Not including Tiger Woods on a list of the 50 Greatest Black Athletes is beyond an oversight — it’s an injustice Tiger, even more than being one of the most accomplished and decorated athletes who ever lived, is the greatest lightning rod sports has seen since a young Ali

Let’s get something straight: Any ranking of the greatest black athletes ever that doesn’t include Tiger Woods is not something I can get behind. This list, the result of public responses to surveys conducted by SurveyMonkey for The Undefeated, could be called “50 Great Athletes People Admire Most” or “Americans’ 50 Favorite Black Athletes.” But it ain’t a credible list of the greatest if it doesn’t include Tiger.

You can dislike Tiger and you can dislike golf, but if you fail to acknowledge his competitive brilliance, his dominance of the oldest sport on the planet, his impact culturally, athletically and economically, then you should recuse yourself from weighing in on an effort to rank the greatest black athletes. There’s no responsible definition of “great” in the context of sports that Tiger Woods doesn’t fit. Any conversation that isn’t driven by personal agenda couldn’t put him any lower than 10th.

Dumping on Tiger became a sport sometime around Thanksgiving 2009, and it hasn’t let up. Surely, some of the folks surveyed hold it against him because of his salacious infidelities, others because he called himself “Cablinasian” or whatever that was 20 years ago, others because he married a white woman, others because his body broke down and he couldn’t catch Jack Nicklaus, others because he didn’t play football or baseball but made more money than anybody who ever played either. Tiger, even more than being one of the most accomplished and decorated athletes who has ever lived, is the greatest lightning rod sports has seen since a young Ali.

But none of that speaks to the criteria. Eldrick Woods is (or was) otherworldly great, and he’s black (or as black as some other people on that list). If it’s easier for people to list, when asked, Gabby Douglas or Simone Biles, go right ahead. They’re great and black AND admirable, and there’s not one reason to object to either. But if you think either — or the great Herschel Walker, for that matter — has had 1/100th the impact of Tiger Woods the golfer, then you’re delusional.

I have five personal heroes who made the list, four of them childhood idols (Gale Sayers, Ernie Banks, Arthur Ashe and Walter Payton) and one who is to this very day one of my adult heroes, a man whose career I covered and whose life is exemplary (David Robinson). But I wouldn’t try to make the case that any one of those five was the best ever in the sport he played (well, maybe Payton) or created the drama week after week after week for more than a decade that Tiger did … or dramatically altered his sport the way Tiger did, or redefined what a participant in that sport can look like the way Tiger did.

I’d like to say that his résumé needs no review, but clearly (and sadly) from the results of this flawed exercise, it does. At age 20 he became the first man to win three consecutive U.S. amateur titles. Without having played a single tournament as a professional, he signed the most lucrative endorsement contracts in golf history (and if you think Nike pays hundreds of millions to nonathletes, go ahead and keep deluding yourself). He was the youngest to win the Masters, the fastest ever to ascend to No. 1 in the World Golf Rankings and, at 24, the youngest to win the career Grand Slam. You know how many people have twice been named Sports Illustrated’s Sportsman of the Year? One. Tiger Woods. Not Jordan, not Ali — Tiger freakin’ Woods.

He held down the No. 1 ranking for 281 consecutive weeks, which is to say five-plus years. The Associated Press named him Male Athlete of the Year a record four times. Not Tom Brady, Tiger Woods. Golf, whether we’re talking prize money, TV ratings or weekend hacker participation, shot to the heavens when Tiger came aboard, and they’re sinking like a stone now that he’s gone. Nike, in the context of golf, was a startup company, and Tiger made it the worldwide leader in golf apparel. When he limped out of contention, Nike waved bye-bye to the business of making clubs and balls. Buick was so convinced that Tiger’s association with its cars spiked their sales, the company signed him to a $40 million endorsement deal.

You want to define Tiger Woods by competitive impact: Only Sarazen, Hogan, Player and Nicklaus have all won the four major championships that constitute the Grand Slam. And only Tiger has won all four consecutively.

You want to define Tiger by economic impact: Forbes says only Oprah Winfrey, among people of color, is richer. Golf Digest reported he made nearly $770 million and will soon pass $1 billion. You want cultural impact? Every time he tees it up, even the people who were too dumb to appreciate him from 1996 to 2007 are now begging for a comeback because they realize, as every business in the golf industry does, that Rory and Jordan and DJ and all the young guys put together can’t add up to half of Tiger Woods. He’s still the world’s most recognizable golfer, the world’s richest and most celebrated golfer. Bo Jackson, who made the list, spends most every day of every week of his second life trying to be like Tiger.

And while it’s difficult at best for most folks to muster up any admiration for Tiger these days, what the folks who participated in the survey collectively also fail to acknowledge is that Tiger conquered a sport that directed a whole lot of hostility his way. He wasn’t Jackie Robinson, but it wasn’t like he was walking into an NBA arena every night, especially his first two or three years on tour.

In the context of how we measure athletes, there’s no category in which Tiger Woods comes up short. He’s either the second greatest person to ever compete in his sport (to Nicklaus) or No. 1. The other people who qualify for that discussion in their respective sports (Jim Brown, Jordan, Magic, Bill Russell, Ali, Joe Louis, Serena Williams, Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Carl Lewis, Usain Bolt, LeBron) are all included.

Woods being left off is a glaring omission, one that undermines the intelligence and wisdom of thousands and thousands of survey respondents. Kobe Bryant being left off is a head-shaker — so is Mike Tyson — and Jack Johnson is nearly as egregious an error as Woods. The international search to find somebody to beat Johnson is the origin of the phrase “great white hope.” His July 4, 1910, victory over Jim Jeffries in the “Fight of the Century” ignited race riots in more than a dozen cities. No black (or white) athlete since has had that kind of cultural impact nationally. You can’t make the argument that Joe Frazier is greater than Jack Johnson. But I’m willing to believe you have to be nearly 60 years old to have any idea of how important Johnson was not just to blacks and athletes but to the United States early in the 20th century.

You can’t even tell the story of the black athlete in America without serious examination of Johnson. And you can’t carry the discussion into the 21st century, no matter how young you are, without including the incomparable achievements of a black man who, like Johnson, was a first: Tiger Woods.

Walter Beach, who was at ’67 Cleveland Summit, says he was ‘never contaminated’ by white supremacy He says now is the time for black athletes to stand for ‘their dignity and their worth’

At age 34, Walter Beach III stood in the back of a stuffy room in sweltering Cleveland next to Bill Russell, Muhammad Ali, Jim Brown and Lew Alcindor. The year was 1967. Eleven athletes and attorney Carl Stokes stood before a host of microphones in support of Ali’s conscientious objection to the Vietnam War.

The summit demonstrated the power that black athletes possessed when unified against a specific cause. Beach, now 84, has seen the evolution of athletic protest in the 50 years since the summit.

“ ‘It’s what we have to do, what I’m doing,’ ” said Beach, referencing the summit. “That’s the way I did. It was nothing special, and [I had] no anticipation to what it would ultimately be in terms of a historical context.”


During the 1960s, the battle for civil rights had turned bloody. The bombing of 16th Street Baptist Church coupled with the murders of Medgar Evers, James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner between June 1963 and the summer of 1964 revealed just how resistant some were to racial equality. This was even more apparent at the John Lewis-led march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, in 1965 that would end up as “Bloody Sunday.

All these events highlighted the need for social equality within the United States. Other than the breaching of the color barrier, professional sports had remained independent of the battle for social equality. That changed in 1967.

The event, effectively named the Cleveland Summit, was the first of its kind. Black professional athletes had never banded together to use their platform to express their discontent about a specific issue. The summit was a catalyst that signaled the importance of unity and triggered a chain reaction of similar protests.

Beach was an integral part of the dawn of black athletic activism in 1967 that reached a significant milestone in 2016 when four future NBA Hall of Famers took center stage at The ESPYS. Before the summit, Beach played cornerback for the Boston Patriots from 1960 to 1963 and spent the next three seasons with the Cleveland Browns before retiring in 1966. Beach was cut by the Patriots in 1963 and labeled a “troublemaker” for organizing a protest among the black players against the segregated living conditions during the team’s road trip to New Orleans.

“I didn’t grow up in a community where we thought white people were more intelligent or better or brighter or beautiful more so than black people,” said Beach. “So I was never contaminated with that virus, and that’s the operative term: contamination.”

Shortly after Beach joined the Browns, he forged a friendship with running back Jim Brown that has lasted more than half a century. The Pontiac, Michigan, native went on to help lead the Cleveland team to a world championship in 1964 thanks to Brown’s willingness to stick up for his friend. When Beach received the call to support Ali, there was no question that he would return the favor.


The man responsible for assembling the group seen in the iconic photograph was John B. Wooten, a former teammate of Beach’s who happened to serve as the executive director for the Negro Industrial Economic Union’s (NIEU) Cleveland office. The organization, later renamed the Black Economic Union, was founded by Brown in 1966 with the purpose of creating “an economic base for the African-American community,” said Wooten. After being instructed by Brown to piece together a group that would hear out Ali before the news conference, Wooten’s mind went to socially conscious athletes who had supported the NIEU in some way.

“Everybody that I called was in that picture,” said Wooten, referring to the iconic image of the Cleveland Summit. “There was no one that I called that was not in that picture.”

The lack of resistance that Wooten received reveals a stark difference in many of today’s black athletes, according to Beach: Not too many players will be willing to “jeopardize their livelihood.” Russell, Alcindor, Bobby Mitchell, Sid Williams, Curtis McClinton, Willie Davis, Jim Shorter and even Wooten himself were all still playing professionally when they decided to offer their support. Even Brown, who had partnered with the company that promoted Ali’s fights, stood to lose a substantial chunk of change if The Champ followed through with his conscientious objection.

They all recognized that the issue was bigger than themselves and their careers.

Beach cited a variety of emotions, including shame, fear and anxiety, that ultimately prevent many black athletes from speaking out against racial injustice. Although the former cornerback had retired a year before the summit, football was never more important than his personal sovereignty.

“I didn’t have any fear,” said Beach. “It was never an issue with me whether I would play football or not play football when it came to personal violation.”

Beach recalled a story in which Art Modell, the former owner of the Browns, told him that he could not read Message to a Black Man by the Honorable Elijah Muhammad. Beach balked.

“You own this football team, but you don’t own me!”

Still, Beach maintained his optimism about the future. He spoke with fervor recently as he acknowledged the possibility of another summit in the future. He also praised Dwyane Wade’s Ebony cover, which paid homage to Trayvon Martin. From Wade’s cover to the 2016 ESPYS to Colin Kaepernick’s dissent, these acts of social activism resonate with Beach because of his undying love for black people.

In the 50 years since the summit, Beach attended Yale Law School, studied Surat Shabd Yoga in India, published his memoir and devoted his life to being a dissident to racial injustice in all of its forms. Nowadays, Beach serves as a lecturer who’s passionate about black young people, most of whom likely idolize athletes such as LeBron James, Cam Newton and Stephen Curry.

To them, he has one message:

“Everything they [black athletes] do in the public domain should be that which affirms their dignity and their worth,” Beach said.

Pots & pans: As the NFL season approaches, every fan has championship dreams In our national fairy tale, curses will be ended or endured and even the stars are expendable

“Everything you look at can become a fairy tale and you can get a story from everything you touch.”

Hans Christian Andersen

In a month, the National Football League training camps will open, and I will imagine wide-eyed fans crawling onto the laps of storytellers to hear the old tales animated by new names.

This year, as always, players once deemed too slow, too small or too inexperienced will emerge as too determined to be denied. This year, as always, can’t-miss prospects, winners of what a Connecticut barber once called the genetic lotto, will fail to cash in on their talents. And this year, as always, players and fans hope their season will end with their index fingers in the air, proclaiming to the world, “We’re No. 1.”

This year, curses will be lifted. The chosen will lead their teams toward the promised land. Curses will also endure and fans, spurred by the mouse-click mob of social media, will exile players and teams who disappoint them to Palookaville.

This year, as always, to get ready for some football, fans and the sports media must get ready for the ways the crosscurrents of our roiling society flow through the game. Stark questions will be posed anew: How much will the players, largely African-American, be able to freely express themselves in celebration or in protest? Which transgressions will be shrugged off or punished? Who will be banished from the games? And which prodigals will be welcomed back to the playing fields, just so long as they can play at high levels?

NFL football, the nation’s defining pastime, brutal and unforgiving, is a serious game based upon acquiring turf and defending it with blood, sweat and tears.

And no matter how productive, respected and celebrated they have been, the players are expendable and disposable, just like most other American workers. All of them. All the time. Sid Luckman to Peyton Manning.

The NFL, with its long-term contracts not fully guaranteed, is the ultimate what-have-you-done-for-me-lately league, a game where few players control their futures. The games grind the players to dust. And too many players throw what’s left of their spent selves to the wind.

It’s as if they sing lines from “Going Down Slow,” a blues song whose lyrics change depending upon who sings it, though the meaning remains the same. It’s a song of rueful dissipation: I have had my fun if I never get well no more/All of my health is failing/Lord, I’m going down slow.

But none of that matters to those who love the game. The magic moments matter, the great catches, the exhilarating runs and the game-saving tackles. The roar of the adoring crowds matter. And, more than anything, the championships matter.

In each era, star players move through space in signature ways: Johnny Unitas and Jim Brown, Joe Montana and Barry Sanders, Tom Brady and Adrian Peterson. When the players move, the fans ride with them, spiraling through the air as if perched on one of Warren Moon’s pretty passes.

As always, as we look to the opening of training camps, the NFL football world turns on an axis of expectation. Anything can happen.

With a championship to win or defend, players begin each season as potential heroes in a modern fairy tale. But only the Super Bowl winners get to live happily ever after, at least until the next season.

Are you and your index fingers ready?

Who should replace Jerry West on a new NBA logo? The choice is yours

Jim Brown has no time for games Fifty years after standing with Muhammad Ali, the aging warrior is still working on his legacy of responsibility and economic empowerment

Jim Brown forgot his cane. A piece of breakfast is stuck to the front of his shirt. He has let his beard grow out, woolly and gray. It’s 7:39 a.m. outside the Cleveland Browns headquarters, across the street from Ohio Nut & Bolt Co. A backhoe has torn up the parking lot. Time to get to work.

The 81-year-old legend retrieves his walking stick from a black SUV, flanked by his wife, Monique, and loyal soldiers Rudolph “Rock Head” Johnson, James Box and Rob Wood. Everyone wears black except for Rock Head, a former Original Compton Crip, who is dressed in blue. They unload two rolling suitcases, one old-school valise without wheels and a raggedy cardboard box. Navigating past chunks of broken pavement, they enter the offices of the once-proud franchise.

Brown will not impart much football wisdom to his former team on this muggy day in May. No rah-rah to rouse the athletes after last season’s 1-15 debacle. His purpose here is as far removed from football as Cleveland is from its last NFL championship, in 1964, when Brown led the league in rushing for the seventh time, with 5.2 yards per carry.

Independent, intelligent and sometimes angry, Brown walked away from football at the peak of his abilities, for a movie career and to preach a gospel of economic empowerment, self-reliance and social justice. His thinking on those latter subjects is contained inside the suitcases: dozens of 142-page manuals titled The Amer-I-Can Program — The Responsibility of Self-Determination.

These are the textbooks for a 60-hour self-help course. They contain the heart and soul of Brown’s life and legacy. They illustrate both the greatness of Brown’s gifts and, after a half-century, their inevitable decline.

Thousands of people on three continents have benefited from Amer-I-Can since Brown founded it in 1988, an outgrowth of his earlier work with the Negro Industrial and Economic Union. Lives have been changed, even saved. But the Amer-I-Can foundation’s revenues have plunged 80 percent in the past few years, and far fewer people are studying the manual. Prominent staffers have been convicted of crimes. The curriculum is unavailable online and out of step with younger activists’ focus on structural racism and social media. Brown is hoping an infusion of cash from President Donald Trump’s slashed domestic budget can revive the program.

Still, he plows forward, dragging Amer-I-Can manuals from city to city with the determination that used to gain him as many yards after contact as before it. He says the program is far more meaningful than anything he did in the NFL.

This trip to Cleveland also shows that Amer-I-Can is fading away, along with the greatest football player of all time.

“The common concern of the group is that each of us helps the other become a better person.” – Amer-I-Can Trainee Manual, Page 2

“The youngsters now have to catch up and become more involved in making this a better world,” Brown tells me, referring to the Browns players and coaches, most of them in their 20s and 30s, who are gathered inside the auditorium-style team meeting room. An Amer-I-Can manual rests on each of the 126 chairs.

Brown, who is employed by the team as a senior adviser, steps to the front, clutching his cane with huge, gnarled hands. He wears a faded baseball cap, not the famous red, black and green kufi. You need to strain to hear his voice.

“Communities across the country need us to take more interest in what’s going on,” Brown says. He takes a moment to decry African-Americans killing each other. “But you are football players here this morning,” he continues, “so we’re gonna concentrate on giving you a philosophy that you might already have, but we’re also going to include community work in what we hope will be your motivation to be the greatest players you can be.”

The players give Brown their full attention. His football résumé demands it. In nine dominant NFL seasons, all with Cleveland, Brown never missed a game or practice. Playing the 1963 campaign with a broken big toe, he set a record of 1,863 rushing yards — in a 14-game season. He delivered so much punishment, many defenders feared tackling him. He still holds the career record of 104.3 rushing yards per game. He retired at age 29, coming off his fourth MVP season.

But one of Brown’s most significant accomplishments occurred two years after he left football. Fifty years ago, on June 4, 1967, Brown organized the Cleveland Summit, a gathering of star black athletes who came to quiz and ultimately support heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali in his refusal to serve in the Vietnam War. The athletes Brown convened included Lew Alcindor, who would soon change his name to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar; Celtics great Bill Russell; Carl Stokes, soon to be elected Cleveland’s mayor and the first African-American to lead a major U.S. city; and football stars who would become bankers, radio station owners and a U.S. ambassador.

A group of top African American athletes from different sporting disciplines gather to give support and hear the boxer Muhammad Ali give his reasons for rejecting the draft during the Vietnam War, at a meeting of the Negro Industrial and Economic Union, held in Cleveland, June 4, 1967. Seated in the front row, from left to right: Bill Russell, Muhammad Ali, Jim Brown, and Kareem Abdul Jabbar. Standing behind them are: Carl Stokes, Walter Beach, Bobby Mitchell, Sid Williams, Curtis mcClinton, Willie Davis, Jim Shorter, and John Wooten.

Robert Abbott Sengstacke/Getty Images

After meeting with Ali, the 12 men stood in front of the cameras in downtown Cleveland, a united front of negritude that altered the course of the war, the civil rights movement and the nature of athlete activism.

“Can you imagine LeBron, Serena, Durant, Tiger, Simone Biles, Mayweather and Odell Beckham Jr. meeting to discuss the role of black athletes in the age of Trump?” says Leonard Moore, a University of Texas history professor. “That’s how powerful and impactful this meeting was.”

That meeting took place a few miles from the current Browns team meeting room, where the session is now being led by Box and Rock Head. The two facilitators will review two of the 15 chapters in the Amer-I-Can manual, which cover topics ranging from motivation and focus to family relationships and emotional control, plus details on how to behave in job interviews, set financial goals and avoid drugs. At every step, the program insists there are no excuses for failure: “Individual responsibility and determination are key factors,” it says. “Your success ultimately rests with you.”

Box steps to the front. “I grew up here in Cleveland, I’m 55 years old. I’ll just cut to the chase, we all men here. I spent 9 1/2 years of my life in the penitentiary, used to sell dope, gangbang, rob, steal, all that craziness.”

He discusses the “conditioning” he received as a child with no father and a mother addicted to heroin. Box speaks smoothly, without notes. He’s been working with Amer-I-Can for 27 years. He passes the mic to Rock Head, another Amer-I-Can veteran, who tells his own story of a misguided life, of the attitude change and motivation needed to succeed. Both facilitators use language straight from the manual. Both refer to Brown as their father.

At first, it seems like the presentation has little relevance for a team of highly paid athletes who must have had plenty of motivation and focus just to reach this room.

Then Box reaches Page 5, which he calls “the most intimate part of the training program.” It’s a list of 231 “feeling words.” Box tells the players he’s going to provide a topic, and they should say how it makes them feel.

“Father,” Box says.

The players start to open up. “I didn’t have a father,” one says. “He was a good guy,” says another. “Role model.” “Leader.” “Protector.” “I didn’t know him.”

“My father wasn’t there for the early part of my life. God was my father,” says linebacker Demario Davis (who was recently traded to the New York Jets). “But I was able to forgive, and now we’re best friends.”

Brown tells the players he saw his father only four times in his life. He asks for all the players without a good relationship with their fathers to raise their hand. About a dozen of the 100-plus men respond.

“The main ingredient to a lot of the problems we have in these streets is based on the fact that a lot of these young men do not have a father,” Brown says. “You’re an elite group of individuals. If you work together with other like-minded individuals, we can make a dent, a great dent, in the violence in our community. There are young people who need our help.”

Afterward, I ask Brown why he brought Amer-I-Can to the team.

“I know I could help them,” Brown says.

But Brown also needs help from the team — to keep Amer-I-Can going.

“We alone are responsible for the degree of financial stability that we create; we must not depend on, blame, or hold others responsible for our lack of monetary security. ” – Amer-I-Can Trainee Manual, Page 86

After giving the players a two-hour taste of Amer-I-Can, Brown and his crew met with Dee Haslam, who owns the team with her husband, Jimmy. Brown wants the team to take the full 60-hour curriculum and to help expand the program in the Cleveland community. Peter John-Baptiste, vice president of communications, said the team is trying to determine the best way to support Brown’s efforts.

In 2010, the nonprofit Amer-I-Can Foundation for Social Change had $1.15 million in revenue from grants, donations and contracts with local and state governments, according to public tax records. In 2014, the most recent year for which tax forms are available, the foundation had $182,489 in revenue — a drop of almost $1 million.

What happened? A decades-long contract worth six figures annually to teach the curriculum in Los Angeles County correctional facilities dried up. A major annual donor, shopping mall developer Mace Siegel, died in 2011. The former president of Amer-I-Can, Oregon State Police Lt. Col. Dean Renfrow, retired in 2011 and has yet to be replaced.

In Cleveland, the Amer-I-Can program lost support when Box was charged with inappropriate sexual contact with two women participating in a court-ordered program that he facilitated. He pleaded guilty in 2014 to attempted abduction, assault and unlawful restraint and was sentenced to three years of probation. In 2016, Cleveland Amer-I-Can staffer and former Browns receiver Reggie Rucker was sentenced to 21 months in prison for embezzling money from Amer-I-Can and other nonprofits.

The engine of Amer-I-Can has always been Brown. He raised a family of facilitators in cities across the country and improvised ways to fit his curriculum into existing endeavors at schools, prisons, community centers, even FBI training centers. Amer-I-Can’s only formal structure seems to be the curriculum itself. Dozens of Boxes and Rock Heads, from all walks of life, were drawn to Brown’s passion and empathy. His message of self-responsibility appealed to conservatives; his attacks on injustice excited liberals. Brown’s family and friends say he’s too proud to ask for money, but when the Hall of Famer showed up in a troubled city and talked up Amer-I-Can, rich folks found their checkbooks and politicians found room in their budgets.

From left, Pastor Darrell Scott, former professional football player Jim Brown and Omarosa Manigault arrive at Trump Tower, Dec. 13, 2016, in New York City. President-elect Donald Trump and his transition team are in the process of filling cabinet and other high-level positions for the new administration.

Drew Angerer/Getty Images

But the magic is wearing off. His fierce intelligence remains, but facts can slip and he is starting to forget things. He tells the Cleveland Browns that Amer-I-Can is 15 years old, instead of 29. He tells me that former President Barack Obama has never explained his feelings about his mixed racial background, which was the subject of Obama’s best-selling book, Dreams From My Father.

Rock Head used to be paid $6,000 per month as a facilitator. Now he’s driving an Uber and running a youth basketball foundation in California. Box’s salary has dried up too.

Most of Brown’s income comes from speaking engagements, memorabilia signings and his Cleveland Browns salary. Through Amer-I-Can, he and his wife paid themselves modest annual salaries of $18,000 to $50,000 from 2010-12. Brown’s salary was $120,000 in 2011, when revenues were $1.1 million. He was paid nothing in 2013, when revenues were $310,000, and nothing in 2014. Unless the Browns are paying, Brown often flies coach. On the trip for the team seminar, he stayed at the airport Sheraton.

Many members of the extended Amer-I-Can family told me there was money in Trump’s Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) budget for the program. Brown voted for Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, but after the election he accepted an invitation to Trump Tower to meet with the president-elect. He hosted an Amer-I-Can fundraiser in Washington, D.C., during the inauguration.

But specifics are scarce on the Trump budget promise. Monique Brown says Amer-I-Can has “basically been approved,” but she won’t elaborate. Messages left with HUD and the House committee overseeing the budget were not returned.

When I ask Brown how he thinks Trump is doing as president, a flash of his famous fight emerges. “What kind of question is that?” he growls.

“Trump is the president sitting in the seat of power … so my way of looking at my contribution or our contribution is that we can’t ignore that seat and just call names of the person that’s sitting in it,” he says. “Calling names won’t do anything.”

It’s right there in the manual: Your success ultimately rests with you.

“If I analyze myself, what am I doing?” Brown continues. “Not what Donald Trump is doing, what am I doing to make this a better country?”

“Some people who are conditioned at childhood never break through the blanket of suppression in order to achieve their full potential.”– Amer-I-Can Trainee Manual, Page 10

Swinton “Sweet Sue” Brown, a boxer, gambler and womanizer, left a few weeks after James Nathaniel Brown was born Feb. 17, 1936, on St. Simons Island in Georgia. Two years later, Theresa Brown left baby Jim with her mother and grandmother to work as a maid on Long Island, New York. Jim didn’t rejoin his mother until he was 8.

Sweet Sue lived down the street from Theresa with his new family. On the rare occasions that Sweet Sue visited, he argued bitterly with Theresa. “They would fight in one part of the room, and Jim would just sit there in another part of the room and not say a peep,” Ed Walsh, Brown’s high school football coach, said in Mike Freeman’s unauthorized biography of Brown.

After becoming a football star in the 1950s, Brown hit the sexual revolution and indulged to the fullest, including while he was married to his first wife, Sue, from 1958 to 1972. He appeared in his first film, Rio Conchos, in 1964, and became a movie star with 1967’s The Dirty Dozen. Brown filmed some of Hollywood’s earliest interracial love scenes. He bought a home in the Hollywood Hills above Sunset Boulevard, with a commanding view from his rear deck of Los Angeles and the Pacific Ocean, where he still lives today.

Publicity still portrait of American actors Jim Brown and actress Raquel Welch in the western drama ‘100 Rifles’ (20th Century Fox), 1969.

John D. Kisch/Separate Cinema Archive/Getty Images

In his 1989 autobiography, Out of Bounds, Brown devotes an 18-page chapter to his seduction methods, orgies he hosted at his home and his preference for petite women — the younger the better.

Near the end of Out of Bounds, Brown says he has “slapped women. … In a perfect world, I don’t think any man should slap anyone, and I don’t consider slapping people a sign of strength. In my case, it’s related to a weakness. If I’m dealing with someone, and they do something I feel is wrong, I’ll tell them that, and that I don’t like it. If they continue to provoke me, I’ll say, ‘Okay, you leave now, or leave me alone.’ That means we’re at an impasse, and I’m about to lose my temper. At that point, in that situation, I have slapped women, and put my hands on men. … I regret those times, I should have been more in control of myself.”

Authorities have accused Brown of violent acts seven times, five of them against women. Two accusations remained tattooed on his reputation.

One involves the model Eva Bohn-Chin, whom Brown met while filming The Dirty Dozen. In 1968, Bohn-Chin moved in with Brown when he also was dating Gloria Steinem. As Brown recounts in Out of Bounds, at home one night in L.A., “I slapped Eva and she slapped me back.”

Police found Bohn-Chin beneath the rear deck of Brown’s home. Authorities said Brown threw her over the railing. Brown maintains that after police arrived, Bohn-Chin jumped off the balcony trying to escape the situation.

Bohn-Chin gives a cryptic explanation in Spike Lee’s documentary Jim Brown: All-American. “He came toward me, and I found myself in the hospital the next day,” she said. “I was not able to jump. … I was a young, good-looking person who loved life. Why would I jump?” Brown was charged with assault with intent to commit murder, but charges were dropped after Bohn-Chin would not name Brown as her assailant.

The second incident came in 1999, when Monique Brown called 911 after her husband smashed the window of her unoccupied car with a shovel during an argument over whether he was having an affair. Brown was convicted of vandalism and served several months in jail rather than accept the sentence of counseling and community service.

By phone from Los Angeles, Monique Brown tells me that questions about domestic violence make her angry.

“The people that know Jim, obviously we’ve had our ups and downs like any other marriage, we’ve been together for 22 years, but more ups than downs. There’s no marriage of that length that hasn’t gone through things, but I’m far from abused.”

Jim and Monique met in 1995, when she was 21 and he was 59. Monique was a model making an appearance at a TV station in her native Buffalo, New York, that was interviewing Brown. The day after meeting Brown, she went to an Amer-I-Can meeting.

Monique Brown, now 43, majored in liberal arts at Denison University in Ohio. She speaks as passionately about Amer-I-Can as her husband does. They live in the Hollywood Hills home with their 15-year-old son, Aris; a 13-year-old daughter, Morgan; and two pit bulls adopted from a shelter. Brown has a mostly distant relationship with his three children with his first wife, as well as three children with three other women.

He’s no longer the same man who wanted to fight teammates over locker room debates or assaulted a golf partner over the placement of a ball. “He’s way more tolerant of differences and opinions,” Monique says. “He doesn’t have to have the last word or, things don’t always have to be a personal offense just because you disagree on certain things.”

Hall of Fame fullback Jim Brown poses with his wife Monique during the unveiling of his statue outside FirstEnergy Stadium prior to game the Baltimore Ravens and Cleveland Browns on September 18, 2016 at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland, Ohio.

Nick Cammett/Diamond Images/Getty Images

“Having that purity in our hearts for what our purpose is that’s bigger than us has really been a unifying factor,” she says. “No matter what we’re upset at each other about, we’re still committed to what we’re doing. Like, yeah, you know what? You pissed me off, but that’s not gonna stop the work.”

As long as people are suffering, the work remains. The work will outlive Brown.

Will Amer-I-Can?

“It’s like understanding the secret of life that we’re all going to die,” Brown tells me. “Old age is a challenge, but when you’re fortunate enough to have your business in order, your family will be all right, you’ll leave something that can be built upon, and you go away.”

“I’m very happy because I think that my wife and the babies will be all right. I think my friends can build upon what we set up. I think the country can benefit, and consequently the world. When I say benefit, I’m not talking about changing the world or changing everything. I’m talking about just contributing to something positive.

“What age tells you is that it’s not complicated. It boils down to being the best person you can be and helping others wherever you can. What else can you do?”

“There is opportunity and room in the world for each one of us to make a contribution …” – Ameri-I-Can Trainee Manual, Page 34

Brown’s contribution is real. He conquered a violent game, then used that strength to help people from some of the most troubled pockets of America.

Rock Head was a hardened criminal with years of prison under his belt when he led a caravan of 60 Compton Crips to Brown’s house in 1991 as part of a peacemaking effort. But when he saw news cameras, he left in disgust. Brown kept phoning him, but the gangster wouldn’t answer. Finally, Brown got him on the phone and asked, “Are you a man, or a b—-?”

Rock Head recalls grabbing his .357 and rushing to Brown’s house. Brown answered the door.

“What did you say?” Rock Head demanded.

“I said are you a man, or a b—-? Are you gonna shoot me, or come inside and deal straight up with your problems?”

They talked for five hours and have been together ever since. When Rock Head’s daughter was shot and killed, when Rock Head himself survived being shot 11 times at point-blank range, Brown talked him off the ledge.

“He is my father,” Rock Head says. “When people ask what I do, I tell them I work for my dad.”

Erica “Tati” Carey grew up gangbanging with the Mansfield Hustlers in West Los Angeles. She was introduced to Brown through her longtime boyfriend Ronald “Loon” Barron. Around 2002, they began taking the Amer-I-Can curriculum together in a gang intervention program. It changed their lives. Their graduation ceremony was held at Brown’s home.

“Loon used to kill, steal and destroy. He ended up being one of the most effective gang intervention facilitators in all of America,” Carey says. “I was with him for 10 years. The program 1 million percent did it.”

Barron was killed in 2010 by a 16-year-old he tried to stop from writing graffiti on a wall. Carey now is a skin care specialist with her own line of products and celebrity clients such as Floyd Mayweather. “Amer-I-Can changed the way I make decisions,” she says. “It can change the perception of one’s entire life. You can change. It explains very specifically how to make a change.”

Amer-I-Can changed East Hartford High School in Connecticut, where the dropout rate plunged 50 percent after principal Steven Edwards secured a $50,000 per year state grant to offer the curriculum in the late 1990s. “We spend so much time on content and high-stakes testing, essential skills just don’t get taught that are needed not just to thrive, but survive in life. Amer-I-Can filled that void,” says Edwards, who is now an education consultant.

The program also helped keep good kids on track. “It was a head start of guiding me,” says Roy Roundtree, an assistant football coach at Indiana State University, who experienced Amer-I-Can at his middle school in Canton, Ohio. “I could have been on the wrong path. Growing up in the ’hood, you have a lot of distractions. I learned a lot of core values.”

Memories of these victories push Brown forward. He wants to duplicate as many as possible, change a few more lives before he’s gone. He wants his wife and Amer-I-Can children like Rock Head and Box to keep his legacy alive.

“If it’s not set up right, it will [fail],” admits Rock Head. “I’m worried. We all worried. We want to show that although the engine of Amer-I-Can is Jim Brown, that he does have enough guys that he respects and loves enough to run this program. I’ve been with him since ’91, ’92, never went back to jail, no trouble, never accused of anything. I’m a true example of change.”

But there is only one Jim Brown. Without his celebrity presence, without him carrying Amer-I-Can into ghettos and owners’ suites, the manual is a nice collection of inspirational quotes and pragmatic advice.

One man can only do so much. Your success, after all, ultimately rests with you.

When the players have left the meeting room, I ask Brown whether Amer-I-Can is his greatest accomplishment.

“I don’t think that way. That’s almost like standing back looking at yourself,” he says.

He gestures at the empty room. “This is the Cleveland Browns, man. That guy used to be Rock Head Johnson. We’re sitting here with Rock Head Johnson giving the Cleveland Browns a lecture. This guy was incarcerated. So was this guy,” he says, pointing at Box.

“But they’re sitting here now in a National Football League team headquarters. That’s not bad.”

The Cleveland Summit and Muhammad Ali: The true story Historic meeting organized by Jim Brown had an economic incentive

It was a sunny Sunday afternoon, June 4, 1967. Some of the greatest black athletes in the country gathered in a nondescript office building in Cleveland.

According to legend — and countless media reports in subsequent years that failed to challenge that legend — the athletes had come together to decide whether to lend their support to Muhammad Ali, who had been stripped of his heavyweight title and faced charges of draft dodging for his refusal to serve in the Vietnam War.

Ali needed support, that much is true. Ever since he’d changed his name from Cassius Clay, joined the Nation of Islam (NOI) and refused to join the military, he’d become one of the most reviled men in the nation, hated almost as much by black Americans as by white ones. So the fact that other black athletes would convene in support of Ali held significance. The men meeting in Cleveland that day — including Jim Brown, Bill Russell and Lew Alcindor — were widely admired.

But as we mark the 50th anniversary of the Cleveland Summit, the time has come to scrape off the barnacles that adhere to this story. There were multiple interests at play in that room and differing conceptions of the best way to advance the position of blacks in America. Some of the men were ex-military. Others had economic stakes in the outcome.

Before the meeting in Cleveland, boxing promoter Bob Arum and others, including prominent members of the Nation of Islam, tried to persuade Ali to accept a deal that one of Arum’s law partners had negotiated with the government. If Ali would agree to perform boxing exhibitions for U.S. troops, the draft-dodging charges would be dropped.

At the time, Arum was running a company called Main Bout, which controlled the closed-circuit television rights for Ali’s fights. Main Bout needed Ali to attract closed-circuit viewers. Among Arum’s partners in Main Bout were Jim Brown and two leading figures in the Nation of Islam: Herbert Muhammad, son of the NOI’s leader, Elijah Muhammad; and John Ali, the NOI’s national secretary. John Ali told me that he and Herbert Muhammad profited personally from the agreement with Main Bout. It wasn’t a deal with the Nation.

That meant Arum, Brown, Herbert Muhammad and John Ali all had an incentive to get Ali in the ring as soon as possible. A lot of money was on the line.

In addition, Arum told Brown that if he and other black athletes could persuade Ali to resume boxing, the athletes would be rewarded with local closed-circuit franchises. In essence, a portion of the proceeds from Ali’s fights would go to these athletes.

Brown, who organized the meeting, had retired as the NFL’s all-time leading rusher a couple of years earlier and was working as an actor while also pursuing his interest in black economic empowerment. He invited not only Russell and Alcindor, who was playing for UCLA at the time (and later changed his name to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar), but also Sid Williams and Walter Beach of the Cleveland Browns, Curtis McClinton of the Kansas City Chiefs, Bobby Mitchell and Jim Shorter of the Washington Redskins and Willie Davis of the Green Bay Packers. Also present was Carl Stokes, a prominent attorney in Cleveland who would be elected the first black mayor of a major American city that November.

The meeting, held in the offices of Brown’s Negro Industrial and Economic Union, had only one purpose, according to Arum: “To convince Ali to take the deal because it opened up tremendous opportunities for black athletes.” He continued, “I wasn’t setting it up for the athletes to rally around Ali.”

Several of the men in Cleveland were military veterans. Some believed Elijah Muhammad’s separatist ideology was racist and, if followed through, would lead to an American apartheid. They arrived intent on challenging Ali.

“My first reaction was that it was unpatriotic,” Davis of the Green Bay Packers said, referring to Ali’s anti-war stance. Davis was one of three men in the room who confirmed Arum’s version of the story.

Ali worked the room like it was his birthday party, cracking jokes and talking to everyone at once. When men aimed hard questions at him, the boxer never got defensive. He spoke passionately and confidently.

McClinton, a halfback for the Chiefs, was a member of the Army’s active reserves at the time. He told Ali that while he respected the boxer’s religion, it was important to remember his nationality, too. McClinton said he told Ali, “Hey, man, all you’d do is get a uniform and you’d be boxing at all the bases around the country. … Your presence on military bases gives that motivation to military men.”

The meeting went on for hours, but Ali never budged. When it was over, Brown led the group to a news conference.

“There’s nothing new to say,” Ali announced, perhaps recognizing that reporters expected him to make big news by backing down from his anti-war stance. Other participants said they were convinced Ali was sincere in his religious conviction.

Two weeks later, an all-white jury needed only 20 minutes to find Ali guilty of draft evasion. His exile from boxing would continue for three more years. The Supreme Court eventually reversed his conviction in 1971.

Given that the Cleveland Summit had little impact on Ali’s decision about the draft, why has it become folklore? The answer is that the story makes us feel good. It shows athletes in solidarity, standing up to power.

But, in this case, the full story works just as well, if not better, than the myth.

Several of the men gathered in Cleveland came seeking economic opportunity. When they recognized that they were not going to change Ali’s mind and they were not going to see any money from a deal with Arum, they could have walked away. Instead, they used their collective power to support Ali. They sacrificed some of their own popularity to stand up for religious freedom and to stand up to a government that seemed to be singling Ali out for punishment because he was black and outspoken.

In an article written for Sports Illustrated after the meeting, Russell said he envied Ali. “He has something I have never been able to attain and something very few people I know possess,” Russell wrote. “He has an absolute and sincere faith. … I’m not worried about Muhammad Ali. He is better equipped than anyone I know to withstand the trials in store for him. What I’m worried about is the rest of us.”

That day, Russell and the rest of the men did just fine.

Adidas, Shinola honor Jackie Robinson with style Items commemorate the 70th anniversary of No. 42 breaking the color barrier

April 15 marks the 70th anniversary of Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier in Major League Baseball, and two apparel lines have released commemorative items to celebrate.

Adidas created a series of special-edition baseball cleats and turf trainers that feature Robinson’s signature. The cleats and trainers sell for $120 and $100, respectively, and are available at adidas.com, eastbay.com and dickssportinggoods.com.

The company also built a new baseball and softball field at Robinson’s alma mater, John Muir High School in Pasadena, California. The school’s athletic facilities are also used by the community’s Little League teams.

Detroit-based watch company Shinola has released a limited-edition Jackie Robinson timepiece that features his famous “42” jersey number. The 42 mm stainless steel watch retails for $1,500 (available at Shinola.com and in Shinola stores) and is sold as part of a limited-edition gift set that includes a mini-pennant, a set of three pins and a four-pack of postcards. The watch is the fifth installment in Shinola’s Great Americans Series, which honors inspirational figures such as Maya Angelou and the Wright brothers.

Robinson is, of course, one of the most important race men to have ever played professional sports. Before Muhammad Ali, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Jim Brown, there was Jackie Robinson. After being signed to the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947, Robinson shouldered the burden of being the first — and, for a time, only — African-American to play in the major leagues. Over the course of his outstanding 10-year career, he and other Negro players faced open hostility from teammates, fans and media.

To commemorate the 70th anniversary of Robinson’s signing with the Dodgers, the team is planning to unveil a statue of their most iconic star Saturday at Dodgers Stadium. Rachel Robinson, 94, and two of her children, Sharon and David, are expected to attend the ceremony along with nearly 200 friends and family members.

How Martin Luther King Jr.’s death affected the NBA On the eve of Russell vs. Chamberlain, MLK Jr. was assassinated — could the game go on?

News didn’t travel as fast in 1968. Radio, evening news and morning papers were still decades away from being taken over by the internet. And the most effective form of social media was still word of mouth.

But it was a large crowd, mostly black, that gathered in a poor section of Indianapolis to hear Robert F. Kennedy speak. The night was April 4 — hours before the NBA’s Eastern and Western Division finals were set to tip off — and the crowd was upbeat, as many expected the senator to soon be the second Kennedy to call 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. home.

It was evident that no one in the crowd had yet heard of the assassination that had happened earlier that evening. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination would bring black America to its knees and the country at large to a crossroads. Kennedy’s police escort knew, of course, and refused to follow him into the neighborhood, fearing a volatile reaction from the crowd. Outrage had already sprouted in various pockets of the country. Why wouldn’t Indianapolis be next?

The Democratic presidential hopeful handed down the news from the back of a flatbed truck. King was dead.

The crowd shrieked in horror. For black America, it was the bloody zenith of a decade sinister enough to rob it of every leader who seemingly had its best interests at heart: Robert Kennedy’s older brother, President John F. Kennedy, civil rights leaders Medgar Evers and Malcolm X — plus the countless men and women who sacrificed their lives in both the civil rights movement and what felt like a generational genocide thanks to the Vietnam War. King, of course, was the civil rights movement’s and, alongside Muhammad Ali, the anti-war movement’s most recognizable face. And the most prominent voice of a race that has seemed always behind the eight ball of equality.

His last words as the bullet — per CBS’ Walter Cronkite, describing the civil rights titan’s final moment — “exploded in his face” on the second floor of Memphis, Tennessee’s, Lorraine Motel, “Ohhh!” King collapsed.

A man stands on balcony of Lorraine Motel in the approximate place Martin Luther King Jr. stood when he was killed April 4, 1968. In the background is the rooming house from which the fatal bullet was fired. In the courtyard beneath the balcony are reporters, police officials and others.

Getty Images

Robert Kennedy — who himself would die from an assassin’s bullet just 63 days later — delivered the defining speech of his career. As any savvy politician would, he preached peace in a time of carnage. Responding with violence isn’t what King would have wanted, he cautioned. But Kennedy also sympathized with the anger. The ’60s had robbed him of a piece of his soul as well.

“What was [Martin Luther King Jr.’s] title? Why should we call off the game?”

“For those of you who are black, and are tempted to … be filled with hatred and mistrust of the injustice of such an act, against all white people, I would only say that I can also feel in my own heart the same kind of feeling,” Kennedy said in the unrehearsed speech. “I had a member of my family killed, but he was killed by a white man. But we have to make an effort in the United States. We have to make an effort to understand, to get beyond and go beyond these rather difficult times.”

Indianapolis remained calm the evening of April 4 thanks in large part to Kennedy’s grace, humility and vulnerability. But Newark, New Jersey; Baltimore; Chicago; Boston; Detroit; Kansas City, Missouri; and Washington, D.C., were far less peaceful. The assassination had been announced at 8:19 p.m. in D.C. By 9:25, the first window was shattered. In Atlanta, Gov. Lester Maddox refused to lower the flag for King. He reportedly told state troopers to “shoot [protesters] down and stack them up” should they try to enter the state capitol. Maddox later lowered the flag only after being required by federal mandate.

King had spoken out against segregation, unfair housing, income and economic disparity. Now he was gone. Cities rioted out of hopelessness more than anger. Fear more than fury. And desperation more than enmity. Their pleas for justice had long gone unaddressed. America found itself involved in a war that millions opposed, barreling toward its most important presidential election in years, and the blood of the civil rights movement stained its streets. No one knew the direction the country was headed in — including the NBA. Its playoffs were set to resume the next day.


Boston Celtics player-coach Bill Russell was in shock Thursday night and all day Friday in his Philadelphia hotel room. He hadn’t slept. His mind raced. He was one of the most visible athletes involved in the civil rights movement, and for him King’s assassination was a kind of confirmation. “Stuff that I said 10 years ago, that everybody dismissed as an angry Negro talking, is coming out today,” Russell said in Aram Goudsouzian’s 2010 King of the Court: Bill Russell and the Basketball Revolution.

King hadn’t been dead 24 hours and the NBA was in an awkward position: to play, or not to play? The equivalent of today’s conference finals were slated to tip off April 5. This wasn’t the first time a major sports league had been directly affected by a high-profile assassination. Five years earlier, the NFL played after President Kennedy’s assassination — a decision infamously dubbed “Black Sunday” and one former NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle would define as “the worst decision I ever made.”

Even in 1968, the NBA was a majority-black league. Its biggest superstars — Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, Oscar Robertson, Nate Thurmond, Dave Bing, Elgin Baylor and more — were black. Jerry West was the league’s only bona fide white superstar. The black players, like black Americans as a whole, wrestled with grief, shock and rage. King was more than a civil rights leader. His work and his words were reflections of their stature. His murder was not only personal. It was affirmation of the value of black life. Or the lack thereof.

“Russell saw it as, black people continue to give to America. [Black people] were sort of the most loyal Americans of all,” Goudsouzian said. “And [King] gets taken away from us.”

In the final months of King’s life, his philosophies shifted. Tactics and philosophies had fractured the civil rights movement throughout the decade, and Black Power was usurping nonviolence as a popular resistance. King focused on the economic discrimination in America of poor people of all ethnicities. He openly opposed the Vietnam War. Exactly a year before he was killed, on April 4, 1967, King spoke in a manner very similar to Ali’s refusal to fight. “We were taking the black young men who had been crippled by our society and sending them eight thousand miles away to guarantee liberties in Southeast Asia which they had not found in southwest Georgia and East Harlem.”

The assassination had been announced at 8:19 p.m. in D.C. By 9:25, the first window was shattered.

King also openly praised Harry Edwards’ Olympic Project for Human Rights (OPHR) platform. He saw eye to eye with the OPHR with regard to it reinstating Ali, restricting apartheid South Africa from Olympic participation, removing International Olympic Committee chairman Avery Brundage, the hiring of black coaches and administrators by the U.S. Olympic Committee, and the desegregation of the New York Athletic Club.

And so with all this in mind, Russell still had a game to play. His Celtics were set to square off against a familiar opponent, Wilt Chamberlain and the Philadelphia 76ers. Russell vs. Chamberlain was the premier rivalry in basketball. Their statures made them larger than life, and their exploits made them hardwood gods. Russell and Chamberlain carried the league on their broad shoulders throughout the decade, although the image of both couldn’t have been any more different. Russell was the thoughtful and defiant sociopolitical defensive savant who participated in the March on Washington and led the Boston dynasty via actions and words. Chamberlain was the 7-foot freak of nature and dashing playboy who compiled stats with ease but could never eliminate Russell and the Celtics to cement his place as champion.

Wilt Chamberlain (No. 13) of the Philadelphia 76ers posts up against Bill Russell (No. 6) of the Boston Celtics during a game played in 1967 at the Boston Garden in Boston.

Dick Raphael/NBAE via Getty Images

The previous year, Chamberlain and the Sixers had finally defeated Boston en route to the ’67 championship. After defeating the Celtics, the crowd chanted, “Boston is dead!” and sparked dozens of cigars — mimicking the victory routine of Celtics coaching great Red Auerbach. Philly’s 68-13 record (then the best ever), along with the championship, earned that season’s team an eventual Hall of Fame nod as the best team of the NBA’s first 25 years.

The Sixers returned the following season with hopes of establishing a “mini-dynasty” of their own. Visions of the Celtics’ demise were all but etched in stone. Philly was the new Boston, and Chamberlain had finally dethroned Russell. Their 1968 East finals clash was to be a mere formality. Until the course of American history changed on the second floor of a Memphis motel balcony.

Russell called his longtime friend and rival Chamberlain in the early afternoon of April 5. Though never at the forefront of the civil rights movement, Chamberlain was distraught and shaken. Neither wanted to play in Game 1, but there was hesitation about postponing. Tip-off was only hours away, and neither team knew exactly what it wanted to do. Race had reared its head in the Boston meeting. Celtics forward Bailey Howell wondered why the idea was even being discussed. “What was [King’s] title? Why should we call off the game?” he asked, angering many black players.

For the Sixers’ part, Chamberlain and Wali Jones voted not to play. Chet Walker refused to vote, calling it a “dreary charade” on the heels of the league disrespecting its black players. The sentiment was common. NBA Hall of Famer Oscar Robertson was at a University of Cincinnati banquet on the evening of April 4. “I don’t think the game should have been played [a day later], but that’s the NBA for you,” Robertson told The Undefeated. “There was not a regard for Dr. King. He was almost like an enemy to many in America. But he was a savior to a lot of us.”

Savior or not, the decision was made. Game 1 of the 1968 Eastern Division finals went on as scheduled. There were safety concerns around the city that if the teams did not play, Philadelphia would add its name to the growing list of cities in revolt.


Leonard Koppett covered Game 1 for The New York Times. The crowd of 14,412 filled the Philadelphia Spectrum, reacting in “normal fashion.” But “shock and despondency” was the mood of most of the players. Though the effort on the court was at its expected level, the image of King’s dying body in a pool of blood covered the arena like a layer of fog.

Similar to a performance by James Brown — ironically in Boston — that same night, Russell, Chamberlain, the Celtics and the Sixers were temporary bandages on an open wound. Boston defeated a dejected Philly squad 127-118. Chamberlain finished with 33 points and 25 rebounds, but fell short to Russell’s 22 rebounds and John Havlicek’s 35 points and 11 assists. All stats and no win — history was repeating itself with Chamberlain. The pair of NBA giants attended King’s funeral the following Tuesday, a moment that would spark Chamberlain’s brief stint in politics.

Bill Russell (No. 6) of the Boston Celtics posts up against Wilt Chamberlain (No. 13) of the Philadelphia 76ers during a game played in 1968 at the Boston Garden in Boston.

Dick Raphael/NBAE via Getty Images

Sunday’s Game 2, however, was postponed, originally scheduled on what President Lyndon B. Johnson dubbed the national day of mourning. Major League Baseball followed suit, postponing its season openers between the Minnesota Twins and Washington Senators and Pittsburgh Pirates and Houston Astros. But while athletes grieved with the rest of the country, they were also expected to play peacemaker in communities forced to deal with vitriol of America’s bigotry. Athletes involved in the Negro Industrial and Economic Union (NIEU), which Jim Brown helped organize in 1965, were asked to “move into the streets and ghettos and try to stem the tide of racial unrest,” an April 8 Associated Press report stated. Cleveland Browns guard John Wooten, the NIEU’s executive director, noted that 35 to 40 athletes would be involved in the initiative, including the Chicago Bears’ Gale Sayers and Russell.

The haze over black America hadn’t lifted by the start of Wednesday’s Game 2. “The whole day felt like a daze — like being underwater or in humid weather,” a volunteer at King’s funeral recalled to author Rebecca Burns in 2011’s Burial for a King. “You’re aware of the moment but not aware fully of all that is around you.”

 

After the funeral, the Eastern finals resumed. Boston, having stolen Game 1 on the road in Philadelphia, proceeded to lose the next three, giving the Sixers a 3-1 lead. Philly had resumed control of the series. They resembled the team that had become the king of the hill in the Eastern Conference, until Boston mounted an epic surge, rallying from 3-1 to win the series in seven.

“If they hadn’t stolen that first game when Philadelphia was kinda discombobulated, who knows what that series looks like?” said Goudsouzian. “Then the Celtics beat the Lakers and Russell’s legend is burnished. Then he wins again in 1969, giving him two titles as a player-coach. There’s a basketball dimension to the story that’s obviously not as important, of course. But it’s still sort of interesting from … a sports perspective.” Logic says if Philly were the better team, the series dictates as much. They would have won in five or six or, worst case, prevailed in seven. It is intoxicating to ponder the possibilities. With the Boston demon officially exorcised, would Philly have repeated? And if they repeat, does Chamberlain remain in his hometown of Philadelphia, thus giving rise to a new Eastern Conference powerhouse? It just wasn’t meant to be.

King’s assassination ruptured the future of civil and human rights. King was dead at 39, his legacy partially realized by the election and re-election of former President Barack Obama. Yet, despite the romanticization of his life and words, the bullet that shredded King’s neck and the fallout thereafter affected every fabric of society. Even the NBA and its most storied rivalry.

Dave Chappelle’s intimate new Netflix specials are brilliant The comedian goes in on O.J. Simpson, Bill Cosby, Key and Peele, police brutality, fatherhood and more

New York City. Rick Ross’ new Rather You Than Me helped me pass the time as I walked by Junior’s Cheesecake and Radio City Music Hall. Dave Chappelle was the only thing on my mind. He was my reason for making the trip from the nation’s capital. The second time in a month I was set to experience the genius in an intimate setting.

Chappelle is comedy’s own Jim Brown — or Barry Sanders. He walked away from the game at the peak of his powers. I was thinking about the premature deaths of Robin Harris, Patrice O’Neal and Chris Farley. Wondered what would happen if Katt Williams got out of his own way. I wondered: Does Dave still have it? Did Dave Chappelle even still care?

“I turned down $50 million and floundered for 10 years,” Chappelle said last month at his New Orleans Juke Joint party during NBA All-Star Weekend. “And I made $60 million last month.”

The “turned down” he was referring to is, of course, his abrupt 2006 departure from Comedy Central and his unparalleled sketch program, Chappelle’s Show (2003-06). Chappelle reportedly walked off the set months after signing the mammoth deal for the show’s third and fourth seasons, citing “manipulation by people around him.” To the public, back then, it seemed like Chappelle just disappeared. In the years since, urban legend had him showing up, impromptu, at Bay Area venues. These stories were repeated like tales of spotting B.B. King or Miles Davis in smoke-filled, dimly lit jazz joints. Or seeing James Baldwin in a Paris cafe, penning the stories of his life.

Dave Chappelle performs onstage at the Hollywood Palladium on March 25, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.

Lester Cohen/Netflix

The “$60 million” was a not-so-subtle homage to the deal he inked with Netflix last November. The announcement followed Chris Rock’s $40 million deal (also with Netflix), and was on the heels of his record-breaking Saturday Night Live hosting debut (A Tribe Called Quest was the musical guest) just days after the election of Donald Trump as president (the monologue is here). Chappelle’s Netflix contract guarantees three comedy specials in 2017. Two — The Age of Spin, filmed at the Hollywood Palladium and Deep in the Heart of Texas, set at Austin City Limits — are set to arrive Tuesday.

I was on my way to an early look.


Let’s keep it a buck. Chappelle is still funny. These two new Netflix specials are Chappelle’s first formally filmed stand-up performances in over a decade, since 2004’s For What It’s Worth. And he doesn’t disappoint. Movies — 1993’s Robin Hood: Men In Tights, 1996’s The Nutty Professor and the 1998 stoner classic Half Baked — introduced us to Chappelle. The aforementioned Chappelle’s Show solidified his place in comedic history with names such as Pryor, Murphy, Carlin, Gregory, Williams, Foxx, Rock and, yes, Cosby.

But stand-up has and still showcases Chappelle at his most poetically unfiltered, beautifully artistic, and sociopolitically introspective. And those closest to him believe the evolution of Chappelle, The Man, has tremendously influenced Chappelle, The Comedian. “There was a time where I’m like Dave’s a great comic, but he was never my favorite. He was just a close friend who was a great comic,” said Joco, a project specialist in the creative department of the Golden State Warriors and a close friend of Chappelle’s for 20 years. The two met in 1997 when Joco was the booking manager at Sacramento, California’s, Punch Line comedy club. “He’s just turned into this … genius. He talks about society in a way no one does.”

Race is a constant in both The Age of Spin and Deep in the Heart of Texas — the sun in Chappelle’s comedic solar system. For three decades now, the gravitational pull of his views on racism, sexism and bigotry have morphed crowds of fans into cult-like congregations, and comedic bits into mandatory gospels.

The Age of Spin is Chappelle’s interpretation of how the world processes information — or doesn’t. It’s Chappelle’s view of the world, how he fits in, and why he chooses to stand out. Deep in the Heart of Texas, conversely, is extremely intimate. It’s about Chappelle’s life on the road, and more hilariously, his life at home. Chappelle the comedian is hilarious. But Chappelle the husband, father and friend, is endearing. Pieces of ourselves radiate off the screen as the comedian revels in his own shortcomings.

In both specials, Chappelle’s comedic honesty is funny, even as he addresses topics such as police brutality, Ray Rice, his four separate encounters meeting O.J. Simpson, his relationship with his black fans, Flint, Michigan’s, water crisis, diarrhea, masturbation etiquette (by far one of the funniest moments in either film), the struggles various ethnic groups face compared with African-Americans and, perhaps most fascinating, LGBT rights. The latter is noteworthy because Chappelle is firmly for equal rights for all groups. He says as much. But even at north of 40 years old, Chappelle is attempting to understand and completely embrace the complexities of LGBT communities. Vulnerable moments like these shine bright.

Especially as Chappelle’s comedy moonlights as truth-telling in an era punch-drunk on division and racial strife. His ability to illuminate and interrogate agonizing and poignant topics hasn’t left him in the 11 years since he walked away from Chappelle’s Show. He’s a true descendent of Richard Pryor, willing and brilliantly able to explore “black” topics in mixed company.

You laugh even when you believe he crosses the line, especially when he crosses the line. In a world where alternative facts dictate America’s climate and blind accusations dominate news cycles, life needs Chappelle’s honesty. Comedy, much like music, is a survival tool in 2017.


The trek back to Penn Station seemed like the quickest two-mile walk of my life. I didn’t care about sheets of snow falling from New York City skyscrapers or that I basically sacrificed my LeBron 10s to street slush. I couldn’t stop laughing. Because Chappelle had done it again.

His shot at Key and Peele. Deciding the fate of four white kids who “assaulted” him with a snowball. His dissertation around the word “p—y.” Bruce and Caitlyn Jenner. Bill Cosby and the more than 50 allegations of sexual assault levied against him. His homage to Kevin Hart. Why the LGBT community should use the landmark 1954 Brown v. Board of Education as its protest barometer.

Calling this Chappelle’s “comeback” is unfair. Technically, he never left. “He said in a GQ article,” Joco said, “if D’Angelo’s making hot songs, just because he doesn’t release [them], doesn’t mean he’s not D’Angelo.” Unlike the famed reclusive singer — who also took an extended break from his own craft — Chappelle’s not dubbing himself a “black messiah.” This is the guy who can’t stop eating his kids’ lunches after he gets high. This is Dave Chappelle with a mic in his hand. What could possibly go wrong? What more could you possibly want?

On this day in black history: Michael Jordan, Jim Brown and Huey P. Newton are born and more Black History Month The Undefeated edition Feb. 17

1891 — Butter churn patented
Inventor Albert Richardson created the tall wooden cylinder with a plunger handle to improve the butter-making process. Richardson realized the up-and-down movement caused oily parts of cream or milk to separate them from the water portions.

1902 — Opera singer Marian Anderson born
Born in Philadelphia, Marian Anderson performed at the Lincoln Memorial in an open-air recital after her concert at Constitution Hall, which was controlled by the Daughters of the American Revolution, was canceled after they refused to allow her to perform. At the age of 17, Anderson placed first over 299 other singers in the New York Philharmonic competition. In 1930, she traveled to Europe after she was awarded a Rosenwald Fellowship, allowing her to study abroad for a year. Three years later, she debuted in Berlin and performed 142 concerts in Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden. Anderson signed with the New York Metropolitan Opera in 1955.

1936 — Happy birthday, Jim Brown
Over the course of his nine-season tenure with the Cleveland Browns, Pro Football Hall of Famer Jim Brown enjoyed three MVP seasons. The St. Simons Island, Georgia, native was a staunch civil rights activist and the founder of a plethora of organizations aimed at helping the disenfranchised.

1938 — Activist Mary Frances Berry is born
Born in Nashville, Tennessee, Berry went onto become the first woman to serve as a chancellor of a major research university at the University of Colorado at Boulder. She has been an active face in the fight for civil rights, gender equality and social justice. During four presidential administrations, Berry served as chairperson of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. Berry was also the principal education official in the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare.

1942 Black Panther Party founder born
Huey P. Newton was born in Monroe, Louisiana. As a response to police brutality and racism, in 1966, Newton and Bobby Seale formed the Black Panther group. The organization was founded to build self-reliance for the black community. At its peak, there were approximately 2,000 members in city chapters across the nation. In 1971, Newton proclaimed that the Black Panthers would dedicate themselves to providing social services to the black community and adopt a nonviolent approach.

1963 Happy birthday, Michael Jordan
Michael Jordan, considered by many the greatest of all time, was a six-time NBA champion and Finals MVP, five-time NBA MVP, 14-time NBA All-Star, three-time NBA All-Star MVP, Defensive Player of the Year, Rookie of the Year, and more. He retired with the NBA’s highest scoring average of 30.1 points per game. He owns the Charlotte Hornets and created the Jordan Brand for Nike.

As Michael Jordan turns 54, take a look back at the three times in his career he scored 54 points.

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1967 Happy birthday, Ronnie DeVoe
Ronnie DeVoe was the fifth member of New Edition, and introduced to the group by his uncle, their former manager. DeVoe later became a founding member of R&B group Bell Biv DeVoe with two other New Edition members, Michael Bivins and Ricky Bell.

1973 — First naval frigate named after an African-American commissioned
Ensign Jesse L. Brown was the U.S. Navy’s first African-American pilot and was killed in combat during a mission in Korea. Brown earned his pilot wings, unlike his Army aviator colleagues, who broke the color barrier with the Tuskegee Airmen. Brown, the son of a Mississippi sharecropper who used to steer mules in cotton fields, saved his money up so that he could attend Ohio State like his idol, Olympic track superstar Jesse Owens.