NBA All-Star Weekend brings Draymond Green, Bradley Beal, Kyrie Irving and others together to create memories at local children’s hospital Patients at the Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles experience the opportunity of a lifetime

LOS ANGELES — Five-week-old Skyler was sound asleep, being passed from arm to arm between his mother, Erika Kinyon, and basketball legend and NBA Cares Ambassador Dikembe Mutombo. The infant stretched out his arms, nestled perfectly in the hands of the popular 7-footer, who says he loves giving his time to children and family in communities.

Skyler slept through the 90-minute visit of NBA players and WNBA players on Thursday at the Children’s Hospital Los Angeles (CHLA) where he is a patient. But his parents know it’s a memory that will last forever, one recorded with photos the family can share with friends and loved ones.

“It’s very special for us,” Kinyon said. “He’s sleeping through the whole thing, so it’s something just for us parents, because we’ve been living in the same small room for weeks. We don’t get out much, and we don’t see other people much except for doctors or nurses all the time. It’s just a blessing to even be around other people. It’s just really special.”

NBA legend Dikembe Mutombo holds Skyler Kinyon during an NBA Cares at All Star 2018 on Feb. 15, 2018 at the Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles.

Kelley D. Evans

NBA Cares is living up to its name by sharing the gift of caring. As part of the NBA’s Los Angeles All-Star community efforts, members of the NBA family spent part of their day with young patients at CHLA, the first and largest pediatric hospital in Southern California.

Kyrie Irving, John Wall, Draymond Green, Detlef Schrempf, Bradley Beal, John Wall and NBA Cares Ambassadors Dikembe Mutombo, Jason Collins and Swin Cash were on hand to create memories for children and families at the hospital, which helps their patients more than 528,000 times each year.

Joined by baby Skyler was 18-year-old Ariel Aramnia. The Los Angeles native has been a patient at CHLA since Jan. 3 and, with a glowing smile, said, “It’s been a fun day. It means a lot that the NBA players, especially the All-Stars, could take some time out of the day and hang out with the kids and talk to them.”

As Green entered the room, he immediately gravitated toward 17-year-old Shadi Hawatamh, who is a huge basketball fan. Claiming the Los Angeles Lakers as his favorite team, he eagerly fired off basketball questions for the Golden State Warriors All-Star.

“It’s just nice to get to meet the players I never really got to meet before. It’s nice having to talk to them and see what their story is behind basketball,” Hawatamh said.

Green, impressed by the conversation, said giving back means everything to him.

“We all know L.A. for the glitz and glamour, but there is so much more outside of Hollywood going on in L.A. that most people don’t see,” Green said. “Just to be able to give back to the community and shed light in their lives is a great honor and a pleasure, something I always look forward to doing. So many times you’re ripping and running doing events for this and doing events for that, but when you get to put a smile on someone’s face is what means the most to me.”

WNBA legend Cash cheered on a young child playing basketball on a mini-goal while Mutombo encouraged others in the room with his charm. Irving was a child and family favorite. He spent his time giving high-fives and taking photos with children and their families.

Boston Celtics point guard Kyrie Irving visits with patients Shadi Hawatamh and Ariel Aramnia at the Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles on Feb. 15, 2018 during NBA All-Star Weekend.

CHLA’s mission is to “create hope and build healthier futures.” Founded in 1901, the hospital takes great pride in “transforming a community in support of the health of children.”

A sunny L.A. day during NBA All-Star Weekend extends far past the on-court exhibition game. The midseason break provides the opportunity for participants to go into the community of the host city and share their time with those who may not attend the festivities. NBA Cares will host community events throughout NBA All Star Weekend.

The top 15 best Rookie Game performances in NBA All-Star history Kyrie, Kobe, Durant, Westbrook, Wall: The top rising stars (almost) always become superstars

Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving — before each signed million-dollar max contracts, negotiated their own lines of signature sneakers and reached superstar status, they had one thing in common. All three balled out in the Rising Stars Challenge, which in the past two decades has become the NBA’s marquee event kicking off All-Star Weekend.

In 1994, the league turned its annual Legends Game, which featured a matchup of teams of retired players, into the Rookies Game, a showcase of the NBA’s top first-year talent. By 2000, the game was renamed the Rookie Challenge, with a revamped format that included second-year players — after the 1998-99 lockout season that deprived rookies of the opportunity to play.

The Rookies vs. Sophomores structure lasted until 2012, when the league rebranded the event as the Rising Star Challenge and combined both first- and second-year players on each competing team’s roster through a draft. Now, the challenge matches American players against international players in a Team USA vs. Team World makeup that began in 2015.

Some of the best young players in recent memory have laced ’em up — from Chris Webber and Penny Hardaway in the inaugural 1994 contest to Allen Iverson vs. Kobe Bryant in 1997, and Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade running together on the Rookie squad in 2004. In the early ’90s, the games were low-scoring affairs of fundamental basketball. But over time, they’ve become artful displays of athleticism and bravado.

As we head into 2018 NBA All-Star Weekend, which begins Friday with Lonzo Ball, Dennis Smith Jr. and Donovan Mitchell leading Team USA against Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid, Jamal Murray and Team World, these are the top 15 performances of all time from the event that’s become the All-Star Game before the All-Star Game.


1997 — Kobe Bryant

Stat line: 31 points, eight rebounds in 26 minutes

Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE/Getty Images

On Feb. 8, 1997, the crowd at Cleveland’s Gund Arena booed when Philadelphia 76ers point guard Allen Iverson, the No. 1 pick of the 1996 NBA draft, was named the MVP of the 1997 Rookie Game over Los Angeles Lakers shooting guard Kobe Bryant, the 13th overall pick of the same draft class. Iverson led the Eastern Conference’s rookie squad to a 96-91 win with 19 points and nine assists, while Bryant propelled the West with a game-high 31 points, which set a Rookie Game record that wouldn’t be broken until 2004. Later that evening, the then-18-year-old Bryant avenged the loss and MVP snub by becoming the youngest player in NBA history to win the Slam Dunk Contest. And he did it with pop star Brandy, his high school prom date, watching him from the stands. What a way to bounce back.

2003 — Jason Richardson

Stat line: 31 points, 6 rebounds and 5 steals in 20 minutes

He was just trying to get the crowd riled up, but he has no class. You don’t do that.” This is what Carlos Boozer, then a rookie with the Cleveland Cavaliers, had to say after the 2003 Rookie Challenge, in which Jason Richardson, then in his second year with the Golden State Warriors, went “off the heezy” — that is, he threw the basketball off Boozer’s head — in the waning seconds of the game. “Fans like stuff like that — a little streetball,” said Richardson, who dropped a game-high 31 points to lead the Sophomores to a 132-112 win over the Rookies. Even more disrespectful? Richardson followed up the move taken straight from an AND1 mixtape by draining a 3-pointer in Boozer’s face to seal the game. One of the great unsolved mysteries in NBA history is how Richardson didn’t catch the hands that night.

2004 — Amar’e Stoudemire

Stat line: 36 points, 11 rebounds in 35 minutes

Is Amare Stoudemire a Hall of Famer? He certainly thinks so, but it’s an often-debated question when you look back at the now-retired big man’s 14-year tenure in the NBA. Back in 2004, however, it appeared as if Stoudemire was destined to one day be enshrined in Springfield, Massachusetts. Just watch the tape from his MVP performance in the 2004 Rookie Challenge. Stoudemire’s 36 points broke Kobe Bryant’s 1997 record (31) for the highest scoring output in the history of the game. He also dropped more points in the game than three surefire first-ballot Hall of Famers: Carmelo Anthony (17), LeBron James (33) and Dwyane Wade (22). Stoudemire’s Sophomores dominated Anthony, James and Wade’s Rookies in a 142-118 win.

2007 — David Lee

Stat line: 30 points, 11 rebounds in 24 minutes

Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty Images

David Lee didn’t miss a single shot in the 2007 Rising Stars Challenge, which he finished as the game’s MVP with 30 points on a perfect 14-for-14 from the field to go along with 11 rebounds in only 24 minutes on the floor. Lee and the Sophomores demolished the Rookies, 155-114, even with then-second-year New Orleans Hornets point guard Chris Paul coming off the bench. Moral of the story: Lee is definitely invited to the cookout, where he’d bust your drunk uncle’s butt in some post-meal pickup.

2008 — Daniel Gibson

Stat line: 33 points on 11 made 3-pointers in 22 minutes

Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE/Getty Images

Shooters gon’ shoot, as the saying goes, and that’s exactly what Daniel “Boobie” Gibson of the Cleveland Cavaliers did against a team full of rookies in 2008. Coming off the bench for the Sophomores, Gibson, one of James’ most beloved teammates early in his career, took 20 shots, all of which were 3-pointers, and 11 of them fell through the net to set a record for the game. Gibson’s 33 points earned him distinction as the game’s MVP in a 136-109 win for the Sophomores. Ten years later, Gibson is no longer shooting shots but rather spittin’ bars, having retired from the NBA in 2015 to pursue a rap career. You can catch him nowadays on Love & Hip-Hop: Hollywood.

2009 — Kevin Durant

Stat line: 46 points, 7 rebounds, 4 assists in 30 minutes, 51 seconds

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In 2009 — with James sitting courtside between Kenny Smith and Kevin Harlan, calling the game — Kevin Durant, then 20 years old and the franchise player for the Oklahoma City Thunder, pieced together the single greatest performance in Rising Star Challenge history, with a record 46 points on 17-for-25 shooting from the field. “He’s been phenomenal. If you add a few more wins to [the Thunder’s] résumé, he’s definitely an All-Star for the Western Conference team,” James said that night before the game. After leading the Sophomores to a 122-116 win over the Rookies during All-Star Weekend in 2009, Durant was selected the following season to play in his first career All-Star Game, which he hasn’t missed since.

2010 — Russell Westbrook

Stat line: 40 points, 5 rebounds and 4 assists in 32:16

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Russell Westbrook did his best Durant impression with a 40-piece in the 2010 Rising Stars game, the year after his then-Thunder teammate Durant dropped an unprecedented 46. Yet Westbrook’s prolific performance, which he delivered after scoring a mere 12 points in the game as a rookie in 2009, wasn’t enough for the Sophomores, who fell to the Rookie team, 140-128, for the first time since 2002. Tyreke Evans might have the MVP hardware from that game on his mantel, but Westbrook straight-up balled out. He was the real MVP, if we’re keeping it 100.

2011 — John Wall

Stat line: 12 points, 22 assists in 28:56

ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images

No player in the history of this game has come out and tallied more assists than John Wall did at Staples Center back in 2011 during his first season in the league. His fundamental, 22-dime MVP display paced the Rookies to a 148-140 win over a roster of Sophomores that featured Stephen Curry, DeMar DeRozan and James Harden. Pretty sure even Jesus caught a lob from Wall that night.

2012 — Kyrie Irving

Stat line: 34 points, nine assists in 27:03

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A then-19-year-old rookie, Kyrie Irving didn’t miss a single 3-pointer in the 2012 Rising Stars Challenge. We repeat — Irving, fresh off of being selected with the No. 1 overall pick by the Cleveland Cavaliers in the 2011 NBA draft, made all eight shots he took from beyond the arc as part of his 34-point MVP night that helped his team, coached by Charles Barkley, beat Team Shaquille O’Neal in the newly formatted game that mixed rosters with both rookies and sophomores. Irving’s night, however, was just the warm-up.

2013 — Kenneth Faried and Kyrie Irving

Stat lines: Kenneth Faried: 40 points on 18-for-22 from the field, 10 rebounds in 23 minutes; Irving: 32 points, 6 assists, 6 rebounds in 26:46

Denver Nuggets power forward Kenneth Faried absolutely dominated the 2013 game, with an efficient 40-point, 10-rebound outing that ended with him hoisting the MVP trophy. But let us take this moment to pour out a little liquor for Brandon Knight’s ankles, which Kyrie Irving, the 2012 Rising Stars MVP, destroyed on the hardwood at Houston’s Toyota Center. Irving caught Knight not once but twice with saucy combinations of his unrivaled handles. About a month after the game, DeAndre Jordan of the Los Angeles Clippers broke the internet after throwing down a poster dunk on Knight. It was a tough year for the young guard out of the University of Kentucky.

2014 — Andre Drummond, Tim Hardaway, Dion Waiters

Stat lines: Andre Drummond: 30 points, 25 rebounds in 28:26; Tim Hardaway: 36 points (7-for-16 from 3-point) in 24:29; Dion Waiters: 31 points (4-for-6 from 3-point) in 21:24

Perhaps the greatest sequence in Rising Stars Challenge history is the back-and-forth battle between New York Knicks guard Tim Hardaway Jr. and then-Cleveland Cavaliers guard Dion Waiters in 2014. For seven out of eight straight possessions in the final minutes of the game, Hardaway and Waiters went one-on-one, virtually operating as if there were no other players on the court. Hardaway would hit a 3 and Waiters would answer with one of his own. Hardaway would bring the ball downcourt and pull up, then Waiters would shoot from a little bit deeper. Rinse and repeat. Hardaway finished with 36 points on 7-for-16 shooting from 3, while Waiters scored 31 on a lights-out 10-for-14 from the field, including four 3s. What’s funny is neither player was named the game’s MVP. That honor belonged to Detroit Pistons big man Andre Drummond, who scored 30 points and grabbed 25 rebounds. No defense at all, but what a game.

2017 — Jamal Murray

Stat lines: 36 points (9-for-14 from 3-point), 11 assists in 20:09

Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

No player has ever been named the MVP of back-to-back Rising Star Challenges since the game was first played in 1994. Yet this year, sharpshooting second-year Denver Nuggets guard Jamal Murray has a chance to make history, after coming off the bench in 2017 to drop 36 for Team World in a 150-141 win. Can Murray be MVP again? We shall see.

The high-flying and unpredictable NBA Rising Stars Challenge in 5 storylines Lonzo Ball, Jaylen Brown, Dennis Smith — Team USA is loaded, but can ‘The Process’ lead Team World to glory?

The NBA Rising Stars Challenge game will certainly deliver swag, poster dunks, a barrage of 3-pointers and bucket after bucket from tipoff to the buzzer. But there are a lot of, shall we say, side narratives as well. For example: Apparently, the impact of an NBA All-Star Game snub can travel across the entire globe, even into the highest levels of government.

Despite a prolific rookie season, and a slew of injured All-Stars who needed replacements, the Philadelphia 76ers’ Ben Simmons won’t be playing on the biggest Sunday of the NBA calendar. The 6-foot-10 Australian phenom didn’t receive a call from commissioner Adam Silver when DeMarcus Cousins ruptured his Achilles, or when John Wall announced knee surgery, or when Kevin Love broke his hand, or when Kristaps Porzingis tore his ACL. Instead, Paul George, Andre Drummond, Goran Dragic and Kemba Walker all got the nod as ringers.

One of Simmons’ countrymen decided to use the floor of the Australian Parliament to express his feelings.

“I rise today to express my outrage at the exclusion of Australian Ben Simmons from this year’s NBA All-Star Game,” said Tim Watts, a member of the Australian House of Representatives. “In a record-breaking rookie year for the Philadelphia 76ers, Ben is currently averaging nearly 17 points, eight rebounds and seven assists per game. He’s already had five triple-doubles, and, frankly, no one with two brain cells to rub together would want Goran Dragic on their team.” Watts’ remarks went viral, and Simmons commented, “The man has spoken [insert crying emoji],” on a video of the speech posted on Instagram.

Simmons will make the trip to Los Angeles, though, where he’ll put on for Australia in the annual Rising Stars Challenge. Per tradition, only first- and second-year players are eligible to compete, and for the fourth straight year, the game features a matchup between Team USA and Team World. With the best American players in the NBA squaring off against the league’s top talent with international roots, Simmons will rep his Aussie set as one of the leaders of Team World, along with the Cameroon-born Joel Embiid, his Philly teammate and an All-Star starter.

Although Team World claimed a 150-141 win in last year’s game, Team USA enters the 2018 contest with an absolutely loaded roster that includes a trio of Los Angeles Lakers in Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram and Kyle Kuzma, a pair of Boston Celtics in Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, as well as Donovan Mitchell of the Utah Jazz and Dennis Smith Jr. of the Dallas Mavericks. Compared with Sunday’s All-Star Game, Friday’s Rising Stars Challenge presents a smaller — albeit almost equally high-flying, ankle-breaking and star-showcasing — spectacle that previews the leaders of the new school in the NBA. Here are five things to watch from the league’s future stars.


TEAM WORLD

  • Bogdan Bogdanovic, G, Sacramento Kings
  • Dillon Brooks, G/F, Memphis Grizzlies
  • Joel Embiid, C, Philadelphia 76ers
  • Buddy Hield, G, Sacramento Kings
  • Lauri Markkanen, F, Chicago Bulls
  • Jamal Murray, G, Denver Nuggets
  • Frank Ntilikina, G, New York Knicks
  • Domantas Sabonis, F/C, Indiana Pacers
  • Dario Saric, F, Philadelphia 76ers
  • Ben Simmons, G/F, Philadelphia 76ers

TEAM USA

  • Lonzo Ball, G, Los Angeles Lakers
  • Malcolm Brogdon, G, Milwaukee Bucks*
  • Jaylen Brown, G/F, Boston Celtics
  • John Collins, F/C, Atlanta Hawks
  • Kris Dunn, G, Chicago Bulls
  • Brandon Ingram, F, Los Angeles Lakers
  • Kyle Kuzma, F, Los Angeles Lakers
  • Donovan Mitchell, G, Utah Jazz
  • Dennis Smith Jr., G, Dallas Mavericks
  • Jayson Tatum, F, Boston Celtics
  • Taurean Prince, F, Atlanta Hawks

*Injured, will not play in game

 

When in doubt, ‘Trust the Process’

Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

The game plan for Team World is simple: “Trust the Process.” That’s the creed of the young-and-promising Philadelphia 76ers, who will likely make a playoff appearance for the first time since 2012. “The Process” is also the nickname of Philly’s 7-foot franchise center Embiid, who will start in both the Rising Stars Challenge and his first career All-Star Game. Embiid will be joined on Team World by Simmons and Croatia’s Dario Saric, the runner-up for 2017 NBA Rookie of the Year. In last year’s challenge, Saric recorded 17 points, five rebounds and four assists as a starter for Team World. Expect the entire Sixers trio, who all stand 6-foot-10 or above, to both start and get buckets. That’s a feared three-man offense right there.

Will Lonzo Ball play?

Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

It’s been a busy few weeks for the new-wave first family of basketball, also known as the Balls of Chino Hills, California. LaVar Ball has been frequenting sidelines overseas while coaching his two youngest sons — LiAngelo, 19, and LaMelo, 16 — who have both been straight-up ballin’ (all puns intended) in their first year of professional basketball in Lithuania. Meanwhile, Lonzo, the 2017 No. 2 overall pick of his hometown Los Angeles Lakers, is reportedly expecting a child with his longtime girlfriend, Denise Garcia, and trying to make it back onto the court after suffering a left knee sprain on Jan. 13. “I didn’t think it was going to be this serious, to be honest …,” Ball said on Feb. 7. “I thought it was going to be dealt with quicker.” The injury might cost him an appearance in the Rising Stars Challenge, which will be played on his home court at the Staples Center. Fingers crossed he can suit up. The people need Lonzo Ball on the hardwood and LaVar Ball courtside.

The dunk contest before the dunk contest

Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images

Two out of the four contestants who make up the 2018 NBA Slam Dunk Contest will get to warm up their bounce in the Rising Stars Challenge. They’re both rookies and both members of Team USA: Mavericks point guard Smith and Jazz shooting guard Mitchell, who was a late call-up to the dunk competition as a replacement for injured Orlando Magic big man Aaron Gordon. Smith has wild leaping ability and crazy in-air flair, while Mitchell plays at a height above his defenders, frequently breaking out his patented tomahawk jams. This is another reason that Ball needs to play in this game. Lonzo + Donovan + Dennis = endless lob possibilities. We’d be looking up all night long.

Can Jamal Murray do it again?

Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

If Jamal Murray shows up, balls out and is named the MVP of the Rising Stars Challenge for the second straight year, Drake has to consider remixing his timeless 2015 diss track “Back to Back” to pay homage to his fellow Canadian. That line from the record in which he spits, Back to back like I’m Jordan, ’96, ’97? How about Back to back like I’m Murray, ’17, ’18? In last year’s game, the Nuggets guard dropped game highs in both points (36) and assists (11). He also shot a whopping 9-for-14 from 3-point land. Oh, yeah, and he did it all after coming off the bench. C’mon, Team World, let the man start this year so he can really eat!

Throwback threads

Both Team USA and Team World will take the court at the Staples Center in vintage get-ups honoring the history of the city’s two NBA franchises. Team USA will rock powder blue and gold uniforms, inspired by the 1940s-’50s Minneapolis Lakers, while Team World will break out an orange-and-black ensemble as a tribute to the Buffalo Braves (now known as the Los Angeles Clippers) of the 1970s. Which is the fresher look? That’s for you to decide. Which squad will emerge from the challenge victorious? On paper, it’s hard to bet against Team USA. But in an All-Star Game, even at the Rising Stars level, you never really know.

The Plug, ‘Super Bowl Time: Who Ya Got?’ (Episode 8): Super Bowl Sunday is upon us Can Brady go for six? Can the Eagles grab their first Super Bowl?

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You can’t talk sports this week without talking about Super Bowl 52: the New England Patriots vs. Philadelphia Eagles. So what’d we do with that? We introduced a “Faceoff” segment. An Eagles fan and a Pats diehard each try to convince us why their squad will hoist the Lombardi Trophy Sunday night. After that, it’s a blast from football past as 1991 Super Bowl champions Tim Johnson, and Hall of Famers Art Monk and Darrell Green give us insight on what it’s like preparing for the biggest football game of your life. Green also focuses on the controversy surrounding the team’s “Redskins” name, and what it means that the Cleveland Indians are removing their “Chief Wahoo” in 2019.

The crew also breaks down the Blake Griffin trade, and what injuries to Demarcus Cousins and John Wall mean to not only LeBron’s All Star team but to each player’s future. Finally: we also chop it up about my weekend in New York covering the GRAMMYs. Keep the support churning, my people. Continue to tell your circle to to subscribe to The Plug on the ESPN app! Pull up on us next week!

Previously: The Plug, ‘Awards Season: Jemele Hill’ (Episode 7): Who’s the Best of the Best?

How the Warriors become the wokest team in pro sports It’s a combination of all that winning, Oakland’s place in the black power movement and these unusual times

There’s a moment during his conversation about athletes and activism at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government when Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green seems to shift his weight. Green, who was in town to face the Celtics later that November night, has altered his game day routine to be at the lunchtime event, which was initially scheduled for a classroom, but had to be moved to a conference center when more than 500 students signed up.

He takes the stage wearing high-top designer sneakers and a long-sleeved fishtail shirt. He folds his frame into a large wooden chair and fumbles with his microphone. “I wouldn’t pass up the opportunity to be speaking at Harvard. It’s like a dream come true,” says Green, before settling into his talk: Athletes should only champion issues they’re passionate about, he says. He discusses the pervasive tensions between young people and police, and the need to continue to educate himself about social justice.

When a student asks for a response to those who say he should stick to basketball, Green leans forward, drawing closer to the crowd. It’s an opening for Green to issue a philosophical declaration, a Contemplation on the Nature of Athlete and Society, although more social media–friendly.
And he delivers.

“That’s funny,” Green says, after pausing a moment. “People say athletes shouldn’t speak politics. Well, I find that funny, because everyone thinks they can speak basketball.” The crowd erupts in applause. It’s an authoritative answer from a guy with a 7-foot wingspan, extending to his full proportions in a completely different arena. And it’s representative of what we’ve been watching the Warriors do over and over, in high-profile ways, during the past year.

Black athlete-activists are not new, of course. Boxer Jack Johnson punched through racial barriers in the early 20th century, Jackie Robinson integrated baseball in 1947, Althea Gibson was the first person of color to win a grand slam title in 1956, and a dozen years later, Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their black-gloved, black-power fists atop the medal stand in the Mexico City Olympics. In 2015, a protest by the Missouri football team over racism on campus forced the resignation of the university’s president, and the following year, LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul and Dwyane Wade took the stage at the ESPY awards to urge athletes to speak out against injustice. A host of WNBA players, including Maya Moore and Tina Charles, have worn T-shirts supporting Black Lives Matter.

But these were individual athletes fighting for a cause, or teams engaging on one issue over a limited period of time.

The Warriors are something else entirely: They’re the NBA’s winningest team, in possibly the country’s most progressive market, with the most politically outspoken players and coach, during the most racially polarized period in two generations. It’s an evolutionary development in the power and influence of the American citizen-athlete, with commensurate risks to their reputations and livelihoods. (See: Kaepernick, Colin R.) The Dubs are not simply basketball superstars, they might just be the most progressive—the most woke—team in the history of professional sports.


It was a morning in late September, one day after Warriors guard Steph Curry told reporters at the team’s media day that he’d vote to skip the traditional NBA champions White House visit, and Curry’s wife, Ayesha, was waking him up, laughing.

“Trump tweeted about you,” Ayesha said.

“I reached up to grab my phone,” Curry remembers now, “and I had about 20 text messages.” President Donald Trump had rescinded the yet-to-be-issued White House invitation, tweeting at Curry that since he was hesitating, “invitation is withdrawn!”

Suddenly, Curry, the family-friendly face of the franchise, was at the center of one of the year’s biggest sports and politics stories.

The team had planned to meet that day at its Oakland practice facility to decide collectively about whether to make the trip. Instead, the day unfolded in a mixture of both gravity and weirdness. Curry recalls the next several hours being “surreal.”

“I’m like, ‘He said he’s not inviting you. We can still go,’” Green says with a laugh. “We really, honestly made a joke of it.”

More than three months later, before an early-January practice, Curry seems unbruised by the incident—and no less supportive of his team: “When I talk about just being informed and thoughtful and passionate about what you believe in, we have guys all up and down this roster who kind of fall into that category.” His own thoughtfulness springs from a childhood during which his mother, Sonya, shared experiences of growing up in a low-income neighborhood in Radford, Virginia. “The family as a whole had a lot of run-ins with police and things like that in Radford and a lot of racism growing up there,” Curry says, “so she has a lot of stories around that.”

“But what if we don’t win? Do these stories get written? Do these things get said?”—Warriors GM Bob Myers

His father, Dell Curry, is the all-time leading scorer for the Hornets. And while the family was well-off, Steph says he was always conscious of being black—and his obligations to the black people around him. He attended a small Christian high school; of the 360 kids there, maybe 14 were African-American.

“We all sat at the same lunch table,” he says, “so we had a very tight community group that understood we were different in that space. I think we learned to protect that identity a little bit and celebrate it and have each other’s back.” And when he played AAU basketball with black kids from area public schools, he came to understand the differences in the worlds they inhabited—how some families struggled to put gas in the tank for an out-of-town tournament, but also that “we all had some common ground that we could appreciate about each other.” It was a figure-it-out-together quality, for the team, for the culture, that he took into adulthood.

And though last fall’s Twitter firestorm was unusual because it pitted Curry against the president of the United States, it was only an extreme example of what many players on the Warriors are doing.

Last summer Curry and forward Andre Iguodala, who have invested in tech start-ups, organized a technology summit for NBA players. “I’m trying to bust down a door” for my people, Iguodala says. In October, after ESPN reported that Houston Texans owner Bob McNair had likened pro football protesters to “inmates running the prison,” Green posted on Instagram that because of its historical freight, the NFL should “stop using the word owner.” Other players, including forwards David West and Kevin Durant, have found purpose or purchase to speak about history and their growing racial awareness. Coach Steve Kerr routinely talks about politics at his news conferences, and last February he tweeted, “I subscribed to The Washington Post today because facts matter.”

Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala high five during game.

Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

What gives them the cover and authority to stray so far and so publicly from the topics society typically wants to hear from people who play basketball for a living? One could say it’s their birthright as citizens to exercise the democratic mandates of civic participation and engagement in service of that foundational American imperative to form a more perfect union. But, sike nah. It’s all that winning they be doing.

Barring calamity, the Warriors are favored to advance to the Finals for the fourth consecutive year. And winning, Green says, strengthens them in a number of ways: “No. 1, you got so much attention at all times. No. 2, you’re a champion, they want to see what you got to say. You’re doing something so great that it gives you even more of a voice. … No one cares what a loser has to say.”

They’re a talented team, says general manager Bob Myers, “with a variety of leaders of high character,” and that affords them a degree of buy-in for their off-court views. “But at the same time, I think it’s something you have to protect. It seems to work for us because we win. But what if we don’t win? Do these stories get written? Do these things get said?”

America tells itself a story that success—in sports and elsewhere—is predicated upon competitiveness, discipline, hard work and character. Sports is as essential as religion to reinforcing those values to the nation, says Harry Edwards, an author, activist and consultant for the Warriors and 49ers, who organized the 1968 Olympic Project for Human Rights that ultimately led to the protest in Mexico City. It has scribes, departed saints (Vince Lombardi, Red Auerbach) and hallowed halls of fame. “It has sacred implements,” he says. “The ball that Hank [Aaron] hit over the fence when he broke Babe Ruth’s record, which people will pay millions for.”

When winning athletes—let alone winning black athletes—question the validity of mainstream definitions, it sets up an acute civic dissonance. Kaepernick or Carlos or Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf become heretics and are punished as such. But the all-I-do-is-win-win-win Warriors have amassed so much cultural capital that they are not only worshipped, they’re widely heard.

All that discipline, smarts, true-grit stuff? Their winning proves it works, Edwards says. But their activism challenges whether it works for people in Oakland and East St. Louis and the South Side of Chicago.

The fact that they get to keep saying it is not only because they’re winning—it’s because winning in the Bay Area is a whole other thing.


Outside his DOPE ERA clothing shop (During Oppression People Evolve, Everyone Rises Above) in North Oakland, Mistah F.A.B. (aka Stanley Cox) muses about whether the Warriors are, in fact, the most politically progressive team ever. He’s a rap artist and community activist who once did a freestyle rap about the Warriors that foreclosed that option to anyone who has thought about trying it since. Now he recalls Smith and Carlos and cites the Clippers wearing their warm-up jerseys reversed to protest racist remarks by then-team owner Donald Sterling in 2014. But “I can’t even think of a team in contention for social relevance,” he says, “in the way the Warriors are demonstrating now.”

Some of that stems from Oakland itself. For more than half a century, Oakland and the Bay Area have been synonymous with the black consciousness movement, Angela Davis and the Black Panthers. They’ve welcomed the Free Speech Movement, anti-war protests and the Haight-Ashbury counterculture. The cities by the bay have been an incubator for gay rights, anti-fascism and Black Lives Matter.

Sitting behind the baseline of Court One at their Oakland practice facility, Durant recalls the poor D.C.-area neighborhood where he grew up, noting the ways his head has changed in the time he’s traveled from there to here. “You can feel that culture when you get here,” says Durant, who signed with the Warriors in 2016 and was last year’s Finals MVP. As a child, he lived off Pennsylvania Avenue, “so you could drive 10 miles from the front of the White House … and you’re gonna run into where I grew up.” He knew where that street in front of his house led, who was living there and what it meant to be the head of state, he says, though he often tuned out all of those civics lessons, along with anything else that was happening off the court.

Kevin Durant waves to fans while holding the NBA Larry O’Brien Championship Trophy through the community that he grew up in Prince George’s County in Maryland.

Ting Shen for The Undefeated

He calls his neighborhood 95 percent black with “80 percent of us living in poverty” and says he was so hell-bent on getting out that he turned a blind eye to the ways people were struggling to make it. It was a part of his soul he kept on ice, and he sometimes wishes he could tell his younger self to open his eyes and offer a little more hope and joy “to people who struggled, the way I struggled.” Because black joy is resistance.

“Just walking around downtown Oakland, just driving around East Oakland, getting to the game every day, you could just tell that somebody fought and died for these streets that we were riding in,” Durant says. Once you know that, you can’t unknow it. Some wonder if that community connection will continue after the Warriors move to San Francisco’s Chase Center for the 2019-20 season. For now, though, Durant is focused on what’s before him: “You can appreciate the people that built this community. And it’s not because of the Warriors, but I think we do a really great job of adding onto something that was already incredible. The Warriors now, especially with the team we have, we are kind of carrying the torch for being the socially conscious team. There are a bunch of guys that just want to start a conversation about how we can be better as a nation, as a community.”


Before every practice or shootaround, the Warriors players gravitate to a group of 20 chairs in a corner of the gym near the weight room. Kerr stands in front of the group and talks about the practice plan, the upcoming schedule and other matters. Unlike most other NBA teams, “other matters” sometimes includes Trump’s latest tweets, the Alabama Senate election or the reign of the late Moammar Gadhafi in Libya.

It’s a little Woke U in front of the TV where they watch game film, a spur-of-the-moment conversation guided by the events of the day and the passions of those who feel like speaking up. They share what they know and bookmark what they don’t for further reading after they change out of practice shorts and shirts.

Kerr is part of a small contingent of white coaches with a reputation for being thoughtful and outspoken about race, politics and social justice. The group includes Spurs coach Gregg Popovich and former Bulls coach Phil Jackson, both of whom Kerr played for, as well as the Pistons’ Stan Van Gundy.

“When I came here, I had a feeling that Coach Kerr was kind of open-minded about everything,” Durant says. “And I heard the organization was that way. But once you get into it and we talk about Trump winning the election before practice and before a game, and if we won a championship, what would happen—that stuff gets your mind thinking about what is going on outside the gym.

“And it has all our minds moving and working. And now I’m just caught up on everything that’s going on in the world. When you’re naive and when you just think about what you’re passionate about and what you love every day, you tend to forget about what is outside. Coming in here gives you a taste of both: your love and passion but also the real world. I love it.”

“There are a bunch of guys that just want to start a conversation about how we can be better as a nation, as a community.”—Kevin Durant

Says West, a two-time All-Star: “Steve and I, when we interact, basketball’s like the last thing we talk about.” For years, without media attention, West has been engaged in his own demonstration during the national anthem. He stands last in line and a foot behind the rest of his team, in silent protest over issues of race, education, infant mortality and black life expectancy.

Before coming to the Warriors as a free agent in 2016, West says, he expected Green to be outspoken and had heard Curry was well-read. But Kerr’s interest in politics and his support of players’ curiosity and engagement was, for West, a revelation. “He just blurts out, like, ‘Morning, fellas, look at this crazy s— going on in Alabama.’ You know what I mean? Just like that, he jumps right out there.”

Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr, left, talks with guard Stephen Curry during the second half of Game 2 of basketball’s NBA Finals against the Cleveland Cavaliers in Oakland, Calif., Sunday, June 4, 2017.

AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez

One day in mid-December, a reporter is sitting with Kerr along the Court One sideline and asks about Democrat Doug Jones’ win in the Alabama special election over Republican Roy Moore, who was accused of sexual misconduct with minors. Kerr starts cautiously, then builds momentum: “I think it’s interesting that it just felt like a moment that we could hold on to some hope. But I don’t want that to sound like a liberal/conservative issue, because it really is not for me. It’s character. And I don’t even know Doug Jones. I just know that he doesn’t molest young girls, and so that’s a victory.”

Against a background of bouncing balls and other ambient gym noise, Kerr begins a small tangent on the fall of the Roman Empire and the dangers of internal decay. The part of him not consumed by basketball is fixated on history and politics, and it’s a focus he encourages in others. “Not only is it important from the standpoint that we’re all citizens and human beings and we should know what’s going on in the world, but it’s also important for the players to have balance in their lives.”

Clearly, though, nothing animates him like gun control, some of which has to do with family history. His father, Malcolm Kerr, was president of the American University of Beirut when he was killed by gunmen in 1984. But Kerr says he’d feel passionately about the issue anyway. It’s insane, he says, “that we can’t come to a place where sensible gun control makes sense to people, that we can just live in a country where 500-plus people can be shot from a hotel room floor and yet the very next government measure is actually to loosen the gun measures.”

“Steve and I, when we interact, basketball’s like the last thing we talk about.”—David West on his relationship with his coach

Kerr says he’s guided by a Popovich expression—by an accident of birth—as in, “By an accident of birth, you’ve lived the life you’ve lived, I’ve lived the life I’ve lived. It’s important for all of us to put ourselves in somebody else’s shoes.” He says his ability to empathize has been shaped by travel and the diversity he’s experienced as a teammate of black and Latino players. “It’s like you’re thrown into this locker room with people who have lived a totally different life and see the world differently from you. It’s incredibly healthy.”

And the guy who hired Kerr? He cosigns it all. “Who am I to tell them what to feel, how to think?” Myers says. “All I would say and what we tell our guys is, educate yourself, try to speak intelligently on something. Research it, try to look at both sides. Then, whatever you’ve gotta say, say it.”


The Warriors have just beaten the Mavericks 112-97 on a December evening, and Iguodala, who finished with two points but a game-high 10 assists, is standing at his locker. He’s talking not about the game but about the past, and the situational awareness he needs for the present and the future.

“I know about people who grew up the way I did, and I know about their struggle and I know about things that are set up for them not to succeed,” says Iguodala, a 14-year veteran who grew up in Springfield, Illinois. This is the way life is set up, he tells his 10-year-old son: “You’re black, you’re an African-American man,” so you’ve got to be aware of your surroundings.

And you have to choose the things you allow into your head. Iguodala has recently reread Ta-Nehisi Coates’ The Beautiful Struggle and has just finished Things Fall Apart, the classic African novel by Chinua Achebe. “I curate everything that comes into my brain,” he says. “Though there’s still some BS in there, like some funny stuff. I’m still fighting that.”

It’s that determined curiosity that distinguishes the Warriors, says Edwards: “What is singular about the Golden State Warriors, and it’s the only thing that you can really ask and legitimately project about a team like Golden State, they’re the greatest, most informed, the most intelligent, the most critically and vitally political of their era.”

It’s an era shaped by images of police shooting citizens, a video canon watched by players, who recognize that their own privilege and relative immunity doesn’t extend to people who look like them, or to anyone else they love. It’s an era in which fundamental national questions we thought had been asked and answered about race and equality are being re-engaged.

It’s also an era in which athletes, especially in the NBA, have both financial power and the ability through social media to connect with millions worldwide. They can hit send without a coach’s or general manager’s permission, or third-party translation. Even Ali couldn’t spread his message without intermediaries.

The times have both framed the issues and compelled the responses. Like the men and women who came before them, the Warriors are responding to what the moment calls for.

Black-athlete activism began with the struggle for legitimacy, then access, then dignity and now power. And those struggles existed in a broader context. You can’t talk about Jackie Robinson and the integration of sports separate from the civil rights movement. You can’t talk about Jim Brown or Arthur Ashe without Black Power. And now you can’t talk about Kaepernick, the national anthem protests or the political levitation of the Golden State Warriors without the frame of the Black Lives Matter movement.

When Green tied a critique of the word “owner” to the history of white men and slave labor, Mavericks owner Mark Cuban called on him to apologize. Green responded by saying, “I don’t expect him to understand. … He don’t know the feeling I get when I turn on the TV and see an unarmed black man got shot by a white police officer.” Those comments instantly became part of the national race conversation.

But that, Kerr says, won’t always be the case. “The inevitable downturn will come,” Kerr says, “and when we’re not winning at such a high rate, maybe there will be a different reaction” to their words, to their positions on social issues and the athlete-activists publicly creating new forms of influence in America.

Kerr says the Warriors don’t spend time thinking about that future or their place in history. Instead, the most woke coach on the most thoughtful team in the history of pro sports encourages his players to meet this standard: Say what you feel, “as long as you’re true to your convictions.”

The history will take care of itself.

This story appears in ESPN The Magazine’s Feb. 5 State of the Black Athlete Issue. Subscribe today!

John Wall: A letter to my dad The Wizards All-Star opens up about living his dreams and honoring his father’s memory

Dear Dad,

We all go through life hoping and wishing for many things. Many of my wishes have mostly come true, with a successful career that has allowed me to take care of my family.

But there’s one wish of mine that will never be granted. That wish would be bringing you back to life so that you could see me play in the NBA.

You never got the chance to see me play basketball at any level. In fact, we never had a chance to play catch like fathers and sons do, and you were barely around when I took my first steps.

That’s what happens when a parent goes to prison. You went there when I was 2, charged with an armed robbery that I didn’t even know about until years later.

You were an inmate for most of my life. But that didn’t matter because you were my father, and to me as a young boy, prison was just a place where you happened to live.

We’d make the two-hour drive every weekend to see you, sometimes rolling two cars deep. Some of the things I got used to in my early years were getting patted down and thoroughly checked by prison guards and walking down long prison corridors with the sounds of those prison gates opening and closing.

Then I’d see you, and the trip was worth it. In the early visits, we’d be separated by a piece of thick glass, and I still remember the excitement I felt when the prison guards escorted you to the seat in front of us.

Later we were allowed to sit at an actual table with you. And I couldn’t wait for those guards to take those shackles off of you so I could jump into your arms and feel your tight embrace.

Those hugs you gave me were amazing.

When I become a father, I’m going to share your story. Not going to sugarcoat anything. I’ll let my kids know that every generation can be better and that I’m living proof.

Our discussions were never about where you came from, but the places you wanted me to go. Looking back, there you were, an inmate locked away with not much of a future. But that didn’t keep you from encouraging me, a young boy, to get an education and to go to college.

Most importantly, you instilled in me the importance of being a real man. You told me to put myself in a position to one day take care of my mother, something you were unable to do while being locked away.

Then one day you were released, and I could sense you were just as excited as I was when we packed up the car for a family getaway to White Lake, a popular North Carolina resort.

We got a cabin there for a few days, and got a chance to spend time with you for the first time with no restrictions. We went to the fair and we ate, had an artist draw a picture of us, and we played in the water.

That true family gathering was the best day of my young life.

And led to the worst day of my life.

The next day, Dad, you got sick, and I was beginning to learn that you were released because you were terminally ill with liver cancer. We had no clue that the time we spent playing in the water would lead to water getting into your wound, causing you to hemorrhage. That horrific smell from all that bleeding still sticks with me.

As you were rushed to the hospital, me and my siblings were rushed home.

It was at home days later when I overheard a phone conversation that my mother was having with her sister. I heard her say that you had died, and I went into shock. I ran right past her, out the door and down the street with no shirt and no socks. I cried so hard, because hearing you had died is more pain than any 9-year-old should experience.

At your funeral, my older brother was emotional, and promised everyone that he’d take care of the family.

But the next year he got locked up.

All those events sent my life into a downward spiral. I would talk back to my teachers, respond to taunts from kids by fighting, and I disappointed my mother each time I got kicked out of school.

Yes, the man in my life might have existed in prison. But now he was gone, and I was acting out.

Even as I got so good in basketball that people thought it could eventually be my ticket to a better life, I rebelled. When coaches tried to discipline me, I’d pout. I’d get furious my teammates wouldn’t pass to me, or the times when I was taken out of games.

How bad did it get? There were times at Garner High School, where I went in the ninth and 10th grades, when the coach wouldn’t play me. And I’d sit on the end of the bench with my legs crossed, eating a lollipop.

A lollipop. Sometimes I’d eat Skittles. Other times Starburst. I’d eat whatever candy my friends in the stands would give me. When my team called timeout, I wouldn’t even get up to go to the huddle. My attitude was if they weren’t going to play me, why bother.

I lived up to my nickname: Crazy J. And, honestly, I couldn’t have coached me.

When I got cut from my next high school — and it wasn’t because of my skills — I was hurt. My mother was devastated.

Yet at some point after that low moment for me in basketball, everything started to click.

I credit some of the men in my life. The coaches who stuck with me, even though I was a handful to deal with. The teachers and school administrators who believed in me. And my stepdad, a man I didn’t embrace at first but is someone who I would do anything for today because of what he did for my family.

With everyone rallying behind me, I became the best high school player in the nation and had a successful college career that led me to be the top pick of the NBA draft.

And, Dad, you were a part of that success and I want to thank you.

We never had the opportunity to really interact the way a father and son should. But we made the best of the time we spent in prison, forming a bond that is truly unforgettable.

I know you’re proud of the man I’ve become. I’m the first in our family to attend college, and although I have not yet completed my degree, it is a goal that I hope to accomplish. My sister followed behind to become the first in our family to graduate from college and went on to get her master’s.

I’ve taken care of my mom, and taken care of the family just like you told me.

It’s the Wall way.

When I become a father, I’m going to share your story. Not going to sugarcoat anything. I’ll let my kids know that every generation can be better and that I’m living proof. Just like you pushed me, I’ll push them to believe that they can become anything in life, like doctors, teachers, nurses or executives.

My wish of having you see me play will never come true. But just know, Dad, that there’s a reason why I have this tattoo over the left part of my chest of you holding me.

You will always be in my heart. Thank you for inspiring me.

This story appears in ESPN The Magazine’s Feb. 5 State of the Black Athlete Issue. Subscribe today!

Chris Archer: A letter to my parents The Rays ace looks back with gratitude at his childhood home, where he learned to love himself and to embrace the differences in others

The setting is a playground in Clayton, North Carolina, in the early 1990s. We’re playing dodgeball during an outdoor recess in grade school, and I’m on a roll. I nail a kid — as well as any first- or second-grader could — to eliminate him from the game, and, as he walks defeated off the field, he looks back at me and shouts the words that rock me to my core: “I don’t care that you beat me, blackie!”

I stopped dead in my tracks, confused and shaken. To this very day, I vividly remember looking skyward while trying to internalize what he had just said. I asked myself, “Is this really how people see me?”

That was the precise moment that I realized I was black. And by the time I had looked down, I realized that color was now a part of my life that I could not avoid.

Sure, being black was always physically part of my life, but, until that grade school day, I had never seen myself as physically different or faced obstacles despite my slightly darker pigmentation (the result of my white biological mother and my black biological father).

I never knew color because the love my de facto parents — who were technically my white biological grandparents and raised me since birth — enveloped me with was all the unconditional love a child could ever need.

From as young an age as I can remember, my parents Ron and Donna always championed the fact that I, and frankly everybody in the world, was different. My mom was especially proactive and would always say, “Chris, what makes you different is what makes you unique, so embrace that.”

Whether my parents were doing it consciously or subconsciously, they were unquestionably preparing me for obstacles that might arise living in North Carolina in that era.

But, at a young age, I honestly never saw any difference between myself and my parents. And as I got older, even as I began to realize my differences, I was never judgmental of other people’s race, religion, creed or sexual orientation.

And that was largely because of where and how I was raised.

On our cul-de-sac, we had a Mormon family. Between our house and the Mormon family was a lesbian couple. Directly across the street was a gay male couple.

Sure, that’s a lot of differences on the surface. Yet we didn’t see it that way.

I’m a firm believer that all people are born inherently good, and it takes a negative familial and friends environment to shape such aforementioned viewpoints.

We hosted group dinners together, went to church together and had family gatherings together. And while I, the only black kid in the neighborhood, didn’t grow up on a street that was racially diverse, I did understand early in life that we are all just people despite whatever our differences may be.

As I grew older and entered my adolescent years, I was fortunate to live a life where I experienced very little racial strife and tension, which can be especially rare growing up in the South.

That’s not to say that racism didn’t exist in my adolescent life, though.

When I was a sophomore in high school, I spent a lot of time with this girl at school and around town. We texted back and forth for a few months, and I eventually mustered the courage to ask her if I could come over to her house to kick it.

The girl was white, and I’ll never forget her response: “My dad said that I’m not allowed to hang out with N-words, or have a boyfriend that is a N-word.”

The way she said it was a little too casual, just like when the grade school dodgeball victim called me “blackie.” And just like that little boy, this girl was unfortunate to have grown up in an environment where someone else shaped her views about race and culture.

I’m a firm believer that all people are born inherently good, and it takes a negative familial and friends environment to shape such aforementioned viewpoints.

Fortunately, I grew up in an “embrace all” environment that my parents provided me, and participation in youth sports afforded me the opportunity to make friends of all different races. Youth sports also exposed me to a particularly special high school coach, Ron Walker. Ron, who is black, welcomed me and my parents into his family, and their support allowed me to connect with a part of my black heritage and culture that was needed in my life.

You may be asking yourself, “But why was this connection needed?”

The answer:

Even to this day, regardless how welcoming I am of all people, certain people in this world will also see me in a certain light — a biracial man. That’s just a sad reality.

But it’s a reality that doesn’t change my mindset toward people who look at me that way. I embrace being biracial. I enjoy interacting with people of all different beliefs. And I most certainly accept people of different beliefs for who they are — not what they are.

I hold no grudge toward that kid on the grade school playground. And I don’t fault my sophomore year crush for the comment that ended our relationship. They didn’t know what they were saying carried so much hate. They unfortunately grew accustomed to those beliefs in the environment they were raised in, and they were simply regurgitating what their household environment passed on to them.

I just wish they could have grown up in a house and environment like mine. A house where my parents endlessly nurtured me, where they showered me with love, and where, despite my “differences,” showed me and my surrounding environment total acceptance regardless of race, religion, creed or sexual orientation.

And for that, I have three words for my parents:

I love you.

This story appears in ESPN The Magazine’s Feb. 5 State of the Black Athlete Issue. Subscribe today!

Ibtihaj Muhammad: A letter to my teammates ‘Through sports, we have the opportunity to unify and to lead,’ the U.S. Olympic fencer says

I want them to know the importance of allied voices in movements for freedom and justice. Their silence is deafening. Their choice to be “safe” and sit out of the conversation is as political as taking a knee. Though a white ally may never truly understand what it is like to be black in America, the ally’s voice as an American athlete matters. Allies send a powerful message that equality is everyone’s fight. Sports are unique in their ability to unite people of different shapes and sizes, ethnicities and faiths and varied experiences. Over the course of history, this dynamic has played an important role in shaping cultural discourse. Through sports, we have the opportunity to unify and to lead.

Through sports, we have the opportunity to unify and to lead.

We stand at a particularly divisive time in American history, where black and brown bodies are still denied basic human rights simply for the color of our skin, and we as athletes must not fear using our voices to fight for justice and an end to bigotry. We each have the power to change the narrative, as leaders in the movement and as allies for our teammates. For guidance, let us look to predecessors like Muhammad Ali and John Carlos, who risked everything. Let us look to allies who have been largely forgotten by history, like Peter Norman, and to modern heroes like Colin Kaepernick, Serena Williams, Megan Rapinoe and so many women of the WNBA. Today, and every day, we must continue to fight and recommit ourselves to Martin Luther King’s vision and be inspired by his words: “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter.”

This story appears in ESPN The Magazine’s Feb. 5 State of the Black Athlete Issue. Subscribe today!

Martellus Bennett on the State of the Black Athlete

Warning: This story contains strong language.

“To me, it seemed as if any athlete who signed up to protest or speak out on inequalities on one of the largest platforms in the world ended up with a target on their backs. Peaceful protests by black athletes led to them being attacked by the organizations, fans and even teammates they played for and with. With all of this happening, they still had to find a way to perform at a high level both for those very people spewing hate and their own livelihoods.”

Martellus Bennett, Creative Director of Awesomeness, The Imagination Agency Author of the forthcoming books Dear Black Boy and Hey A.J., It’s Bedtime www.theimaginationagency.com


The talented illustrator and Patriots tight end uses his own provocative art to respond to the backlash against the NFL player protest movement.

This story appears in ESPN The Magazine’s Feb. 5 State of the Black Athlete Issue. Subscribe today!

The top 45 NBA Christmas Day sneakers since 1997 Christmas in the NBA is too epic for some players to wear just one pair of shoes

There aren’t too many joys in this world quite like waking up on Christmas morning, checking under the tree and finding a crisply wrapped box that stores a fresh new pair of sneakers. You know … the ones your mama swore she wouldn’t get you, so you asked Santa, just in case.

On Monday, players hooping as part of the NBA’s loaded schedule of Christmas Day games will experience a similar moment. For them, the sneaker companies with which they’ve inked endorsement deals play a kind of Santa, presenting their brand ambassadors with special edition shoes to celebrate the holiday season. Before games, boxes await at lockers, ready to be laced up and taken for a spin.

From traditional red-and-green colorways to graphics of snowflakes and snowmen to designs incorporating Dr. Seuss’ Grinch, there are truly no limits on holiday kicks design. Shoes have steadily become more and more complex, and more festive, as the ritual continues to grow and spread joy throughout the league. Starting with Michael Jordan’s Air Jordan 13s in 1997 and ending in 2016 with an icy pair of Adidas sported by Derrick Rose, these are the top 45 sneakers worn on every NBA Christmas since 1997.


1997 Michael Jordan in Air Jordan 13

Air Jordan 13

Glenn James/NBAE via Getty Images

On Christmas Day 1997, when Michael Jordan wore the white, true red and black edition of then newly released Air Jordan 13, these shoes had yet to take on their true identity. After the May 1998 release of the Spike Lee-directed coming-of-age New York hoops flick He Got Game, which featured Denzel Washington famously donning the kicks under a house arrest ankle bracelet, they came to be eternally known as the “He Got Game” 13s. Jake Shuttlesworth, Washington’s character, would’ve appreciated Jordan’s 24-point performance in a win over the Miami Heat while wearing the shoes.

1998

The NBA experienced its third lockout from July 1, 1998, to Jan. 20, 1999, as the league and its players union negotiated a new collective bargaining agreement. As a result, the 1998-99 season was shortened to 50 games, and didn’t begin until Feb. 5, 1999. No Christmas games meant no Christmas heat on players’ feet.

1999 Tim Duncan in Nike Air Flightposite

Tim Duncan

JIM RUYMEN/AFP/Getty Images

Future Hall of Famer Tim Duncan spent his first six years in the league lacing up Nikes, and, boy, did he have a lot of dopeness to work with in that era. Duncan wore everything on the court from the Nike Foamposite One to the Total Air Foamposite Max, and of course his Air Max Duncan and Air Max Duncan 2. In 1999, he led the Spurs to victory in the biennial McDonald’s Championship, a now extinct international pro basketball cup, while sporting Nike Air Flightposites. Two months later, he dropped 28 points in them on Christmas. Duncan’s Nike days ended in 2003 when he signed with Adidas, the company with which he’d finish out his career.

2000 Ron Harper in Air Jordan 11 “Concord”Kobe Bryant in the Adidas Crazy 1

Ron Harper

Jeff Gross /Allsport

You could certainly tell that Ron Harper was a former teammate of Jordan’s on Christmas in 2000. In a game against the Portland Trailblazers, Harper, who played with the greatest of all time on the Chicago Bulls from 1995 to 1998, rocked a pair of “Concord” Air Jordan 11s, which first retroed in 2000. Meanwhile, Harper’s young superstar teammate, Kobe Bryant, broke out a silver pair of his signature Adidas Crazy 1, which features a silhouette inspired by an Audi.

Kobe Bryant’s 2010 Nike Zoom Kobe 6s, inspired by the grumpy green Dr. Seuss character, are the greatest Christmas Day sneakers the NBA has ever seen.
2001 Allan Houston in Nike Flightposite III PE

Allan Houston

Getty Images

A player exclusive (PE) pair of Nike Flightposite IIIs in Knickerbocker white, orange and blue? Santa Claus (or Nike for the nonbelievers) sure did look out for Allan Houston, who dropped a game-high 34 points in a Christmas win over the Toronto Raptors.

2002 Kobe Bryant in Air Jordan 7 PE Mike Bibby in Air Jordan 17

Kobe Bryant and Mike Bibby

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A matchup within a matchup. The Los Angeles Lakers vs. the Sacramento Kings in X’s and O’s, and Kobe Bryant vs. Mike Bibby in sneakers. Bryant, a sneaker free agent in 2002 after parting ways with Adidas, wore a pair of white, purple and gold Air Jordan 7 PEs, while Bibby, a member of Team Jordan since 1999, swagged the OG black and metallic silver Air Jordan 17s. Bibby’s Kings beat Bryant’s Lakers, but which player won the clash of kicks?

2003 Tracy McGrady in Adidas T-Mac 3

Tracy McGrady

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A throwback Orlando Magic pin-striped uniform with a pair of striped Adidas T-Mac 3s — some next-level Christmas coordination from Tracy McGrady. In a 41-point afternoon against the Cleveland Cavaliers, McGrady teased the T-Mac 3s, which wouldn’t drop at retail until 2004.

2004 Reggie Miller in Air Jordan 19 “Olympics” Fred Jones in Air Jordan 13 “Wheat”

Reggie Miller

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Another display of yuletide sneaker competition, this time among members of the same team. Reggie Miller clearly took matching his shoes with his Indiana Pacers uniform to heart. Against the Detroit Pistons, he wore a special edition pair of white, metallic gold and midnight navy Air Jordan 19s, while his teammate Fred Jones went super festive and classy with a pair of “Wheat” Air Jordan 13s. Two strong pairs of shoes to have under the tree. Moral of the story: Christmas Day in the NBA is too epic for some players to wear just one pair of shoes.

2005 Kwame Brown, Lamar Odom and Smush Parker in Nike Huarache 2K5

Smush Parker

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Why not close out 2005 by wearing Nike Air Zoom Huarache 2K5s, the best performance basketball shoe of the year? That’s exactly what Lakers teammates Kwame Brown, Lamar Odom and Smush Parker did in a road matchup against the Miami Heat on Christmas. The trio complemented their dark purple road uniforms with all-black 2K5s.

2006 Dwyane Wade in Converse Wade 1.3

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In June 2006, Dwyane Wade delivered the Miami Heat their first championship in franchise history while rocking his signature Converse sneakers for the entire six-game series that ended with the shooting guard hoisting the Bill Russell Finals MVP trophy. Six months later, in a matchup between the Heat and Lakers (the NBA’s only Christmas game of 2006), Wade delivered again with 40 points while still rocking Converse — this time a pair of red and white Wade 1.3s that he debuted in the blowout Christmas day win.

2007 Kobe Bryant in Nike Air Zoom Kobe 3

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Santa Claus must’ve forgotten to pay visits to the six teams that starred in the 2007 Christmas Day games, because the sneaker heat of Christmas past went missing that year. The only shoes of note in ’07? Bryant’s high-top Nike Kobe 3s in Lakers colors. These shoes set the tone for many Christmases to come — absolute fire.

2008 Kobe Bryant in Nike Zoom Kobe 4 Christmas iD Dwight Howard in Adidas TS Bounce Commander Superman LeBron James in Nike Zoom LeBron 6 “Chalk”

Kobe Bryant

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This is where all the fun, and Christmas cheer, truly begins. By 2008, the NBA started showcasing a full slate of Christmas Day games. A bigger holiday stage sparked a movement among players and sneaker companies to seize the moment in style with vibrant-colored kicks designed through the lens of specific themes. Bryant wore a personalized edition of his Zoom Kobe 4s, and Nike also presented 100 fans with custom pairs of the shoes. LeBron James debuted his Nike Zoom LeBron 6s, inspired by his chalk-throwing ritual before tipoff of games. And Dwight Howard channeled his alter ego, Superman, in special Adidas TS Bounce Commanders. Bryant, James and Howard became the early adopters of a Christmas tradition that’s still practiced across the league today.

2009 Kobe Bryant in Nike Zoom Kobe 5 “Chaos” Dwyane Wade in Air Jordan 1 Alpha Ray Allen in Air Jordan 1 Alpha Christmas PE LeBron James in Nike Air Max LeBron “Xmas” J.R. Smith in Air Jordan 12 “Cherry” Anthony Carter in Nike Blazers

Dwyane Wade

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Christmas “Chaos” for Kobe in his fifth signature Nike shoe. Old school meets new school in the Air Jordan Alphas, worn by longtime Team Jordan member Ray Allen and Dwyane Wade, who left Converse in 2009 to sign with Jordan Brand. Anthony Carter in the Christmas green and red Blazers, and J.R. Smith with a cherry on top in the red-accented “Cherry” Air Jordan 12s.

2010 Kobe Bryant in Nike Kobe 6 “Grinch”

Kobe Bryant

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HOLIDAY HOT TAKE ALERT: Universal Pictures’ The Grinch, released in 2000, is the greatest Christmas movie of all time, and Bryant’s 2010 Nike Zoom Kobe 6s, inspired by the grumpy green Dr. Seuss character, are the greatest Christmas Day sneakers the NBA has ever seen. Neither declaration is up for debate.

2011 Kobe Bryant in Nike Zoom Kobe 7 “Christmas” Kevin Durant in the Nike Zoom Kobe 4 LeBron James in Nike LeBron 9 “Christmas”

LeBron James

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Cheetah print for Bryant and copper for Durant? James wasn’t about that noise. He and Nike represented the holiday to the fullest, with classic red and green on his 2011 Christmas Day kicks.

2012 Kobe Bryant in Nike Zoom Kobe 8 Dwyane Wade in Li-Ning Way of Wade (two pairs) Ray Allen in Air Jordan 18 and Air Jordan 20 “Christmas” PEs, Kevin Durant in Nike Zoom KD 5

Dwyane Wade

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In 2012, Miami Heat teammates Allen and Wade had the same idea: Wear one pair of Christmas-themed shoes in the first half, and another pair in the second. Allen pranced up and down the court in two pairs of red-and-green Air Jordan PEs — first in the 18s and then in the 20s. Meanwhile, Wade broke out two shiny pairs of his signature Li-Nings. Moral of the story: Christmas Day in the NBA is too epic for some players to wear just one pair of shoes.

Santa Claus (or Nike for the nonbelievers) sure did look out in 2001 for Allan Houston.
2013 LeBron James in Nike LeBron 11 “Christmas” Dwyane Wade in Li-Ning Way of Wade 2 “Christmas”

Lebron James

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Two shades of Christmas green on the feet of two of the “Heatles.” Teal for James, with red trim and snowflake graphics. Lime green for Wade, with red accent and a speckled pattern resembling the skin of our favorite holiday hater, the Grinch. The question is, did Wade and Li-Ning swagger-jack the Black Mamba and Nike’s iconic “Grinch” Kobe 6s? Regardless, the Grinch is the gift that keeps on giving when it comes to Christmas kicks.

2014 LeBron James in Nike LeBron 12 “Christmas Day Akron Birch” Iman Shumpert in Adidas Crazy 2 “Bad Dreams” Klay Thompson in Nike Hyperdunk 2013 PE

Iman Shumpert

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To celebrate 2014’s five Christmas Day games, Adidas unveiled the “Bad Dreams” collection, featuring four sneakers designed in funky colors and patterns, and all highlighted by glow-in-the-dark soles. The best pair? The Crazy 2s, worn by Iman Shumpert in pregame warmups, even though he didn’t suit up for the Knicks’ matchup with the Washington Wizards due to injury. Honorable sneaker design mention: Klay Thompson’s Nike Hyperdunk 2013 PEs, which featured a snowman holding a basketball on the tongue of each shoe.

2015 Stephen Curry in Under Armour Curry 2 “Northern Lights”

Stephen Curry

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Chef Stephen Curry in the “Northern Lights,” boy! Seriously, these colorful concoctions could be worn for any holiday in the calendar year, not just Christmas.

2016 Derrick Rose in Adidas D Rose 7 Christmas PE Klay Thompson in Anta KT2 Christmas PE Lou Williams in PEAK Lightning Christmas PE

Derrick Rose

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*Cue up the Gucci Mane* I’m icy, so m—–f—— snowed up (“Icy,” 2005). Derrick Rose certainly brought both the ice and the snow on his kicks for a Christmas Day game during his lone year with the New York Knicks last season. The way those colors hit the light, you’d swear Rose was hooping on the blacktop in an ice storm, not on the hardwood in the Garden.

2017

Who in the NBA will gift us with this year’s best sneakers? We’ll see what LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Joel Embiid, Kristaps Porzingis, Kyrie Irving, John Wall, James Harden, Russell Westbrook and Santa have wrapped up and ready to go for a Christmas Day complete with hoops.