Prodigy dies at 42 and other news of the week The week that was June 19-June 23

Monday 06.19.17

The state of North Carolina, that bastion of civil rights, had a law barring sex offenders from using social media sites, such as Facebook, invalidated by the U.S. Supreme Court. The court also ruled that rejecting trademarks that “disparage” others violates the First Amendment; the Washington Redskins, locked in their own legal battle with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, wasn’t a party in the current case but supported the decision, which ruled in favor of Asian-American band The Slants. New York sports radio host Mike Francesa, when learning of the decision, referred to The Slants’ members as “Oriental Americans,” and when told that phrase was offensive, he asked, “You’re telling me that using the word ‘Oriental American’ is a slight?” The 47-year-old husband of Beyoncé announced a new, stream-only album available exclusively to the hundreds of Tidal and Sprint customers. In honor of Juneteenth, a commemoration of the end of slavery, President Donald Trump released a statement praising two white men (President Abraham Lincoln and Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger), and a sportswriter questioned the history of American police and slave patrols. A heady reporter tried Lyft Shuttle, the ride-sharing company’s beta-stage commuter option, which allows riders to “walk to a nearby pickup spot, get in a shared car that follows a predesignated route, and drops you (and everyone else) off at the same stop” — or, in other words, a bus. A data firm hired by the Republican National Committee left sensitive information — including names, dates of birth and home addresses — of nearly 200 million registered voters exposed to the internet; the company responsible, Deep Root Analytics, calls itself “the most experienced group of targeters in Republican politics.”

The Philadelphia 76ers officially acquired the No. 1 overall pick in the NBA draft, paving the way for the team to draft yet another player with past leg issues. Markelle Fultz, the first pick in Thursday’s draft, not only was traded from 53-win team to one that won just 28 games last season but also briefly considered signing with LaVar Ball’s Big Baller Brand over Nike. A Green Bay Packers fan and Wisconsin resident who, for some reason, has Chicago Bears season tickets, sued the Chicago franchise for not allowing him to wear Packers gear on the sideline at Soldier Field; the Wisconsin man told the court that the Bears “deprived me of my ability to fully enjoy this specific on-field experience.” In other bear news, three New Hampshire teenagers are being investigated for potential hate crimes for assaulting and yelling a racial slur at costumed Boston street musician Keytar Bear, who is black.

Tuesday 06.20.17

White House chief strategist Steve Bannon said White House press secretary Sean Spicer wouldn’t appear on camera as much because “Sean got fatter.” Former five-weight boxing champion Sugar Ray Leonard offered UFC fighter Conor McGregor one piece of advice for his boxing match against Floyd Mayweather Jr. in August: “Duck.” FBI director nominee Christopher Wray once represented an American energy executive who was being criminally investigated by the Russian government, but Wray deleted that information from his official online biography sometime in 2017. Mattel diversified its Barbie and Ken doll lines, offering different sizes, skin tones and hairstyles, including man buns, cornrows and Afros. For the new heavyset Ken dolls, Mattel originally wanted to market them as “husky,” but, “A lot [of guys] were really traumatized by that — as a child, shopping in a husky section.” Twitter was in an uproar after it was reported that Wonder Woman star Gal Gadot was paid just $300,000 for her role in the critically acclaimed, $500 million movie, compared with $14 million for Man of Steel’s leading man, Henry Cavill; the latter figure was not true. Imprisoned former football player O.J. Simpson, who is up for parole for burglary and assault next month, spends his time in prison watching his daughter’s show Keeping Up With the Kardashians; “He likes to keep up with all the gossip with them,” a former prison guard said. NFL Hall of Famer Warren Sapp, last heard fighting prostitutes in Arizona, has decided to donate his brain to scientists when he dies; Sapp said his memory “ain’t what it used to be.” New York rapper Prodigy, real name Albert Johnson, died at the age of 42; Prodigy, one half of acclaimed duo Mobb Deep, had recently been hospitalized because of sickle cell anemia. U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the nation’s top lawyer, hired his own lawyer. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, catching up to the 20th century, signed a bill that raised the age of consent for marriage from 14 to 18. An Algerian man was sentenced to two years in prison for dangling a baby out a 15th-floor window on Facebook, instructing his followers “1,000 likes or I will drop him.” A Canadian man stole a mummified toe that had been used as an ingredient in a hotel bar drink for more than 40 years; an employee said the hotel was “furious” because “toes are very hard to come by.” To test the performative advantages of the microbiome Prevotella, a Connecticut scientist performed a fecal transplant on herself, telling a news outlet: “It’s not fun, but it’s pretty basic.” Atlanta Hawks center Dwight Howard, at 8:55 p.m. ET, tweeted, “Ok Twitter Fans ,, give me your thoughts , trades or otherwise & Remember 2B-Nice”; five minutes later, Howard was traded to the Charlotte Hornets.

Wednesday 06.21.17

The Pentagon paid $28 million for “forest”-colored uniforms for the Afghan Army, yet “forests cover only 2.1% of Afghanistan’s total land area.” White House aide and former reality TV star Omarosa Manigault signs her name as “the Honorable Omarosa Manigault” despite not being a high-ranking federal official or judge. Despite President Trump once valuing his Westchester, New York, golf course at $50 million, the Trump Organization valued the property at $7.5 million on tax forms, half of the town assessor’s valuation of $15.1 million, to pay less in property taxes. The Russian government, accused by U.S. authorities of spreading fake news to influence the 2016 presidential election, said it will “raise the issue of fake news” at the United Nations and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, calling it “a problem that should be defined and addressed collectively.” Although terrorism is defined as using violence for political reasons, the FBI said the shooting at a baseball practice for the Congressional Baseball Game by a white man had “no terrorism involved.” Meanwhile in Flint, Michigan, the stabbing of a police officer at an airport by a man who reportedly yelled, “Allahu Akbar” is being investigated by the FBI as an act of terrorism. A group of CIA contractors were fired from the agency for hacking a vending machine and stealing over $3,000 worth of snacks. Rep. Greg Gianforte (R-Montana), best known for body-slamming a Guardian reporter last month, was sworn in to the House; the Democratic Party of Montana sent Gianforte an orange jumpsuit for his first day in office. The daughter of two dentists who had enough education to teach their children about stocks and investments, and who, herself, owns a multimillion-dollar company, was taught to save and now plans to retire at 40. In shocking news, a new study found that films with diverse casts outperform films that are overwhelmingly white. A police officer was acquitted of fatally shooting a black man. An auto insurance industry-funded study found that states with legalized recreational marijuana laws had a higher frequency of auto collision claims than states without such laws. Murray Energy Corp. CEO Robert E. Murray sued comedian John Oliver for defamation after the HBO host used his weekly TV program to mock the energy executive, at one point calling Murray a “geriatric Dr. Evil”; Oliver predicted on his show June 18 that Murray would sue him. Hall of Fame professional wrestler Jerry “The King” Lawler, known for calling women’s breasts “puppies” and other sexist remarks, said even he hated the finish of a historic all-women’s match that ended with a man winning. In response to the new American craze fidget spinners, Chinese companies have started selling the Toothpick Crossbow, a small, $1 handheld crossbow that can fire toothpicks 65 feet; parents worry the crossbows could blind young children, and Chinese state media fear iron nails could be swapped in for the toothpicks. New York Knicks president Phil Jackson said he is willing to trade 21-year-old center Kristaps Porizingis, who is 21, with the “future” of the team in mind.

Thursday 06.22.17

ESPN commentator Stephen A. Smith, still visibly upset over the recent actions of Phil Jackson, pointed out that the Knicks president’s first front office deal back in 2014 was signing forward Lamar Odom, “who was on crack”; Odom was released from the team three months later. Meanwhile, an NBA prospect said Jackson was “falling in and out of sleep” during the prospect’s workout. Knicks owner James Dolan skipped out on the NBA draft to perform with his band, JD & The Straight Shot, at a local winery-music venue. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who last week said U.S. presidents “cannot obstruct justice,” said President Trump alleged he had tapes of former FBI director James Comey to “rattle” him. The president, who in May insinuated that he had “tapes” of conversations with Comey, tweeted that he, in fact, does not have any such tapes. The lack of diversity at the Rupert Murdoch-owned Wall Street Journal is so dire that some reporters have taken to calling the newspaper “White Castle.” In another example of “life comes at you fast,” Chicago Cubs outfielder and World Series hero Kyle Schwarber was demoted to Triple-A Iowa after batting just .171 through the first 71 games of the season. The trainer for former Chicago Bulls forward Jimmy Butler, in response to his client being traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves, said he’s met “drug dealers with better morals” than Bulls general manager Gar Forman. Hip-hop artist Shock G, best known for his seminal 1990s hit “Humpty Dance,” was arrested in Wisconsin on suspicion of drug paraphernalia possession; there was no mention of whether or not the arrest took place at a Burger King restaurant. Just days after Uber CEO Travis Kalanick resigned from the company amid hostile work environment allegations, some company employees began circulating a petition to have Kalanick reinstated, stating “[Travis Kalanick], no matter his flaws (everyone has them) was one of the best leaders I have seen.” Montgomery County, Maryland, police are using DNA evidence to help create composite sketches of those suspected of sexual assault; the DNA, described as “bodily fluids,” is assumed to be male semen. A New York woman who traveled to the Dominican Republic to get reduced breast implants and liposuction developed an infection and now has a hole in one of her breasts; the woman, who traveled to the Caribbean island for a cheaper $5,000 procedure, will now pay over $10,000 in recovery costs. Famed comedian Bill Cosby is planning a series of town halls aimed at young people, specifically athletes, on how to avoid sexual assault allegations. After nearly three months of secrecy, Republican senators publicly released their version of a replacement for the Affordable Care Act (ACA). In unrelated news, only 38 percent of Americans want the president and Congress to repeal and replace the ACA.

FRIDAY 06.23.17

A Trump administration official once filed for bankruptcy because of his wife’s medical bills for treating her chronic Lyme disease. President Trump all but confirmed his former tweets about alleged “tapes” of former FBI director James Comey were an attempt to influence the director’s Senate testimony. Comey, who announced the reopening of an investigation into Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton just 11 days before the Nov. 8 election, refused three weeks earlier to attach his name to a statement on Russia’s involvement in that election because “it was too close to the election for the bureau to be involved.” A North Korea spokesman said the death of American college student Otto Warmbier just days after he was released from imprisonment in the country is a “mystery to us as well.” NBA Hall of Famer Dennis Rodman, who was in North Korea around the same time Warmbier was released last week, said dictator Kim Jong-Un is a “friendly guy,” and the two sing karaoke and ride horses together. Zola, a gorilla at the Dallas Zoo, danced to (a dubbed-over version of) Michael Sembello’s 1996 hit “Maniac.” The St. Louis Cardinals announced their first Pride Night celebration at Busch Stadium; a disgruntled fan demanded that the team “stop forcing this down my throat.” Great Britain, loser of the Revolutionary War, is now putting chocolate in its chili. In response to Pirates of the Caribbean actor Johnny Depp asking an English crowd “When was the last time an actor assassinated a president?” a White House spokesperson condemned the remarks: “President Trump has condemned violence in all forms, and it’s sad that others like Johnny Depp have not followed his lead.” Hours later, New Hampshire state Rep. Al Baldasaro, a Trump campaign adviser, visited the White House; last year, Baldasaro said Hillary Clinton “should be shot in a firing squad for treason.” Five-foot-9 Boston Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas said if he were taller he’d be “the best player in the world.” Nearly 500 Syrian civilians have been killed in U.S.-led airstrikes against two provinces in the Middle Eastern country. Former MTV Jersey Shore star Ronnie Magro-Ortiz, describing his breakup with fellow reality TV star Malika Haqq, said he and Haqq were like “oil and water.” He added: “It tastes good with bread, but it’s just not mixing.” A jury deadlocked for the second time in the case of a police officer killing a black man. After less-than-stellar reviews from critics and Jada Pinkett Smith, and a 22 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes, the Tupac Shakur biopic All Eyez on Me is being sued for copyright infringement by veteran journalist Kevin Powell.

Ice Cube’s BIG3 league is not novelty or nostalgia MVPs, a protester, misfits — these ballers have something to prove and are playing to win

Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf is 48 years old and he’s in an LA Fitness about 15 miles west of Atlanta. He’s getting frustrated. Abdul-Rauf is not happy with the way his jumper is falling. So he’s pushing, relentlessly, with the same behind-the-back dribble. Then two more dribbles to the baseline. And then a jumper about 15 feet from the basket. Abdul-Rauf drills for an hour and a half, shooting from midrange, from the 3-point line, from the corner. Shooting from the wrong foot, shooting off balance.

He’s made 23 of 25 shots. But Abdul-Rauf does a special kind of math: “Nope! It doesn’t count! Don’t count my shots if they hit rim!”

When he’s done shooting, he battles Deaundrae Ballard, a four-star recruit headed to the University of Florida this season. Abdul-Rauf, who has been training Ballard and prepping him for his college career, squares up with the novice, who’s at least 6 inches taller. Three-pointer. Wet. Repeat. The sounds of other basketballs hitting the gym floor disappear. The other ballers getting in morning workouts have stopped to watch. Another 3. Swish. His gray sweatpants and royal blue shirt are drenched in sweat. It’s also dripping from his salt-and-pepper goatee.

Former NBA player Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, who will play in the BIG3 league, works on his handles while training for the start of the league.

Kevin D. Liles for The Undefeated

Abdul-Rauf shoots for two more hours. He’s done some variation of this routine every weekday since he was a Louisiana State University standout. But he’s going harder now than he has in a long time. The former Denver Nugget scoring machine, who was Colin Kaepernick before Colin Kaepernick was Colin Kaepernick, is gearing up for another chance at the national stage. He’s got a new team, the 3-Headed Monsters, with teammates Jason Williams, Kwame Brown, Rashard Lewis and Eddie Basden. And he’s got a new league to conquer. Abdul-Rauf is getting ready for the BIG3.


The phrase “dog days of summer” originated more than 5,000 years ago as a way to describe the months when the Dog Star, Sirius, would make itself most visible. Some believed The Dog was the cause of July and August heat. For the past century, afternoon baseball games have been a hallmark of those hot and lazy summer days, as fans flock to fields across the country to pass time with the heroes of the diamond. Yet, over the past 20 years or so, baseball has had an ever-decreasing impact on American culture, especially for African-Americans, who as of 2013 make up only 9 percent of Major League Baseball fans, far behind the black fanship of professional basketball and football.

For black folks, the dog days of summer, the season between June’s end of the NBA and September’s beginning of the NFL, are even more dogged because of the lack of sports they care to watch. That’s where Ice Cube and his BIG3 come in.

“Summer is boring as s—,” Ice Cube said at a January news conference announcing the BIG3, billed as America’s 3-on-3 Professional Basketball League. The league features former NBA players, most notably Hall of Famer Allen Iverson, in half-court games. It’s set to tour over the summer and to culminate in a championship game at Las Vegas’ T-Mobile Arena on Aug. 26. The league, which launches on June 25, comprises eight teams (with names such as “Power” and “3’s Company”) of five players each: three starters and two reserves. All are coached by legends such as Julius “Dr. J” Erving and Clyde Drexler.

“I feel great going into opening night,” Ice Cube said recently via mobile phone. “Fan interest is there. We have the teams and the talent to pull this league off. It feels good.”

From a distance, the BIG3 may seem like a novelty gig, a chance for nostalgia ballers to hit a few crossovers for YouTube and Instagram before retreating back into retirement. But a closer look at the league reveals passionate players, a brain trust and an organization that aims to be America’s second major pro basketball association.

Actor/rapper Ice Cube addresses the crowd at the 2017 BIG3 basketball league draft at Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino on April 30 in Las Vegas.

Sam Wasson/Getty Images

“We want this to be a viable [career] option for players who feel like they still got game and don’t want to go overseas, or who don’t want to do all that damn running up and down the court,” said Cube. “We hope to have an exciting season, and a championship game, with teams who deserve to be there.”

“I haven’t played against a lot of these guys, and they’re in their early 30s. By the grace and mercy of God, I didn’t have any problems.”

BIG3 is a real league. The competition is real. And the results are as unpredictable as they are exciting. Concepts for the BIG3 started on opposite sides of the country. On the East Coast there was Roger Mason Jr., a 2002 second-round draft pick for the Chicago Bulls who played for 10 years as a journeyman with teams such as the Toronto Raptors, San Antonio Spurs and the New York Knicks. After his final stint with the league in 2014, Mason joined the National Basketball Players Association as deputy executive director. While there, he spearheaded efforts to ensure that retired players had access to adequate health care.

Mason also has a passion for entertainment and for evolving the NBA’s tech thumbprint. Mason was the mastermind behind the inaugural NBA Player Awards show in 2015. It aired on BET, was a huge success and is a precursor to next week’s Drake-hosted NBA Awards on TNT. The BET version was executive-produced by Jeff Kwatinetz (an interesting guy), founder of entertainment company The Firm. Kwatinetz is also COO of Ice Cube’s Cube Vision film production company.

Mason had an idea he wanted to run by Kwatinetz: The NBA was seemingly headed toward a 2017 lockout (that was avoided), and Mason wanted to give players and fans something during the downtime. “My vision was a 3-on-3 tournament with active players,” said Mason. “It would give them something to do and keep games going. Then I learned that Cube and Jeff had been working on a concept for an actual league for about a year.”

The BIG3 teams don’t represent particular cities. Instead, the league will travel from Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York, to Charlotte, North Carolina, to Los Angeles, eight cities in total before the Nevada championship. Each stop will feature four games so every player gets seen. Think And1 Tour meets NBA basketball meets Harlem Globetrotters.

“Obviously, Cube and Jeff had been in the entertainment world,” Mason said. “And the idea of a touring league, similar to a music tour, was brilliant. I was all in to jump in with them after that.”

It was up to Cube, Mason and Kwatinetz to make the league familiar to fans while embracing rules that would make the game different, and innovative. The first team to 60 points wins. Halftime starts after the first team scores 30 points. There’s a four-point shot spread out over different areas of the court beyond the 3-point line (Ice Cube’s idea). The BIG3 features the return of legalized hand-checking, taking the ball outside of the paint after defensive rebounds. Once the rules were set, the trio set out to find established names. Chief among them was Iverson.


Allen Iverson was BIG3’s golden goose. Secure him and the league had its transcendent star. The 2001 NBA MVP and Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer was a human cultural landmark at the turn of the 21st century. His cornrows, baggy shorts, tattoos and hip-hop swag made him an icon. His name still resonates with NBA fans who remember the time he stepped over (now Cleveland Cavaliers head coach) Tyronn Lue in Game 1 of the 2001 NBA Finals and put Michael Jordan on skates in 1997. Even now, whenever Iverson shows up in public, whether it’s to retire his jersey in Philadelphia, or to conduct an interview, fans become enamored all over again. So grabbing The Answer was a major coup, even if he was reluctant to play at first. BIG3 is using his star power, producing a video series documenting his road back to basketball. Iverson obviously won’t be the same MVP he was in 2001, but any flashes of his previous greatness would make the BIG3 a must-watch spectacle.

“Iverson had some things going on overseas that didn’t go as well as he thought,” Mason said. “So I had to reassure him that this was as professional as it gets. And we let him know we’d work at his pace, so he can do what’s comfortable for him.”

Cube himself has been keeping tabs on Iverson’s preparedness. “I saw him in January and he looked good, but I saw him a few weeks ago and he looks more chiseled, and even more in shape,” he said. “His flavor and his style and what he brings to the league will be huge for us.”

Creating new pro leagues is hard. Vince McMahon’s XFL was set to be an offseason professional football league and flamed out after its first season. Donald Trump’s United States Football League was a disaster. The American Basketball Association, formed in 1967 and possibly the most renowned competitor to a major league, lasted nearly a decade, starred Dr. J, and helped revolutionize the way basketball was played. The ABA merged with the NBA in 1976.

Terry Pluto, columnist at The Cleveland Plain Dealer and author of 1990’s Loose Balls: The Short, Wild Life of the American Basketball Association, believes the era of leagues competing with the NBA is over. “The goal of the ABA was always to merge, never to exist on its own,” Pluto said. “And it came along at the right time. There will never be another ABA because of the timing. In 1967, there were only 10 [NBA] teams … 11 men on most rosters … 110 pro basketball players. The international game was nothing back then. Now, there’s basketball all over the world, and the U.S. has 30 teams and the D-League. I don’t see much future in anything new.”

For black folks, the dog days of summer, the season between June’s end of the NBA and September’s beginning of the NFL, are even more dogged because of the lack of sports they care to watch.

One reason it’s so difficult to battle established leagues is the fan bases that have followed teams for decades. Starting new franchises and getting fans to buy in is a major hurdle. That’s where the BIG3 has an advantage: It’s using players such as Iverson and former Sacramento Kings guard Jason “White Chocolate” Williams, a fan favorite. These guys are franchises in their own right, with their own followings. It’s more about them than the team, which has been at the heart of the NBA’s recent success and can be a driving force in BIG3’s longevity.

NBA legend Allen Iverson signs autographs before the NBA All-Star Game as part of the 2017 NBA All-Star Weekend on Feb. 19 at the Smoothie King Center in New Orleans.

Chris Marion/NBAE via Getty Images

That’s the secret to BIG3. Former NBA players bring a level of expertise that surpasses leagues looking to use minor league players or former college stars. So while the BIG3 may not revolutionize basketball in the way the ABA did, it’ll remind fans of the NBA they loved in the ’90s and early 2000s, which is just as valuable. “It’s a good product because the basketball IQ is off the hook,” said Ice Cube. “These guys just knowing how to play the game is the draw.”

There’s also another important incentive for players to perform at their best: money. Yes, BIG3 is a real league with real contracts. Each player has signed a $100,000 contract for the year. The Basketball-Related Income is 52 percent of the league’s revenue, to be split at the end of the season. The championship team gets the lion’s share of the money. Each subsequent team gets a smaller cut. So players have the incentive to take the game seriously.

But the biggest reason to expect the games to be competitive and intense is that the BIG3 is full of players who are out to prove doubters wrong. For every Chauncey Billups or Mike Bibby who wants to play versus his peers, there’s a Ricky Davis or Rashad McCants whose off-the-court reputations led to the premature demise of their pro careers. “I’m not in the league now because of executive reasons,” said McCants, who will be playing on Trilogy with Kenyon Martin and Al Harrington.

McCants was drafted 14th in 2005 by the Minnesota Timberwolves after leading North Carolina to an NCAA championship the year before. By the ’07-’08 season, McCants was averaging just shy of 15 points per game and shooting 45 percent from the field. He was, however, outspoken and, fairly or not, had earned a reputation for being difficult to coach. And he was also the first athlete to publicly date a Kardashian, appearing as a guest in 2009 on Keeping Up With The Kardashians while dating Khloe.

Rashad McCants of the Minnesota Timberwolves goes up for a shot against Yao Ming (No. 11) and Chuck Hayes of the Houston Rockets during their game on Dec. 20, 2008, at Target Center in Minneapolis.

David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images

By 2009, just four years into his career, McCants was out of the NBA despite averaging 10 points a game. “Me being out of the league has nothing to do with my play. To not get calls for four years? Not even a meeting?” McCants also came under fire in 2014 for comments about the athletic program at UNC. He’s spent the last few years bouncing around international leagues and sees the BIG3 as a chance to show owners that they were wrong to pass on him — and to also give them a chance to rectify their mistake. There’s an outside chance that someone like McCants could put on a show good enough to land back in the NBA. It’s an outcome BIG3 leadership fully encourages.

“If players get looked at by an NBA GM,” Cube said, “our league isn’t going to do anything to stop anyone from going back to the NBA, or any other league for that matter. We want this to be for the players. Really, we just want them to have fun.”


“Let’s go! It’s great to be around you guys!”

For McCants and other former players interested in joining the league, the first step to a championship was a combine and draft that took place in Las Vegas in April. McCants took center stage by breaking the ice: “I’m out here killing!”

The combine was an invitational for former NBA players: to run a few scrimmages so that player-coaches for each team — Gary Payton (who is just coaching, unfortunately), the aforementioned Iverson, Billups among them — could get a glimpse of their options and draft accordingly. The combine started tentatively enough, with players engaging in some one-on-one games. But mostly they were just feeling each other out, trying to determine how hard they wanted to go. “[My comment] got everybody’s attention,” McCants recalled. “It stole the show of me being the head of the pack and ready to go.”

On the other side of the court, there was a graying, slim participant quietly nailing jumpers. He was also dominating his one-on-one matchups. As he played, players took notice. It’s really him? But …

People were surprised to see me out there,” said Abdul-Rauf. “More than anything, they were surprised to see how I look. My stamina is still up. I look like I can still go out there and do it.”

BIG3 is a real league. The competition is real. And the results are as unpredictable as they are exciting.

Abdul-Rauf’s story has become part of sports lore. He was drafted by the Nuggets in 1990 as the third overall pick and soon became known as one of the league’s most feared streak scorers, infamously dropping 51 points on John Stockton’s head on a frigid December Utah night. The Mississippi native’s scoring prowess was so legendary that Phil Jackson tweeted in February 2016 that Stephen Curry reminded him of a young Abdul-Rauf. Then in 1996, it all came crashing down.

Denver Nuggets guard Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf stands with his teammates and prays during the national anthem before the game against the Chicago Bulls on March 15, 1996, in Chicago. Abdul-Rauf, saying that the U.S. flag was a symbol of “oppression and tyranny,” was suspended Tuesday for sitting down during the national anthem. Friday was Abdul-Rauf’s first game back.

AP Photo/Michael S. Green

That’s when the star point guard decided not to stand for the national anthem, citing that the flag and what it represents was in conflict with his Muslim faith. This prompted the NBA to suspend him for a game, costing him $32,000. The league eventually let him bow his head and pray during the anthem. By the end of that season, he was traded to the Sacramento Kings. He was out of the league by 2001, unable to even get meetings with other teams. There’s no question his protest caused his career to end — and that’s even more apparent by the fact he’s closing in on 50 and still giving buckets to players a generation younger than him.

“The [NBA] already knows the truth,” Abdul-Rauf said of his exile. “When I talk to people in the street, it’s common knowledge what was done to me. I can never get those contracts back. But God has blessed me to have my quickness and stamina.”

That quickness and stamina wowed his competition and coaches at the combine. “I was curious to see if I could get my shot off,” he recalled. “I haven’t played against a lot of these guys, and they’re in their early 30s. By the grace and mercy of God, I didn’t have any problems.” Abdul-Rauf is the oldest player in the BIG3.

Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf trains for the start of the BIG3 league at LA Fitness.

Kevin D. Liles for The Undefeated

While Abdul-Rauf was showcasing his skill and endurance on one side of the court, leading him to be drafted 17th (out of 24 players) by Payton’s 3 Headed Monsters, McCants was engaged in 3-on-3 scrimmages that were beginning to get heated. A referee made a questionable call in a game involving McCants, Corey Maggette, Stephen Jackson and others. Players got in the ref’s face, players got in each other’s faces, and the scrimmage deteriorated into a full-on scrum. The physicality and competitiveness set a tone for how the games might be played: physical NBA-style basketball that encourages trash-talking and ruggedness.

“A lot of times in [NBA] practices, players would play 3-on-3s,” said Mason Jr. “Some of those battles were the best battles no one ever saw. We’re unlocking these battles. … They’re competitive, high basketball IQ. It’s tough because you’re on an island defensively, so you have to step it up.”

What people may not realize is the fact that even though games are half-court and involve six players instead of 10, the cardiovascular toll can be greater than in a traditional game. For one, there’s a 14-second shot clock, which means attempts are going up rapidly and players are scrambling for rebounds. Also, no one can hide on defense. Defenders have to square up and create stops without much help. And with just six players on the court, everything is more spread out, so players have to cover more ground. Just shooting around? It won’t be enough. Players will have to show up to games in the best shape they’ve been in since they were in the NBA.

There’s definite potential for viral crazes, as Twitter videos are perfect for a league where a legendary point guard might end up face-first on the gym floor after a slick crossover. This works to the BIG3’s advantage, as the threat of embarrassment is going to pressure players to show up on June 25 ready to do business. “I don’t expect anyone to take this lightly, because they’re gonna get clowned if they do,” said Ice Cube. “Nobody wants to leave their legacy on the BIG3 court. Dudes are going to come out there and play with pride because that’s what I want to see.”

It’s impossible to predict the long-term success of a league like the BIG3. For Cube and Mason, if players get a chance to show off their talent and fans are entertained, then the BIG3 will find a winning formula. For Abdul-Rauf, the sustainability of the BIG3 means a chance to do something altruistic for members of the exclusive NBA fraternity — en route to making those summer days less dogged for fans.

Former NBA player and current BIG3 player Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf trains at LA Fitness.

Kevin D. Liles for The Undefeated

“For some people, pay is important,” he said via phone while on his way to yet another workout — and with a sureness he’s gained as a public speaker over the past decade. “You don’t know who this will help down the road. This could … last four or five years. Taking it seriously could help someone who’s struggling … now they can make a little money and get back on their feet. At the least, people might say, ‘We didn’t know he still had it.’ ”

Boston Celtics: Should they trade No. 1 pick for Julius Randle and No. 2 pick?

The Los Angeles Lakers are reportedly looking to trade Julius Randle and the No. 2 pick to the Boston Celtics for the No. 1 pick.On Friday, reports surfaced that the Philadelphia 76ers were trying to trade their No. 3 pick in the 2017 NBA Draft along with future draft picks to the Boston Celtics f…

Warriors win the NBA Finals The Week That Was June 12-June 16

Monday 06.12.17

Ivanka Trump, who is the daughter of President Donald Trump and has presumably known him for 35 years, said that “there’s a level of viciousness that I was not expecting” in response to her father’s presidency. Former potential NBC buyer Bill Cosby declined to testify in his sexual assault trial, and his defense team rested after only three minutes and without calling an original witness. Hip-hop entrepreneur Sean “Diddy” Combs topped Forbes magazine’s list of highest-paid entertainers, notably beating out last year’s top earner, Taylor Swift, by nearly $100 million. McDonald’s announced it will use social media app Snapchat to hire future employees this summer; the app, known for its animated filters and porn, is expected to “lure in younger applicants” for the fast-food giant. Meanwhile, a close friend of the president told PBS that Trump was considering firing special counsel Robert Mueller, who is in charge of the ongoing Russia investigation. Professional wrestler Congressman-elect Greg Gianforte was sentenced to community service and a $385 fine for his assault of a Guardian reporter during last month’s special election in Montana; Gianforte said it was not his “intention to hurt” the reporter whom he punched and slammed to the ground. During a meandering rant about abortion on his official Facebook page, Missouri state Rep. Mike Moon beheaded a live chicken, cut its feet off, and removed its heart. Twitter argued over the effectiveness of Crock-Pots; in the words of one straightforward dissenter, “why on earth u wanna cook slow.” Seattle Seahawks running back Eddie Lacy received another $55,000 for not being fat. Former NBA referee Tim Donaghy, who spent more than a year in prison for illegally gambling on games, claimed the league will try to force a Game 6 in the NBA Finals. The Golden State Warriors ended the Finals against the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 5.

Tuesday 06.13.17

After the Warriors’ victory, Denver Broncos cornerback Aqib Talib took a shot at Golden State forward Kevin Durant, calling the Finals MVP a “suburban kid” who had to “Link up with the best” to win a championship, and that the Hall of Fame is “laughing at you right now”; Talib, who shot himself in the leg last year, joined the Broncos in 2014, a season after Denver eliminated his former team, the New England Patriots, from the playoffs. A Canadian man who is blind in one eye installed a video camera over his eyeball; faced with privacy concerns, the man posited, “Am I not allowed to put an eye camera in my own body?” Hours after NBA Hall of Famer Dennis Rodman arrived in North Korea, an American college student who had been detained in the country since 2016 for allegedly attempting to steal a political banner was released to U.S. authorities; Rodman, who is in North Korea for a reported fifth time, had his trip sponsored by a company specializing in weed-industry cryptocurrency. Deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein said there was no evidence to fire Robert Mueller, the special counsel. Hours later, it was reported that the president is being talked down by his staff from firing Mueller. R&B singer Tinashe, who is mixed-race, acknowledged the presence of colorism in the black community but explained that she is usually the victim of it, telling a reporter that “sometimes I feel like I don’t fully fit into the black community; they don’t fully accept me.” Uber CEO Travis Kalanick, who has been rocked by the recent death of his mother and his own workplace behavior, including meditating in the company lactation room and instructing his employees to “not have sex with another employee” at a company party, has taken a leave of absence from the ride-sharing company. During a companywide meeting to discuss Uber’s alleged “bro culture,” a 74-year-old board member interrupted a female board member by making a sexist joke; the board member stepped down shortly afterward. President Trump reportedly told Republican senators that the House-adopted health care bill, which the president in May called a “great plan,” is too “mean” and called it a “son of a b—-.”

Wednesday 06.14.17

A gunman shot three people, including Rep. Steve Scalise, at a congressional baseball team practice in Alexandria, Virginia. Rep. Barry Loudermilk, who was at the practice field, proposed that lawmakers should be able to carry weapons, including, presumably, while playing baseball. In response to the shooting, Vox editor-in-chief and U.S. history buff Ezra Klein tweeted: “It’s easy to forget what a blessing it is to live in a country where politics rarely leads to violence.” Hours later, three UPS employees were killed by a gunman at a sorting facility in San Francisco. Former NBA commissioner David Stern, who was called a “modern plantation overseer” by journalist Bryant Gumbel in 2011, called Gumbel “an idiot” and said he, the implementer of the league’s controversial dress code, has “done more for people of color” than Gumbel, a black man. Days after reports came out that UNLV basketball players Dakota and Dylan Gonzalez were quitting the team to pursue music and Central Florida football player Donald De La Haye may have to give up his YouTube channel in the face of NCAA violations, University of Michigan athletic director Warde Manuel said the football team’s recent $800,000 trip to Rome was paid for by an undisclosed school donor. A fire at a London apartment complex left at least 12 people dead. Five Michigan officials were charged with involuntary manslaughter for their roles in the ongoing contaminated-water crisis in Flint, Michigan. Right-leaning cable network Fox News has plans to drop its “Fair & Balanced” slogan, not because the tagline wasn’t true but to further distance the company from Roger Ailes, the late former network president. The Houston Astros, who called up outfield prospect Derek Fisher from Class AAA Fresno, will face the Boston Red Sox this weekend, with right-handed closer Matt Barnes expected to play. For the sequel to 1996’s Great White Hype, retired undefeated boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr. and UFC fighter Conor McGregor agreed to a boxing match on Aug. 26. A Texas couple was arrested and charged after authorities found 600 pounds of meth-laced candy, some of which were shaped like Star Wars characters R2-D2 and Yoda, in the couple’s home. A 21-year-old Maine woman, who is a vegetarian, drowned a rabies-infected raccoon in a puddle of mud on a walking trail she had been jogging along.

Thursday 06.15.17

How now, brown cow: 7 percent of American adults believe chocolate milk comes from brown cows. A day after saying that “everyone who serves in our nation’s capital is here because, above all, they love our country,” President Trump tweeted that “some very bad and conflicted people,” presumably members of the FBI, were carrying out “the single greatest WITCH HUNT in American political history.” The Uber driver who shuttled Buffalo Bills cornerback Shareece Wright 540 miles from Chicago to Buffalo, New York, last week is an Iranian refugee who was tortured by Iranian intelligence agents on multiple occasions and hopes to one day become an astronaut; Wright, who was rushing to get to voluntary team workouts, injured his calf during minicamp. In more disturbing Uber news, the company is being sued by a woman who was sexually assaulted by one of the company’s drivers. Dennis Rodman, while still in North Korea, gave two books to country leader Kim Jong Un: Where’s Waldo? and President Trump’s The Art of the Deal. Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino was issued a five-game suspension by the NCAA for his role in the hiring of exotic dancers for players and recruits; the panel that issued the punishment said in its findings that “NCAA rules do not allow institutional staff members to arrange for stripteases and sex acts.” During the Warriors’ championship parade in Oakland, California, forward Draymond Green wore a shirt with “Quickie” written on the front, with the “Q” in the same font as the Quicken Loans logo; the Cleveland Cavaliers play in Quicken Loans Arena. Cleveland forward LeBron James responded to the T-shirt on Instagram with a caption reading “That’s what she said, HUH?!?!?”; fellow NBA superstars Russell Westbrook and James Harden “liked” the photo. Hours later, Green responded with a photo of James with the caption “Them dubs finally made him go bald!!! Congrats bro @kingjames.” A 71-year-old Kansas City man who robbed a bank because he’d “rather be in jail than be at home” with his wife was sentenced to six months of home confinement.

FRIDAY 06.16.17

E-commerce juggernaut Amazon, like most of America, spent a lot of money at Whole Foods, purchasing the supermarket chain for $13.7 billion. President Trump admitted that he is “being investigated for firing the FBI Director by the man who told me to fire the FBI Director! Witch Hunt.” Rod Rosenstein, the purported “man” who told Trump to fire FBI director James Comey, has, like his boss, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, reportedly considered recusing himself from the Russia investigation. To add to the president’s exceptional week, his approval rating dropped to 35 percent in a new poll. Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps, apparently bored with life and ready to die at the age of 31, will race a great white shark. After his bodyguards savagely beat protesters last month at the Turkish Embassy, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan criticized American authorities’ response, asking, “What kind of law is this? If my bodyguards cannot protect me, then why am I bringing them to America with me?” NBA Hall of Famer Shaquille O’Neal, who is black, said he is the “black Steph Curry,” who is also black. The Boston Police Department’s Twitter account sent out a photo of an officer with three black girls along with the caption: “The #BPD Ice Cream Truck gives kids a reason to run towards our officers and not away from them”; the tweet was later deleted. President Trump’s lawyer hired his own lawyer. LeBron James, ironically nicknamed “King James,” said the only two people who can score on him in the post are “Shaquille O’Neal in his prime … and Jesus Christ.” Minnesota Vikings receiver Michael Floyd violated the terms of his house arrest by drinking alcohol; Floyd blamed the failed tests on Kombucha tea.

Patrice Rushen should be a future Songwriters Hall of Fame inductee The consummate composer and singer helped define a golden era of smooth R&B

This week, Berry Gordy, Jay Z, and James “Jimmy Jam” Harris and Terry Lewis will be inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame. They will join immortals such as Little Richard, Valerie Simpson and Nickolas Ashford, Dolly Parton, Nile Rodgers, Jerry Garcia, Marvin Gaye, Cyndi Lauper and more. This week The Undefeated celebrates future Songwriters Hall of Famers — the ones who make the whole world sing and bop, and even milly rock.


They remind me / I’m lucky I’m falling / In love with you darling

— Patrice Rushen, from her 1982 hit “Remind Me”

Long before I knew anything about Patrice Rushen being an accomplished multi-instrumentalist, respected songwriter or the current chairwoman of USC’s Popular Music Program at the Thornton School of Music, the pint-sized pianist shepherded me through the summer of 1982. Her superb seventh album, Straight From the Heart, was the background soundtrack playing on Howard University’s FM radio station, WHUR, in my stepfather’s light blue Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme, or during Jack Daniel’s-and-Coke-fueled card games next to the water sprinklers in auntie’s backyard.

I stared for hours at the Straight From the Heart cover — back before music videos and digital streaming deprived folks of other visual privileges. Miss Patrice in front of the nondescript Olan Mills backdrop was pretty in a completely approachable way, thank God; she was every black girl in seventh grade during that era named Michelle, Sabrina or Crystal. I traced the soft bird feathers in Rushen’s perfect hair and stared longingly at her neat cornrows exploding into a riot of shiny glass beads.

“Forget Me Nots” was the biggest single on Straight From the Heart, the one that earned Rushen a Grammy nomination (she has three) for best female R&B vocal performance and her sole Top 40 pop hit. It’s still a monster jam, with the cleverest one-two finger-pop opening in R&B music history. The killer bass groove and melody has also been sampled to death by the likes of Will Smith, George Michael and MC Solaar, thereby ensuring it has had a long life in mainstream pop culture and serving as a reminder that Rushen should be enshrined in the hall.

But “Remind Me” (written by Rushen and Karen Evans) was, and still is, my all-time favorite song, a perfect 5-minute, 18-second tonic that has soothed my fears and given me hope for 35 years.

The warm opening organ arrangement lays down a groove that never lets go as the story of innocent love and appreciation unfolds. I still can’t wait for the “yeah, yeah” chorus — it’s the opioid earworm that has you strung out like an addict.

The best thing about “Remind Me” is that Rushen isn’t a Hall of Fame singer. She’s not Aretha, Patti LaBelle or Whitney. But who is? Who can actually sing a Chaka Khan song out loud and in front of other people, without hurting your own feelings? Sometimes you just want to luxuriate in your jam and sound just like the artist. Rushen’s normal-girl voice, a smooth soprano, allowed you to feel the song without all the effort.

Of course, 1982 was a killer year for R&B album releases. Michael Jackson’s Thriller, Prince’s 1999 and Marvin Gaye’s Midnight Love were all released that year, as were Stevie Wonder’s Original Musiquarium, What Time Is It? by The Time, and Gap Band IV. The incredible list goes on and on: Luther Vandross’ Forever, For Always, For Love and Get Loose by Evelyn “Champagne” King and Living My Life by Grace Jones.

Soul and R&B music was changing in the late ’70s and early ’80s, Rushen explained to Soul Train host Don Cornelius that year. Her approach to music:

“… more or less illustrates the change that black music is going through every so many years. We’re getting back to the groove again, to the way things really, really feel. Kind of blending the complexities with the simplicity, and putting it together for another thing. It’s very, very exciting.”

Rushen is here for me and my kids. The only other singer/songwriter who even comes close is Michael Jackson, and that’s complicated in a bunch of different ways. That’s also another story. I now play the song at least three times a week, hoping that it’ll be that song for my two boys.

The Heart of a Songwriter: PartyNextDoor The OVO singer/songwriter should one day be in the Songwriters Hall of Fame

This week, Berry Gordy, Jay Z, and James “Jimmy Jam” Harris and Terry Lewis will be inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame. They will join immortals such as Little Richard, Valerie Simpson and Nickolas Ashford, Dolly Parton, Nile Rodgers, Jerry Garcia, Marvin Gaye, Cyndi Lauper and more. This week The Undefeated celebrates future Songwriters Hall of Famers — the ones who make the whole world sing and bop, and even milly rock.


Room full of beautiful women, but I want one/ Room full of women and they notice me/ Now all they wanna listen to is Jodeci

— PartyNextDoor from “Freak In You”

PartyNextDoor turns 24 next month. And despite an ever-evolving catalog of hit records, he maintains a semblance of anonymity in a genre where very little is secret. But the young Mississauga, Ontario, native already boasts songwriting credits with two of the biggest pop stars in the world: Rihanna and Beyoncé. The towering responsibility of penning lyrics, which almost immediately become worldwide calling cards, for the biggest names in music isn’t so much a challenge for the former church choirboy as an escape. “It’s the same process [as when I write for myself],” he said, “but I can go into imagination with other people. You know, go into a different bag.”

It’s this type of moody ambiance that defines OVO’s most sluggish yet savagely romantic records.

Born Jahron Brathwaite, OVO’s enigmatic pen has secured writing credits on Rihanna’s magnum opus, Anti — in particular, last year’s smash “Sex With Me” and the No. 1 pop hit “Work” featuring OVO honcho Drake. And moments after the conclusion of the 2017 Grammys, DJ Khaled unleashed the first of what should be a string of massive hits from Beyoncé and Jay Z with their “Shining”; PND wrote for Beyoncé on the track: Money don’t make me happy/ And a fella can’t make me fancy/ We smilin’ for a whole ’nother reason/ It’s all smiles through all four seasons. PartyNextDoor has also already established himself as a solo artist in his own right. He released his third full studio album, P3, last summer, led by the hit singles “Not Nice” and “Come and See Me.”

It’s said solo work that requires a different level of self-realization. A level he wasn’t always totally comfortable with. Credit marijuana for the breakthrough. “I was so against smoking weed ’cause I always wanted to be in control, but my friend convinced me to smoke weed one day,” he told The FADER in 2015. “And as soon as I smoked weed, that’s when I started writing like that.”

Writing like what? Writing like what you would say in a DM and you knew no one was ever going to take a screen shot. It’s PND’s desire to tell truths that led him to release his recent five-song Colours 2 EP. Recorded entirely over production from longtime collaborator G.Ry (who also scored production credits on Drake’s More Life), the project sticks to the script of Party’s vibe. It’s mysterious, yet honest in its intentions. It’s melodic, yet enigmatic to the point where Party’s fantasy could be just that — or reflections of an idea simply yet to become reality. And his music is sexual — yet vulnerable. No record on the project encompasses the ROYGBIV spectrum of emotions than the subtle cover of Jodeci’s 1995 ode, “Freek’n You.”

His version is called “Freak In You” and is more of a question than action. Room full of beautiful women, but I want one/ Room full of women and they notice me/ Now all they wanna do is listen to Jodeci. It’s this type of moody ambiance that defines OVO’s most sluggish yet savagely romantic records, so many of which flow from the pen of PND. Old-fashioned ideas of “love” aren’t the driving emotions. Love is often a revolving door at October’s Very Own. Love is the desire for companionship, however temporary. This is your time, PND croons, I need to know if you’re down/ ‘Cause if not, I know there’s more around. Reality.

Much of the allure from the songwriter arises from the picturesque yet flexible vibe his music emits. “Freak” plays on words — If you want it/ Burnin’ rubber (skrrt)/ Burnin’ through these rubbers is exhausting/ Drop, drop, hot/ Baby girl, it’s Crossfit. But the lyrics are also clear in their intentions, a characteristic that came to define Jodeci’s music, a la 1991’s “Come and Talk To Me” and 1993’s “Feenin’ ” — Ain’t no peer pressure, sings PND. Girl, it’s what you wanna do/ So what kind of mood you in?/ You know what I wanna do/ You see what I see.

“Freak In You” falls in line with erotic PND songs such as “Persian Rugs,” “Break From Toronto” and “Recognize.” It’s easy to imagine lips touching lips. G.Ry’s dark yet carnal backdrop makes it easy to imagine the daylong text sessions leading up to the night’s main event. And it’s easy to understand why so many of his songs aren’t safe for work. So pretty, girl, you belong in a gallery / What’s your fantasy? (Your fantasy?) / Say something you ain’t never did (ain’t never did). What PartyNextDoor is trying to do is be the soundtrack for our memories. Even if you can never speak on them.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Xscape member Kandi Burruss creates the soundtracks of our lives From Beyoncé to Justin Timberlake, ‘No Scrubs’ to ‘Bills, Bills, Bills,’ this ‘Real Housewife’ should one day be in the Songwriters Hall of Fame

This week, Berry Gordy, Jay Z, and James “Jimmy Jam” Harris and Terry Lewis will be inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame. They will join immortals such as Little Richard, Valerie Simpson and Nickolas Ashford, Dolly Parton, Nile Rodgers, Jerry Garcia, Marvin Gaye, Cyndi Lauper and more. This week The Undefeated celebrates future Songwriters Hall of Famers — the ones who make the whole world sing and bop, and even milly rock.


No one got out of the ’90s and the early 2000s without grooving to a Kandi Burruss song — even if they didn’t know it. The infectious singles she’s written have launched superstars and promoted female empowerment (with a backbeat), and her work continues to soundtrack our lives. Burruss’ songwriting skills helped to establish the careers of Beyoncé (1999’s “Bills, Bills, Bills” and “Bug a Boo”), Justin Timberlake (2000’s “It Makes Me Ill”), Alicia Keys (2001’s “Jane Doe”), P!nk (2000’s “There You Go”) and even TLC, with the classic 1999 “No Scrubs” (written with Tiny Cottle, Kevin “She’kspere” Briggs and Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes). Gems, all. And the critically acclaimed “Scrubs” was nominated for Record of the Year at the Grammys, was a No. 1 pop hit in the United States and a massive success worldwide.

Burruss became famous as a singer in the girl group Xscape in 1992. They had three back-to-back platinum albums — 1993’s Hummin’ Comin’ at ‘Cha, 1995’s Off the Hook and 1998’s Traces of My Lipstick — and scored six Top 10 pop songs, including “Understanding,” “Just Kickin’ It” and “Who Can I Run To.” But here’s what was missing: Burruss’ voice as a songwriter. She never actually wrote for the group back then — Jermaine Dupri guided Xscape’s creative direction — but once Burruss got hold of a pen, she had a brilliant run as one of pop music’s go-to songwriters. Of course now, her fame has grown exponentially because of her turns on Bravo’s Real Housewives of Atlanta. But Burruss has been setting pop culture afire long before reality TV cameras started whirring.

How did you transition from being in a girl group to being a songwriter?

When our group first started, I used to make up songs for myself and come up with little ideas. I used to ask Jermaine, ‘Please let me write, or try to write.’ He was starting this thing where maybe he’d have a skeleton of the song … and he’d let us write on a verse or something. So I started coming up with song ideas outside of the group, going to the studio outside of the group … working with different producers. Just trying to work on my craft. And when our group started having problems, and LaTosha decided she wanted to go solo, I told Tameka, we need to do our own thing. So we start working with producers for our demo.

Is that how “No Scrubs” came about?

That was one of the songs we’d done for [Xscape]. Played it for L.A. Reid. L.A loved it and wanted it for TLC. I was like, ‘Let them have it.’ Because, in my mind, we could write more songs, and secondly, I always wanted to write for other artists but didn’t know how. But from there, my songwriting took off. I was able to write for everybody after that.

When did you know “No Scrubs” would be such a major track?

Before the song came out, I saw L.A at some little party. He was like, ‘I’m gonna make this the biggest song of your career!’ I was just happy to hear the song was actually going to be on the album. I didn’t know they were planning on making it the first single. It took off so quickly. It’s a song I love. I loved it when me and Tiny did it. I thought it was a great song.

Take me into the studio. Where did you and Tameka begin?

It was a do-or-die moment. My goal was, I don’t want to be in this position again where my fate is left to somebody else. I was talking to Tiny about how it’s really important for us to write our own music, so when we present it to the label we can show them that we can be our own executive producers. We can have more control over our projects. That was the whole goal of writing … we wanted them to see our vision.

“I can come up with a whole song and you can just be tapping the table.”

What is your inspiration for songwriting?

My inspiration was always relationships. I used to have this notepad that I’d write titles in. I was always great with melodies, but I knew, if you have a hook with a dope title, something easy to remember, and a subject people can relate to, that was the key to a hit. All those years of watching Jermaine come up with Xscape’s songs, that’s what I picked up. “No Scrubs” was in my notepad because that was a saying we used to dog out ninth-graders in high school — it was the name for underclassmen. But as I got older, me and my friends would call out dudes who weren’t on their s—. They were scrubs. It was just one of the many titles that I had.

How would you characterize your style of writing?

Before everybody started doing the singy-rappy type of style, I remember when I worked with N’Sync — and Justin Timberlake was like, ‘You need to put a name to this! It’s kind of like you’re singing, like you got melody, but you rapping! Maybe you should call it mapping!” He was just saying because it’s a melody and rap. I was like, ‘Um. No!’

You had a big job with Destiny’s Child’s sophomore album, 1999’s The Writing’s On The Wall. The group was looking to mature their sound.

I have five songs on that album. It was by chance that I ended up working with them. I remember [the producer] She’kspere … they flew him down … he flew me down, and I didn’t know how that was going to go. When you have a girls group on the same label, sometimes it can be a little awkward, like, ‘What’s she doing writing on that album?!’ Also, one of the girls was dating one of my ex-boyfriends at the time! Everything worked out fine.

You’ve either worked with new artists or people at very transformative moments in their careers.

Working with someone new, you have the chance to set the tone.

That said, you didn’t shy away from people with massive careers like Mariah Carey. You worked with her on Rainbow (1999).

I loved Mariah … I would love the opportunity to work with her again. I didn’t feel like I really was able to do the best for her. She was really busy … working overseas. We had to send her files. Then she would call me over the phone during her breaks, and we collaborated. We came up with something pretty good, [but] I still would have rather been able to be in the studio with her.

P!nk’s “There You Go” was massive. You had a white girl with a soulful voice who looked like she could be in a grunge band.

I always knew her as this white girl with an urban voice. I was excited to work with her because I knew the label was going to be supportive of her. I wanted to give her something that was dope. It was kind of easy. I just had to give her a hit. Now she [has] transformed into this rock star, which is so much different than where she was when she first started. I’d love to work with her again at this phase.

You helped introduce us to Alicia Keys with the “Jane Doe” track on her debut, 2001’s Songs in A Minor.

The title “Jane Doe” was in my notebook that I keep telling you about. At the time, Michael Mauldin was working with her — and obviously that’s Jermaine’s dad. I really like new artists. I loved the fact that she was a musician and that she produced a lot of her own stuff. I thought that whole thing was dope … that’s something that I envy in a good way: people who can play what they’re thinking. I can come up with the melody of the song and everything in my head, but I can’t play it. I can come up with a whole song and you can just be tapping the table, and I can come up with a whole song around it. Because in my head I hear the music, but I can’t play it. So when I’m around other people that can play and actually put beats together with what they hear in their head, it’s something I wish I could do.

“When I worked with N’Sync, Justin Timberlake was like, ‘You need to put a name to this! It’s kind of like you’re singing, like you got melody, but you rapping!’ ”

Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis are just now being inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame. Were you surprised to hear that?

What took so long? When you think of superstar writing teams, I mean, they’re at the top of the list. Jam, Babyface, Lionel Richie, Stevie Wonder. They’re at the top.

What have you learned from Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis?

They’re inspiring. Every time I’ve met them, they have kind words.

You come from a world of hip-hop. What does it mean for you that Jay Z is getting inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame?

I think it’s dope. You can’t deny what he’s accomplished with his career. As a rapper, he has done things that other rappers could only dream of doing. It’s well-deserved.

What does it mean to you that “No Scrubs” still has resonance today? So much so that a part of it is on the biggest track in music right now, with Ed Sheeran’s “Shape of You.”

“No Scrubs” has turned into three No. 1’s for me. Do you remember “No Pigeons,” the response to “No Scrubs”? That was No. 1, too. And then, now, Ed Sheeran’s song. For a record to be able to multiply into three hits, thank the Lord! It’s crazy. It does feel good … and I’m appreciative of Sheeran being inspired by “No Scrubs” and including us in his current hit. I admire him as a songwriter. And to know he’s inspired by something that I wrote? It’s dope to me.

What do you hope for your legacy as a songwriter?

I just want to have those songs that when people listen to it they can say, ‘Oh, you know that was a Kandi song!’ Or it makes you feel a certain way, or you play it when you’re going through something. Or … you can remember where you were when you played that record. I hope my songs bring good thoughts to people’s minds.

Why Ice Cube should be a future Songwriters Hall of Fame inductee The film mogul is one of rap’s all-time great wordsmiths — and cultural forecasters

This week, Berry Gordy, Jay Z, and James “Jimmy Jam” Harris and Terry Lewis will be inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame. They will join immortals such as Little Richard, Valerie Simpson and Nickolas Ashford, Dolly Parton, Nile Rodgers, Jerry Garcia, Marvin Gaye, Cyndi Lauper and more. This week The Undefeated celebrates future Songwriting Hall of Famers — the ones who make the whole world sing and bop, and even milly rock.


For 400 years — I got 400 tears, for 400 peers/ Died last year from gang-related crimes/ That’s why I got gang-related rhymes

— Ice Cube, from 1991’s “Us

Ice Cube pulls up on a group of friends. It’s the summer of 1989 in Los Angeles. All young black men, all from the South Central area, his friends are slanging crack. Cube, by then, is already famous, the most vicious wordsmith of America’s worst nightmare: the rap supergroup N.W.A. He rolls the window down on his Jeep.

“Yo, y’all don’t need to be out here,” he said. “All you’re gonna do is get arrested.”

His boys looked at him, puzzled. In 1980s South Central Los Angeles, the streets were a war zone. Born O’Shea Jackson in 1969, four years after the Watts riots and during the rise of the black liberation movement, Cube’s life was a courtside seat to gang and police violence. He saw black boys’ and girls’ lives cut short by violence that turned neighborhoods into prisons, and to graveyards.

Does a résumé as decorated and diverse as Cube’s obscure who he is as a songwriter?

As in many major U.S. metropolitan areas, crack was the crème de la crème narcotic. For users, crack was an escape. “It is also a drug of desperation, linked to the urban poor’s struggle to be part of the greater society,” said Joyce Hartwell, founder and director of New York’s Recovery Hotline and Addiction Anonymous Education Project. Fast money, cheap product, economically deprived ‘hoods: an elixir for violence.

Ice Cube in 1992

Waring Abbott/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

In Los Angeles alone, the murder rate had risen every year since 1985. In 1988, the year N.W.A. released Straight Outta Compton, there were 452 gang homicides — 29.7 percent of all area murders. In 1989, 554 gang homicides accounted for 32.7 percent of all homicides. The numbers would only increase, rising to 803 gang murders (39.4 percent of all) by the time the Los Angeles riots popped off, for a long list of reasons, in the spring of 1992.

So it makes sense that Cube’s friends were dumbfounded. The songs he wrote, for example, for Eazy-E’s 1988 Eazy Duz It, weren’t soundtracks of their lives. Nor were the songs quite entertainment. Cube’s lyrics, motion picture moments on records like Straight Outta’s “8 Ball (Remix),” were their lives. Cube’s friends were trapped in a hell of crack, guns, gangs, liquor stores and funeral homes. “Everybody can’t rap,” one of his friends said. “You’re living good, so you can say s— like that. If you wasn’t making money, you’d be right out here with us.”

Cube recognized quickly his platform, and the responsibility that came with being one of the most recognizable rappers in the country. For Cube, his art was chemotherapy for a cancer the country had long ignored in neighborhoods portrayed as ground zero on nightly news broadcasts. He thanked his friend and bought him a beer.

“[I said] thanks for setting me straight. Peace,” Cube told Spin in 1989. “No, I didn’t say ‘peace,’ cause peace is a fictional word. Peace is a dream.”


Thirty years after the Straight Outta Compton album, Ice Cube is a Rock & Roll Hall of Famer. He’s sold over 15 million albums through his solo work and compilations and as a leader of N.W.A. and Westside Connection. Cube has long since established himself as a force in Hollywood as a producer, screenwriter and actor, starting with 1991’s timeless ode to life in South Central, Boyz N The Hood. From there, cult classics such as 1998’s The Players Club, acclaimed smashes such as 1999’s Three Kings, as well as his Friday, Barbershop and Ride Along series strengthen his portfolio as he heads into thriller territory. Come later this month, he’ll have successfully placed Allen Iverson back on a basketball court with the creation of his BIG3 basketball league. And just last weekend, Cube gave Bill Maher a lesson in the use of the N-word. But is one of rap’s finest lyrical storytellers the victim of society’s selective amnesia? Does a résumé as decorated and diverse as Cube’s obscure who he is as a songwriter?

“It’s Ice Cube’s lyrics that forced people to take the West Coast seriously.” — Todd Boyd

“Ice Cube is the first guy outside of New York to get recognition and visibility for his lyricism,” said Todd Boyd, professor of cinema and media studies at the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts. He’s the Katherine and Frank Price Endowed Chair for the Study of Race and Popular Culture. “It’s Ice Cube’s lyrics that forced people to take the West Coast seriously.”

Cube’s relentless output during the late ’80s and early ’90s writes its own chapter of American history. He’s one of gangsta rap’s main creators, along with Ice T, Eazy-E, Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg. His music shed light on the despair, anger, yet resiliency of life in the ’hood. Cube’s 360-degree view of the black experience in America was a persuasive counterpoint to politicians and critics who painted black individuals and groups with broad strokes.

It was Cube’s call of duty to tell South Central Los Angeles’ story — which, in turn, spoke for the millions nationwide dealing with similar situations. By doing so, he warned America of a simmering resentment. His graphic street scriptures, however bold and outright disrespectful of women, law enforcement and whatever else, function as the Old Testament for what exploded on television screens across the world in the wake of the Rodney King verdict.

The first three songs on the album Straight Outta Compton, which sold 3.5 million copies (and led eventually to the acclaimed and successful 2015 biopic of the same title), became part of a 1988 hip-hop trifecta, along with Public Enemy’s It Takes A Nation of Millions To Hold Us Back and the launch of Yo! MTV Raps, which changed the culture, and music as whole. Straight Outta Compton represented art by fire. And Cube was its lead arsonist.

“Straight Outta Compton”: Straight outta Compton, crazy m—–f—– named Ice Cube/ From the gang called N—–s With Attitude/ When I’m called off, I got a sawed-off/ Squeeze the trigger and bodies are hauled off/ You, too, boy, if you f— with me/ The police are gonna have to come and get me/ Off you a–, that’s how I’m going out

“F— Tha Police”: F— the police, coming straight from the underground/ A young n—- got it bad ’cause I’m brown/ And not the other color so police think/ They have the authority to kill a minority/ F— that s— cause I ain’t the one/ For a punk m—–f—– with a badge and a gun/ To be beaten on, and thrown in jail/ We can go toe-to-toe in the middle of a cell

“Gangsta, Gangsta”: Here’s a little something about a n—- like me/ Never should’ve been let out the penitentiary/ Ice Cube, would like to say/ That I’m a crazy m—–f—– from around the way/ Since I was youth, I smoked weed out/ Now I’m the m—-f—— that you read about/ Takin’ a life or two, that’s what the hell I do/ You don’t like how I’m living?/ Well, f— you!

“Not all of what we say on records describe us,” MC Ren said in 1989. “We also describe the exploits of people around us. So this is telling it again, like it is and how people really behave.” As N.W.A.’s acclaim and infamy spread, so did its influence. Fishbone’s 1991 The Reality of My Surroundings, the Geto Boys’ 1990 “City Under Siege” and Public Enemy’s 1990 “Fight The Power” further enunciated a desperation. For Cube, it wasn’t about taking — or making — rap music literally, lyric for lyric. It was a reclamation of identity.

“[Black people] lost 400 years of teaching, of schooling of any kind of knowledge of our culture,” Cube said in a 1991 interview. “Right now, we’re in the process of getting that back through rap music.” Cube’s music was the crystal ball. On 1990’s “The N—- Ya Love To Hate,” Cube advises: The day is coming that you all hate / Just think if n—-s decide to retaliate … then Kicking s— called street knowledge / Why more n—-s in the pen than in college.

But it’s his second solo album, 1991’s Death Certificate, where final warnings were spelled out. This was Cube masterfully executing a concept album in the early ’90s, a new task for the still-infant genre, yet Death is comparable to Marvin Gaye’s 1971 What’s Going On, or Stevie Wonder’s 1973 Innervisions. Aside from Cube’s spectacular songwriting was his attention to sequencing detail. While the first half of the project revolves around life in the ghetto (“The Wrong N—- To F— Wit,” “My Summer Vacation” and “A Bird In The Hand”), the second half is Cube offering cultural and societal critiques (“Us,” “True To The Game” and “Color Blind”).

Certificate’s complex commentary provided validation that Cube was far more — if more was required — than a “gangsta rapper.” And importantly, gangsta rap itself was far more than violent imagery. “Cube was of that moment,” Dr. Boyd says. Racial and political tensions were high in the early ’90s. “And if you were tapped into that moment, you understood something was about to pop off. You didn’t know what it was. You didn’t know what form it was going to take. But you felt it. Cube personified that.”

His music shed light on the despair, anger, yet resiliency of life in the ’hood.

On Death’s “I Wanna Kill Sam,” Cube skillfully lacerates the federal government: Tied me up, took me outside/ And I was thrown in a big truck/ And it was packed like sardines/ Full of n—-s who fell for the same scheme/ Took us to a place and made us work/ All day and we couldn’t have s— to say/ Broke up the families forever/ And to this day black folks can’t stick together/ And it’s odd/ Broke us down, made us pray — to his God.”

Cube’s cutthroat examination of the medical discrimination black people receive in South Central also goes under the microscope “Alive on Arrival:” Woke up in the back of a trey / On my way to MLK/ That’s the county hospital, jack, ha/ Where n—-s die over a little scratch/ Sittin’ in the trauma center/ In my back is where the bullet entered/ “Yo, nurse, I’m gettin’ kinda warm!”/ B—–s still made me fill out the f—— form.

For “Black Korea,” Cube experienced backlash for his attack on Korean-Americans: So pay respect to the black fist/ Or we’ll burn your store right down to a crisp/ And then we’ll see ya/ Cause you can’t turn the ghetto into black Korea. “Korea” was largely viewed as a lyrical retaliation for the March 1991 killing of Latasha Harlins by a Korean-American store owner — a death that, along with the Rodney King verdict, is canonized as the two biggest sparks for the riots. Cube apologized for the song in February 1992, saying the record was not an indictment of all Korean-Americans but a rebuke of a select few stores “where my friends and I have had actual problems.”

Two months after the apology, the four Los Angeles Police Department officers who assaulted Rodney King were acquitted. To Ice Cube and residents of South Central, the verdict wasn’t surprising. This was no isolated incident. And soon, the Los Angeles skyline was painted with smoke rising from the flames that enveloped Los Angeles streets. The deplorable conditions that Cube had lamented for years, attempted to explain in interviews and broadcast to an entire country had finally come to fruition.

“That’s the only way you can get white people to hear what black people have to say. If you tear s— up,” Cube said of the riots. “This country uses violence for its justice. But then the country gets mad when we use violence for our justice.”

Ice Cube didn’t necessarily predict the L.A. riots as much as he diagnosed urban illnesses. Communities were ravaged by drugs. Resources provided to other parts of the vast city were omitted from South Central. Desperation led to violence. Although rap music had its faults, and didn’t please a lot of people, Cube’s music wasn’t created with the intention of making people feel good.

It was created with the intention of the listener feeling the pain and hopelessness of so many of the people Cube grew up around. He peeled back American hypocrisies and, in his own way, changed the course of American pop history. Cube did it for his people. He did it for those same friends he pulled up on in his Jeep, some of whom may not even be alive anymore.

“When it comes to records,” he recently told Apple’s Beats 1 radio station, “I just think you gotta be a voice for the voiceless.”

La La Anthony wants everyone to know she’s still standing The truth about the mom, actor, author and fashionista’s professional — and personal — star power

La La Anthony breezes into the atrium of Washington, D.C.’s, Mandarin Oriental hotel in curve-accenting fitness gear, fresh from a studio cycle workout. With her hair pulled back in a smart ponytail, scarf tied around her head, sunglasses covering her eyes and not a stitch of makeup on, she’s easily the most beautiful — and the most composed — woman in the space.

Take a deep breath.

And exhale.

Because La La is back. And she’s standing — perhaps — in the best professional place she’s ever been. In the midst of one of the most challenging personal moments of her life, good things are happening for her creatively. The kinds of things for which La La Anthony has spent years laying down a foundation, and things for which she has been fighting.

“I love acting,” she says between sips of an iced tea. “It’s my passion. I’m aligning myself with some great people … and [I’m] continuing to work on my craft and to audition … showing people that not only is it something I’m doing, it’s something I’m good at. It excites me that it feels like it’s just getting started.”

FYI, from here on, this story contains mild spoilers from Starz’s upcoming season four premiere. But we continue:

Anthony has a number of projects on deck. She just wrapped Furlough with Tessa Thompson and Oscar winners Whoopi Goldberg and Melissa Leo. She shot Double Play with Ernest Dickerson, who, among other things, directed Tupac Shakur in the 1992 classic Juice. And Queen Latifah and Anthony have plans to turn her No. 1 New York Times best-seller, 2014’s The Love Playbook, into a film. Lastly, the season four premiere of Starz’s much-watched Power lands June 25, and LaKeisha Grant, as portrayed by Anthony, went missing last season. As many have smartly guessed, she’s back.

La La Anthony (as LaKeisha Graham), Naturi Naughton (as Tasha St. Patrick)

Courtesy of Starz

That all of this is happening for her as her marriage to star New York Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony is in turmoil is unfortunate, but what Anthony wants everyone to know is, she’s still standing. “It’s a different space for me right now, but a great moment for me, and a powerful one at that. I’m still here. I’m still successful. I’ve been thrown a bad hand at different times in my life, and I’ve never let that stop me from … persevering. And if that’s what I can lend to another woman, then I feel like that’s the success,” she said. “I’ve found the power in that.”

“It’s a different space for me right now, but a great moment for me, and a powerful one, at that. I’m still here. I’m still successful.”

Page Six reports that Anthony recently contacted famed divorce attorney Laura Wasser, who has represented Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp. But there’s been no word on when — or if — such action will happen between the two, whose love story and nuptials were documented by VH1 in 2010 for the docuseries La La’s Full Court Wedding. High-profile guests such as LeBron James, Ludacris and Serena Williams were in attendance. A spinoff series, La La’s Full Court Life, premiered in 2011 and concluded in 2014. What is known is that the couple have separated — she moved out of their New York apartment on The High Line and now resides in Tribeca.

She also still resides on Power. In the first five minutes of the new season, which last year was the second-highest-rated series on premium pay television, Anthony’s character is revealed from behind a bedroom curtain. She slides it over, showing the world that Keisha, the Keisha who just about everyone had written off, the best friend of Naturi Naughton’s Tasha, is alive and quite well — for now.

So is the actual La La Anthony.

“I learned from Keisha to be careful what you wish for,” said Anthony, “because you just might get it. She wanted the life so bad, and now she’s getting pieces of [it] and realizing, ‘Oh s—, this isn’t what I thought it was!’ But now you’re in so deep, you can’t really get out. Or if you get out, there’s going to be repercussions.”

Anthony says that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side. “We’re always looking at her saying, I want that. Why can’t I have that? But you don’t know the prices [those things] come with. You don’t know the struggles that [people are] going home with every day just because on the ’Gram it looks good. People are going home, feeling depressed, popping pills, doing all kinds of s—. You don’t know! So my thing is being satisfied with what you have, because what you have is meant for you. That’s what I’ve been learning in life, and that’s what I’m learning from my character.”

In May at the celebrity-filled Met Gala, a black-tie extravaganza that raises funds for the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute, Anthony shut the entire place down. Wearing a Thai Nguyen Atelier gown with a high neck and Lorraine Schwartz jewels, Anthony stepped out solo and stunted on everyone.

Everyone.

Instagram Photo

She captioned her Instagram photo with one word: Unbreakable. “The Met Gala was a moment for me. I didn’t expect it to be all that big of a moment, but it was such an amazing feeling, just being there,” she said. “I went alone this year … and to have such love, and such great feedback … I loved it.”


Alani Nicole Vazquez was born in Brooklyn, New York, almost 38 years ago. She started out as a popular radio DJ, and in 2001 she became one of MTV’s go-to veejays as co-host of two of their most popular shows: Direct Effect and Total Request Live. That same year she had her first film cameo, in Two Can Play That Game, which starred Vivica A. Fox and Morris Chestnut. She also portrayed herself in a 2003 episode of HBO’s Sex and the City. Eventually, she dove headfirst into an acting career, determined to make Hollywood see her as more than a dope interviewer.

She met Carmelo Anthony through their mutual friend, DJ Clue, and the NBA star proposed on Christmas in 2004. Married in 2010 after being in a relationship for seven years, their son, Kiyan, is 10 years old.

Outside looking in, she has a charmed life. Anthony’s friendship circle is mighty, and filled with powerful women: Ciara, Kelly Rowland, Kim Kardashian West and tennis superstar Williams are all close friends. But the truth is, many people count Anthony as a close and trusted go-to friend.

“The Met Gala was a moment for me. I went alone this year … and to have such love and such great feedback … I loved it.”

“I had a friend yesterday, we kind of had a back-and-forth. I was like, ‘I just want you to know that I really appreciate you doing this for me.’ And they’re like, ‘Of course I’m going to do it for you!’ ”

Anthony says she has a need to make sure people understand that she doesn’t expect anything. “I’m so appreciative of anything that He does for me,” she says of her relationship with God. “My mom grew up in [Brooklyn’s] Marcy Projects — this life? The Mandarin, Oriental? This is not supposed to be my life, and for this to be what it is? I never lose sight of that, no matter how long I’ve been in business, no matter how successful I’ve been, no matter how much money I’ve made. I never lose sight of that, because this wasn’t the plan. And because of that, I’m so grateful for anything in my life that I work really hard for.”

On her birthday this year, June 25, Power premieres. The coincidence isn’t lost on her that on the date she was born her career enters a new phase. She now is a principal character on the series, and this season LaKeisha’s arc is essential to the story. This is the first time Anthony has been a principal member of any cast. She’s an actor, not a vanity thrill-seeker who wants to do side projects when simply being famous isn’t enough. This is who she really is. It’s who she’s aspired to be for so long. And finally, she says, people are getting it.

Anthony is also invested in producing great work. She co-produced 2015’s Eclipsed, an all-black, all-female play that was penned by actress and playwright Danai Gurira and ran off-Broadway at New York City’s Public Theater. It featured Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o and was that theater’s fastest-selling new production in recent history. It later moved to Broadway at the John Golden Theatre in 2016.

Anthony also has an overall deal with iTV, one of the largest production companies in the U.S., and she’s gearing up to produce a bunch of nonscripted television, including a show on VH1 she’s doing with music producer Timbaland called Goal Diggers, which centers on women becoming entrepreneurs. “The purpose of a show like that is female empowerment,” she says between nibbles of eggs, avocado and turkey bacon. “You can start somewhere and become something else. You can be an Instagram model who seems [a certain] way, and now you’ve got a business. It goes back to … not putting people in boxes. If I’d continued to be put in a box, I’d still be La La from MTV, or La La who’s on the radio with Ludacris. And that would still be who I am, but I broke out of that. I can do other things.”

And one of those things is to inspire other women — that’s important to her. In spite of everything. Perhaps because of everything.

“We have to learn how to focus on putting us first. In my life, I spent so much time putting everyone else before me that I didn’t realize how much I was lacking in things that I needed for myself. And when you have a child, that is a very hard thing to do, because my son is my world. When you’re in relationships or marriage, it’s hard to do,” she says. “I’m learning to put my needs first. Because if I’m great, then I can be great for everyone else in my life. That’s a hard thing to do. When you’re a nurturer, you’re always worried about taking care of everyone else. ‘I don’t care about how I’m doing. I want to make sure you’re OK. Are you OK? Do you need anything?’ It’s something I want women to continue to work on, to learn.”

And don’t think the tweets and Instagram comments are being missed by her. She sees them, and the supportive ones warm her heart. “I feel the love in a time when I do need it, and that’s appreciated,” says Anthony. “ It doesn’t go unnoticed. It keeps me going, through tough times. It means a lot to me.”