG3 League, created by Ice Cube, debuted with four games of 3-on-3 basketball featuring former NBA players.

Anthony Geathers for The Undefeated

Music legend, actor and film producer Ice Cube, along with entertainment executive Jeff Kwatinetz, announced the launch of BIG3 on Jan. 11. The league has eight teams, its most notable player is Iverson, and it also features former NBA All-Stars Jermaine O’Neal, Kenyon Martin and Rashard Lewis. Coaches include Iverson, Julius “Dr. J” Erving, Clyde Drexler, Gary Payton, George Gervin, Rick Barry and the intimidating Charles Oakley and Rick Mahorn.

Brooklyn rapper Fabolous performed between the second and the third games, to the locals’ delight.

Whoopi Goldberg, LL Cool J and Power actress Lela Loren were in attendance, as well as former NBA stars Paul Pierce, Nate “Tiny” Archibald, Sam Cassell and Jalen Rose. Harden and Rockets teammate Lou Williams, new Brooklyn Nets guard D’Angelo Russell and forward Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, and Detroit Pistons forward Tobias Harris were there as well. National media outlets covered it, and Iverson’s news conference was packed.

LL Cool J (left) shakes hands with Ice Cube during the intermission between games on June 25 at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York. The BIG3 League, created by Ice Cube, debuted with four games of 3-on-3 basketball featuring former NBA players.

Anthony Geathers for The Undefeated

There were cool jerseys with nicknames on the back such as “The Answer” for Iverson and “W. Mamba” for Brian “White Mamba” Scalabrine, “White Chocolate” for Jason Williams and “Junkyard Dog” for Jerome Williams, who barked for the camera pre-game.

In the BIG3 the game ends when one team scores 60 points, with halftime arriving when a team reaches 30. There is hand-checking and a 4-point shot.

“Everybody that is in this league wants to ball,” Ice Cube told The Undefeated. “They’re not here just to hang out, shoot around. They are real ballers and wanted real competition. They were tired of playing in the Pro-Ams and stuff, and they were ready to play with their peers. It was our job to set the stage … it’s their job to take the league to the next level.”

The former NBA players took the games to a respectable level that Ice Cube could be proud of.

Three of the four games were close. Lewis’ 3-point play clinched 3 Headed Monsters’ win over Mike Bibby’s Ghost Ballers in the opener. DeShawn Stevenson nailed a game-winning 3-pointer to lift Power past O’Neal’s Tri-State and slapped hands with Ice Cube afterward. There were boos when shooting struggles took place with Iverson on the bench coaching during his 3s Company’s victory over the Ball Hogs. Al Harrington scored 25 points as Trilogy cruised in the final game, blowing out the Killer 3s sans Billups by 15 points.

Tri-State’s Jermaine O’Neal shoots over a fallen Jerome Williams from Power during the game between Power and Tri-State on June 25 at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York. The BIG3 League, created by Ice Cube, debuted with four games of 3-on-3 basketball featuring former NBA players.

Anthony Geathers for The Undefeated

“You walk out there and see the crowd, and it’s like that feeling you get at school the first day or your first NBA game of the season,” Lewis told The Undefeated. “Every year, that first game was a big game. I couldn’t sleep last night, and I had that same [nervous] feeling coming here.”

BIG3 play should improve over the 10-week season as players get the rust off. There is no way Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, 48, is going to keep missing wide-open 3-pointers. But there were some disappointments for the fans, including the superpopular Iverson being more of a coach-player than a player-coach.

Iverson’s 3’s Company teammate DerMarr Johnson told The Undefeated it wasn’t until recently that the 2001 NBA MVP decided he would play, so Iverson hasn’t been working out that long. It felt like a playoff game as the crowd roared in anticipation when the four-time NBA scoring champ ran to the floor slapping the hands of fans. Iverson, an 11-time NBA All-Star, started but came out shortly afterward to take off an irritating television mic. After chants of “We want A.I.” brought him back onto the floor, Iverson looked like he needed more practice as he made one jumper and missed five shots, dished out two assists and had one steal in nine minutes of play.

“The best part about this game here tonight and all the other games, it was exciting all throughout,” Iverson said. “It didn’t need Allen Iverson the player, per se.”

The 42-year-old Iverson understands that he is the face of the BIG3 playerwise, but he prefers to coach. He signed autographs during halftime and was gracious with his time with the media. His presence alone is huge for the BIG3. And with each week of play, the fans and media will remain curious and infatuated with whatever he does.

Ball Hogs’ Dominic McGuire tries to go up for a shot while defended during the game between 3’s Company and Ball Hogs on June 25 at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York. The BIG3 League, created by Ice Cube, debuted with four games of 3-on-3 basketball featuring former NBA players. (Anthony Geathers for The Undefeated)

Anthony Geathers for The Undefeated

”I signed up to be a coach, player and captain. Coach part is going to go on throughout the game,” Iverson said. ”Playing part is not going to be what you expect. You’re not going to see the Allen Iverson of old out there.”

BIG3 had a lot of cool swag for sale, including a jersey of a star player from each team. It wouldn’t be surprising if jersey sales for Iverson and “W. Mamba” did well. Billups’ jersey with the Killer 3s that reads “Mr. Big Shot” was available for sale, but he may never wear it. The 2004 NBA Finals MVP is still in negotiations with the Cleveland Cavaliers for the president of basketball operations position, sources told The Undefeated. Billups did not attend Sunday’s games, and a source told The Undefeated that Billups didn’t want to be a distraction on BIG3’s first day with the Cavaliers situation so fluid.

The first day of BIG3 games will be shown on Fox Sports 1 on Monday night. Fans watching on television will get a condensed version of games and also bleeped-out curse words from the likes of Payton. The first two games seemed to take about an hour. If the score were cut to 50 or 42, the contests would probably be quicker and more fan-friendly, with better play because of fewer minutes. But for the first day, most of the players appeared to be in good shape, motivated and even physical, as some dove to the floor for loose balls.

“What a great idea. I think it’s 20 years late, but it’s time for it,” Drexler said.

The BIG3 should get better from here. Iverson, the former Philadelphia 76ers star, may get in better shape knowing that a stop in the City of Brotherly Love is only three weeks away.

3’s Company captain Allen Iverson warms up on June 25 at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York. The BIG3 League, created by Ice Cube, debuted with four games of 3-on-3 basketball featuring former NBA players. (Anthony Geathers for The Undefeated)

The one thing the BIG3 can’t control is injuries.

3 Headed Monsters guard Jason Williams left Game 1 with a knee injury, but Payton expects him to return to action in Philadelphia. Power captain Corey Maggette also suffered a leg injury that isn’t expected to be too serious. Trilogy captain Martin pulled a hamstring as well. Iverson complained about his legs being tired after playing just nine minutes.

“It’s going to be competitive,” said Lewis, who made the BIG3’s first 4-point shot. “It’s on TV. You have the internet nowadays. Nobody wants to be embarrassed. Guys came ready to play. I just think it’s a little different. [Williams] came and greeted us and said the doctor said nothing was wrong and everything was fine. That’s good. We’re going to need Jason Williams.”

It wouldn’t be surprising if more former NBA stars decided to play in the future.

Several BIG3 players mentioned Kevin Garnett. Pierce spoke highly of the event and seemed curious about possibly playing. The fans also chanted, “We Want Kobe,” during Iverson’s game. Former NBA players such as Lewis, Andre Owens, Josh Childress, Dominic McGuire, Rasual Butler, Derrick Byars, Rashad McCants and Lou Amundson might get another look at the NBA because of BIG3.

BIG3 also gave longtime NBA fans a chance to either attend or watch and introduce their children to Dr. J, The Answer, The Glide, The Glove, K-Mart, The Ice Man and Ice Cube.

“It’s about getting a chance to see guys you can’t see anymore, especially in this setting,” Ice Cube said. “Seeing our Hall of Fame coaches, celebrating what they did for the league and what they did for us. And now, they’re competing like they are used to. This is not a charity game. This is not a one-time tournament. This is a season. So these guys are fighting for the chip, and it’s going to be great to see them back.”

The BIG3 has people of color and women in elite roles.

As one of the two co-founders of BIG3, Ice Cube may be the most notable African-American to be atop a professional sports league since Manny Jackson owned the Harlem Globetrotters. Former NBA sharpshooter Roger Mason Jr., an African-American, is the president and commissioner of BIG3.

Trilogy’s Kenyon Martin screams after scoring during the game between Trilogy and Killer 3s on June 25 at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York. The BIG3 League, created by Ice Cube, debuted with four games of 3-on-3 basketball featuring former NBA players. (Anthony Geathers for The Undefeated)

Anthony Geathers for The Undefeated

Amy Trask, who was previously named the NFL’s first female CEO by Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis in 1997, is now CEO of BIG3.

“Look, doesn’t that say it all?” said Trask to The Undefeated. “I had the great fortune and tremendous privilege in my life of working for two men, Al Davis and now Ice Cube, neither of whom are remotely concerned about my gender. We’re all here to do a job.

“Race, gender, ethnicity, religion or any other individuality has no bearing whatsoever on whether any individual can do a job. It’s absolutely irrelevant if we are engaged to do a job.”

Next up for the BIG3 is Charlotte, North Carolina. The television debut and the sold-out crowd in Brooklyn will probably help sell tickets at the Spectrum Center. The arrival of Maggette, a former Duke star, McCants, a former North Carolina star, and former Charlotte Hornets forward Lee Nailon should be attractive to the locals. Perhaps even Michael Jordan will show up in the arena his Hornets play in to join the NBA family reunion as a spectator.

“I’ve been excited about it since they had the press conference in January. I can always say I was one of the first players to play in it during the first year it was created,” Lewis said.

Muhammad Ali knew how to play the villain, but dodging the draft turned him into a pariah An excerpt from Leigh Montville’s ‘Sting Like a Bee’

The famous quote did not come until a day later. The interviews on the lawn at 4610 NW 15th Street were long finished when Ali took a phone call in the morning from Tom Fitzpatrick, a 39-year-old sportswriter for the Chicago Daily News. The fight with Ernie Terrell was scheduled to take place in less than six weeks, March 29, 1966, at the International Amphitheatre near the Union Stock Yards in Chicago. Tickets had to be sold. There were reasons to talk to sportswriters from Chicago.

The Daily News was an afternoon paper, so Fitzpatrick was looking for a different angle, different words from what everyone would read over breakfast. He was not disappointed.

“I am a member of the Muslims and we don’t go to no wars unless they are declared by Allah himself,” Ali said into the phone. “I don’t have no personal quarrel with those Viet Congs.”

Bingo.

That second sentence, the one about the Viet Congs, would become the defining quote for all that followed for the heavyweight champion of the world. The initial rush of self-indulgent emotion recorded by Bob Halloran and the other reporters was enough to get America agitated about a man who talked too much, loved himself too much. The mention of the Viet Cong, first reported in the afternoon edition of the Daily News, then repeated on the wire services to newspapers across the country, brought a focus to that agitation, put all the anger into a convenient package.

“Those Viet Cong are not attacking me.”

Nothing against those Viet Congs? This was the hook. Was it dissent or was it treason? Common sense or sedition? No boldface or italics were needed. The words would jump off the page without help.

“We Muslims are taught to defend ourselves when we are attacked,” Ali further told Fitzpatrick. “Those Viet Cong are not attacking me.

“These Viet Congs are fighting a very nasty war over there,” he added. “There’s a lot of people getting killed. Why should we Muslims get involved?”

Variations of “I don’t have no personal quarrel with those Viet Congs” would be included in all future biographical stories about Ali. This would become his stand, his legacy: the ten words that changed his life. The quote would become part of American historical dialogue, stuff for schoolkids to remember. Who said “Give me liberty or give me death”? Patrick Henry. Who said “I don’t have no personal quarrel with those Viet Congs”?

An added quote would be assigned to him later: “No Viet Cong ever called me ‘n—–,’ ” but he did not say that. Not now, not for many, many years, if he ever did. The quote was said by other people — activist Stokely Carmichael, for one — but somehow was assigned to Ali in slippery history. His quote was, “I don’t have no personal quarrel with those Viet Congs.”

He would try later to give the words context. He would claim in his 1975 autobiography, The Greatest: My Own Story, that on his way back from the gym that day when he received the news, he had seen some kids throwing rocks at a little girl. He said he stopped and asked what was happening and the kids told him they were playing “army and Viet Cong” and the little girl was Viet Cong. The words made him flash to pictures he had seen in a magazine of a little girl walking among dead bodies outside Saigon. Troubled, he took this little neighborhood child in his arms and walked her home, away from the trouble. The incident was still in his head when he spoke later.

None of this happened. The autobiography would be filled with these little feel-good memories that were too good to be true, bedtime-story perfect, invented by the champ and ghostwriter Richard Durham. He never mentioned the little girl to any reporters on that day. He never even mentioned the Viet Cong until his late interview with Fitzpatrick. The quote that became remembered was another part of his daily torrent of words. Captain Sam Saxon, the man who first introduced Ali to the Nation of Islam in Miami, said he was with the champ at one point in the day and told him, “You got nothing against those Viet Cong,” and the champ agreed, yes, he had nothing against those Viet Cong. Ali perhaps remembered and repeated the phrase in the interview, nobody really conscious of the impact. There was no plan; the words came out with all the other words. The difference was that these words landed in the catch basin of the national mind.

Those Viet Cong were killing more than 18 American kids every day. The death total for 1965 had been 1,928 (double the casualties of any year in the Iraq War), and that would be tripled, to 6,350, in 1966 with the new escalation (more deaths in one year than in the entire Iraq War). In 1968, the height of the Vietnam War, 16,899 American kids would lose their lives. That would be 46 per day.

Not being upset with the Viet Cong seemed much worse than not submitting to the draft or not wanting to be involved in the war. Graphic pictures of these dying American boys had begun to appear on the nightly news. The enemy was supposed to be the enemy.

“I don’t want to scare anybody about it, but there are millions of Muslims around the world watching what is happening to me,” Ali said to Fitzpatrick. “I’m not making a threat [that they’ll get angry and do something]. I’m just saying maybe.”

This was heavy stuff.


Ali was familiar with the role of villain. He had chosen it in the early stages of his professional career, tried it on as if it were a black hat and a scowl discovered in the back of a family closet. He kept it when he found that it brought increased attention and larger paydays.

His marketing idea was that bad was much more interesting than good, an approach that newspapers, the television nightly news, and the gossipy woman next door had adopted long ago. People were more interested in paying money to see Sylvester the Cat than Tweety, Tom more than Jerry, Wile E. Coyote more than that beep-beep Road Runner.

This approach was adopted when Ali returned from the 1960 Olympics with his light-heavyweight gold medal and found himself back at the beginning in the professional side of the sport, no more than another low-watt attraction fighting unheralded opponents named Terry Hunsaker, Herb Siler, Tony Esperti, and Duke Sabedong. Where was the money, the instant payoff for those hundred-plus amateur fights? (His amateur record has been recorded in various places with various numbers, ranging from 99-8 to 137-7.) Where was that joy the country felt when he stood on that podium in Rome, the “Star-Spangled Banner” played for the world to hear? He was in a hurry. What would make people notice again? The answer appeared on his television screen.

“Soon after I turned pro, I discovered that even though I won the Olympic title, I wasn’t making any money,” Ali said to Alex Haley in Playboy. “I was the only champion who didn’t have no jack jangling in his jeans. . . . One night I was watching Gorgeous George on TV. He was jumping around making a lot of noise and threatening his opponents and I said to myself, ‘This guy’s on to something. I think I’ll put some of that into my act.’ ”

Gorgeous George, whose real name was George Raymond Wagner, was an eighth-grade dropout from Nebraska who had become one of television’s first stars in the Fifties, as notable as Lucille Ball or Milton Berle or Bishop Fulton J. Sheen. He strutted into the ring in sequined robes and high-heeled shoes and had bleached-blond hair that looked as if it came from the same bottle Marilyn Monroe used. His personal “valet” preceded him, squirting perfume into the air. George was a sissified, exaggerated stereotype of a homosexual, effeminate to the ultimate, totally in love with himself. He also was a sneaky, dirty wrestler once the matches began. The combination was irresistible. People howled from the moment he was introduced. A ringside spectator named Hatpin Mary sometimes would stick said hatpin into George’s grand backside somewhere during the proceedings, to everyone’s amusement.

Ali, as Cassius Clay at the time, adopted pieces of this act — the villain was known as the “heel” in wrestling, the hero known as the “babyface” — and added some of his own. The adopted parts involved the self-important bluster, the constant confidence, the repeated declarations about how pretty he was, the demonization of every opponent. He became a shouter, eyes bugged out of his head, one of those people who always seemed to be ticking, ready to explode. The predictions, the rhymes, the nonsense were part of his act.

American boxer Cassius Clay (Muhammad Ali) in the ring after his defeat of Sonny Liston in their world heavyweight title fight at Miami Beach, Florida.

Harry Benson/Express/Getty Images

He was especially insufferable and comic in the buildup to the first fight with Liston. He called Liston “The Bear,” and wore a light blue jacket that said “Bear Huntin” on the back. He went to Las Vegas, screamed outside the champ’s house, confronted him in a casino, made his life miserable. He asked if that big bear was as “rangy and fast and pretty as me.” Gorgeous George couldn’t have done any better.

Ali was familiar with the role of villain.

“[Clay] is light-hearted and breezy and has just enough twinkle in his eyes to take most of the obnoxiousness from the wild words he utters,” Arthur Daley of the New York Times said before the fight. “When they are imprisoned in print, however, the twinkle is never captured and Cassius just becomes nauseous.”

The twinkle made its last unadulterated appearance in the moments after Ali won the title. He was outrageous, comical, as he shouted in triumph from the ring at the sportswriters who picked Liston to win easily. He boasted about his looks, his ability, his battle plan for the odd fight that he had won when Liston refused to come out for the seventh round. No doubt about it, the night the young challenger captured the title he was a hoot. He made even his worst detractors admit they had been wrong about what would happen.

The change came the next day with his announcement that he was a member of the Nation of Islam. The comedy of the past was overwhelmed by the message of the present. The bigmouthed character became a Black Muslim. This was not what most of the paying public wanted to hear. The villain’s words now meant something. The jokes took second place to personal philosophy.

“I don’t have to be what you want me to be,” Ali said at his press conference. “I’m free to be who I want.

“I go to a Black Muslim meeting and what do I see?” he said. “I see there’s no smoking and no drinking and their women wear dresses down to the floor,” he said. “And then I come out on the street and you tell me I shouldn’t go in there. Well, there must be something in there if you don’t want me to go in there.

“In the jungle, lions are with lions and tigers with tigers and redbirds stay with redbirds and bluebirds with bluebirds,” he said. “That’s human nature, too, to be with your own kind. I don’t want to go where I’m not wanted.”

The softness here was in contrast to the national image of the NOI and the Honorable Elijah Muhammad. For the white folk who had paid attention, not a large group at the start, this was a cult more than a religion, a theology that talked about white devils and spaceships and a black scientist named Jakub, who had an enormous head and created the white devils 6,000 years ago to persecute the black man.

The Muslims had demands. What was it that Malcolm X always said? “Nobody can give you freedom. Nobody can give you equality or justice or anything. If you’re a man, you take it.” Most national stories about the faith mentioned the large number of convicted criminals who now were members.

At first, there was the thought that Ali’s conversion was a phase, a mistake by a 22-year-old guy — 22 years, 39 days at that — who had landed in a new situation with new levels of fame and economics. He had been brainwashed by some slick salesmen, sold this bill of curious religious goods. He would grow out of it soon enough. A Black Muslim? He would realize a heavyweight champ could have a much easier life.

“He’s always been such a good boy,” said his mother, Odessa Clay. “He’s been taken in by these Muslim people. We pray he’ll see the light — and we think he will.”

Muhammad Ali at the Howard university with the Muslim journal ‘Muhammad Speaks’ produced by an African American organization (Nation of Islam).

Henning Christoph/ullstein bild via Getty Images

“That Muslim stuff is a phony religion,” said his father, Cassius Clay Sr. “They brag that they don’t drink, smoke or fool around with women. That is only one commandment. There are Ten Commandments.”

The depth of Ali’s belief soon became established. If this was a brainwash, it was a very good one. Standing at the side of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad after Malcolm X’s death, the heavyweight champion of the world became a potential target for revenge. He never blinked.

As city after city rejected the idea that it should be the host for his rematch with Liston because of worries of Black Muslim violence, because of the potential for his assassination, his commitment never changed. As the fight finally landed in a hockey rink in Lewiston, Maine, and he trained in Chicopee, Massachusetts, trailed by five policemen every day as he went from his motel room to the converted banquet hall where he sparred, he laughed about the threat. As he was guarded by more than 200 policemen on the night of the fight, with hourly reports of Malcolm X Muslims coming north from New York to kill him, he laughed some more. He then dropped Liston in one round with one “anchor punch,” supposedly taught to him by old-time actor Stepin Fetchit, and as all of America wondered what the hell was going on, he exulted.

“Nobody wants to kill me,” he said. “If they shoot, the gun will explode in their hands, the bullets will turn, Allah will protect me.”

Booed during the introductions, booed during the lopsided fight, booed at the end, Ali converted the night into a morality play.

The Lewiston win was followed six months later with the 12th-round TKO embarrassment of Floyd Patterson. Poor Floyd, 31 years old, was a gentle man, a practicing Catholic, a two-time heavyweight champ who had been knocked out twice by Liston in the first round, causing him to disguise himself in shame when he walked the streets after the fights. He was cast here as a classic babyface by Ali, drawn for the fight as “The Rabbit,” as the white man’s version of a good black man, yessir, nosir, Uncle Tom. Ali cast himself, of course, as the heel. He was the belligerent black man the white man feared in the night.

Booed during the introductions, booed during the lopsided fight, booed at the end, Ali converted the night into a morality play. True Black Man pummels Fake Black Man. He would use this plotline often during his boxing career, no one ever sure if he was kidding to hype the crowd or was as serious as could be. The answer was left to the observer to decide. Ali simply laid out the story.

His domination of Patterson was obvious. The challenger, who claimed he hurt his back in the fourth, didn’t win a single round. Ali played with him, taunted him, called him “the white man’s black man,” said, “Come on, black man, fight for America.” He seemingly could have knocked him out in any round, finally dropped him in the sixth, then finished him in the 12th. Ali would claim that he was waiting for the referee to stop the fight all night, that he tried not to hurt Patterson, but the ringside view mostly was that he punished the challenger for insisting on calling him “Clay,” not his Muslim name, in the prefight publicity whirl. Fake or real, the villain was in charge all the way.

“He’s mean,” legendary retired champion Joe Louis said. “He worked that poor Floyd over good. He handled him like a baby and he gave him more than he had to give him. I think he could have knocked him out from the first round if he wanted to, but he didn’t want to. I think he just let him have it for fun.”

“While we were fighting, Clay said maybe once or twice in the earlier rounds, maybe like in the third or fourth, ‘What’s my name?’ and I said ‘Cassius,’ ” Patterson said years later. “And finally, in the latter part of the fight, I’d say in the ninth, tenth or eleventh round, and I was really taking a really bad beating, suffering, he said ‘Now what’s my name?’ I believe I said the same thing, ‘Cassius Clay and that’s what it’s always going to be, regardless of the results of this fight. Cassius Clay.’ ”

“Round one, I said, ‘What’s my name?’ ” Ali said, some number of years later. “He didn’t say nothing. So round two, round three, I hit him with my right hand. ‘What’s my name?’ He said, ‘Muhammad Ali, Muhammad Ali.’ ”

Either way, the fight was a showcase for Ali. This was how well he could box. The two bouts against Liston had been characterized by their strange conclusions. This fight was characterized by Ali’s abilities. He had dazzle, flash, incredible speed. There never had been a heavyweight champ like this young guy. He danced and moved like a middleweight, but had the size and power of a heavyweight. He had told everyone before the fight that Joe Louis would have been too slow to beat him. Rocky Marciano would have been too short. Jack Johnson would have been too ugly. Jack Dempsey would have been too light and couldn’t punch. That left him at the top. The Greatest. He looked the part against poor Patterson.

He said he didn’t need love. He had talent.

“I’m not worried about those boos,” he said. “Those were white people. I got all the black people, some white people, too, and the people of Africa and Asia.”

That theory would be tested with his remarks about the draft and the Viet Cong. The volume became louder. Starting now.

The fight for reparations can be a useful decoy in solving America’s racial wealth gap ‘Baby bonds’ is a more politically viable answer to the disparity in black and white wealth

Reparations can help close the racial wealth gap — just not the way you might think.

America’s racial wealth gap should leave us all gloomy. For every dollar owned by the median black household, the median white household owned $13. And for every dollar owned by the median Latino household, the median white household owned $10. Those numbers are from a recent study, The Asset Value of Whiteness, produced by researchers at the think tank Demos and Brandeis University, based on data from 2013.

Our path to this inequity began centuries ago: Slavery. Segregation. Redlining. We don’t appreciate how much programs like the GI Bill disproportionately helped white World War II veterans attend college and buy homes with guaranteed mortgages. This and other federal policies intentionally bolstered a largely white American middle class while crippling that of people of color.

A country in which wealth is so unevenly distributed along racial lines reproduces racial stratification generation after generation. As the study notes, if “a substantial racial wealth gap persists, white households will continue to enjoy greater advantages than their black and Latino neighbors in meeting the financial challenges of everyday life and will be able to make greater investments in their children, passing economic advantages on.”

Crucially, the report refutes theories that a lack of personal responsibility explains the gap. Minorities should just attend college more. Raise their children in two-parent households. Get full-time jobs. Spend less money. None of these appreciably closes the racial wealth gap, though.

How can we ameliorate this situation? I see two ways forward.

One way is to champion universal policies that help all racial groups but disproportionately help people of color because they disproportionately lack wealth. An idea called “baby bonds” is the best version of such a policy.

The other way is to push for race-conscious policies such as reparations. The former provides a more viable route, given political realities, but reparations can be a strategic decoy that eases the acceptance of baby bonds. We must walk both paths if the racial wealth gap is to ever be closed.


William “Sandy” Darity Jr., a Duke economics professor, and Darrick Hamilton, an economics professor at The New School in New York, came up with the idea for baby bonds.

Each newborn child would be granted a bond, a federally funded trust fund of sorts. The poorest child would get, say, $60,000, with the amount dwindling to nothing for the children of the richest families. The money would be put in an interest-bearing account that becomes accessible upon adulthood and could only be used for wealth-building activities, such as going to college or putting a down payment on a home. They figure the program would cost about $60 billion per year, which, Darity and Hamilton wrote in an academic paper, is “less than 10% of the non-war spending budget for the Department of Defense.”

Some might contend that baby bonds, by focusing on wealth rather than race, unsatisfactorily address a racial problem. But, Darity and Hamilton argue in their paper, “Since the distributions of white and non-white wealth are so disparate — 85% of black families have wealth holdings below the median white family — wealth can be an effective non-race-based instrument to eliminate racial inequality.” Darity told me he thinks baby bonds “could go a long way toward closing the racial wealth gap.”

The universality of baby bonds also gives it the potential to attract support from an interracial coalition of working-class people pursuing their own economic self-interest. Such a coalition could form a base that a political majority can rest upon. A poor white person in West Virginia would have as much reason to support this program as a poor black person in rural Alabama. Baby bonds might get people to appreciate their commonality with others who, because of race, rarely think of themselves as having the same interests.

Given our political climate, many will be pessimistic about the likelihood of forming such an interracial coalition. Although that sentiment is understandable, we have reason for optimism.

The current era in American politics can be compared to Southern Redemption, the period when white supremacist politicians regained power after Reconstruction. In the wake of Redemption, however, Southern populist movements in the late 1800s gained traction, getting poor white folk to ally with poor black folk by explicitly arguing that powerful white elites kept them both in poverty. These populist politicians carried a consistent and truthful message: White elites used racism to separate white and black folk who were mired in destitution yet could be lifted together through responsive lawmaking.

These times call for a similar movement, which will admittedly require a gargantuan effort. But the fact that politicians in the 1880s, two decades after the end of slavery, were able to join working people of different races should give us hope. Baby bonds — particularly because they focus on what people are most concerned with, the future of their children — can be a policy that drives this movement.


Reparations are the most prominent race-conscious means to address the racial wealth gap. But when can we conclude that a seed will never germinate? Black folk have been working the reparations land for more than two centuries with little to show for it.

During the Revolutionary War, Peter, a free black man behind British lines, was enslaved by William Steel, an American officer. Peter was freed after six months, but years later he sued Steel for back wages, one of the first claims for reparations for the atrocities visited upon black people. The court held that he articulated a viable claim but awarded him no money.

Toward the end of the Civil War, when black folk who freed themselves cried out for land of their own, Gen. William T. Sherman’s Special Field Order No. 15 provided them a loaned mule and 40-acre plots on the Southern coastline. President Andrew Johnson later revoked it, however, returning the land to its original white owners.

In 1894, a bill was introduced in the U.S. Senate that would have paid a lump sum of at most $500 and monthly pensions ranging from $4 to $15 to formerly enslaved people and their children. This and comparable bills never received floor votes in either house of Congress, and the “pension movement” fizzled once World War I started. Reparations arguments bubbled up again during the 1960s. And in every congressional session since 1987, Rep. John Conyers has introduced a bill that would form a commission to study the effects of slavery and American apartheid and “recommend appropriate remedies.” This bill has gone nowhere. The struggle continues, but the goal is still far away in the distance.

Reparations were once just about slavery. Its proponents have updated the claim to include harm from Jim Crow, 19th- and 20th-century white-over-black governing and 21st-century racial discrimination. The underlying claim is simple: A series of evils have been inflicted on black people, causing various lacerations requiring healing. That healing, under the most-discussed scenarios, would come in the form of taxpayer-funded payouts. And therein lies the issue — the belief that white folk would ever take billions out of their pockets to specifically remedy the harm perpetrated upon black folk.

The reparations movement has never managed to get around that impasse, as many white people are loath to do right by black people without also reaping a benefit.

To flesh out the point, let’s examine Sherman’s field order. He devised it not to champion black interests but to aid himself: He needed a way to discard, while also providing for, the freedmen who had followed his troops during their march from Atlanta to the Atlantic Ocean. And he desired to punish the Confederates who started the war. He achieved both with one move. If he thought the order would have helped the freedmen but undercut the Union’s interests, Sherman would never have championed it, and President Abraham Lincoln would never have endorsed it.

Besides doing nothing to close the racial wealth gap regarding Latinos, reparations provide little to black folk — because it’s a dream that will never come to life.


Despite my pessimism about reparations, the movement can act as a strategic decoy to help popularize a policy like baby bonds.

Think back to Martin Luther King Jr.’s civil rights movement triumphs. He was one voice among many petitioning for racial equality. Several of the others who registered nationally came from his political left. Malcolm X and black power advocates like Stokely Carmichael helped King because they made his militancy appear moderate. King’s desire for black folk to be equal partners in American democracy departed dramatically from the status quo, yet he looked judicious in a sea of more militant aesthetics.

Advocacy for reparations can have the same effect: It can be the radical idea that makes baby bonds seem like a moderate panacea to the racial wealth gap.

Even so, reparations should be sold differently to be a better strategic decoy. Al Brophy, a law professor at the University of North Carolina and the author of Reparations: Pro and Con, told me that, “one time I flippantly suggested we should [put forward a reparations bill] in Congress and call it the ‘White Supremacy Maintenance Act.’ Call it something that will be acceptable to the voters and put something else in it.” I concur with Brophy’s main thrust. The times perhaps call for a marketing shift that plays to many white folks’ self-interest.

That new rationale for reparations should focus on how centuries of racism has created a market inefficiency that harms everyone. American capitalism underperforms since black folk, 13 percent of the country’s population, are unable to contribute as much as they should because of a lack of wealth. The injustices that black folk have suffered hurt all participants in our economy, not just black folk. Perhaps an unemployed white man from Cincinnati, for instance, would have a job if a black woman had the money to start a small business. Reparations for black folk, in other words, would redound to everyone’s benefit.

According to a 2016 YouGov poll, two-thirds of Americans oppose reparations. I don’t expect this new rationale to drag reparations across the all-important “50 percent in favor” threshold. This is a smart tactical shift, nonetheless, for two reasons. First, it could make reparations more popular, coaxing its opponents to favor a less radical idea like baby bonds. Second, selling reparations like this teaches white people to cease thinking about wealth as a zero-sum game — more wealth for people of color doesn’t necessarily mean less wealth for them.