Russell Westbrook leads NBPA Players Voice Awards Oklahoma City guard captures three awards, including best dressed

Russell Westbrook got a dap of appreciation from his NBA peers on Friday.

The Oklahoma City Thunder point guard and reigning NBA MVP earned three trophies in the annual National Basketball Players Association Players Voice Awards on Friday: “Most Valuable Player,” “Hardest to Guard” and, no surprise here, “Best Dressed.”

It has been a banner year for Brodie, the fearless fashion maverick who graced the cover of Sports Illustrated‘s “Fashionable 50” in June. Westbrook has become as famous for his daring off-the-court style choices as his jaw-dropping on-court athleticism. Unlike many of the NBA’s taller players, the former UCLA Bruin has used his relatively small frame (6-foot-3, 200 pounds) to wear off-the-rack clothing that is at times adventurous, trendsetting or just plain weird.

Over the years, Westbrook’s high-concept style has even coined a phrase: “Westbrookian.” Ever see an NBA star wearing skinny jeans with an oversized ripped-to-shreds T-shirt before a game? Or colorful sunglasses to a news conference, or bleached denim or capri-length pants with slide sandals? That’s all No. 0. And while other athletes have dared to wear harem pants or a full-length fur coat, only Westbrook can really make it look effortless.

Billed as “the only awards voted on BY the players, FOR the players,” the annual Players Voice Awards are voted on at the end of the regular season.

The winners were announced Friday morning on the NBPA’s Twitter feed in a series of short videos. Hosted by former Miami Heat forward Chris Bosh, the lively clips were tweeted out every five minutes for nearly an hour, with the award categories getting breezy explanatory assists from an All-Star roster of the league’s biggest players.

“The Player You Secretly Wish Was on Your Team” was awarded to LeBron James, the Cleveland Cavaliers captain who also nabbed “Global Impact Player.”

Other awards went to:

  • “Best Rookie” – Malcolm Brogdon, the former Virginia shooting guard who had a standout year with the Milwaukee Bucks.
  • “Best Defender” – Kawhi Leonard, the San Antonio Spurs forward and two-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year.
  • “Most Influential Veteran” – Vince Carter, the 40-year-old shooting guard currently signed with the Sacramento Kings, giving credence to his long-standing “half-man, half amazing” legend within pop culture.
  • “Comeback Player of the Year” and “Best Social Media Follow” – Joel Embiid, the Rihanna-loving, Lavar Ball-hating All-Star and Philadelphia 76ers center.
  • “Clutch Performer” – Isaiah Thomas, who led the Boston Celtics in the postseason despite personal tragedy.
  • “Best Home Court Advantage” – Golden State Warriors and the spirited fans who attend Dubs home games in Oracle Arena.
  • “Best off the Bench” – Lou Williams, the shooting guard who was traded last year from the Houston Rockets to the L.A. Clippers as part of the Chris Paul deal.
  • “Coach You Most Like to Play For” – San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, who has won this award three years in a row.

The decision to announce award winners via Twitter came from “not wanting to interrupt the NBA’s Awards,” which was televised in June, said Jordan Schlachter, president of National Basketball Players Inc. “We also didn’t want to get caught up in the busy news of free agency, so we pushed it to August.”

Schlachter noted that this year’s winners will receive trophies early in the 2017-18 NBA season during halftime ceremonies at home games around the league.

Professional wrestler Booker T’s raw life An orphan, a dropout, a felon – and now a famous, married father running for mayor of Houston

They came out bug-eyed and angry, just like the promoter had instructed. Real-life brothers in a phony sport, mean-mugging in lavender tuxedo jackets, bow ties and shades.

“Ebony Experience!” the announcer boomed.

Just like the pro wrestling gods of their youth — Ron Simmons, Junkyard Dog and all those thickly muscled black men who used to enrage fans at ringside — Booker and Lash Huffman ticked off the crowd that night, too.

The 300 or so fans in the mostly empty Sportatorium, a dilapidated Dallas bandbox built in 1934, bent their torsos over the railing as the fledgling tag team made their way to the ring. They contorted their faces and screamed every racial epithet they could think of for a black man.

“C—!”

“N—–!”

“Go back to Africa, you f—– j——s!”

Booker wanted to jump the barrier and throw haymakers. Lash, six years older, laughed, camouflaging his anger. These bigots “are everyday stuff in America to us,” he told himself, widening the ring ropes for his little brother to slip through.

It was 1992, less than three years after Lash had told Booker he needed to come up with $3,000 to attend a pro wrestling school in Houston. And now, for $100 each, they had a tryout with the Global Wrestling Federation. The script called for them to go out as heels (villains) against two beefcakes called Brute Forcz. They would then emerge as faces (good guys), aiming to win the crowd’s affection by the end of the match. If the Huffmans were entertaining, they’d get more work.

But when the promoter told them, “You have to make the guys you’re working with look good,” Lash shook his head and pulled his brother aside.

“It looks like the fix is in,” he said. “Let’s just go out there and make these guys look better than they’ve ever looked in their life.”

They played the heels to the hilt at first, scowling and grunting as the N-bombs cascaded from the stands. But then Booker began quarterbacking the match. “OK, throw me into the ropes,” he whispered to one of his opponents as the match was going on. “Now duck.”

Incredibly, the crowd began to turn. “Same dude that just called us all that awful s— is now going crazy for us,” Booker said.

When it ended, Booker went to the middle of the ring and began break dancing, ending with his shoulders on the mat and his legs twirling in the air, a move the ringside announcer christened “The Spinaroonie.”

Within a week, Ebony Experience was the Sportatorium’s main attraction. The Huffman brothers — Booker at 6-foot-3, 250 pounds, Lash standing 6-5 and pushing 290 — a quarter-ton of bicep-flexin’, smack-talkin’ black ’tude, were packing all 4,500 seats.

After that night, the racist bile from one man’s mouth or an entire crowd wouldn’t faze Booker, because he came to understand an unsettling truth: The same people who N-bombed him were paying his rent, and some of them went on to become his most ardent fans. If he had to smell America’s bad breath, so what? It was the price of acceptance and ascendance in the squared-circle world, a world so much grander and greater than he had known before.


Twelve years later: Another arena, this one on Long Island, New York, another white opponent who needed to look good. Paul Michael Levesque, a stringy-haired behemoth known as Triple H, eyeballed Booker up and down within inches of his face, as if he had bought his opponent at auction.

By this time, Huffman, wrestling under the name Booker T, was no newbie. Propelled by a charismatic personality, the Spinaroonie and a trademark catchphrase purloined from the 1979 film The Warriors — “Can you dig it, sucka?” — he was one of the most popular figures on the pro circuit. That’s why it was so disturbing when, weeks before Triple H and Booker were to face off for the heavyweight championship at Wrestlemania XIX in Seattle, Levesque went to sinister places to sell the card.

“Somebody like you … doesn’t get to be a world champion,” Levesque told Booker at an event in the Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, New York, pausing between sneers for effect. “People like you don’t deserve it.”

People like you?

“You’re here to be an entertainer. … Go ahead, Book, why don’t ya entertain? Do a little dance for me, Book. Why don’t you give me one of them Spinaroonies? Come on, don’t be embarrassed. That’s your job, to make people like me laugh. You’re very good at it — with your nappy hair and your ‘suckas.’ ”

The payoff had to be revenge, right? Black good guy over white meanie? When faces absorb such abuse from heels, the story is supposed to end with the face getting vindication via pin — or something that felt like the karma gods had spoken.

In the match itself, Booker T nailed his routine, breaking out an arsenal of dropkicks and clotheslines. At one point, he flipped 360 degrees off one of the turnbuckles and landed perfectly flat, next to Triple H’s head, which he elbowed. It was a feat as skillful as anything Greg Louganis ever managed off a 3-meter diving platform.

When both men collapsed in exhaustion at the end, the crowd was waving handmade, pro-Booker T placards. But as Triple H feebly laid an arm on Booker T’s chest, the “referee” counted the face out instead of the heel.

Crestfallen adults and children could be seen in the crowd. These people had bought in. They were sure of the outcome, knowing it would be as sweet for Booker T. as for them.

And then … nothing. No silver lining.

Not that night.

“I found out about a week before the match that that’s how it was going to go down,” Huffman, 52, says now. “I had to make the crowd feel a certain way about a guy with a silver spoon in his mouth beating a guy who pretty much worked his way up from the trenches. I didn’t question it, argue it. I knew everyone wanted me to win. But I just went along with what they wanted.

“It was easier that way. If I didn’t go along, where would I really be now? Could I have done the things I’ve done, overcome the things I’ve overcome?”


Todd Spoth for The Undefeated

There are no victims here, only volunteers. This is a story about a professional wrestler who used an artificial sport to build a real life.

It’s about a kid who dropped out of high school before becoming a convicted felon, and the big brother who refused to let “Junior” throw his life away. He found a career and his second wife in the ring. And after vanquishing multiple fictional foes, he now wants to take on education and homelessness as the next mayor of Houston.

Booker T’s loss to Triple H that night crushed many fans because, perhaps more than anyone else in the wrestling business, his reality was so integrated with his ring character that it often was hard to distinguish between the man and the actor.

He grew up orphaned and poor. He caught no breaks early, got in his own way later and somehow still found a path to prosperity in a profession that mirrors and magnifies the best and worst in its heels, faces and audience.

His career blew up nearly 20 years ago after a seemingly innocuous visit with wrestler Diamond Dallas Page to a juvenile detention center. He debated that day whether to tell his actual life story or stick to clichés about hard work and keeping your head on straight. But when he noticed that some of the hard-knock kids were rolling their eyes at Page’s motivational speech, Huffman went all-in. He told those kids everything, down to the day he got out of prison.

Some teared up. Others sat there, wide-eyed. When he finished, they stood and applauded. Page was so moved he told Huffman he needed to tell his story through his character, that his odyssey was much better than anything wrestling’s scriptwriters could come up with.

“It’s funny, you know, they love to say how wrestling is so fake and made-up,” Lash Huffman said. “And the irony of the whole thing is, the best thing about my brother is his honesty. Junior is so honest.”

Booker T inside of the ring at his gym, Reality of Wrestling.

Todd Spoth for The Undefeated

The more his story was told, the more the lines blurred. Was this real or entertainment? Sport or theater? Is the scripted racism damaging or satire? Do the heels and faces of pro wrestling reflect the world, or are they a caricature of it?

In the end, those are false dichotomies: The answer is always yes.

It is sport and theater. It reflects society and is a caricature of it. The racism is harmless and hurtful.

Pro wrestling is entertainment and real — especially for a boy who lost his mom young.


Danny, Carolyn, Lula Gayle, Billie Jean, Donald, Lash, Bonita and the baby, Booker: Rosa Huffman had eight children by three different men. And every member of the family watched pro wrestling, including a 4-foot-6 grandmother who had an old mattress put in her backyard for her grandchildren to practice flapjack pins.

Booker’s father, said to be a serious man and a good provider, ran moonshine, gambled and worked legitimately at the local pool hall in Plain Dealing, Louisiana. Booker Jr. was just 10 months old when his father went to retrieve a block of ice for the pool hall and dropped dead of a stroke. He was 59.

Rosa Huffman couldn’t bear staying in Louisiana after her husband’s death. She moved the family to Houston, where she worked as a nurse and supported all eight children by herself.

But when she was just 49, Rosa fell through the ceiling onto her back and neck while trying to fix the kitchen fan. She kept telling her panicked children she would be OK. And she was, for a few months. But a second surgery to remove fluid from her spine left her in a coma.

After several weeks, she was taken off life support. Booker, 13, and Bonita, 16, lost the only responsible adult in their lives. The older siblings tried to play guardians for a while, but many were running the streets, bringing home drug people and others who left Booker and Bonita so afraid to go to sleep at night that they wedged a chair against the bedroom door handle. Lash, the third youngest, couldn’t take the madness. He moved to a friend’s house without telling his youngest siblings.

Soon, the chaos of their siblings’ lives scared Booker and Bonita into moving back into their mother’s crumbling apartment by themselves. When the water was shut off for lack of payment, they schlepped 5-gallon buckets to a service station up the street, filled them with water and lugged them back, the skin of both palms bloodied by the metal handles. Bonita says she and her brother used the water for drinking, bathing, dishwashing and “filling up the toilet so it would flush.”

“Lot of days we just ate one meal at school and went hungry at home,” Bonita recalled. “No social worker even knew we were there. I could see my brother upset about a lot of things at that point. He was angry.”

Booker took out his meager station in life on other neighborhood kids. Bonita never remembered her brother losing a fight. “He wasn’t a bully or anything like that. He just never backed down,” she said. “That was something I loved about him: You don’t run, you face it head-on.”

Booker T holds an old photo of himself and his brother Lash.

Todd Spoth for The Undefeated

At 17, he impregnated a 15-year-old girl, who kept the baby even though her high school beau stopped answering his phone when she called. Still, Booker got a job at Fiesta Mart to help support their boy and began lifting steaks and whatever else he could manage. He was fired soon after — not for stealing, but for trying to impersonate his sister Billie Jean, calling his manager in a comically high-pitched voice to say, “My brother isn’t feeling well and won’t be in today.”

Booker dropped out of school. Bonita had moved to Dallas for work, and none of his uncles or aunts wanted him staying with them. Every reservoir of familial goodwill had dried up, except for one.

He’d barely had a relationship with Lash in the four years since their mother had died. But Booker swallowed his pride and moved into the Willow Creek Apartments with his older brother, who told him he could stay if he got a job.

So working a mile and a half away, he began dropping frozen fries into hot oil, assembling burgers with cheese and filling cups of soft-serve ice cream. He didn’t exactly rock that red shirt and black cap. But with no diploma and a newborn son, Booker was happy to have a job at Wendy’s.


A few months later, he was transferred to a different Wendy’s across town, which meant he had to catch one bus, wait 30 minutes and transfer to another one to get to work each day. In no time, the job went from a needed employment opportunity to a dead-end gig.

Billie Jean hooked him up with her boyfriend, a prominent marijuana dealer, who routinely had pounds of cannabis on his dining room table. Booker began slinging $5 and $10 bags of marijuana on the side, often smoking most of his profit.

He saw less and less of Lash at home, falling in with a crew that included his childhood friend, Wendell Sylvester, and Zackery Claybourne, a streetwise brother who had been to prison for robbery. They began carousing the club scene, wearing matching Adidas suits and coming up with nicknames for themselves: Booker was Nature Boy (after wrestler Ric Flair), Zack was Z-Boy and Wendell became Mr. Big Stuff.

Booker and Zack both worked at the Gulfgate Mall Wendy’s off Telethon Road, where their manager kept riding them about overcooked fries, undercooked burgers and the need to scrub the rings of caked-on chili off the pots. Eventually, Zack quit and Booker was fired for not showing up.

One night as they all smoked up Booker’s sales, someone threw out an insane idea: “Why don’t we get some guns and rob Wendy’s?” It kept coming up over the next few weeks until they decided on the most wacked notion of all. Zack and Booker each had a few uniforms.

Let’s rob Wendy’s with our uniforms on.

Decades later, it’s still one of the city’s most brazen string of robberies. Pretty quickly, they stopped concealing their faces with stocking caps, walking into a restaurant with .38-caliber pistols and their work uniforms, often behind legitimate employees taking the trash out at closing time. Booker would wait outside in his aunt’s car.

Soon, the crime was less a rush than getting home in time to watch the local news — “Wendy’s Bandits Strike Again” at 11:01 p.m. Over the first three months of 1987, Booker and his friends had robbed 12 Wendy’s, stealing between $400 and $4,000 each time. In what would be their last holdup, Booker went into the restaurant with Zack and Wendell, pistols drawn.

Houston police issued a reward of $5,000 for information that would lead to their arrest. The ads began playing on a local “CrimeStoppers” segment, and one of the interested viewers was Zack’s girlfriend.

On what became his last day of freedom, Booker met Zack at McGregor Park, smoked and sold weed, and headed home around dusk. As he neared the front door of the unit he shared with Lash, he sensed an eerie quiet.

Police officers in SWAT gear had him on the ground and cuffed in seconds. Booker feigned ignorance at first, but he was picked from a police lineup by witnesses who remembered him from the night he went into the Wendy’s for the robbery.

Within months, Booker, Zack and Wendell were in separate 6-by-8-foot cells at the Texas State Penitentiary at Huntsville – Walls Unit. Named for its brick facade, Walls Unit was where all convicted felons were processed through the state’s penal system. It also housed the state’s execution chamber.

Huffman recalled something his mother once told him: “Junior, you know right from wrong. There’s no gray area in between. If you don’t stop, you’ll end up dead or in jail.”

At 22 years old, he was 1 for 2.


Todd Spoth for The Undefeated

Good behavior allowed Booker to serve just 19 months of consecutive five-year sentences for armed robbery and aggravated assault. Sylvester, by contrast, said he served 9½ years of a 22-year sentence.

Though Booker’s lying killed much of the trust Lash had in him, Lash knew his younger brother wasn’t a career criminal. He told Booker, “I’ll help you get back on your feet. But whatever you do — sweeping floors, washing dishes, digging ditches — you gotta pay your dues and walk a straight line.”

He got a job at American Mini Storage, completing his parole and getting custody of his son, Brandon, 6, who had been turned over to child protective services because his mother was unable to care for him. A part of him missed his old life: the partying, the chaos, the sense he could go buck wild at any moment. But that world couldn’t compare with microwaving Ramen noodles, adding chicken, cheese and crumbled-up crackers, and sharing dinner with his son.

As a lark one afternoon in 1989, Lash went by a small wrestling school in Houston owned by Ivan Putski, the bodybuilder/wrestler whose duels with the Iron Sheik and Jesse Ventura fueled the sport in the 1970s and ’80s. He simply then said to Booker, “Let’s start rasslin’.”

Booker thought he was joking at first, but Lash kept going. “Man, we’ve been fans for so long, and we both need something more in our lives. We’ve both got size, we’re athletic and we’ve got personality off the f— charts!”

Lash said it would cost $3,000, and Booker sulked. He didn’t have that kind of money anymore. But his boss at the storage company, Bruce Gasarch, gave Booker a $3,000 bonus and told him to make him proud.


“Cowboy” Scott Casey, a former World Wrestling Federation star, mentored Booker at Putski’s school. He also came up with his first character at the time the Gulf War had begun: “G.I. Bro, America’s greatest hero.”

Lash was given the character name “Stevie Ray,” and within two years they were on their way to Dallas and the Sportatorium for their first tag team match. Booker wrestled on the Texas Independent Circuit for two more years and kept the job at the storage company until Ted Turner’s World Championship Wrestling signed him for $70,000. Booker left for Atlanta and a life he’d dreamed about as a kid.

“It was an escape for me,” he said. “I had been in prison. I had lost my parents at a young age. I had no high school diploma.

“I finally found something that I really did very, very well. It was like, ‘Wow, I’m better than everybody else at this.’ I’m serious. It was like that. I knew I was better than everybody else. I had done theater and been a drum major for a while in high school. Then when I found wrestling, it was like déjà vu. Like, ‘Man, I’ve done this before in another life.’ ”

In 2000, wrestling’s once-dominant organization, World Championship Wrestling, was in a no-holds-barred battle royal with its rising competitor, the World Wrestling Federation. The WCW decided to pit its world heavyweight champion Jeff Jarrett against Booker T at the end of the season’s tour in Daytona Beach, Florida, in a card titled “Bash at the Beach.”

For the first time in his solo career, it was decided Booker T would emerge with the belt — the exact one (sans a few missing gemstones) that his childhood hero, Flair, had once worn. But in a bizarre turn of events, Hulk Hogan went off script. He had creative control written into his contract. And on the evening of the event, he told the WCW brass he wanted to be champion.

A poster of Booker T wearing the WCW World Championship belt inside of his home gym.

Todd Spoth for The Undefeated

Organizers were furious. But they created a storyline where Jarrett lay down in the ring with the belt at his side. Hogan, looking equally angry, circled the ring with a microphone and called the WCW a “bulls— organization” before half-heartedly climbing atop Jarrett. The referee counted to three for the pin and the lights went down. This was all part of the show, but it was followed by an unusual turn: WCW head writer Vince Russo coming to the ring and launching into a five-minute tirade aimed at Hogan, calling the wrestling legend a “god damn politician,” among other epithets.

Later in the evening, Booker T’s music began playing and everything restarted. Jarrett came out as if he was still champion, and he and Booker T performed the heel-face dance to perfection. For the first time in his individual ring career, Booker T was a heavyweight champion of the world.

No pro wrestler actually wins his title in the ring, of course. The decision is made backstage or weeks before by company presidents and scriptwriters. But once the belt is bestowed on you, it means your employer believes you are ready to be its most important ambassador. WCW believed an African-American with a backstory better than any they could write would sell. And Booker T sold.

Although promoters often wanted him to play a stereotype, he made a conscious decision to try for crossover appeal. He refused suggestions that his walk-up music be gangsta rap. He enunciated all his words. The only from-the-’hood line he used was his trademark slogan, “Can you dig it, sucka?”

“If I was wrestling a white guy and he was a good guy, they would cheer for him and boo me if I was a stereotypical black guy,” he said. “But me not being the stereotypical black guy, I can get away with it and be cheered just as much as him.

“They were cheering for Booker T — not the black guy coming out from the curtain.”

It wasn’t exactly “I’m not black, I’m O.J.” But for many people in the crowd, he seemed like a good guy with a remarkable backstory, and they were happy to cheer for this black man.

Booker realized how famous he had become one night in 1995 at the Sands Hotel in Las Vegas. He was eating a steak dinner when an older gentleman interrupted him. “Are you Booker T? My kids love you. You mind if I take a picture with you?”

Booker did a double take. Frankie Valli of the Four Seasons knows who I am?

“You know why the fans were sad [about the Triple H loss]?” he said. “Because I touched them. And that doesn’t happen very often in this business, where someone of color can make them feel that way. I always worked on emotion. On telling my real story. My goal was to make them cry.”

A year after he was made champion, the WCW was taken over by the WWF and rechristened World Wrestling Entertainment. Huffman signed on. More than a decade after Putski’s wrestling school, he was now contractually obligated to WWE CEO Vince McMahon.


Todd Spoth for The Undefeated

It’s been 14 years since his Wrestlemania loss to Triple H. You want Huffman to be angry, resentful even, that McMahon and his writers wouldn’t let his character win that night.

He’s not.

“I never lost a wink of sleep over that,” he said. “Let all the fans know because they ask me about it all the time. They wanted Booker T to win the title more than I wanted to win myself.”

Triple H, he said, “was just playing his part, however f—– up that part looked.” At the time, Triple H denied any bigotry on his part, saying, “Why would anybody think I am a racist? Did I ever mention the word ‘black’?

Asked for comment, a WWE spokesman responded with this statement: “WWE is committed to embracing and celebrating individuals from all backgrounds as demonstrated by the diversity of our employees, performers and fans worldwide. Just like other TV shows and movies, our entertainment programming features fictional characters who play the role of protagonists and antagonists. Over the years, WWE storytelling has evolved along with the social landscape, and today WWE offers family-friendly, PG-rated programming.”

“They used me and I used them — that’s how I looked at it,” Huffman says now. “I was never down with being the stereotypical brother, and I made sure of that as my career went on.

“But at some point, you also realize white guys invented the sport and still control it. If you want to work, you gotta play by their rules and sometimes be who they want you to be.”

Perhaps that’s how you last in an entertainment genre that routinely traffics in ugly stereotypes about African-Americans.

One in which Rowdy Roddy Piper once pretended to feed bananas to a poster of Mr. T, saying he would “whip him like a slave.” And Ventura used to refer to black wrestler Koko B. Ware (James Ware) as “Buckwheat.” Kamala (Jim Harris) was billed as an almost-mute African savage. Tony Atlas was remade into Saba Simba, replete with shield, spear, headdress and a cringe-inducing “tribal” dance.

When Lash and Booker came to the WCW in 1993, their storyline called for them to play two convicts, won in a card game by cigar-chomping, seersucker-wearing manager/plantation owner Col. Robert Parker. At some of their first shows, the Huffmans dressed in prison jumpsuits and leg shackles because that’s what their white bosses thought would sell. Naming a modern tag team composed of two African-Americans Cryme Tyme seems almost benign in comparison.

Moralizing about it, expecting cultural enrichment and organic diversity is like expecting NASCAR fans to lower those LDL numbers. It’s the world of the Tonga Kid, the Mad Hungarian and an Asian-American man with perfect diction called Mr. Fugi, who practiced speaking broken English. Every minority is crudely stereotyped in the squared circle.

“Understand the only thing that has ever been real for me with wrestling is the entertainment and the performance in front of the crowd,” Huffman said. “In the end, it was all a show. … If it was real, I would have been one-time heavyweight champion because I would have beat up everybody.”

Late in his career, as a heel named King Booker, Huffman won the now-retired WWE World Heavyweight Championship, a belt the company created in 2002 for its Smackdown and Raw brands. But since the WWE’s origin in 1963, through 50 champions and more than 130 belt changes, no African-American has won its highest-profile title, the WWE World Championship. John Cena had 13 title reigns. Triple H had nine. The Rock (Dwayne Johnson, whose mother is Samoan and whose father is African-Canadian) held the title nine times.

“It’s still the one title that no [African-American] has ever won,” Booker said as we ate lunch at a Tex-Mex restaurant in Houston, a few hundred yards from his Reality of Wrestling training gym. (He has another facility an hour south of town where wrestling shows are taped for TV, and he also promotes boxing and MMA cards.)

“Why I never won it? Look, it’s their company. It’s almost like, I went to play a pickup game at the park. The one kid who’s got the basketball, he may be an OK player but maybe not the best player. But he’s on the team. It’s his ball. If I’m not a big person about that, I’m going home.”

It’s worth noting that Booker still works for WWE, where Levesque is now an executive vice president, as an announcer on Monday Night Raw. Booker never slammed the WWE for its decades of race-baiting. But then, how could he when he never objected to playing his part in the wincing black-white bits?

He played Triple H’s victim during that racially loaded promo. A few years later, he and Sharmell, his stage partner and real-life wife, conveniently stood off to the side as McMahon called John Cena “my n—–.” (“Tell me … he didn’t just say that?” Booker responds in what he acknowledges is one of his worst acting jobs. “I got so much grief for that from the black community. Part of the show.”) One time, he used the N-word himself while talking about Hulk Hogan during a promo, although he later acknowledged it was a mistake.

He retired as a full-time wrestler in 2012 and officially in 2016. With distance comes perspective.

“Look at these poor cats, New Day,” he said, referring to a current black tag team, a three-person outfit allowed to keep the two-man title under the “Freebird rule.” (Because why wouldn’t you have three black men following a rule named for three whites who once showed up for a match at Comiskey Park in Chicago with their faces painted as Confederate flags?)

“They’re the new token black guys,” Huffman said. “It’s as racist as it’s always been, most black wrestlers still being put in the back seat. I just never spent too much energy on it, other than not getting my total just due as being a champion, which I deserved.

“I woulda been a great champion, great ambassador. I know I would have.”

Does he get to play both sides of this fence? On his way up, Booker permitted wrestling to use his race. Now that it’s over, he gets reflective.

Was he genuinely hurt by his profession’s racism or not? Again, it’s a false choice.

He cared and he didn’t care. He didn’t care what sold the product. But he did care that he had to play by rules that kept him in the box labeled “Black Guys.”


“I look forward to having a dialogue with the voters of Houston, and if I am so privileged to serve, I will fight for them as hard as I have fought for myself and my family over the last 30 years,

— Booker T. Huffman’s Twitter account, December 2016

“You’re a mess,” Booker says to his 6-year-old son, Kendrick.

“You’re a mess, Dad,” Kendrick says back.

“Yeah, Daddy, you’re a mess,” echoes his twin sister, Kennedy.

Booker never really retired from wrestling. He just went into business as a suburban father. His pectorals and arms are still Royal Rumble-ready. He does 400 pushups each morning, not out of vanity as much as to ensure a 52-year-old father of young twins remains on this side of the soil as long as possible. (Brandon, now 33, had his own trouble with the law growing up. He lives in Houston and works in marketing.)

Booker T speaks on the phone while his twins, Kennedy and Kendrick, play on his shoulders.

Todd Spoth for The Undefeated

The felony conviction from 30 years ago still follows him. When he began traveling for wrestling shows internationally, Booker was frequently questioned by immigration agents. He had trouble at first getting a liquor license for his venue that hosts wrestling shows and boxing cards. And he needs a pardon from the governor before he can legally be a candidate on the November 2019 ballot.

“The paperwork is already in,” Booker said. His three personal references: Stephanie McMahon, Vince’s daughter, Triple H’s wife and the chief brand officer of WWE; Joanne Herring, the Texas socialite who persuaded the U.S. government to train and arm the Afghan mujahedeen fighters during the Soviet war on U.S. Rep. Charlie Wilson’s behalf; and Gasarch, his former boss who lent him the money for wrestling school.

Incumbent Sylvester Turner, an African-American Democrat, was a longtime member of the Texas Legislature before winning the mayor’s office in 2016 on his third attempt. Booker has yet to declare a political party, but he’s serious about his campaign. He’s hired an aide and an adviser to help formulate a platform.

Houston’s growing homeless problem, inspiring the city’s youth and fixing its educational system are his first priorities.

“You’ve got to go to the young people and look at it from their perspective,” he said. “We’ve heard forever, ‘Respect your elders,’ and it’s made us help little old ladies across the street and pay attention to our senior citizens. But I’ve never heard one time, throughout my 52 years, someone say, ‘Respect your young people.’

“We’ve got these classrooms of 40 kids, and it’s so disruptive the kids can’t learn anything. My mother-in-law works in the school district. She sees it daily. Something needs to be done about that. I’m not against public schooling, but I feel like the money that’s going into public schools needs to be appropriated properly.”

No Houston media outlet has taken the town’s temperature over the 2019 election, so it’s hard to say whether Booker’s candidacy will be received well. But he says with conviction, “I think I can win. I’ll get the young vote, the millennial vote.

“Sylvester Turner, Harvard [Law School] grad. He’s a very smart guy. But it’s not about him. It’s about my legacy, how many people I can help while I’m on this earth. Thing about it is, if I win I win, and if I lose I win. It’s not about just winning. It’s about getting off my couch and doing something.”

Maybe 20 years ago, the idea of a pro wrestler becoming mayor of a major American city might have been politically fraught. But we are in the post-Ventura, Arnold Schwarzenegger world now. A reality show host is our nation’s president. Why would we think Booker T can’t win? He’s already completed an apprenticeship of what it takes to move the masses in America.

“I pretty much made some dirt when I was a kid and made sure I got a big broom as an adult so I could sweep it,” he said, laughing. “I’m still sweeping to clean it up.”

Almost exactly 30 years after his robbery conviction, he still has nightmares of that swarm of police in riot gear. Strangely, there is also gratitude for those 19 months in prison, a reminder of the 336 months of freedom that followed.

A few years ago, he was contracted to give a speech to a group of wealthy Houston residents and wondered what he could say to motivate millionaires. “They’re already rich.”

He decided to tell the story of the Wendy’s Bandits feeling young and invincible before their fall. They gave him a standing ovation, unaware that Booker had a surprise for them.

“I want to introduce you to Wendell,” he said, pointing to a man immaculately dressed in fine Italian wool like many of the others in the room.

Booker had run into Sylvester at a gas station. He had no job, hadn’t shaved in weeks and looked hungry. Booker got him cleaned up and asked if he would accompany him to the speech.

Sylvester, who says he’s been straight since he got out of prison in 1995, now works as a driver for a trucking company. Although Booker says he wanted to keep helping him, the two men have since lost touch.

We want a world of bright lines. Heels and faces. But that’s not real life. It’s not the wrestling world, either. Both are messy. Complicated. Good and bad are mixed together, and both can be profitable for anyone willing to play their part.

Can you dig it, sucka?

LeBron James wants to beat up Kyrie Irving and other news of the week The Week That Was July 24 – 28

Monday 07.24.17

President Donald Trump, when asked about his thoughts on health care reform, told a female reporter to be “quiet.” President Ron Burgundy Trump later read from a teleprompter that the Affordable Care Act has wreaked havoc over “the last 17 years.” The internet was still upset that Olympic gold medalist swimmer Michael Phelps wasn’t eaten by a shark. Former Fox News host Bill O’Reilly, who once said slain 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was killed because he dressed like a “gangsta,” said 36-year-old Jared Kushner “looks like a high school senior.” In Georgia news, a small airplane modeled to look like a Nazi Germany aircraft, complete with a swastika on the tail, landed on a state highway; the plane’s pilot said the Nazi design was “just for fun.” 2 Fast 2 Furious director John Singleton, not known for bad decisions, said there’s nothing wrong with singer R. Kelly keeping a sex cult because the occupants are “adult women.” Boston Red Sox pitcher David Price cursed out an old man last month because the 62-year-old, Hall of Fame pitcher Dennis Eckersley, said, “Yuck.” If Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James were to come face-to-face with teammate Kyrie Irving, he’d reportedly be tempted to “beat his ass.”

Tuesday 07.25.17

James booed the report. The environment is in such trouble that even holy water has been shut off by the Vatican. A New York City barber who posted on social media that “N—-s taking shots can’t stop me” was fatally shot in the head. Former House Speaker John Boehner, who once held a meaningless vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act just so freshman lawmakers could vote on it, said Republicans will never replace the health care law. Tech CEOs Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg are currently beefing over whether or not robots will eventually kill humans. Energy Secretary Rick Perry was tricked into talking about “pig manure as a power source” with a Russian (of course) man posing as Ukrainian Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman. Twin sisters from Australia, who’ve spent over $200,000 on plastic surgery to look more alike, want to get pregnant by their shared boyfriend at the same time. Chicago officials are trying to control their rat problem by making the rodents infertile. Former Dallas Cowboys receiver Lucky Whitehead was cut from the team a day before police realized they had the “wrong guy.” Former Denver Broncos coach Gary Kubiak, who once almost died on the job, is returning to the Broncos. Former NFL quarterback Michael Vick got a job before Colin Kaepernick. A Michigan man suing Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green for allegedly hitting him in the face last summer said, “I still feel his hand on my jaw.” A retired NFL player is suing Attorney General Jeff Sessions over weed.

Wednesday 07.26.17

The Defense Department, responsible for national security and the military, was caught off guard by a Trump tweet invoking national security and the military. Meanwhile, the U.S. armed forces spend at least 10 times as much on erectile dysfunction pills as they do on gender-transition-related medical treatment. A Michigan man was sentenced to two years of probation for wrapping a cat in duct tape; a person at the man’s home said the tape was used to stop the cat from itching. A self-described journalist and comedian created a list of places where Ohio residents and Cavs fans could burn the jersey of Irving. Arthur Lambright, the former boyfriend of the mother of LeBron James and best known as “Da Real Lambo,” has sided with Irving in the two teammates’ dispute. Green Bay Packers tight end Martellus Bennett, realizing he’s the “only black person in this scary movie,” was worried about ghosts while sleeping in front of his locker room. Future emergency room admittees are now playing “soap hockey.” Atlanta Falcons receiver Julio Jones, putting his $71.25 million contract to good use, paid a dive team to retrieve a $100,000 earring he lost while Jet Skiing. NCAA investigators were shocked to learn that black men get their hair cut more than once a month.

Thursday 07.27.17

Sessions, the president’s proverbial punching bag the past week, said Trump’s criticism is “kind of hurtful.” A New Jersey man was arrested after being accused of not paying nearly $88,000 in tolls. The Washington Nationals hit the most home runs in one inning in MLB history, but all attention was paid to a pigeon that made its way on the field. LaVar Ball is telling women to stay in their lanes again. A market research study found that 26 percent of NFL fans who watched less football last season did so because of national anthem protests; that percentage, though, represented roughly 287 people. Kid Rock finally stopped lying about running for U.S. Senate. Instead of signing Kaepernick, who’s been to the Super Bowl, the Baltimore Ravens signed arena league quarterback David Olson. Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith received $2 million just for showing up to work. White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci, who earlier in the day accused chief of staff Reince Priebus of feloniously “leaking” the Mooch’s financial disclosure form, called Priebus a “a f—ing paranoid schizophrenic, a paranoiac” and alleged that chief strategist Steve Bannon engages in autofellatio. Houston Rockets guard and 2017 MVP runner-up James Harden reportedly had his jersey retired at a Houston strip club.

Friday 07.28.17

Republican lawmakers failed (again) to repeal and/or replace the Affordable Care Act. A New York City couple jumped to their deaths because “both have medical issues, we just can’t afford the health care.” The hosts of Fox & Friends, critical of “Obamacare,” unwittingly discovered the core definition of health insurance, stating that “the healthy people are paying for the sick people.” Some guy has already announced his plans to run for president in 2020. Trump, an avid Liam Neeson fan, told undocumented immigrants, “We will find you. We will arrest you. We will jail you, and we will deport you.” The NFL, purportedly serious about brain research, meddled its way out of paying $16 million to the National Institutes of Health. The Tennessee Titans released guard Sebastian Tretola five days after he was shot.

The 30 best NBA throwback jerseys ever Nike will release classic uniforms for eight teams this year, but we’re doing the whole league

The NBA just got some new swag. After 11 years with Adidas as its official apparel provider, the league is now with Nike. The partnership that makes Nike the NBA’s exclusive on-court uniform and apparel supplier as of Oct. 1 was originally announced in June 2015. Nike recently revealed a first-glance look at the league’s new uniforms earlier this week.

For the first time in history, the logo of an apparel partner will appear on the NBA’s uniforms, which Nike crafted using Alpha Yarns and recycled plastic bottles. How does that translate? Compared with Adidas’ current product, the Nike uniforms are more flexible, dry 30 percent faster and also feature larger armholes and a reshaped collar. Nike has even re-envisioned uniform designation by eliminating the traditional concept of “home” and “away” jerseys. With four options to choose from at the beginning of the season, each NBA team will select the jersey it will wear at all home games for the entire year, while visiting teams will decide on a contrasting uniform. This means teams won’t be restricted to wearing white at home.

Lastly, yet most importantly to the culture, Nike will provide eight teams with “Classic Edition” uniforms — aka throwback jerseys, set to be unveiled in October — to celebrate the most memorable on-court looks of the past.

But why do just eight? The NBA’s other 22 teams deserve throwbacks too. So, which oldie-but-goodie jerseys would we like to see each team wear during the 2017-18 season? Man, there are a lot to choose from, and The Undefeated is here to throw it all the way back — to the times of Afros, short shorts, O.G. franchises and now-legendary hoopers — with the best throwback jerseys for all 30 NBA teams.

EASTERN CONFERENCE

Atlanta Hawks

Dikembe Mutombo (No. 55) of the Atlanta Hawks looks on against the Golden State Warriors on Feb. 4, 1997, at San Jose Arena in San Jose, California.

Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images

Dikembe Mutombo, 1997

*Wags finger* “No, no, no,” as Hall of Fame big man Dikembe Mutombo would say — there is no jersey in Atlanta Hawks history that’s better than this red, black and yellow edition from the ’90s that features a hawk clutching a ball in its talons. In 2016, the Hawks retired Mutombo’s No. 55. Hope this one is in the rafters.

Boston Celtics

Bill Russell (No. 6) of the Boston Celtics moves the ball up court during a game played in 1967 at the Boston Garden in Boston.

Dick Raphael/NBAE via Getty Images

Bill Russell, 1967

The Boston Celtics’ jerseys have barely changed in the 71-year history of the franchise. Same colors. Same font and lettering. Same classic feel. However, back in the days of Boston legend Bill Russell, Celtics players didn’t have names on the backs of their jerseys. So, if you ever see Isaiah Thomas with just his No. 4 behind him, you’ll know Boston is going retro.

Brooklyn Nets

Julius Erving (No. 32) of the New York Nets looks on against the Boston Celtics during a game played circa 1975 at the Boston Garden in Boston.

Dick Raphael/NBAE via Getty Images

Julius Erving, 1975

The Brooklyn Nets were once the American Basketball Association’s New York Nets. This was when Julius Erving, a three-time ABA MVP, was at the peak of his powers — and so was his beautiful Afro — and wearing the iconic American flag-themed uniforms. A cartoon version of Erving, donning the same jersey and glorious ’fro, appeared on the 2003 video game NBA Street Vol. 2.

Charlotte Hornets

Larry Johnson (No. 2) high-fives teammate Muggsy Bogues (No. 1) of the Charlotte Hornets during a game against the New Jersey Nets played circa 1991 at Brendan Byrne Arena in East Rutherford, New Jersey.

Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

Larry Johnson and Muggsy Bogues, 1991

From 1988 to 2002, before the franchise relocated to New Orleans, the Charlotte Hornets were a force in style. It’s hard not to reminisce about strongman Larry Johnson, 5-foot-3 point guard Muggsy Bogues, a young Alonzo Mourning and Steph’s sharpshooting pops Dell Curry in their white, teal and purple pinstriped uniforms. After a two-year layoff without a pro hoops team in the city, the NBA established the Charlotte Bobcats as an expansion team in 2004. The Bobcats wore less-than-memorable blue, orange and white uniforms for 10 years before the team got its Hornets name and colors back from New Orleans in 2014. Atop franchise majority owner Michael Jordan’s to-do list should be finessing Nike into bringing back these classic uniforms. With the Jordan Brand Jumpman logo on the jerseys, of course.

Chicago Bulls

Michael Jordan (No. 23) of the Chicago Bulls stands on the court moves the ball at the perimeter against the Los Angeles Clippers at the Sports Arena in Los Angeles.

Rick Stewart/Getty Images

Michael Jordan, 1984

Nothing says rookie-year Michael Jordan more than the images from the 1985 dunk contest, in which the then-21-year-old version of the greatest of all time took flight, with his gold chains swinging in the breeze, while he wore a red Bulls jersey with “Chicago” in slanted cursive. This is no question the best Bulls jersey of all time. You know who would wear it with some swag? Jimmy Butler. Actually, never mind.

Cleveland Cavaliers

Terrell Brandon (No. 1) of the Cleveland Cavaliers reacts against the Sacramento Kings during a game played on March 11, 1997, at Arco Arena in Sacramento, California.

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Terrell Brandon, 1997

Even doper than these late ’90s alternate Cleveland Cavaliers uniforms in black, blue, orange and white (which are much sleeker colors than the Cavs’ wine and gold) are the team’s warm-ups, featuring a ball swishing through a hoop on the backs. LeBron James would look too tough in these during his final season in Cleveland. Just kidding. Kind of.

Detroit Pistons

Grant Hill of the Detroit Pistons moves the ball during the game against the Houston Rockets on Feb. 15, 2000, at Compaq Center in Houston.

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Grant Hill, 2000

In the summer of 1996, the Detroit Pistons revamped their uniforms, changing their colors from red, white and blue to teal, black, yellow and red. They also introduced one of the fiercest logos in league history. The new design takes the engine part after which the team is named, a piston, and plays off the concept of a car’s horsepower by incorporating a stallion with a flaming mane. To add to the flair, the S’s in “PISTONS” on the front of the jerseys elongate into exhaust pipes. Nike needs to bring back whoever created this design ASAP.

Indiana Pacers

Reggie Miller of the Indiana Pacers pictured on Nov. 30, 1995, at Arco Arena in Sacramento, California.

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Reggie Miller, 1995

This is the uniform in which Reggie Miller, the greatest Indiana Pacer of all time, had the two greatest moments of his career: his eight points in 8.9 seconds and his infamous choke sign directed at filmmaker and Knicks superfan Spike Lee. Honorable mention: The 1989-90 away jersey in a more pale blue, with “PACERS” in a yellow panel stretching across the front. Both uniforms are way nicer than the hideous Hoosiers-themed “Hickory” jerseys that Indiana wore in 2015.

Miami Heat

Alonzo Mourning (No. 33) of the Miami Heat celebrates against the Sacramento Kings on Nov. 22, 1996, at Arco Arena in Sacramento, California.

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Alonzo Mourning, 1996

Simply put, these red alternate Heat jerseys from the ’90s are flame emojis 🔥 🔥 🔥.

Milwaukee Bucks

Glenn Robinson of the Milwaukee Bucks gets into position against the Sacramento Kings during a game played on March 13, 1996, at Arco Arena in Sacramento, California.

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Glenn Robinson, 1996

This is the best jersey the Milwaukee Bucks have ever worn, an alternate hunter green number with a huge buck on the abdomen and the team’s name that fades from white to purple. Born in 1994, Bucks superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo was a toddler when these jerseys popped in the mid-1990s. If Nike brought them back, the Greek Freak would surely make them pop.

Orlando Magic

Anfernee Hardaway (No. 1) and Shaquille O’Neal of the Orlando Magic return to the court during a game played circa 1994 at the Boston Garden in Massachusetts.

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Shaquille O’Neal, 1993

The most iconic uniform pinstripes belong to the New York Yankees. But a close second are certainly the stripes on the jerseys that the Orlando Magic wore in the 1990s. Is there a swaggier tandem in NBA history than Shaquille O’Neal and Penny Hardaway? Nope, and it’s not even close. They changed the game in their white, royal blue and black uniforms, embossed with stars on the chest as the letter A in either “ORLANDO” or “MAGIC.” And don’t get us started on the warm-up jackets. Too much sauce.

New York Knicks

Patrick Ewing (No. 33) (left) and Larry Johnson of the New York Knicks talk while playing the Sacramento Kings on Feb. 20, 1997, at Arco Arena in Sacramento, California.

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Patrick Ewing and Larry Johnson, 1997

As with the Boston Celtics, the uniforms of the New York Knicks haven’t changed much over the years. Yet, in the mid-’90s, the team added a nice touch of black trim to its road jerseys, which were worn by countless Knicks, from Patrick Ewing, John Starks and Charles Oakley to Allan Houston and Latrell Sprewell. One player who never got to rock this jersey — and probably never will, with his days as a Knick numbered? Carmelo Anthony.

Philadelphia 76ers

Philadelphia 76ers rookie guard Allen Iverson.

Vince Compagnone/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Allen Iverson, 1996

A rookie Allen Iverson with no cornrows, one tattoo and “SIXERS” on the chest of a bright red jersey — paired with his red and white Reebok Questions, of course — is nothing short of iconic. Take notes, Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz. This is where #TheProcess began.

Toronto Raptors

Vince Carter of the Toronto Raptors seen during the game against the Houston Rockets on March 25, 1999, at Compaq Center in Houston.

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Vince Carter, 1999

The Toronto Raptors should’ve kept the 1995 uniforms that they entered the league with forever. In more than two decades, the franchise has yet to top its 1990s purple away jersey, with red, black and gray trim, featuring a roaring raptor dribbling a basketball. Swagged by both Tracy McGrady and Vince Carter early in their careers, this is one of the greatest NBA jerseys of all time. To celebrate the team’s 20th anniversary during the 2014-15 season, the Raptors broke out the “Dino” uniforms in throwback fashion. It won’t be another anniversary year, but why not do it again for the 2017-18 season?

Washington Wizards

Earl Monroe (No. 10) of the Baltimore Bullets looks on against the New York Knicks during an NBA basketball game circa 1969 at the Baltimore Coliseum in Maryland.

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Earl Monroe, 1969

Forget the classic red, white and blue Washington Bullets jerseys that inspired what the Washington Wizards currently rock on the court. Bring back the blue, orange and white Baltimore Bullets uniforms from the late 1960s. Nowadays, they would be dubbed the “Hands Up Don’t Shoot” jerseys, given the extended-arms design of the L’s in “BULLETS.” #BlackLivesMatter

WESTERN CONFERENCE

Dallas Mavericks

Adrian Dantley of the Dallas Mavericks dunks during an NBA game against the Los Angeles Lakers at the Great Western Forum in Los Angeles in 1989.

Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

Adrian Dantley, 1989

The Dallas Mavericks should definitely return to the logo that features a big blue letter M topped with cowboy hat — inside a green basketball. For decades, this classic design made its way onto the shorts of Mavericks uniforms, the best of which came in the form of alternate green jerseys with Wild West-esque font on the front. Pull some strings, Mark Cuban!

Denver Nuggets

Alex English of the Denver Nuggets shoots a free throw against the Washington Bullets during an NBA basketball game circa 1990 at the Capital Centre in Landover, Maryland.

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Alex English, 1990

Sweet 8-pound, 6-ounce, newborn infant Jesus, these multicolored Denver Nuggets uniforms from the ’80s and ’90s are sweet. Name a throwback NBA jersey with a centerpiece logo as loud as Denver’s rainbow city skyline. But it works, as there certainly isn’t one as bold and beautiful as what Hall of Famer Alex English wore on his chest before several players on Denver’s current roster were born.

Golden State Warriors

An October 1968 photo of Al Attles of the San Francisco Warriors. (AP Photo)

AP Photo

Al Attles, 1968

In eight games during their 73-9 NBA record-setting 2015-16 season, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green balled out in the alternate yellow edition of the team’s vintage “The City” uniforms, originally released for the 1966-67 season, nearly 10 years before the franchise won its first NBA title. Like Golden State’s current uniforms, the throwbacks, worn by the likes of Rick Barry, Nate Thurmond and Al Attles, feature the Bay Bridge in a circular illustration on the front of the jersey, with the words “The City” in bold letters over it. The best part of the jersey is each player’s number on the back, which is illustrated in a Bay Area cable car above his name. As the Warriors chase their third title in four years, these uniforms must be in rotation.

Houston Rockets

(From left) Guard Clyde Drexler, center Hakeem Olajuwon and forward Charles Barkley of the Houston Rockets stand on the court during a May 7, 1997, playoff game against the Seattle SuperSonics at the Summit in Houston.

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Clyde Drexler, Hakeem Olajuwon and Charles Barkley, 1997

The season after winning back-to-back NBA titles in 1994 and 1995 in legendary red, yellow and white uniforms (which the team still frequently wears), the Houston Rockets switched it up with a completely different color scheme to complement its Hall of Fame trio of Clyde Drexler, Charles Barkley and Hakeem Olajuwon. The pinstriped red, navy and white uniforms are complete with an intricately designed rocket ship that swirls around the team’s name on the front of the jersey. Perhaps a new Rockets big three of Chris Paul, James Harden and Anthony could take the court in these this season. Not so fast, though. Houston has to lock up that trade for Anthony first.

Los Angeles Clippers

Bob MacAdoo (No. 11) of the Buffalo Braves stands on the court against the Boston Celtics during a game played in 1974 at the Boston Garden in Massachusetts.

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Bob McAdoo, 1974

This was a tough decision. It was hard not to go with the throwback Zeke McCall cursive-lettered Clippers jersey, worn by a young Quincy McCall in Love & Basketball. Long before the 2000 film, and current Clippers stars Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, the franchise began in New York as the Buffalo Braves, led by Hall of Famer Bob McAdoo. As simple as the baby blue jerseys that McAdoo and the Braves wore for eight years before the team moved to California in 1978 were, they’re superclassic. Even Jay-Z knows about the retro McAdoo jersey.

Los Angeles Lakers

Magic Johnson of the Los Angeles Lakers passes against Terry Porter of the Portland Trail Blazers at the Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Portland, Oregon, circa 1988. (Photo by Brian Drake/NBAE via Getty Images)

Brian Drake/NBAE via Getty Images

Magic Johnson, 1988

Imagine rookie point guard Lonzo Ball dropping dimes in the purple road uniforms in which Magic Johnson and the “Showtime” Lakers dazzled en route to five championships in the 1980s. C’mon, Nike. Bring these back for Lonzo, and for the people.

Memphis Grizzlies

Shareef Abdur-Rahim of the Vancouver Grizzlies during a game against the Golden State Warriors played on Jan. 8, 1997, at San Jose Arena in California.

Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images

Shareef Abdur-Rahim, 1997

The 1995-2001 teal Vancouver Grizzlies jerseys are the dopest uniforms in NBA history — don’t @ us. The bold team name sprawling across the chest, the funky color scheme and trim that includes red, brown, black and white, the ferocious logo of a grizzly bear clawing a basketball on the shorts — what is not to like about this jersey? After six seasons in Canada, the franchise relocated to Memphis while maintaining the same mascot. So it’s only right that Nike allows Memphis to pay homage to the team’s former city with these glorious jerseys.

Minnesota Timberwolves

Kevin Garnett of the Minnesota Timberwolves during a game against the Houston Rockets on Feb. 26, 1998, at Compaq Center in Houston.

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Kevin Garnett, 1998

A young Kevin Garnett in the black alternate Minnesota Timberwolves uniforms, with Frankenstein-esque lettering and green pine trees lining the jersey and shorts — SO tough. As Minnesota pushes to make some noise in the deep Western Conference this season, the team’s young core could use some intimidating flair — like Garnett and the Timberwolves had way back when.

New Orleans Pelicans

Chris Paul of the New Orleans Hornets directs the offense against the Houston Rockets on Feb. 27, 2011, at the New Orleans Arena.

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Chris Paul, 2011

What’s the best throwback jersey for a 15-year-old franchise that gave up its first mascot to another city? Look no further than the Mardi Gras-themed “NOLA” uniforms the team formerly known as the New Orleans Hornets wore several years ago, when Chris Paul was still the point guard of the squad that drafted him. It’s hard to imagine that folks in the Big Easy wouldn’t welcome a return of these purple, green and gold jerseys, especially come next February.

Oklahoma City Thunder

Gary Payton of the Seattle SuperSonics dribbles against the Los Angeles Clippers during a game at the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena circa 1991.

Jon Soohoo/NBAE via Getty Images

Gary Payton, 1991

How crazy would it be if Russell Westbrook, Paul George and the Oklahoma City Thunder paid tribute to the franchise’s former city by taking the floor next season in throwback Seattle SuperSonics jerseys, circa the Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp days? It was a sad time when the team left Seattle in 2008. Hope the city will get another franchise one day. But until then, it’s only right that Nike and the Thunder pay respect to the team’s roots.

Phoenix Suns

Jason Kidd of the Phoenix Suns moves the ball during the game against the Charlotte Hornets on Jan. 29, 2000, at Charlotte Coliseum in Charlotte, North Carolina.

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Jason Kidd, 2000

You can’t tell us that the Phoenix Suns’ talented young trio of Devin Booker, Marquese Chriss and Josh Jackson couldn’t swag these black alternate throwbacks out. The Valley of the Sun needs these blast-from-the-past jerseys.

Portland Trail blazers

Clyde Drexler of the Portland Trail Blazers dribbles the ball against the Washington Bullets during an NBA basketball game circa 1992 at the Capital Centre in Landover, Maryland.

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Clyde Drexler, 1992

We can already see it: the starting lineup of the Portland Trail Blazers being announced to the tune of the Drake, Quavo and Travis $cott More Life track “Portland,” before the players take off their warm-ups to reveal the vintage Blazers uniforms that Clyde Drexler & Co. made iconic. What a moment that would be.

Sacramento Kings

Nate Archibald of the Kansas City Kings dribbles the ball up court against the Washington Bullets during an NBA basketball game circa 1975 at the Capital Centre in Landover, Maryland.

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Nate Archibald, 1975

Before journeying to Sacramento in 1985, the franchise was known as the Kansas City Kings, with royal blue, red and white uniforms and a logo that’s been updated to fit the team’s new purple, black and gray color scheme. If the Kings threw it back with jerseys to the Kansas City days, Nike would definitely have to make rookie point guard De’Aaron Fox a visor.

San Antonio Spurs

George Gervin of the San Antonio Spurs shoots a free throw against the Washington Bullets during an NBA basketball game circa 1980 at the Capital Centre in Landover, Maryland.

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George Gervin, 1980

The San Antonio Spurs still wear the old-school gray jerseys with the letter U in “Spurs” illustrated as a cowboy boot spur. Another subtle throwback could come through the reissue of the black 1980s Spurs jerseys that feature “SAN ANTONIO” on the front in white trim. These are definitely not too flashy for the modest Kawhi Leonard.

Utah Jazz

Karl Malone (No. 32) and John Stockton of the Utah Jazz talk during a game against the Sacramento Kings circa 1997 at Arco Arena in Sacramento, California.

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Karl Malone and John Stockton, 1997

Karl Malone, John Stockton and the Utah Jazz took back-to-back L’s in the 1997 and 1998 NBA Finals to Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls — but they did it in style, with purple road uniforms adorned by a Utah mountain. Too bad Gordon Hayward never got to wear this jersey before dipping out to Boston this summer in free agency.

Summer League MVP Lonzo Ball is Lakers’ newest sneaker free agent Just like Kobe in 2003. Here’s how Ball’s looks compare with the Black Mamba, side by side.

Lonzo Ball is a Los Angeles Laker, but in the sneaker world? He’s a free agent. As innovative and genius as his shoe decisions have been this summer, we’ve seen it before in Los Angeles — from one of the greatest Lakers of all time. Ball already has his own signature shoe — the heftily priced $495 ZO2s, made by his family’s Big Baller Brand — but the rookie point guard and Las Vegas Summer League MVP has kicked off his NBA career by playing the field when it comes to footwear.

In the Lakers’ two opening summer league games, Ball, as expected, took the court in his BBB kicks. First, he made his pro debut in a pair of white, purple and gold “Sho’time” Z02s. These are the same ones he wore when he walked across the stage after the Lakers chose him with the No. 2 overall pick in June’s draft. Playing in them, Ball posted an abysmal 5-point, 5-assist and 4-rebound performance in a 96-93 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers. The next game, an 86-81 loss to the Boston Celtics, Ball bounced back with a triple-double (11 points, 11 assists, 11 rebounds) in a pair of black and gold “Prime” ZO2s.

Yet, in the next four summer league games in which he appeared, Ball did not lace up his ZO2s. Instead, he flipped the script by playing in Nikes, James Harden’s signature Adidas, Stephen Curry’s signature Under Armours and Air Jordans. “When you’re a big baller, you can wear whatever you want,” he told TNT’s David Aldridge after recording a monster 36 points in a 103-102 win over the Philadelphia 76ers in a pair of Nike Kobe ADs. Once Ball began to stray from BBB, each night the Lakers were scheduled to play, folks on social media were pressed about what he had in store — like, “What shoes would Lonzo wear next?”

“It’s making a statement to the brands of what they could have had with an open mind,” LaVar Ball told ESPN’s Darren Rovell of his son’s summer league turned sneaker free agency. If you remember, the Ball family met with Nike, Adidas and Under Armour before the NBA draft, but all three sneaker companies passed on signing the 19-year-old phenom. Since he already had a prototype shoe, LaVar Ball was simply asking too much of the companies, calling on them to license BBB from him. Never in the history of sports, or sneakers, had there been such a demand.

Early in his career, future Hall of Famer Kobe Bryant spent a season as a sneaker free agent.

“If the price is right,” LaVar Ball continued when asked whether there’s a chance his son could still ink a deal with a big shoe company. Perhaps a bidding war is in store? “Something like that,” Lonzo Ball said before the summer league semifinals.

Yet, as bold as Ball was with his summer league sneaker changes, there’s a close-to-home precedent. Early in his career, future Hall of Famer Kobe Bryant spent a season as a sneaker free agent. After signing with Adidas as a rookie, and becoming the face of five different pairs of signature sneakers, Bryant reportedly dropped a whopping $8 million to part ways with the company in 2002.

Also included in the deal was the agreement that Bryant wouldn’t sign with another brand in 2003. So he spent the 2002-03 NBA season, in which he and the Lakers were chasing their fourth consecutive NBA title, wearing every shoe imaginable. From Air Force 1s to AND1s to Converse and even a slew of Air Jordans, including “True Blue” 3s, “Flint Grey” and “French Blue” 12s and “Concord” 11s. As Ball tests the sneaker market, just like Bryant did back in the day, let’s take a side-by-side look at some of the shoe choices made by the rising star rookie — and the retired legend, nearly 15 years ago.

Lonzo in Air Jordan 31 Lows vs. Kobe in Air Jordan PE 8s

When in doubt, just whip out the J’s. During his season without a sneaker contract, retro Air Jordans, in every edition and colorway he could get his hands on, were Bryant’s go-to. His favorite? Player exclusive Air Jordan 8s in purple and gold, with a white base for home games and black base for road games, made especially for Bryant (he also had PE 3s and PE 7s). As for Ball, he didn’t go retro, but he broke out a pair of low-top Air Jordan 31s in the summer league semifinals against the Dallas Mavericks, posting 16 points, 10 assists and 4 rebounds in just 21 minutes before leaving the game in the third quarter with calf tightness — a better night than he had in a full game wearing the ZO2s during his summer league debut.

Lonzo in Under Armour Curry 4 Finals PE vs. Kobe in Converse Weapons

On their feet, both Bryant and Ball paid tribute to championship-winning point guards who came before them. Fourteen years after the Lakers won their final NBA title in 1988 as part of the famed “Showtime” era of the franchise, Bryant channeled his inner Magic Johnson in 2002 by rocking Converse Weapons — the shoes the Hall of Fame point guard, and current president of basketball operations for the Lakers, wore in the 1980s. Flirting with another triple-double (14 points, 7 assists, 9 rebounds) against the Brooklyn Nets, Ball wore the Under Armour Curry 4 Finals PEs that two-time league MVP Curry unveiled en route to the Golden State Warriors winning their second NBA title in three years this summer. Because of a mild calf strain in his right leg, Ball was forced to sit out of the Lakers’ summer league championship matchup with the Portland Trail Blazers. But how dope would it have been if Ball had decided to wear a pair of Weapons, a la Magic and Kobe, and won the title? Too dope.

How dope would it have been if Ball had decided to wear a pair of Weapons, a la Magic and Kobe?

Lonzo in Adidas Harden LS “Night Life” vs. Kobe in Reebok Question

It has to be a little weird to wear the signature shoe of a fellow player. But that’s exactly what Bryant did during the 2002-03 NBA season, and Ball followed suit. Two seasons after the Lakers beat Allen Iverson and the Philadelphia 76ers in the 2001 NBA Finals, Bryant donned Iverson’s signature mid-top Reebok Questions in multiple variations of Lakers colors. Months removed from his first matchup with Harden and the Houston Rockets, Ball sported a pair of Adidas Harden LS “Night Life” shoes, dropping a triple-double (16 points, 12 assists, 10 rebounds) in a 94-83 Lakers summer league win over the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Lonzo in Nike Kobe ADs vs. Kobe in Nike Air Flight Huarache

What made Ball ditch the ZO2s after two games for a pair of Bryant’s Nike Kobe ADs? “You know,” Ball said after he willed the Lakers to a 103-102 win over the Philadelphia 76ers, “Mamba mentality. Thought I’d switch it up.” The first brand Ball turned to when he decided to shake things up with his sneakers was Nike — the company Bryant signed with in June 2003 after a season testing out Nikes, most notably PE Nike Air Flight Huaraches. With a signature line of 14 shoes and counting, Bryant is one of the most iconic faces of Nike and will be for the foreseeable future.

But could the Black Mamba soon be joined at the brand by a Big Baller? If Ball bases his decision solely on the first performances of his young career, he’ll go with Nike, even if that means completely reshaping his father’s BBB vision and maybe even leaving the ZO2s in the past. Because in Kobes, Ball dazzled to the tune of 36 points, 11 assists, 8 rebounds and 5 steals — he did it in Showtime style, the way the Lakers hoped he would.

The Morning Roast: 7/17/17 Let’s talk about the Knicks, X Games, ‘The Bachelorette’ and contracts

Mina Kimes was back from assignment, Clinton Yates was back from the Midwest and Domonique Foxworth decided to go to McDonald’s for breakfast instead of the usual bagels and coffee. It was a great show.

Hour 1

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Mina managed to make it to the ESPY Awards, which apparently has a standby list that I didn’t know about until she brought it up. Alas, the person whose seat she took wasn’t a very memorable person, but being in the building is half the fun.

During the show, Roger Federer managed to win yet another Wimbledon men’s singles title, which means he broke a record. Clinton was way more interested in talking about the line judges and those cool outfits they get to wear. Speaking of outfits, the All-England Club ain’t playing when it comes to its all-white policy. Tournament officials straight-up made a team change their underwear, because God forbid anyone show any color whatsoever.

Of course, Carmelo Anthony is still looking to get out of New York, and this time the Houston Rockets look to be the landing spot. This somehow led to a conversation about the Knicks and Melo staying together to appease Kristaps Porzingis, whom you might recall bounced on the team before exit interviews at the end of last season. That led to a show-long thread of broken-home discussions, which, although painful for Clinton, at least provided good show content.

Since it’s summer, the NBA summer league is around, and more popular than ever. The gang discussed how the Ball family is handling the entire situation. More importantly, Clinton and Domonique unveiled their theory of how Lonzo is handling his shoe contract situation, which is very forward-thinking.

Hour 2

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Things got off to a hot start with Showtime’s Brian Custer, who discussed the latest in the Floyd Mayweather/Conor McGregor boxing match, which has gotten ugly on the news conference front. He’s been at all of them, but the most fun part of the interview came when quite a few listeners thought Custer dropped an f-bomb on the air (he actually said the word “buck.”)

No one was more excited than Domonique and Mina to get back to football talk, sparked by the fact that Richard Sherman says players need to strike if they expect to make more money. With both of them being union experts, they broke down exactly why labor strife is not going to work out in the players’ favor when it comes to the NFL.

Clinton was back from Minnesota, where he was attending the X Games, so that’s where Top 5 went. If you’ve never been to one, you know that all sorts of people attend this event, so he looked back at who he ran into while he was at US Bank Stadium.

Hour 3

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As of this posting, Kirk Cousins still has not signed a contract with Washington’s NFL franchise. Which means that if he plays another season without reaching a long-term deal, the team will have to fork over huge cash if it’s looking to franchise-tag him a third time. Clearly, that situation is ridiculous, which gave Clinton, a fan of the team, an opportunity to literally yell and scream about it.

The Bachelorette is down to hometown visits, but first, Rachel had to cut a couple of people. Dean got the short end of the stick on the date front, but Bryan is out here copping Breitling watches with Rachel. Most importantly, Christian Yates is back from vacation in Uruguay and China, much to Domonique’s delight.

Finally, we unveiled a new bit called House on Fire, which Domonique created as a poll question. Basically, it’s the opposite of “1 Gotta Go,” and you have to pick one thing you’d save in a situation if your proverbial house were on fire. The best part of the bit came when one caller decided to blow up the whole construct of the game with a rather brilliant observation.

Enjoy!

This Southern University grad is turning Houston’s crack houses into homes For nearly 30 years, Leslie Smith has been a force for change in the Third Ward

Leslie Smith — 6-foot-3, bald, with a debonair look — may have GQ magazine appearance on the outside, but he certainly has a heart of gold on the inside.

In fact, some say the Southern University College of Business graduate has that Midas touch. With an abundance of dignity.

A minister without a traditional congregation, Smith buys and refurbishes dilapidated crack houses in Houston’s Third Ward and rents the refurbished homes at affordable rates. He has become a force for positive change in a depressed, 90 percent black area in dire need of transformation.

He bought his first crack house in 1989, the year Smith founded and became CEO of a community-help organization that he named Change Happens! (with a swoosh for the exclamation point). By 2017, Smith had purchased a total of 10 crack houses.

One of the dilapidated former crack houses to be renovated in Houston’s Third Ward by Change Happens!

Combine that with the 18 other neglected housing structures he’s purchased, and Smith has renovated 28 homes in Houston.

The 63-year-old Smith explained his mission to The Undefeated: “My work is my ministry. I love to give to those that are living and existing in very poor areas.”

During the Fourth of July holiday weekend, while many of us stuffed ourselves at barbecues, Smith was canvassing New Orleans’ Seventh, Eighth and Ninth wards, areas devastated by Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and still in search of hope.

Smith’s goal: to one day bring to the “Big Easy” his Houston model of transforming ramshackle structures into livable residences.

No holiday for a man on the move

As Smith says, “Time is money.” And access to capital and credit are necessary requirements to accomplish great deeds for the masses.

“Back when we were growing up, your word was your bond. Now, your word is your credit score.”

Theodore Taylor, a 42-year-old tow truck driver, knows about that. He is a tenant in one of Smith’s reconstructed houses. Taylor pays $650 a month for a two-bedroom, single-family home with central heat and air conditioning. These houses, cream-colored with burgundy trim, are surrounded by black iron fences and a feeling of safety, unlike before. Taylor had many kind words for Smith.

“We need more people like him,” Taylor said. “Nobody wants to invest in neighborhoods like this.”

Smith is currently leading a 12-person contingent from Houston to Haiti for a two-week humanitarian mission.

Leslie Smith

The group plans to deliver powdered milk, peanut butter, children’s backpacks and blankets to three orphanages.

“I’ve been doing this for 13 years,” Smith said. He visits Haiti three or four times a year.

Smith got an early start over most in the spirit of entrepreneurship and business acumen. How about at 9 years old?

“One day, my dad told me to come go with him,” Smith recalled. “He took me to a car dealership. He bought a Chevrolet Impala for $2,800. Back in those days, that was a lot of money. He pulled out that $2,800, all in $100 bills. The people at the dealership were shocked; a black man came in and did that. And my dad had only a high school education.”

The lesson: the power of paid in full. No lingering debt. “Cash on the barrel head,” as the folk of wisdom used to say back in the day.

“My dad had a Gulf Oil franchise (service/gas station) back in the late ’50s, early ’60s, in Shreveport, Louisiana,” Smith said. “His mom and dad helped put up the collateral for the franchise, so I consider myself a born entrepreneur.”

Now, with specks of gray in his goatee and an affinity for suits from Dillard’s, the bespectacled Smith lives in a loft in downtown Houston, participates in long-distance bicycle charity events (try pedaling from Houston to New Orleans), vacations in Mexico and retreats to saunas at the area YMCA to de-stress from a wildly busy schedule.

Asked whether he’s a millionaire, Smith responded, “No, I just control the millions. Remember, the bank owns the loans.”

Smith uses the business principles that he learned from Southern and his own entrepreneurial instincts to make a difference.

Donald R. Andrews, the 68-year-old dean of Southern’s College of Business, said we need more black folk like Smith who understand the tenets of small-business management.

“They must understand human resources, product management, sales, payroll management and economics,” said Andrews. “All of that is needed, even if it’s a nonprofit enterprise.”

Recognition for dedicated work

During Southern’s homecoming against Arkansas Pine-Bluff the weekend of Oct. 21, Smith was inducted into Beta Gamma Sigma, an international honor society serving business programs accredited by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business. Membership in BGS is the highest global recognition a business student can receive in a business program accredited by AACSB International.

Said Smith: “Business administration, marketing, management and entrepreneurship are the educational backgrounds that would help one become a successful entrepreneur. Southern University’s business school taught me the theory and the methodology of the practice of managing and growing a business.”

And Smith has experienced the delight of business growth.

His office is in a three-story brick building that houses Smith’s Change Happens!, formerly known as Families Under Urban & Social Attack. It’s 2,700 square feet, $3 million built from the ground up. The doors opened in 2005, and it’s within walking distance of Smith’s redeveloped houses. The colors of the office building: cream base with burgundy trim, again. “That’s my branding colors,” Smith explained.

“When I first came to the neighborhood and started buying property, a lot of black people thought white folks owned this,” Smith recollected. “They were surprised when they found out it was black people like me who owned these properties. It blew them away. We have to change that mindset.”

The Change Happens! building is the epicenter for Smith’s 70 full-time employees and his 18 community-help programs, which include after-school facilities for adolescents, health care enrollment assistance, youth drug prevention, computer training centers, adult education projects, libraries and more. Smith has gotten federal contracts with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Centers for Disease Control. He’s also been aided by contributions from fundraising events, sponsors and affluent donors.

“Leslie Smith is doing more than just remodeling houses,” Taylor the tenant said. “He’s also making changes. Unlike other contractors in the Third Ward, he’s saying you can stay here but with stipulations: no drugs, break-ins, stealing, none of that stuff.”

When Smith first started buying rickety structures in “Crack House Alley” with a $25,000 bank loan, he had to run off the drug dealers with their pit bull guard dogs and clean up the stashes of dirty needles, drugs and other paraphernalia left behind.

That process didn’t come about without confrontations with dealers and users.

“I told them that’s playing dirty,” Smith remembered. “I told them if they didn’t stop breaking into my houses, I would call the police.”

Then, Smith posted signs scattered about his properties with a rather eye-catching inscription: “God’s Property, Drug Free Zone.”

The criminals got the message. And so have others, in a more positive manner, as Smith has come a long way since 1989.

A heart of gold in a time of need.