The NFL without Odell There’s no Plan B for replacing one of the most recognizable stars in the world in the league’s biggest media market

It was written all over Odell Beckham Jr.’s face. He didn’t have to say a word. His fractured ankle — suffered in Sunday’s 27-22 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers, which dropped a decrepit New York Giants squad to 0-5 on the season — will require surgery. Beckham tallied 97 yards on five catches and one touchdown before going down. In what could be his final 2017 image, the league’s most dynamic talent sat demoralized on the back of a cart in tears.

The NFL has many faces. Colin Kaepernick’s kneeling. The owners’ resistance to Kaepernick’s impact. Von Miller’s eccentricity. Ezekiel Elliott’s future. Cam Newton’s drama. The New England Patriots’ dominance. Marshawn Lynch’s silence. But Beckham is the face of fun (“fun” being subjective in this case) in a billion-dollar league with very serious — mental health, domestic violence, First Amendment, chronic traumatic encephalopathy — issues.

The loss of Beckham is a hit stick to the league’s cultural capital. He’s set to cash in more than $10 million in endorsements. Nike can’t be too happy: In May, the company and Beckham came to terms on the richest shoe deal in NFL history — nearly $5 million a year for five years. Beckham’s wardrobe, the football equivalent of Russell Westbrook’s, makes nearly as many headlines as the wind sprints, acrobatic one-hand catches and intricate end zone routines that could moonlight as music videos.

Beckham is the most followed NFL player on Instagram, with more than 9 million followers. For context, Miller, J.J. Watt, Tom Brady, Russell Wilson and Newton have 1.2 million, 2.8 million, 2.8 million, 3.1 million and 3.9 million followers, respectively.

In a quarterback-driven league where fan loyalty largely resides with the entire team, Beckham is an individual, non-quarterback star (like Randy Moss before him) whose brand is just as much about name on the back of his jersey (fourth overall in 2016 sales) as the team logo on his helmet. Beckham’s social media influence is huge — he’s the most followed NFL player on Instagram with more than 9 million followers. For context, Miller, J.J. Watt, Tom Brady, Russell Wilson and Newton have 1.2 million, 2.8 million, 2.8 million, 3.1 million and 3.9 million followers, respectively. With 55 percent of all 18- to 29-year-olds in America on Instagram, Beckham’s appeal to the younger crowd separates himself from his peers.

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On his off days, Beckham is a regular fixture at NBA games. He has the respect of LeBron James. Kaepernick, too. He’s won the adoration of Drake (and likely a spare set of keys to his mansion). He even, allegedly, friend-zoned Rihanna. He texts Michael Jordan. He takes selfies with Beyoncé and rubs shoulders with an even more famous Beckham — David. And Beckham’s cleats are always in. He shifts the culture by driving it, which is why his injury affects NFL culture far beyond the Giants’ red zone offense.

The Giants’ season had effectively been in rice for weeks. But the loss of Beckham means the loss of one of football’s most popular ambassadors at a time when America’s most popular sport is in the crosshairs of societal debates that the president weighs in on almost daily. While Beckham’s attitude has long been perceived by some as a character’s most notorious flaw, his impact on the sport is felt leaguewide. “I would be remiss not to acknowledge how engaging and professional Odell [Beckham Jr.] was during the entire week of the Pro Bowl,” NFL executive vice president Troy Vincent said in February. “By far and away, he represented the New York Football Giants and the NFL with great poise, congeniality and professionalism.”


Max blasts Giants for OBJ injury

Beckham’s fractured ankle, the same one he injured in a preseason game versus the Cleveland Browns, is likely the bookend to his turbulent 2017. The year, of course, began with Beckham, Victor Cruz and several other Giants partying on a yacht in Miami with Trey Songz.

The January boat party followed a playoff-clinching win over the Washington Redskins, and Beckham was largely blamed for the team’s lackluster postseason exit a week later against the Green Bay Packers — for what it’s worth, and as far as the mood on Twitter, the Giants haven’t won a game since. Then, in July, Beckham, who reached 3,500 yards faster than any receiver in league history, declared he wanted to be not only the league’s highest-paid receiver but the highest paid player, “period.” And just last month during a game versus the Philadelphia Eagles, Beckham critics feverishly salivated at the opportunity to throw him under the bus after a touchdown celebration in which he mimicked a dog urinating in the end zone. Beckham revealed later that the celebration was a response to President Donald Trump’s “son of a b—-” statement. After his second touchdown in that game, to far less fanfare and debate, Beckham raised his fist. Except for Kaepernick and maybe Lynch, there is no more polarizing NFL personality than Beckham. The conversation around him never stops. The goalposts just shift in a league that served up the following just on Sunday:

In a long-planned move, Vice President Mike Pence walked out of the Indianapolis Colts-San Francisco 49ers game as several members of the Niners kneeled during the national anthem. Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones lashed out after his team’s 35-31 loss to the Packers by saying that any member of the team to “disrespect” the flag would not play. Miami Dolphins offensive line coach Chris Foerster was seen snorting a white substance in a video posted on Facebook by a woman Foerster was confessing his love to. The Tennessee Titans denied Kaepernick a tryout after a hamstring injury to its starting quarterback, Marcus Mariota, opting instead for unsigned journeyman Brandon Weeden. Houston Texans superstar defensive lineman Watt suffered a tibial plateau fracture in his left leg. Meanwhile, after a week of self-inflicted controversy, Carolina Panthers star quarterback Newton pieced together a second consecutive MVP-like performance with 355 yards and three touchdowns versus the Detroit Lions.

In quarterback-driven league and where fan loyalty is to teams, Beckham is the rare individual non-quarterback star (like Randy Moss before him).

And then: “I knew it was bad,” Giants tight end Evan Engram said about Beckham’s injury after the game. “Bad” is an understatement. Beckham’s ankle headlines a decimated Giants receiving corps that had the makings of quite possibly the best in football. Both Brandon Marshall and Sterling Shepard were ruled out of the second half of Sunday’s game with ankle injuries. Per Adam Schefter, Dwayne Harris’ fractured foot will end his season. Sunday’s setback also destroys Beckham’s quest for a fourth consecutive Pro Bowl and 1,000-yard season and the pipe dream of exorcising the demons of playoffs past. It complicates an already foggy contract situation too. Down their best offensive player, the Giants lose their most marketable face, with two prime-time games still left on the schedule, in a season on pace to go down as one of the worst comedy of errors in team history.

For the NFL, it’s a season in which the biggest headlines come from the sidelines, and the Oval Office. The season isn’t even halfway over and its traffic jam of moral dilemmas, including the saga of Kaepernick’s quest to return, dominate discussion. Which is why the NFL without Beckham is a blow it could ill afford. There’s no Plan B for replacing one of the most recognizable stars in the world in the league’s biggest media market. There’s no way to re-create that cocktail of production, swag and divisiveness that comes from the former LSU standout. The NFL is in a position it’s become all too familiar with in recent years — although Beckham’s injury is, of course, beyond its control — behind the eight ball.

As Beckham was carted off the field Sunday, towel over his head to mask the pain, he again didn’t have to say a word. One of his famous friends already had, fittingly on a song called “Do Not Disturb”: They tell me I need recovery/ Maybe gettin’ back to my regular life will humble me/ I’ll be back in 2018 to give you the summary.

‘Playing While White’ examines privilege on and off the field New book says that sports, like America itself, is a place where race matters

Playing While White: Privilege and Power on and off the Field by Washington State University professor David J. Leonard shines a light on whiteness in sports culture and the ways in which white athletes are characterized compared with black athletes. Leonard wrote an adaptation from his book, released in July, for The Undefeated.


Playing While White: Privilege and Power on and off the Field explores the ways that white athletes are profiled as intelligent leaders, hard workers, underdogs and role models.

Exploring a spectrum of athletes from Tom Brady to Johnny Manziel, several teams, including Wisconsin basketball and the St. Louis Cardinals, as well as extreme sports, NASCAR and lacrosse, I look at the ways whiteness is imagined within America’s sporting cultures.

America’s sporting fields are not postracial promised lands; they are not places where race doesn’t matter because the only thing that counts is whether you can score touchdowns or make buckets. Sports is not the “colorblind mecca” that we are routinely promised each and every weekend.

Sports, like America itself, is a place where race matters. While writing about the NBA, USC professor Todd Boyd makes this clear, writing that sports “remains one of the few places in American society where there is a consistent racial discourse.”

It is a place where anti-black racism is ubiquitous, from the press box to the coach’s office, from the stands to the White House. It is also a place where the privileges of whiteness are commonplace.

After my book was published, San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich highlighted the nature of white privilege, or what it means to be #PlayingWhileWhite inside and outside the sporting arena.

“It’s like you’re at the 50-meter mark in a 100-meter dash,” Popovich said during a recent news conference. “You’ve got that kind of a lead, yes, because you were born white. You have advantages that are systemically, culturally, psychologically rare. And they’ve been built up and cemented for hundreds of years.”

The power of whiteness can be seen in the celebration of Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Tim Tebow and countless white athletes as leaders and role models on and off the field. Praised as disciplined, hardworking and humble, while their black peers are consistently depicted as either “ungrateful millionaires” or “natural athletes,” the power of race can be seen in the descriptors afforded different athletes.

To be a white athlete is to be a scrappy and gritty player, whose motor never stops, whose “drive never relents” and whose determination is unmatched. To be a white athlete is to “play the right way,” to be unselfish, to be without ego and to always put winning and team first and foremost. These sorts of racially stratified descriptors are common in the sports media, from coaches and general managers, and from fans alike. As are the consistent attribution of hard work and intelligence to white athletes whose IQs, work ethic and intangibles are the source of constant celebration. To be a white athlete is to be cerebral, a student of the game, a throwback to a different era.

The power of whiteness is equally evident in the trash talk of John Stockton, Larry Bird, Brady and Manziel. Amid widespread nostalgia for greater sportsmanship and respect for the game, whereupon hip-hop and black athletes are blamed for the intrusion of toxic values, the trash-talking of white athletes is either ignored or celebrated as evidence of their passion for the game and competitiveness.

Brady is what #PlayingWhileWhite looks like inside and outside of sports. Despite coming from immense privilege and opportunity, earning a scholarship to the University of Michigan and being drafted into the NFL, Brady has been recast as an underdog, who through hard work, intelligence, dedication and unselfishness has become the league’s greatest quarterback. He’s a winner and a leader. Yet he also is a victim of being underestimated, and of those who “falsely” accused him of cheating. The story of Brady is the story of whiteness, of advantages and systematically produced opportunities.

White privilege is also the celebration of Bill Belichick’s hoodie as African-American youths are seen as criminals and “thugs” for their similar clothing choices. It is “Gronk being Gronk,” while any number of black athletes are denounced as selfish and out of control.

White privilege is the NASCAR CEO endorsing Donald Trump, while its fans historically waved the Confederate flag, all while it threatens consequences to anyone who protests during the national anthem.

White privilege is fights in hockey, among NASCAR pit crews and in baseball being recast as tradition, as fun and as part of the game, while the shoving matches in the NBA prompt national panics.

White privilege is silence about drug use in extreme sports and in those white-dominated collegiate sports amid headlines about NFL and NBA marijuana arrests and a war on drugs waged in black and Latino communities.

To #PlayWhileWhite is to be seen as smart, scrappy, determined and a leader. #PlayingWhileWhite is to win, to be celebrated in victory, redeemed in defeat, lifted up when down and sympathized with by others as a real or imagined victim. It is to be innocent and a repository of excuses for failure. It is being empowered to be silent; it is being seen as a person and not just as an athlete, as a commodity, as someone who dunks or makes spectacular catches. And that privilege is bigger than any contract, any commercial and any award, one that extends beyond the playing field.

Daniel Gibson talks LeBron and Kyrie, rapping and Love & Hip Hop Hollywood Former Cavalier is a rapper on reality TV show with ex-wife Keyshia Cole

Daniel Gibson played alongside LeBron James and Kyrie Irving during his seven-year NBA career with the Cleveland Cavaliers. The sharpshooter appeared in the 2007 NBA Finals as a rookie and nailed nearly 50 percent of his 3-pointers during the 2009-10 season.

While Gibson’s shooting ability gave him realistic hope for a lengthy career, he disappeared from the NBA scene in 2013. The 31-year-old Gibson recently resurfaced in the reality show Love & Hip Hop: Hollywood with his ex-wife, rhythm and blues singer Keyshia Cole. The budding rapper known as “Boobie” in the NBA now goes by “Booby.”

What happened to Gibson, and why isn’t he playing now? He explained it all and talked about his basketball aspirations in a different realm, the support he receives from Cole, why the Cavaliers brought him to tears, James, Irving and more in a Q&A with The Undefeated.


Do you think NBA fans or your fans in general have some misconceptions about why you’re not playing in the NBA anymore? ‘Did he fall off the earth? Or did it have something to do with Keyshia Cole?’ What is perception and reality?

Man, there are so many misconceptions when it comes to me not playing basketball. The headline I hated to see, and I even contacted them about it, is ‘Daniel Gibson quits the NBA to rap.’ It’s foolish. You can do both. [Portland Trail Blazers guard] Damian Lillard does it. It’s not something you have to completely stop doing to do the other. That bothers me because that time in my life, it was so difficult. Basketball was what I did. I still was writing music and writing short stories at the same time. But basketball was taken away from me.

Daniel Gibson #1 of the Cleveland Cavaliers shoots against Josh Smith #5 of the Atlanta Hawks on April 1, 2013.

Scott Cunningham/NBAE via Getty Images

I wanted to play, but I couldn’t. I didn’t stop because I wanted to switch lanes. That bothered me. But it was just a physical thing, and I am the type of guy that if I am going to do something, I have to be completely invested in it and getting out of it what I want. I’m a realist. I am going to tell myself that you might have to start thinking about other things. I have to be fulfilled as a person.

What is the latest with your rap career?

The music has been amazing. It’s starting to take a life of its own since I got on the show. We started filming and people are starting to see me in a different light. They get to actually see my music, writing and just the whole aspect of what I call ‘my entertainment,’ and how it comes from a real place. It’s not just something that I’m doing. It’s not just a hobby. I released a song called ‘Nobody Knows,’ and it kind of describes my transition and the stuff I dealt with weighing basketball and a career in entertainment.

On last Sunday night’s episode, Keyshia Cole said that you should start playing basketball again. Are you interesting in playing basketball anymore?

Yes. But in terms of the NBA, it’s tough because of the injuries that I have had with my ankle, my knee, my back. It started to be challenging to play 82 games and compete at a high level. The struggles started when I would fly after having my ankle surgery. When we would land in a city, and we might have back-to-back games — and I know [the NBA] has changed that rule this season — my foot would be swollen. It would be a whole day process to get it to where I could perform. It got to the point where it became grueling.

Keyshia said that jokingly, ‘That is what I know you to be good at.’ She always picks at me about doing the music. But she is in support of it and knows how talented I am with it and just how tough basketball began to be for me at the end of my career. But to answer your question, I’m open to it all. It’s just a matter of me and my health, and which direction God wants me to go with the way my body is going for me.

In 2013, when you last played in the NBA, how did your body feel?

Whew. I think that was the year I came back from breaking my ankle. That was probably the toughest time, getting back, playing and not having the full extension of your foot and trying to figure out how to compete and be productive and enjoy the game.

There was some interest from other NBA teams for you to come back, but would it be fair to say you declined those opportunities due to your injuries?

Absolutely. When I stopped playing, I had options to go a few different places to either work out or possibly talk about joining other teams. So, for me it was solely about that point in my career. Would I be happy playing and feeling like I can’t contribute the way that I want to? Or, while I was still young, start to make sure I was lining everything up in my life. Just be real with myself. It was a pretty tough time for me because I was dealing with a lot of other things in my life as well.

Keyshia Cole and Daniel Gibson

Johnny Nunez/WireImage

Are you at peace with not playing in the NBA anymore?

I can’t say that I am completely at peace. I got in with Keyon Dooling and Corey Maggette and we created ‘The Champions League,’ which is a league for guys who still have names and can still play at a high level but might not be able to play five games in seven nights. Guys like myself, Mike Bibby, Stephen Jackson, Corey Maggette, Al Harrington, Jason Williams. We would go play in smaller markets.

I wouldn’t say that I completely have come to peace with it. I just found ways to continue to do what I love to do, but in a capacity that I am OK with. Even the BIG3, it’s probably something I will do as well. It will still allow me to play basketball at a high level.

You didn’t try to play in the BIG3 in their inaugural season this summer?

That body … after I hurt my ankle trying to get back from it, I ended up hurting up my other knee, too, probably compensating. After they reached out to me for that, I had just got it scoped. I couldn’t participate. People have no idea. They think I’m just on Love & Hip Hop or making music is just sitting on my a–. It’s been a lot. But it’s also been necessary. It’s also been working for me.

How have you held up mentally through all this change?

Initially, I probably hit rock bottom in terms of how I felt about myself and where I was in life. Now, I’m at peace with that. Since, I’ve been very vocal about that experience just because anyone else dealing with something mentally due to drama and things happening in their life, I try to be a walking inspiration. Yeah, things happen and come in flurries. You don’t know when they will come, but you bounce back and become stronger from it.

Did you have problems watching NBA games?

I didn’t watch the games. It was basketball, but I was also going through my divorce too. I lost someone in my family that I was real close to. It was a combination of a lot of things. Places that I had for refuge and always went for sanity were gone. At that point, I had to do a lot of self-reflection about a lot of things. That was during the 2013-14 season when I was thinking about coming back and I couldn’t.

How has writing and rapping helped you?

I’d like to say the writing. The writing is the expression of my poetry and a lot of the stories I tell when I write them. It pretty much saved me. That’s what I tell everybody. When I couldn’t hoop, I just started writing stories. I would write stories with fairy-tale endings that would make me happy, and it started to give me motivation to go out and do it. I just started writing, and I developed a passion for it.

That’s why when someone asks me about music or anything like that, I get emotional with it. It’s just something that gave me an outlet when I didn’t have any. In that process, I perfected the craft and studied the craft. It gave me the same drive like when you first start playing basketball and you first hear the nets when you make your first 3-pointer, you get addicted to the sound of the nets. It started being that way when I started affecting people the same way with my telling stories, writing and being creative. It kind of gave me more zest for life and put me back in the position I was in before, but only stronger, more motivated and able to move more people.

When did you start rapping?

During this whole process, it was always poetry and short stories that I would write. But when I was going through everything, things got dark. I didn’t want to write so much. Then I met this producer and he saw what I was writing and asked if I ever thought about putting it to music. I was like, ‘Nah.’ Once I started doing that, I pretty much slept in a studio for like, three months. I was just writing stories, telling stories. That is where the song ‘Nobody Knows’ comes from. I wrote that about everything that I was going through. Wanting to play basketball and not being able to, what was happening in my life. It just started to just be my escape.

The microphone just became my therapy. I could talk about whatever and come out of there feeling brand-new. Just the artistry and the freedom of that creativity is what I love most. But if I never made a dollar making music, I’d still be the happiest man in the world with what it does for me.

Former NBA player Daniel “Boobie” Gibson participates in the Sprite celebrity basketball game during the 2015 BET Experience.

Chelsea Lauren/BET/Getty Images for BET

Have you been able to still be productive with the money you made during your NBA career? (Gibson made $22 million during his NBA career, according to Basketball Reference.)

Being a country boy and not ever feeling like I had to keep up with the Joneses, I’ve always been one to do my own thing. That really put me in position to do whatever I wanted to do when I stopped playing. Thankfully, by the grace of God, I’m able to pursue this and not worry about anything. I’m able to be passionate, invest in myself and take risks in myself without having to feel like I have to depend on anyone else. And that has been the most beneficial part of all this because the song I put out, the numbers that it did and the turnaround on it, it didn’t have to filter through anybody but me, because I write my own stuff. Basketball pretty much set me up for everything.

Do you have an album dropping soon?

I have a mixtape and an EP [extended play]. Ever since the show came out, all these people have been trying to get to me. I’m still trying to decide whether or not to partner with somebody or continue to go back the way I have been, independent. But I will probably drop something at the end of this Love & Hip Hop season called Flowing B. It’s just a mixtape that I’m going to do. And just to continue the momentum that I have going now, I’m still deciding on whether or not to sign with a label. … There has been a lot of interest in that regard.

So, the show has been positive for you?

Nobody really knew. They only judge what I was doing because me being a basketball player. But they never took the time to actually hear a song. They just automatically assume just because every other [basketball] rapper before, I would say, wasn’t that good or didn’t really have time, they kind of jump to conclusions. But with the show, it is like, ‘He is actually doing it.’ It’s a different set of fans. I think it opened up people’s eyes to the idea of me doing it. It’s been good for me.

I don’t have complaints. I try to stay away from the drama. I am not the drama type. You get caught up with it a little bit. But I really want people to see me in a different light and know that I am just doing what I love to do.

How did you feel when Cleveland won the 2016 NBA championship?

I cried, man. I get invested, man. I only played for the Cavaliers. They love me to death every time I go there now. They roll out the red carpet. I don’t have to pay for nothing. The first year they went to the Finals and LeBron went to the Finals, that was my rookie year. To go through what we went through, losing 25 games in a row and they were still packing it out. … Man, when they won, I was sitting on the couch. I couldn’t believe it. I felt like I got me [a title] too. If we don’t lose, they don’t get Kyrie, if we didn’t stink it up like we did. I was a part of that.

Have you talked to Kyrie, LeBron or any of your old teammates lately?

I haven’t talked to LeBron this year or of late, but we’ve kept in contact. Kyrie was my ‘rook.’ Me and [Cavaliers center] Tristan [Thompson] went to Texas. KD [Warriors forward Kevin Durant], I keep in frequent contact with. I still talk to a lot of those guys, especially when they come to L.A.

What do you think of LeBron’s and Kyrie’s careers and going their separate ways?

The NBA knows what it is doing. They keep you interested. They have the best players in the world. From the moment Kyrie came in, I saw him as special. From the moment I came in, LeBron told me he was going to make sure that we did big things together. They were both legendary. It didn’t surprise me that Kyrie wanted to do it on his own in the sense of, I personally feel like he doesn’t get enough credit as a point guard. I see a lot of guys get ranked ahead of him. Maybe he felt that since he had such a great player on his team, people couldn’t see all of him.

I don’t know the specifics. That is just my opinion. But I do know that both of those guys are incredible people and incredible talents. Kyrie has it how he wants it now. We’ll see. It should be a fun [season]. But I know when those two play they are going to go at it in a major way.

How would you reflect on your NBA career?

I just thank God for the opportunity to play the game that I love at the highest level against the greatest players in the world. I was truly blessed for the opportunity. I got to go to the Finals. I got to compete. That is all I ever wanted. That was a dream of mine.

What is the difference you feel on an NBA floor and on a stage rapping?

The only difference for me with the stage and with me being able to write and actually say how I feel, it has different impacts. I impact my community because I come from a very humble beginning. I impact my community by making it out. And now, as I continue to grow and get better with my ability to write and create music, I still will be able to impact the world more so with my words and some of the ideas that I have.

And then on stage, it’s just like making a 3 in the fourth quarter. You have the crowd with you, and you’re able to deliver your message, inspire, uplift and make people happy. And I feel like that’s my purpose. That is what God put me on earth to do, giving me another way to impact people.

Hispanic Heritage Month: Felipe Esparza laughs at his life in first HBO special ‘Translate This’ is the result of studying the comedy greats

Actor and comedian Felipe Esparza describes himself as raw with a real comic sensibility. His new HBO special, Felipe Esparza: Translate This, airing Saturday during Hispanic Heritage Month, captures today’s climate for Latinos in America, and it’s delivered in a manner that would make the most unassuming person laugh.

There are no real pauses in a conversation with the comedian, because he takes any available second to insert an anecdote that rings so true that you have to say, “I almost thought you were serious.”

Esparza finds humor in his life experiences, discussing topics such as immigration, his difficulty translating for his parents, being a once-not-so-great single dad while dating single moms, his current challenges in raising his blond-haired, blue-eyed stepson, and more. He knows his past was part of his journey that would lead him to this point, where he is able to share his story in a way that fills hearts with laughter.

The winner of Last Comic Standing in 2010, Esparza has appeared on numerous TV shows, including Superstore, The Tonight Show, Lopez Tonight, Premium Blend, The Eric Andre Show, Comic View and Galavisión’s Que Locos, where he made more appearances than any other comedian. His film credits include The Deported and I’m Not Like That No More, a feature based on his stand-up comedy, as well as his first stand-up special, They’re Not Gonna Laugh at You. Esparza is also the host of the What’s Up Fool? podcast that he launched in 2014.

Just ahead of his HBO special, he spoke to The Undefeated.


How did your project with HBO come to fruition?

I’ve always wanted to be a comedian and I’ve always wanted an HBO special because I saw Paul Rodriguez, George Carlin, Robin Williams, Howie Mandel — you know, all the greats — and I thought, like, I need to be one of those guys on HBO so I could be considered one day a great, or somebody to say, ‘Oh, man, he’s a great comedian.’ The verification of being on HBO, because HBO is part of my generation. The comedians before me wanted to be on Johnny Carson, you know? They wanted to be on The Tonight Show, and the people would be on The Tonight Show, then they’d be a little famous and that’s it. My dream was to be on HBO. I did my special with my wife. We produced it ourselves, and once HBO found out about me doing my own special, they got 100 percent behind it, and they wanted to show it on HBO, so we’re very happy about that.

Why did you decide to infuse your upbringing into your comedy?

I grew up in a gated community. The windows were gated, the back door was gated. No, I’m only kidding. That’s part of my jokes. A lot of my jokes come from my upbringing, because I grew up in the housing projects, so it was a very tough neighborhood. A lot of my jokes come from there. Once when a burglar broke into our house and they couldn’t find nothing to steal, they woke us up to make fun of us.

When did you know you wanted to be a comedian?

When I was a little boy, my friends played an album of Bill Cosby, and I fell in love with Bill Cosby stand-up comedy, and I wanted to be a comedian right there and then.

How did you overcome your addiction?

Along the way, I got into a lot of trouble. I was in a gang. I was into drugs, and I got into a lot of trouble and Father Greg Boyle from Humble Industries, he came to my house and he offered to help me, and he put me in a rehab for drug addicts for drug rehabilitation. I was there with a bunch of men. It was more like it was open for all religions, they were, like, nondenominational.

It was funny because on Sundays we would all go to different churches. Then at dinnertime, we would all be together again, a lot of drug addicts. It’s like, heroin addicts, I mean, people who just came out of prison, people who were out of prison from doing 20 years, and these are young men. Me, I was in my 20s, hanging around with these old guys. I’ve never been in prison. I’ve never been in jail. The only crime I committed was bringing videos back late.

He said, ‘Hey, guys, write down five things you want to do in your life and accomplish.’ I didn’t know what to write, so I wrote I want to be a comedian No. 1, of course, because that was my dream. No. 2, I like Olive Garden, so I want to go to Italy. No. 3 was to be happy. Four and five, I couldn’t think of anything else. I really thought that he was going to read these in front of everybody and judge us, but he didn’t. I just put it in my pocket and he said to bring it out whenever you’re feeling sad, or feeling down, or you have a lot to do, pick up your five goals and try to see if you can do at least one. I chose the easier one, to be a comedian, because I wanted to be a comedian.

How did you get started?

Back then there was no social media, so I had to do everything like a caveman. I had to go to the library. Remember the library? That place with books. I went to the L.A. County library on Fifth and Grant in downtown L.A. It’s huge! I went there when it opened, and I asked the librarian to help me find books on comedy writing. She introduced me to a lot of comedy writers, people I never heard of, like Steve Allen. I started learning from those guys, and then I started like checking out books of comedians like George Carlin, Richard Pryor, and checking out those videos and taking them home and watching them and bringing them back and picking up another one. One day I picked up a magazine called the L.A. Weekly, and it said open mic for young comedians, and I went over there and I did my comedy show. One of the first comedians I met was Jamie Kennedy, and then from knowing him, I started to know other spots to perform. I met other comedians.

What were your reservations about getting into comedy?

At that time I was worried, like … are only Latino people gonna laugh at my jokes? I was only performing in coffeehouses. Then I went to like other places, but mostly like, Latino people were gravitating to me. They were really laughing.

What was the best piece of advice you’ve received?

I asked Paul Rodriguez, ‘How did you cross over to mainstream America?’ Then we started talking about mainstream America and crossing over and being funny. He said, ‘If you’re funny enough, you don’t have to worry about that stuff. They’re going to cross over to you.’ So I took that with a grain of salt and I stuck to it, and here we are, Sept. 30, HBO special. That kind of advice helped me out a lot.

How do you feel about where you are in your life?

I think I started at the right time, you know? I was born at the right time where social media got big, and I was there when hip-hop started. I was there when the podcast world began. I have a podcast. Now I’m doing a sports show with a woman interviewing me. You know what I mean? I’m in the beginning of the best times. I’m at the cusp, man.

What’s been the hardest part of your journey?

The hardest part of my journey, in my opinion, is staying focused, because as comedians, we have a lot of time to kill. Like right now, if I wasn’t doing this interview with you, I don’t know what I would do. I would probably play Madden for the next four hours. A lot of comedians, they fall off the track. They start worrying about, ‘I’m not famous yet. I don’t have enough followers on Twitter; 12 people showed up to my show. My girlfriend showed up, my ex-girlfriend showed up with her new boyfriend and sat in the first row when I was performing.’ So much stuff goes through my head to be a better comedian.

What advice would you give to other comedians?

My advice to anybody who wants to be a comedian is if you really want to make it in this business, start your family at 39 years old, because this is a very selfish business. This business is all about me, you know? Staying focused and writing every day is one of the main things that I’ve done. I try to force myself to write at least one sentence every day, whether it’s funny or not.

Whitley’s World: A brief history of Bad and Boujee Black Girl Style Jasmine Guy’s Gilbert is the blueprint for ‘Insecure’s’ Molly, ‘Dear White People’s’ Coco, and ‘Living Single’s’ Regine

No other show explored the life of coeds from a historically black college as thoroughly as NBC’s A Different World. The show’s colorful characters gave us everything we didn’t know we needed, from a young black man who made solving for x extremely sexy to a free-spirited redhead who would certainly be on the frontlines of any and every Black Lives Matter protest today.

But if “bad and boujee” was trademarked last year by Migos, it originated on the fictional Hillman College campus and was created by the grande dame of the dorm known as Gilbert Hall: Whitley Marion Gilbert. The Louis Vuitton luggage-toting, siditty Southern belle, as portrayed by Jasmine Guy, had a legacy at the prestigious university that went back generations. At 5-foot-2, her frame was petite, but her style was colossal. The Whitley character not only reflected the most fashionable trends of the ’80s and ’90s, but she also influences contemporary style and serves as an inspiration for many young black women and black creatives today.

As one of the first examples of young, black affluence on television, Whitley paved the way for a long list of pivotal TV personalities. The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air’s Hilary Banks, Saved by the Bell’s Lisa Turtle, Living Single’s Regine Hunter, CluelessDionne Davenport, GirlfriendsToni Childs, Dear White People’s Colandrea “Coco” Conners and even Insecure’s Molly Carter all seem to draw inspiration from the Richmond, Virginia-born beauty queen who, now via streaming apps, continues to personify the style and essence of bad and boujee black girls everywhere.

“She’s not about trying to be white, or anything else — she’s being very black, and this is a very black situation.”

Her impact also went beyond the small screen. In 2015, when the show became available to stream on Netflix — its license agreement expired in 2017, and it is now available on Amazon Prime — Pinterest boards, Instagram handles and Halloween costumes (including one from yours truly) dedicated to mimicking Whitley’s style became a dime a dozen. But imitation certainly is the highest form of flattery, and nobody knows that better than Whitley Gilbert.


The Devil is in the Details

Thirty years ago this week, we got a first-class ticket to a historically black college in Virginia. A group of students evolved from inexperienced adolescents to dynamic adults. From 1987 to 1992 we came to know and love Dwayne Wayne’s nerdy swag, Whitley Gilbert’s siditty style, Freddie Brooks’ free-spirited eccentricity, Kimberly Reese’s steadfast levelheadedness and Ron Johnson’s zany antics. And although the show initially aimed to follow the coed life of Cosby kid Denise Huxtable (Lisa Bonet), it shifted its focus in the second season to the whole crew’s college experience and to Whitley and Dwayne’s love story.

A Different World touched on relevant social themes such as workplace sexual harassment and racial injustice, and it celebrated black heritage. It also featured iconic dayplayers such as Patti LaBelle, Diahann Carroll, Whoopi Goldberg, Jada Pinkett and even Tupac Shakur, ushering in a wave of classic black television shows. “It deepened,” said Jasmine Guy, “the tone of black sitcoms.” Guy is currently filming Mario Van Peebles’ new SyFy series Superstition, as well as season two of BET’s The Quad, which is set at a historically black college not named Hillman.

The cast of A Different World

NBCU Photo Bank

To authentically portray her, Guy says, she created a backstory for Whitley that helped bring her to life. She decided Whitley had attended a primarily white, private school — so for her, Hillman’s campus truly was a different world. “She thought she was black, and she is. But there are all different kinds of ways to be black,” Guy said. “And … the Hillman College experience gave her a new sense of who she was and the community she belonged to. I noticed in the writing how she grew. Over the arc of a season you could see that that character had a lot to learn.”

The show was mostly written by Susan Fales-Hill and Yvette Lee Bowser. Creating a character with as much style development as Whitley, and the whole A Different World crew, started with the script, says Ceci, who worked as costume designer on the show for five seasons (1989-92).

“You can’t unsee A Different World. You’ve seen it, it’s kind of engraved in your psyche.”

“The inspiration comes first from the writing,” she said. “[It] shaped who these characters are, absolutely and situationally. … Whitley is waking up in the morning, but what is she waking up to do? You should be able to turn your TV on mute … and kinda know what’s going on when you see the character. I’m supporting the dialogue and the intentions that the writer and director are trying to convey. I’m doing that visually, through the wardrobe.”

Ceci’s resume includes work on iconic shows such as Living Single and Sister, Sister (both of which are apparently being rebooted) and now she is drawing on that experience: She’s costume designer on Netflix’s Dear White People. Each of these shows features personalities communicated via style, a characteristic she says was used deeply on A Different World. “You’d never see Freddie Brooks wearing anything the Whitley character would wear,” she said. “Jaleesa wouldn’t wear anything Whitley would wear. Each of those characters are … being true to who they are.”

Whitley Gilbert is certainly in a world of her own. There aren’t many episodes in which the girl with the sass and twang isn’t draped in Chanel suits and/or silk scarves. Unlike so many college students who roll out of bed in sweats, Whitley spends her days in heels, fur coats and pearls. “She’s a society girl,” says Mel Grayson, a designer who worked on the show’s early seasons before Ceci took over as costume designer. “She was highfalutin.’ ”

Grayson, a Dallas native, drew his inspiration for Whitley from his own upbringing — and shows that featured affluent characters like the women of CBS’ Dallas (1978-91). “I kept it sexy and hip, taking elements of French couture … elements of Southern church ladies who sat in the front row,” he said. “I’d take a bit of that kind of styling and move it down a few levels. Cut off the shoulder pads, kill the big heels and the big ruffles but still make her regal, and still make her stand out as somebody that had class.”

Whitley’s wardrobe wasn’t cheap. Both Ceci and Grayson say they shopped at high-end stores such as the Dallas-based Neiman Marcus but also had to get creative to stretch what was a meager budget. They augmented new purchases with consignment shop pieces. Tailoring was important: It was hard to come by clothes that fit Guy’s petite frame. “There were clothes that you’d know [were] quality just by the way they fit the body,” Grayson said.

NBCU Photo Bank

“Everything had to be altered to fit her perfectly,” said Ceci. “Thought was given to each decision — is this fitting too close, or too tight? No, she’d wear silk, she wouldn’t wear cotton. She’d wear probably pink, not black. Black is too harsh. Every time you look at Whitley, she’s not out-of-place. Everything about her is supporting this one style aesthetic.”

Ceci would often swap basic original buttons for gold ones, or choose a classic pump over a slouched boot. The key was to capture an authentically upscale young black woman who consistently remained true to herself. Would Whitley wear an unbuttoned blazer? Would she ever have a pimple? If so, how many? That pimple question alone sparked a production meeting debate that lasted at least 30 minutes.

“Those are the details,” said Ceci, “that help subconsciously round out a character.”


Boujee — and black

The first season of A Different World received scathing reviews and is often ranked last on lists of fans’ favorite seasons. Season four — it begins with Whitley’s epic shade toward Dwayne’s new girlfriend, Kinu, and ends with Dwayne asking Whitley to marry him — is the best season, by far. And while season two was a goodbye to Bonet’s Denise Huxtable storyline and a largely white production staff, it was a hello for legendary director and producer Debbie Allen, who ensured the show was both authentic and unapologetic.

During Allen’s tenure, the show created endless opportunities for black Hollywood professionals and designers. The Howard alum even took the writing staff on “annual field trips” to the Clark Atlanta, Spelman and Morehouse campuses for inspiration. What emerged was a show that was very black. “When Debbie Allen came on the show in the second season, she made it more specific, and more clear who all these people were — including Whitley,” Guy said. “Because she did know people like that. She brought little things like, ‘How can y’all have a cafeteria with no hot sauce on the table?’ ”

Despite Whitley’s often insufferable entitlement and occasional disregard for peers outside of her tax bracket — in one episode she defends Kimberly’s scholarship from a company that hasn’t divested from South Africa and separates herself from the anti-apartheid struggle with a flippant “I don’t know those people” — Whitley maintains a shatterproof pride in her blackness.

“When Debbie Allen came on the show in the second season, she made it more specific, and more clear who all these people were — including Whitley.”

“Yes, she’s a socialite, she’s got her nose in the air, she’s got great hair — and it’s straight,” said Grayson. “She’s got a light complexion; she could pass the paper bag test. But she’s a girl that wants to be a black girl. She’s not about trying to be white, or anything else. She’s being very black, and this is a very black situation.”

“There’s a distinction,” Guy said. “And I guess that’s why they call it ‘bad and boujee,’ because there are bougie black people that are not trying to be white. I think that is a misnomer that Whitley was WHITEly. I was determined not to go into that direction because this kind of character does exist in the black community and has the same issues as her friends.”

For Ceci, communicating that black self-confidence through Whitley’s clothing meant altering the styles that luxury brands were creating, particularly as those styles weren’t often intended for black girls.

“A lot of times when you go to high-end stores, that classic look is a color palette that is better for blond hair and blue eyes,” said Ceci. “We can wear those colors, [and] we can be more bold. I tried to let Whitley … not try to emulate what an affluent white person would look like but what an affluent African-American young woman in college would look like. But that really didn’t exist [on television]. It was up to me to imagine what that looked like. The trick with her was trying to make her look affluent but still approachable.”

Throughout the show, Whitley comes to life draped in jeweled tones rather than monochromatic. She’ll wear cream pants with an emerald blouse, or pair a black pencil skirt with a golden peplum blazer. A delicately placed broach here. A chain-linked belt there. Classic, polished styles mixed with elements of youth. “The trick with her was color,” said Ceci. “If I couldn’t find something colorful, I would often dye things. If she wore all taupes and beiges it would be like, ‘OK, who are you?’ ”

Maintaining that authenticity was particularly important when it came to portraying Whitley’s wedding day. This was long before wildly popular black wedding sites and Instagram handles like Munaluchi Bride existed. Seeing a black woman in a bridal gown was rare. “Bride’s magazine would never, ever have anybody of color in their magazine,” said Bethann Hardison, a pioneering African-American runway model and advocate for runway diversity whose son, Kadeem, portrayed Dwayne Wayne. “If they thought to do it, it was maybe a bridesmaid — but that came a lot later. We never saw anyone in a bridal gown that was of color.”

NBCU Photo Bank

A Different World’s pivotal 1992 wedding episode gave viewers something they couldn’t get anywhere else. It not only featured iconic guests — including Joe Morton, Diahann Carroll and Orlando Jones, among others — but it also served up the proverbial peak of Dwayne and Whitley’s relationship. Whitley had been dating future senator Byron Douglas III (portrayed by Morton) and was at the altar when Dwayne interrupted, asking her to reconsider.

According to Guy, the whole scene was done in one take, and Dwayne’s epic “Baby, please!” followed by Carroll’s “Die, just die!” weren’t actually written into the script. The episode — in which Guy wore a delicately embroidered fit-and-flare gown with puffed, capped sleeves reminiscent of Princess Diana’s and a dramatic train with bow detail — put black and bridal in the same sentence long before anyone else would. And if anyone knows how to dress for a momentous occasion, it’s Whitley Gilbert. So the pressure was on.

“We were trying to go with something that was sophisticated but still Southern,” said Ceci. “Something that had some sweetness … not over the top but still a little sexy. It had to have a little bit of everything … this one dress, striking the balance of demure but still sophisticated — and not too mature or revealing.” Unlike other episodes where she had the chance to communicate who Whitley was in multiple outfits, Ceci had to sum up all the character’s elements in one ensemble. “Wedding dresses are a challenge,” she said. “I’ve got one shot.”

The pressure was also on for Guy, who knew seeing a black bride on television was particularly significant for young black women. “Little girls dream of those things, and they don’t necessarily know it’s possible for them,” she said. “All the little girls are looking at Whitley being bougie, getting knocked down, getting up and then realizing, ‘Look at what she had to learn before she got married.’ That’s what I’m hoping young people will see: Look what it took to get to this point, and look how it’s worth it.”

The gown, which was made in-house rather than purchased, not only matched Whitley’s boujee bridal needs but also echoed Bethann Hardison’s words to magazine editors: “Black people get married too.”


Whitley’s World

The impact of A Different World goes far beyond the small screen. Its storylines tackled topics such as HIV/AIDS, interracial dating and apartheid — and enrollment at historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) drastically increased while the show was on in prime time. “The show was so contemporary at that moment,” said Bethann Hardison. “A Different World was the first show that ever tackled all the issues, from date rape to race relations. It’s a show that stands the test of time.”

Networks also started making room for more black TV shows. “We were a part of a wave,” said Guy. “I didn’t realize that we were the end of the wave. I thought the business had changed. And then it went back to very few black people. It wasn’t until cable, and the birth of all these other outlets, that the networks couldn’t afford to be so cocky about what they put on and don’t put on.”

As for Whitley, her style and boldness showed up in other shows. In the 1990s, the presence of affluent young black women became less rare with the creation of characters such as Lark Voorhies’ Lisa Turtle, Karyn Parsons’ Hilary Banks, or even Stacy Dash’s Dionne Davenport. There was also another strain of young female TV personalities who weren’t born with money but via hard work became accustomed to the finer things in life, such as Kim Fields’ Regine Hunter, Jill Marie Jones’ Toni Childs and Antoinette Robertson’s Coco Conners. That sensibility is also evident in Insecure’s Molly on HBO, as portrayed by Yvonne Orji, whose power suits and fashion sense are a contemporary remix on Whitley’s wardrobe. There’s also, of course, Olivia Pope of Scandal, who stakes a claim to bad and boujee herself.

“I think that is a misnomer that Whitley was WHITEly. I was determined not to go into that direction.”

The HBO show’s costume designer, Ayanna James, recently talked to Fashionista about the inspirations for Molly’s character. “As far as examples we’ve had on television, we have Kerry Washington on Scandal … who is a very popular character for her fashion, but that’s somebody that is a bit more confident than Molly. The inspiration behind Molly was, ‘What would a lawyer look like if she was really, really into fashion? If she was the person who might take a weekend off to go to New York Fashion Week?’ She lives in L.A., she makes money, she works in an office … run by the old boys’ club, so how do we balance that to make it fashionable and make it relevant?”

“I saw a lot of Whitley-esque influence in a lot of characters,” said Grayson. “In Living Single and Girlfriends. They were a bit more risqué, but they had that same sensibility.”

Ceci said she wasn’t as aware of the influence in real time. But looking back, she sees correlations. However, she said the clothes she chose for characters such as Regine and Coco signify more aspirational efforts than did Hillman’s own pride and joy. “The Regine character, she is like a Whitley character. She wasn’t born with money. She has … humble beginnings and is a little more sassy and expressive,” said Ceci. “Coco didn’t have the affluence that the Whitley character has. So while there might be some parallels in terms of trying to be pulled together … those two characters are never gonna be able to hit the mark in terms of the polish and the etiquette of the Whitley character.”

Guy said she was more aware of women who paved the way for her as Carroll did in Dynasty (1981-89). While she agrees that both Hilary Banks and Regine Hunter fall into the same category as Whitley, she said they each had unique characteristics. “We were all a part of that theme, we were just different in our bougieness,” she said.

Both Grayson and Ceci acknowledge that although Whitley can be antagonistic, even when you hate her, you still want to dress like her. “Now when kids look at Whitley,” said Ceci, “they feel like she’s like a baby baller. They’re like, ‘I wanna look like her when I grow up.’ ”

“It just made young girls realize that you don’t have to be that … dowdy girl and just wear … jeans and your old flannel shirt,” said Grayson. “You can pull yourself together and go to school … and look a little more elegant, and not care what other people have to say about that — because you wanna be dressed.”

And Ceci is proud and humble at the same time. “You can’t unsee A Different World,” she said. “You’ve seen it. It’s kind of engraved in your psyche. And perhaps subliminally that’s a reference point, or even consciously. … I don’t know if I defined what African-American female affluence was at that time, but … I’m just coming to embrace the impact the show had, and my part in it … I feel proud and privileged and honored to have … been a part of that.”

As a fan of fashionable jewels and a curator of fine art, Whitley knows that reprints are acceptable. But there’s nothing like the original. Although her character set a part of #blackgirlmagic in motion, no one has matched her level of polished sophistication, and perhaps no one ever will. Ms. Gilbert would have it no other way.

Will Hurricane Harvey prompt NBA players to replicate 2005 Relief Game? Charity game lifted the spirits of Hurricane Katrina survivors

Then-Detroit Pistons star Chauncey Billups and I were nearly in tears from what we saw in a mammoth space inside the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston in September 2005.

There were hundreds of cots occupied primarily by mothers resting with young children and the elderly. They were displaced victims of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, stressed and trying to figure out what to do next. Whatever possessions they had left sat next to their makeshift beds. The lines for medical help were long. Portable toilets were up front.

With former NBA player Kenny Smith leading the charge, NBA players, including Billups, Kobe Bryant and LeBron James, were there to witness the pain, bring financial aid and offer a smile through a charity basketball game.

“It’s hurtful man, hurtful,” Billups told me at the time for a story in The Denver Post. “The only positive is at least these kids got to smile for a couple minutes.”

Hurricane Katrina was one of the five deadliest hurricanes in the United States, causing destruction along the Gulf Coast from Central Florida to Texas and most notably in New Orleans. The August 2005 storm contributed to the deaths of more than 1,200 people and more than $100 billion in property damage. Many people affected by Hurricane Katrina relocated temporarily and then permanently to Houston.

Now Houston is suffering the nightmare that haunted New Orleans 12 years ago. Hurricane Harvey has dumped torrential rain on the city, with ABC News meteorologists forecasting historic rainfall totals of up to 50 inches by Wednesday. Houston has had more than 1,000 calls for rescue, and people were forced to their rooftops.

NBA All-Stars such as James, Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Chris Paul, James Harden and DeMarcus Cousins have tweeted well-wishes and prayers to the people of Houston and elsewhere in Texas. Paul and Cousins also tweeted information on how to give to those in need through Youcaring.com and the Red Cross. Paul donated $50,000. Houston Rockets owner Leslie Alexander pledged $4 million to the relief effort on Monday and reportedly increased that donation to $10 million on Tuesday.

Chrysa Chin, executive vice president of strategy and development for the National Basketball Players Association (NBPA), said Monday that the union is “exploring options” to help hurricane victims.

“We’re concerned and want to help,” Chin said.

Perhaps this time they can do it in New Orleans, where locals can certainly relate to the pain. Maybe Cousins and fellow New Orleans Pelicans All-Star Anthony Davis — along with Paul, who is president of the NBPA and a former Hornets star — could host a charity game at the Smoothie King Center in The Big Easy. Or maybe Paul and Harden, both Houston Rockets stars, could host it in Houston when possible. If a charity game and weekend is anything like it was in Houston during the 2005 NBA Players Hurricane Relief Game, it could be one of the most fulfilling moments of their NBA careers. It certainly was one of the most memorable moments for me in 18 seasons of covering the NBA.

Turner Sports NBA analyst and ex-Rockets guard Smith spearheaded putting together the star-studded rosters, the venue and television rights in 30 hours. Participating players each gave a minimum of $10,000. More than $1 million in funds, food and goods were collected before the Toyota Center doors opened in Houston. A crowd of 11,416 included Hurricane Katrina survivors, who were given free tickets in the upper deck, while the lower deck seats were sold for charity. The game included Billups, James, Bryant, Kevin Garnett, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony and Allen Iverson, who coached. There was even a brief performance by Kanye West.

“There’s never been a basketball game of more importance,” Smith said at the time.

Anthony cut short a vacation in the Bahamas to play and wore a T-shirt that read, “PRAY.”

“I’m doing this for the cause,” Anthony said.

Before the charity game, emotional NBA players visited several local shelters housing survivors. Then-Nuggets forward Kenyon Martin, who was recovering from knee surgery and didn’t play, donated shoes to the Fishers of Men Christian Church. Former NBA player and New Orleans native Robert Pack was also there. His aunt Debbie Mason was still missing at the time.

Perhaps James best described the emotions the NBA players had that day.

“If you’re not humble, everything we saw today made you put things in perspective,” James said.

It isn’t necessary for the players to do this. But whether it’s a financial donation or an autograph signing or picture taking, that could lessen the pain for a moment.

I’m sure the Hurricane Katrina survivors who went to the charity game or met the players still appreciate the help and smiles they received from the hoop stars 12 years ago. From what I witnessed, those NBA stars gave them great memories during one of the worst times of their lives.

Said then-12-year-old Diamond Hudson of New Orleans: “I wanted to faint when LeBron James kissed me on the forehead. I love every one of these basketball players.”

“It means a lot,” said Ronald Gabriel of Algiers, Louisiana, who landed several NBA player autographs at the time. “It means that they care, mindfully, thoughtfully. It matters.”

Jazmyn Simon is planning her real-life wedding to Dulé Hill, and loves hanging with her ‘brothers’ on HBO’s ‘Ballers’ But she still has time for political arguments, electric cars and breaking stereotypes

Enjoying a successful career? Check. Engaged to the man of her dreams? Check. Living her best life? Double check. Though the year has been a whirlwind for actress Jazmyn Simon, it’s one the 36-year-old co-star of the hit HBO series Ballers would not trade for the world. With the third season of Ballers underway, Simon is looking forward to showing viewers a different side of her character, Julie Greane, who has played the role of a supportive wife to Charles Greane (Omar Benson Miller), an ex-NFL player who struggles to find his identity off the football field.

“The first two seasons, [Julie] was really just Charles’ backbone, trying to help him decide what he’s supposed to do … and that definitely goes on in season three too,” Simon says of her character. “But this season, she kind of steps out on her own. You see her go to work for the first time, which is very important for me. [It’s] one thing to be a wife and another thing to be a mother, but it’s a whole other thing to be a wife, mother and have your own things. She’s a doctor, and many people don’t realize she’s a doctor because she never went to work.”

Life can get a bit hectic in Hollywood, but that doesn’t stop Simon from making time for the important things, including binge-watching her favorite shows, winning political arguments, and being engaged to and planning her wedding with fellow Ballers star Dulé Hill.

What’s your favorite part about playing Julie Greane?

I got to break a stereotype. It’s always good for a black woman to be able to break a stereotype. When you think of a football player’s wife, you automatically think of negative stuff, and you don’t really think that this is just a doctor who loves her husband and supports him no matter what he does. And that is the thing that I’m most proud of and most excited about, what the writers have done and what I’ve been able to do with this character.

What was one of the craziest moments you’ve had on set?

We had this one party scene last season and it was Ricky’s (John David Washington) birthday. They only showed a little of it, but I tell you, when you get all of us together, the whole cast and a whole bunch of people at a pool party, it gets weird. It’s a lot of shenanigans that go on when all of us are together in a party scene. Working with a bunch of guys is fun in general, but things get wild when all of us are together.

“I was telling them it was so fun to be out with my brothers, and Dulé was like, ‘So we’re clear, I’m not your brother.’ And now … he’s my fiancé.”

Are there any actors you’re closest to? Or are they all just treated like brothers?

Well, I’m engaged to one of them, so that one is definitely not my brother. It’s funny because 3 1/2 years ago when we first started shooting, I went out with all the guys … just a bunch of us. I was telling them it was so fun to be out with my brothers, and Dulé was like, ‘Just so we’re clear, I’m not your brother.’ And now 3 1/2 years later, he’s my fiancé. I love him. He’s the best. I’m the closest with Donovan Carter, who plays Vernon Littlefield. Me and Donovan are like siblings.

Have you ever been starstruck?

I very rarely get starstruck. I get excited. President Obama was the most starstruck I had been. He and Michelle Obama were everything. That meeting was just everything to me. I will tell you the first table read that I had for Ballers, the very first one after I booked it, they sat me directly across from Dwayne [Johnson], and the entire time I was in that table read my knees would not stop shaking. I kept thinking, ‘That is The Rock. Oh, my gosh.’ Like, come on. I still have to pinch myself and say, ‘Girl, you have Dwayne’s phone number. That’s The Rock. If you need to talk to him, you can just call.’ I was starstruck that day, and my blood pressure was probably very high. The awe has definitely worn off in 3 1/2 years just because I know him and I love him. He’s definitely a brother to me.

If you weren’t acting, what would you be doing?

Trying to act. My first job out of college was at HBO, so if I wasn’t on an HBO show, I’d probably be an executive at HBO. I was a sales assistant in the Chicago office. Full circle. Life is good in that way.

“So if you see me riding around town with my falcon doors, just say, ‘What’s up?’ “

Julie has great fashion sense, and I’m sure Jazmyn does, too. What’s your current fashion obsession?

Shout-out to Tiffany, our costume designer, because Julie’s clothes are always on point. And Jazmyn’s clothes are not as cool as Julie’s. I do like a nice pair of jeans though. I will spend some dollars on a pair of jeans. I’ll put on jeans with a white T-shirt and an expensive purse and call it a day. Jazmyn likes fashion, but she’s not wearing Alexander McQueen to cook dinner like Julie is. Julie is the baller. Jazmyn is on Ballers. See the difference there?

What’s the last show you binge-watched?

Oh my gosh. I have a couple. The Handmaid’s Tale was the bomb, but it wouldn’t let me binge it because Hulu is mean. They only made it once a week. Over Christmas break, I rewatched every episode of Game of Thrones because that is my all-time favorite. I can just watch Game of Thrones right now. But I’ve also been bingeing Sense8 and The Leftovers right now.

What will you always be the champ of?

Political arguments. I will always win a political argument. Always. Don’t come for me, because I feel like I’m Anderson Cooper. I know the most.

What is the worst purchase you ever made?

I’m gonna tell you the truth. I was in Vancouver shooting something and me, trying to be a baller, I was like, ‘I need some new sunglasses.’ So I bought these Christian Dior metallic, reflective sunglasses and they were like $700. And when I tell you those shades are in the bottom of my purse somewhere … I can’t wear those in real life. And every time I think about it, I get mad because I’m like, that $700 could’ve gone on something else. They’re in a purse somewhere in my closet.

And best purchase?

The most baller purchase I’m about to make is this Tesla X. I cannot wait. I’m ordering it in October, so hopefully I’ll have it in November. So if you see me riding around town with my falcon doors, just say, ‘What’s up?’

“Julie is the baller. Jazmyn is on Ballers. See the difference there?”

What are you looking forward to achieving in the rest of 2017?

Girl, I’m planning my wedding! I’m planning the wedding of my dreams so hopefully, after all this planning, I will achieve the perfect wedding. I love work, but love is so much better. Love is the best. I’m also auditioning for a movie, so hopefully I’ll book that too. Everybody put good vibes out there.

If you could go to dinner with one person, dead or alive, who would it be?

Beyoncé. I just need to know how she named the twins Rumi and Sir. And I have a question: Is it Sir Carter Carter or just Sir Carter? These are the questions I need to go to dinner with Beyoncé to ask her. Let’s put that out there. I’ll have a seat for her [at the wedding].

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

Don’t forget who you are. Every day before I left my house — I lived with my grandmother until I was of age to move out on my own, and every day before I left, she said, ‘Don’t forget who you are.’ When you’re 10 years old you really don’t understand that, and when you’re 15 years old you don’t really understand that. But today, I understand that more than ever because I’m in a town full of actors and full of Hollywood executives, and this business is not for the faint of heart. And if you let people, they will take you out of yourself. They’ll make you something that you are not. So every day, before I leave the house, I say, ‘Do not forget who you are,’ and it keeps me humble, grounded and accountable for the decisions I make every day.

This conversation has been edited for clarity and length.

O.J. Simpson gets parole and other news of the week The Week That Was July 17-21

Monday 07.17.17

Country rock artist Kid Rock is still pretending to run for U.S. Senate. Professional model Jeremy Meeks, better known as viral star “Prison Bae,” offered this advice to former football star O.J. Simpson: “Stay out of trouble.” The Carolina Panthers fired general manager Dave Gettleman, and instead of receiving heartfelt messages from his former players, Gettleman was laughed at, given the side-eye emoji, and called a “snake.” An American Airlines spokesperson clarified that it was mechanical issues and not a passenger’s passing gas that forced the evacuation of a plane the day before. Walmart apologized for a third-party vendor describing the color of a wig cap on the company’s website as “n—– brown.” A D.C. crime robot drowned itself. Former NFL quarterback Michael Vick, who is hated by many despite rocking a fade haircut, said the first thing embattled quarterback Colin Kaepernick needs to do to repair his image is to “cut his hair” and “try to be presentable.”

Tuesday 07.18.17

Kaepernick posted the definition of “Stockholm syndrome” to his personal Twitter account. According to a new poll, 22 percent of Americans say they would still support President Donald Trump if he “shot someone on 5th Avenue.” Dallas Cowboys receiver Lucky Whiteside was reunited with his dog by Texas rapper Boogotti Kasino; in a profanity-laden video posted to his Twitter account, Kasino, who’d previously made a video demanding $20,000 for the dog’s safe return asked, “F— I look like stealing a god damn dog, bro?” In gentrification news, a new “Instagrammable” New York City restaurant sells $12 cocktails alongside a “bullet hole-ridden wall,” a supposed remnant of the “rumored backroom illegal gun shop” of the previous ownership (the bullet holes are not real). A Republican mayoral candidate in Florida told an opponent, who is white, and “your people” that if they want reparations they should “go back to Africa.” Chipotle is getting people sick again.

Wednesday 07.19.17

Wu-Tang Clan member RZA was tapped as Chipotle’s newest spokesman in the face of the company’s latest food safety crisis. Rats fell from the ceiling at one of the company’s Dallas restaurants. Oakland Raiders running back Marshawn Lynch has the top-selling jersey in 14 states, including South Dakota and Alaska. In one of WWE’s most daring stunts since “blowing up” CEO Vince McMahon’s limousine in 2007, the wrestling executive’s son, Shane, was in a helicopter that made an emergency landing in the Atlantic Ocean. Inmates at a Florida correctional facility are being denied toilet paper. In the name of science, FiveThirtyEight, who forgot to send an invite, got drunk off of margaritas. The showrunners of Game of Thrones, a show that has more computer-generated dragons than black people, have been tapped to create a Civil War-era series that “takes place in an alternate timeline, where the Southern states have successfully seceded from the Union, giving rise to a nation in which slavery remains legal.” Trump said French President Emmanuel Macron “loves holding my hand.”

Thursday 07.20.17

Former O.J. Simpson attorney F. Lee Bailey is now broke, lives with a 62-year-old hairstylist and works as a consultant upstairs from his girlfriend’s salon. O.J. was paroled. A Texas woman, who is about to snitch, was caught with $2 million worth of liquid crystal methamphetamine after she thought it would be a good idea to drive over the speed limit. New York Jets quarterback Josh McCown, who has a career 18-42 record, said the “future is bright” for the team, which went 5-11 last season. “Despacito,” the most streamed song in music history, was banned in Malaysia because of raunchy lyrics like “you’re the magnet and I’m the metal.” Rapper Meek Mill said he was “off the s—s” when he ignited his beef with Drake back in 2015. Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze abruptly resigned from the school after it was revealed he used a university-provided cellphone to dial a number associated with a female escort service; four days earlier, Freeze tweeted, “Dear God, I worship You today for the forgiveness of my sins, a love like no other, grace and acceptance, and the blessing of life!!”

Friday 07.21.17

Freeze was offered “lifetime access” to adult-themed webcasting website CamSoda (Warning: NSFW); the site said “camming is a healthy alternative to escorts and the next best thing.” Leonardo DiCaprio, a courageous, humble and common man, will take a commercial flight instead of a private jet to his environmental foundation’s gala. A tweet by R&B singer SZA that simply read “Lol nah” received 20,000 retweets and nearly 27,000 likes. In a move that will prove most damaging to Saturday Night Live, White House press secretary Sean Spicer resigned. Thirty years after Spanish artist Salvador Dalí’s death, his famous mustache was still intact after his body was exhumed to perform a paternity test. Professional golfer Sergio Garcia, competing at the British Open, sent his tee shot near some bushes and hurt his shoulder after swinging his club at the offending shrubbery. A Chicago Cubs writer tweeted that Cubs pitcher Jose Quintana “took LSD into work today and said he wasn’t even sure where the players’ entrance was to Wrigley.” LSD is also a Chicago street.

It’s no surprise Drake dropped three new tracks — here are the three reasons why He owned ‘Summer Sixteen,’ and now Aubrey Graham’s quest to stay relevant this summer has officially begun

On the last track of his long-awaited playlist More Life, which was released mid-March, Drake did the unthinkable: In the final four lines of the song, he informed the world that he was taking a sabbatical from music. Even more shocking, the Toronto hitmaker professed that the time off would take place during a time of the year when he always flourishes creatively.

Takin’ summer off, ’cause they tell me I need recovery / Maybe gettin’ back to my regular life will humble me / I’ll be back in 2018 to give you the summary / More life, Drake floated on the playlist’s 22nd track, titled “Do Not Disturb.”

The declaration itself is jarringly out of character, and its contents are strange. For the past four years, when the weather heats up, school’s out and the rooftop parties are in full swing, it’s inevitable that the season’s soundtrack is brought to you by Drizzy. Receipts below:

2016

One Dance,” “Controlla,” “Too Good (featuring Rihanna),” you name it. “Summer Sixteen” — the name of his track that inspired a 60-show journey across North America with Atlanta rapper Future, the highest-grossing hip-hop tour of all time — belonged to Drake, all sparked by the release of his fourth studio album, Views, in April 2016.

2015

The smash hit “Hotline Bling” sticks out, but don’t forget the two diss tracks directed at Meek Mill, “Charged Up” and “Back to Back,” from which the Philly rapper has yet to recover.

2014

Diddy gave Drake a beat and asked him to ghostwrite for it. But Drake took it for himself and delivered the undeniable “0 to 100/The Catch Up” in July 2014 — one of his definitive tracks that never made one of his albums.

2013

Drake gave us the smooth “Hold On We’re Going Home” in August 2013, which teed up one of the best albums — if not the best — of his career, Nothing Was the Same.


After such prolific summers, how would Drake take off in 2017?

It looked like he wouldn’t. Until now. But Drake recently made his way onto three new tracks. There’s the Louis Vuitton 2018 spring/summer runway theme “Signs,” a remix of PartyNextDoor’s “Freak in You” and a Metro Boomin-produced collaboration with Migos rapper Offset, titled “No Complaints.”

As his trademark season was approaching, Drake’s bold proclamation at the end of “Do Not Disturb” proved to be a bluff. He couldn’t resist the urge to release music this summer, and here are the reasons:

  • For a brief moment, Drake wasn’t the man anymore

Nearly a month after More Life dropped, Drake became a bit of an afterthought because of the release of the already certified platinum album DAMN., from Kendrick Lamar. The drop had to irk Drake at least a little bit, for the simple fact that it was Kendrick. Those two have been going at it for years, with a subtle beef dating back as far as 2013. And now, to Drake’s chagrin, Kendrick is the current leader in the clubhouse of critical acclaim.

  • Jay Z is set to drop his first album in four years

I shouldn’t even worry, backward n—-s / 12 solo albums, all platinum, n—- / I know you ain’t out here talkin’ numbers, right? / I know you ain’t out here talkin’ summers, right? These are Jay Z’s seminal lines from DJ Khaled’s Grateful track “Shining” (also featuring Beyoncé) that debuted in early 2017. Was Hov taking a shot at Drake? That’s what everyone thinks. Even though Drizzy began his career by rapping I never cried when ’Pac died / But I probably will when Hov does, asserting his admiration for the man many consider the greatest of all time— GOAT of hip-hop. The two MCs have butted heads quite a bit over the years, through bars and petty chess moves. Drake continued the trend with three new tracks on the brink of Jay Z releasing 4:44, his first album since 2013. Coincidence? Probably not.

  • Drake’s personal life became a bigger focus than the music

Not once, but twice, since the release of More Life, claims have been made that Drake has gotten a woman pregnant. First, a former stripper named Layla Lace alleged that the Toronto artist was the father of her unborn child, though the rumor was quickly dispelled. Then, TMZ reported that former porn star Sophie Brussaux was pregnant with Drake’s child — and she’s got a baby bump to support her claim. “If it is in fact Drakes child, which he does not believe, he would do the right thing by the child,” one of the artist’s reps said in a statement to the New York Daily News. So, in a way, the new music is a proclamation from Drake that, after all that’s happened out of the studio in the past few months, “I’m still here.”

Regardless of why you think Drake made a return, the reality is he’s back with new music that will certainly be in rotation this summer. The question, though, is this: Is there a new summer 17 project from the 6 God in the works? We shall see.

Kevin Hart’s new book talks about beating the odds and his road to success The comedy star recently made a stop in his hometown of Philly on his ‘I Can’t Make This Up’ book tour

Comedian and actor Kevin Hart appears to have done it all, from performing countless stand-up concerts that include being the first comedian to sell out a professional football stadium (Lincoln Financial Field, 2015) to starring with some of the best Hollywood actors in feature films that have grossed more than $3.5 billion.

However, that’s not all for Hart. His latest venture is a new book titled I Can’t Make This Up, Life Lessons with Neil Strauss, and what better stop on his extensive multicity book tour than back in his hometown of Philadelphia?

With his comedic crew “The Plastic Cup Boyz” fooling around and observing off to the side, the career funny man interacted with people from all walks of life who just wanted to get a photo with him and hear what his new book was all about.

The event was initially scheduled in a more intimate setting on the Temple University campus, but because of the high demand it was moved to a much larger venue at the Free Library of Philadelphia’s Central branch. This proved to be the correct adjustment. More than 650 people lined up outside, some for hours, just to see Hart. I Can’t Make This Up talks about Hart’s road to success against all odds and sees life as a collection of chapters that are indeed life lessons based on humor.

“Not only do you get to choose how you interpret each chapter, but your interpretation writes the next chapter,” Hart said.

The hometown crowd consisted of fans from all walks of life, from senior citizens to babies. Some fans even brought gifts, such as a canvas painting, and although the event called for no autographs other than Hart’s signature inside the prepaid books, Hart made it personal by signing print-at-home tickets from previous concerts and giant birthday cards and personalizing graduation caps from high school seniors.

The sharply dressed Hart (black suit, shoes and a white shirt) was pleasantly surprised to see some familiar faces, in particular people from the neighborhood where he grew up, including a former teacher who may have taught Hart some of the same life lessons he mentions in the book. Some fans in the crowd were teary-eyed just to have a moment with the career funny man.

Hart, 37, felt compelled to speak with one fan who appeared to be a few months pregnant. This makes perfect sense because Hart and his wife, Eniko Parrish, are expecting a child of their own, a baby boy due later this year. Hart also has two other children from a previous marriage. Interaction was key in this event.

Another humble gesture by Hart was making sure the photos taken by a designated photographer were just right. At times another photo was required, but it didn’t faze Hart.

Hart took time out to get acquainted with library staff and security after photo ops with fans.

Philadelphia is where he was raised and where he found an avenue to become a successful comedian, actor and now author.

I Can’t Make This Up is published by 37Ink Books, a Simon & Schuster company.