DeMar DeRozan wants Kobe Bryant to have the next great legacy brand, and he’s doing his part.
Who should replace Jerry West on a new NBA logo? The choice is yours By Aaron Dodson
For nearly 50 years, Jerry West has been immortalized. That’s because his likeness is the basis for the silhouette on the NBA logo, which longtime brand identity consultant Alan Siegel designed in 1969. Since then, Siegel has confirmed that the silhouette is West, although the NBA has denied it. Over the years, many people, including West, have pleaded for an update to the logo. The question is — who should replace West? The Undefeated selected 11 candidates and designed a new logo for each. Can you guess who we picked? Once you select correctly, we’ll make the case for why each of these players is worthy.
Hint 1: This player once asked Kanye West, “Are you a different animal and the same beast?” To which Yeezy responded by saying, “WTF does that mean?”
The greatest shooting guard in the history of the NBA not named Michael Jordan is Kobe Bean Bryant. He has an NBA championship ring for every finger on one hand. He’s top three on the NBA’s all-time scoring list, behind only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Karl Malone (though Bryant missed more shots than anyone in history). And, above all, he had that signature Mamba Mentality — an absolute killer on any given night, from his 81-point game to a 60-piece in his swan song. In these big moments, you could count on his go-to Mamba stare and fist pump — second to only Tiger Woods’ in fist pump power rankings.
Hint 2: This player averaged 38 points, 16.7 rebounds and 2.7 blocks in the NBA Finals at age 27.
The slam dunk is the most essential aspect of the game of basketball — and no one in NBA history threw the ball down with as much unadulterated force as Shaquille O’Neal. The 7-foot-1 Hall of Fame center destroyed rims, glass backboards and entire baskets on multiple occasions throughout his career. He put grown men on posters after dunking on them (sorry, Chris Dudley). But O’Neal was more than just a dunker. He is the most dominant player the league has ever seen. Even Kobe Bryant and LeBron James have cosigned this notion.
Hint 3: While filming a movie in the mid-1990s, this player built a state-of-the-art facility on set featuring a weight room, locker rooms, showers, living room, and basketball court.
Michael Jordan is already eternalized in silhouette. Since 1985, the “Jumpman” logo, depicting Jordan soaring through the air, has been one of the most distinguishable symbols on the planet — the mark of his billion-dollar brand. So why should he get another logo? For one, in 2015, Jerry West himself nominated Jordan as his replacement. But foremost, Jordan is the greatest of all time. In 15 NBA seasons, he was the ultimate winner — his six rings in six Finals appearances with six Finals MVPs is still unfathomable. So let’s celebrate how Jordan changed the game with a new silhouette — of how he celebrated his 1989 game-winner over Craig Ehlo.
Hint 4: The last five NBA Finals MVPs have either been this player, or the player who guarded him in the Finals. He’s the only active player worthy of logo consideration.
When it’s all said and done, LeBron James will take Jordan’s throne as the greatest of all time. It was destined to be that way ever since James was crowned “The Chosen One” in high school, and his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers drafted him No. 1 overall in 2003. James made “The Decision” in 2010 to take his talents to South Beach, where he won two titles with the Miami Heat before coming home to the Cavs and bringing Cleveland its first sports title in 52 years. His epic story began in his first NBA game on Oct. 29, 2003, with that memorable first career dunk.
Hint 5: “As far as playing, I didn’t care who guarded me — red, yellow, black. I just didn’t want a white guy guarding me. Because it’s disrespect to my game,” this player said.
Two of the most exciting elements of the NBA, sharpshooting and trash-talking, are the undeniable trademarks of Larry Bird. Back-to-back-to-back 3-point shootout titles from 1986-88 tell Bird’s story as a world-class marksman. Aside from being the only NBA player to win MVP, Coach of the Year and Executive of the Year, Bird was also a Hall of Fame trash-talker. His cutthroat on-court mentality transcended his appearance and “hick from French Lick” Indiana roots. (Bird and Magic Johnson went at it for years in the best rivalry in league history.) Oh, and hands down, he’s the greatest white player of all time. Even he knew that.
Hint 6: In 1989, the Red Hot Chili Peppers paid homage to this player in a song the band named after him.
No player has ever been built quite like Earvin “Magic” Johnson. At 6-foot-9, 215 pounds, Magic was listed at point guard but had the silky-smooth game to play, and to guard, all five positions on the floor. He was certainly built to last — then, on Nov. 7, 1991, his life changed forever. In an unforgettable news conference, Johnson announced he had contracted HIV, his retirement effective immediately. He returned to play in the ’92 All-Star Game, with the ’92 Olympic “Dream Team” and for a brief stint in ’96, but Johnson’s career ended too soon. He had much more to give.
Hint 7: This Hall of Fame player’s birth name is Ferdinand.
The NCAA didn’t allow players to dunk when Lew Alcindor played for UCLA in the 1960s, so he adapted with the most feared shot the game has ever seen. If the NBA had one signature shot, it’d be the 7-foot-2 center’s “skyhook.” Given the supreme height and skill of Alcindor (who converted to Islam in 1968, later changing his name to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar), the shot was virtually impossible to defend. It propelled him to the top spot on the NBA’s all-time scoring list and also to the most wins of any player in history. The shot was so iconic that when Siegel designed the original logo, he considered using Abdul-Jabbar as the silhouette.
Hint 8: During this multi-time NBA champion’s playing days, he became the first African-American to coach in the NBA.
Bill Russell has a heck of a trophy case: two NCAA titles, 11 NBA championship rings as a player (and two as a coach), 12 All-Star Game appearances, five NBA MVP Awards, and much more. But that only tells part of his story. In 1966 he became the first African-American to coach in the league, while he was still an active player. Muhammad Ali, Jim Brown, Abdul-Jabbar and Colin Kaepernick are the only athletes in history who hold a candle to Russell’s commitment to social justice throughout his career. On the court, his legacy lives on in the NBA Finals MVP trophy, which is named in his honor.
Hint 9: This superstar supported Richard Nixon during his 1968 presidential campaign.
Wilt Chamberlain kept it 100 — literally. On March 2, 1962, while facing the New York Knicks as a member of the Philadelphia Warriors, he scored an unbelievable 100 points, the single-game record for most points in a game. Some argue the 7-foot-2, 275-pound center is the greatest player of all time. That season, the most dominant of his career, during which he averaged 50 points and 26 rebounds — there were only nine teams in the league, and no one close to matching his dominance. He’s one of the greatest, but maybe not the greatest. Hands down, though, he’s the most prolific rebounder in history.
Hint 10: This player broke the NBA’s African-American color barrier in 1950, days before his black counterparts joined him in the league.
On Oct. 31, 1950, Earl Lloyd made history as the first black player to appear in the NBA, taking the floor for the Washington Capitals. A day later, Chuck Cooper debuted for the Boston Celtics, followed by Nathaniel “Sweetwater” Clifton as a member of the New York Knicks three days after that. These three men were pioneers in a league that is now majority black. Lloyd was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2003 for his overall contribution to the game. Lloyd represents progress and, for that reason, will forever be remembered.
Bonus: Before a game during the 2016-17 season, cameras caught this player sitting on the bench and jamming out to Future’s “Mask Off.”
Russell Westbrook is the undisputed leader of the new school that is currently flourishing in the NBA. The culture of the league is shaped in his image, as Westbrook represents a generation of ballers who hoop and operate on their own terms. These players have dope pregame handshakes. They’re fun to watch on the court. And off of it, they aren’t afraid to throw shade at opponents or pop off at reporters. This fun and free essence of the league deserves to be reflected in the logo — why not through a silhouette of Westbrook hittin’ dem folks?
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I didn’t get to see it this weekend, but I can’t wait until I do. Reviews like this will definitely get me to the theater.
I had super high expectations for Wonder Woman and was still blown away & not prepared for how emotional I'd be
— Jessica Valenti (@JessicaValenti) June 5, 2017
Bill Cosby’s trial has already gotten off to an awkward start. He arrived at the courtroom in Norristown, Pennsylvania, outside of Philadelphia on Monday with Keshia Knight Pulliam on his arm. You might remember her as the little girl who played Rudy on The Cosby Show, which is just uncomfortable on multiple levels. He doesn’t expect to testify at the trial, but the woman who accused him of sexual assault will, getting the ball rolling on so many others becoming willing to come out about encounters they had with the comedian. Here’s what to watch while this all unfolds.
Speaking of questionable characters named Bill, Mr. Maher is canceled. Not literally, but as far as I’m concerned he can go away and never come back. This dude, who hosts an HBO show, said during an interview in front of an audience that he was a “house n—–” without one bit of hesitation. Various people came to cape for him, which I’m never going to understand. The list includes Killer Mike, Donna Brazile, Michael Eric Dyson and his wife. Maher apologized, but the damage is done. It’s not like he’s got some great history when it comes to bigotry.
If you’re on Instagram, what you like is public. Meaning, if someone wants to know what it is you’re double-tapping on, all they have to do is go to the activity page and scroll to see that your co-worker is really into lemon trees, or your old high school baseball teammate is now seriously stalking models in Monaco. But what would you do if you saw your significant other like someone else’s butt selfie? Hurt, offended, angry, no big deal? Here’s one woman’s investigation into why her boyfriend hearts a model’s backside.
You might recall that Kobe Bryant once scored 81 points in a game. You might also remember that that game was against the Toronto Raptors. If you didn’t know, Jalen Rose was on that team and now is obviously an ESPN personality. I like Jalen a lot and always have since I was a middle schooler trying to emulate him and the Fab Five on the court. But when it comes to asking him about that fateful day, things can get awkward. Someone decided to lean all the way in on that and make a commercial out of it. It’s hilarious.
This Kobe and Jalen Rose commercial is hilarious lmao pic.twitter.com/n84A8ctAJx
— Teddy Westside (@TheDistrict1986) June 5, 2017
Coffee Break: Graduation season is really fun. Particularly when school administrators aren’t being jerks and actually understand the ceremony is about the kids and not about keeping decorum or whatever nonsense they come up with to hate on fun. This is what graduation should look like.
Snack Time: Pusha T is an anti-gun-violence advocate, and he’s been in these streets delivering his message for quite some time. Recently, he penned a letter to a 6-year-old on the topic, and it’s perfectly adorable.
Dessert: Rest in peace, Cheick Tioté. He will not be forgotten. Tioté, 30, died after collapsing during training in China.
RIP Cheick Tioté, far too young. He left his mark on football history with this goal. pic.twitter.com/WPmjI3dOpX
— Parker (@panoparker) June 5, 2017
“Rihanna just walked in front of me,” Jeff Van Gundy yelled during the first quarter of Game 1 of the 2017 NBA Finals. He completely skipped over the vicious dunk LeBron James had just unleashed on JaVale McGee. “Are you kidding me?!”
Fellow commentators Mike Breen and Mark Jackson chided their longtime colleague, but Van Gundy’s brief moment of distraction was warranted — she’s one of the biggest pop stars and beautiful people in the world. But it wasn’t just Rihanna sitting courtside in the Oracle Arena in East Oakland, California. Maybe it’s the trilogy effect, but this may just be the most star-laden NBA Finals ever. Aside from Rihanna, Jay Z, Kevin Hart, Marshawn Lynch, Power’s Omari Hardwick and Bay Area legends Too $hort, Raphael Saadiq and E-40 were all in attendance — either courtside or a few rows back.
Yet, it was Rihanna, from her plush digs — on the announcers’ side just a few seats away from Jay Z — who made worldwide headlines by matching wits with Kevin Durant. The Grammy winner and 2014 NBA MVP locked eyes on more than one occasion as Rihanna used her multimillion-dollar voice to chastise Durant. Rihanna came up short, though. KD dropped 38 points in a Game 1 blowout victory.
As Muhammad Ali’s fights were makeshift Met Galas for actors, actresses, musicians and hustlers, at 2015’s Floyd Mayweather/Manny Pacquiao bout, Jay Z, Beyoncé, Don Cheadle, Jake Gyllenhaal, Robert De Niro, Denzel Washington, Antoine Fuqua and more piled in to Las Vegas’ MGM Grand. But what makes the professional basketball courtside experience different is that the attendee is sitting right on top of the game. Courtside is more intimate than ringside: One’s feet are literally on the field of play. Jay Z refers to himself in 2009’s “Empire State of Mind”: Sitting courtside / Knicks and Nets give me high fives / N—-, I be Spiked out, I can trip a referee.
This is far from Shawn Carter’s first courtside homage. On Cam’ron’s 2002 anthem, “Welcome To New York City,” Jay boasts: I ain’t hard to find/ You can catch me front and center / At the Knick game, big chain in all my splendor/ Next to Spike if you pan left to right/ I own Madison Square / Catch me at the fight. It makes sense that both these lyrical moments nod at the world’s most famous Knicks fan — and courtside royalty — director Spike Lee. It’s Lee — Rihanna’s courtside prophyte in a sense — who stars in basketball’s most well-known courtside beef. He and Reggie Miller’s infamous back-and-forth during the 1994 Game 5 of the Knicks vs. Pacers Eastern Conference finals was defined by Miller’s 25-point fourth quarter and capped off with Miller’s choking gesture to Lee. The tense moment is immortal, iconic NBA playoff lore.
For the Los Angeles Lakers, courtside culture can be dated to the legendary actress Doris Day, better known as “the Neil Armstrong of Lakers’ celebrities.” Day, the biggest female box office star of the late ’50s and early ’60s, opened the courtside door at the Los Angeles Sports Arena. Fellow A-listers such as Dean Martin, Jack Lemmon, and Walter Matthau followed her in to watch future Hall of Famers Jerry West and Elgin Baylor lead the Lakers to multiple Finals appearances. The move from Minneapolis to Los Angeles made the Lakers the NBA’s first West Coast squad in 1960 — a move directly influenced by Lakers owner Bob Short noticing the financial gold mine the Dodgers found in L.A. following their move from Brooklyn, New York, two years earlier.
The appearance of celebrities courtside exploded in the era of the Magic Johnson-led “Showtime” Lakers. Johnson embodied 1980s Hollywood — the flashy play, the good looks and, of course, that 2,000-watt smile. Comedian Arsenio Hall was a regular at the Forum, as was singer Dionne Warwick, Michael J. Fox, Ted Danson, Jimmy Goldstein and, most famous of them all, Jack Nicholson. These were kings and queens of that era’s show business realm.
“If you’re an A-level person, and we know the fans are going to go bananas when your picture goes up on the scoreboard, then there’s a value having you there,” Barry Watkins has said. He’s the Madison Square Garden Co.’s executive vice president and chief communications officer. He’s the plug when it comes to courtside seats at the Garden. “It’s a big part of the brand. Win or lose, it’s one of the reasons people come to the games.” Entertainers want to be entertained, too. Plus, basketball and Hollywood were meant to be significant others off the rip: talent, egos, competition, drama, controversy, animosities and, all playing out under the bright, bright lights.
According to Shawn “Pecas” Costner, vice president of player relations at Roc Nation Sports, the continued charm of courtside seats has largely to do with the popularity and influence of hip-hop culture. “The flyest thing you can do at a basketball game — besides play in the game — is sit courtside,” he said from his New York City office.
And this is not solely due to the glamour and bravado associated with rap. Pecas believes that these days, the courtside thing is just as much about the hard-knock journeys associated with the music’s biggest stars. Pecas came to Roc Nation Sports in 2014, following 18 years in the music business, most notably as executive vice president at Def Jam Recordings. The Bronx, New York. native, who grew up with Big Pun, Lord Tariq and Jennifer Lopez, earned his stripes in several capacities at V2, Elektra and Arista Records before joining Def Jam in 2005. “When we were kids,” he said, “and used to go see the Knicks play the Bulls on Christmas Day, we were in the 300 section. You had to bring your binoculars to watch. You always wanted to see who was the one or two black guys sitting courtside because at that time, it was only one or two.”
While not quite a regular courtside fixture, Pecas has his share of memories. He and his longtime colleague Mike Kyser, president of black music at Atlantic Records, sat courtside for rookie game and dunk and 3-point contests at the 2012 All-Star Weekend in Orlando, Florida. Pecas would normally give his tickets away to artists in town for the big game on Sunday, but as destiny would have it, not as many came that year, and Pecas and Kyser received floor seat assignments for the actual All-Star contest. “You’re like, ‘Oh s—!’” he said, his voice getting higher as he takes a trip down memory lane. “ ‘Am I courtside for the NBA All-Star Game?’ You gotta make sure the outfit is right just in case. Make sure you wear the right sneakers.”
The game itself was one of the more entertaining All-Star Games in recent memory, the highlight being a LeBron James vs. Kevin Durant scoring barrage. Pecas and friends documented the memories on social media with the hashtags such as #OnTheWood, and #Woody Harrelson. In Pecas’ office hangs framed photo of himself in the New York Daily News. He looks on as Kevin Durant — now a Roc Nation client — flushes home a dunk with James, Kobe Bryant, Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Love looking on.
As for this year’s NBA Finals, Pecas said he can’t even begin to predict the number of celebrities who’ll be sitting courtside for however long the Warriors and Cavaliers do business. The possibilities are limitless because the NBA is more committed to its fans both domestically and abroad than any other American sports entity. While cries of superteams killing the product cause constant debates at social media and on sports talk shows, the NBA celebrated its third consecutive record-breaking year of fan attendance. And the NBA certainly loves the social status of having some of the world’s biggest celebrities taking in the game mere feet away from some of the world’s most popular athletes. The photos below showcase some of those personalities, from yesteryear to the present.
Pecas said it’s difficult to describe the feeling of sitting courtside, but he gives it a try: “Sitting courtside is like flying private for the first time,” he said. “You never wanna go back.”
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The greatest lottery selection for the Los Angeles Lakers was a no-brainer, as Kobe Bryant was the player selected.The Los Angeles Lakers have one of the most storied histories in the NBA. They have had a ton of success during the history of the organization, as they have won 16 NBA championships….
As LeBron James embarks on his ninth Eastern Conference Finals since 2007, we look back at a pair of his most legendary road contests. This, the first of a two-part series, travels back to Game 5 of the 2007 Eastern Conference Finals, when James’ Cavaliers squared off against the top-seeded Detroit Pistons. LeBron recently revealed his affinity for playing road playoff games: Adversity is his basketball aphrodisiac.
All great NBA players — all great athletes, really — experience The Moment. “That little moment when it clicks,” says Chauncey Billups, 2004 NBA Finals MVP. “And it’s like, ‘I’m here.’ ”
There are moments that define a career. For Kevin Garnett, it’s hard to pick a better one than when he yelled, “Anything’s possible!” at center court after Game 6 of the 2008 Finals. Serena Williams’ 2015 return to Indian Wells ranks as one of her “proudest moments.” But a moment that says, I’m here — that’s different. Usain Bolt’s moment arrived when he was 15. With his victory in the 200 meters, Bolt became the youngest gold medalist ever at the 2002 World Junior Championships in Jamaica. This was six years before he truly sprinted into history at the 2008 Summer Olympic Games in Beijing.
Denver-born Chauncey Billups personally experienced The Moment in the opening round of the 2003 postseason when his Detroit Pistons rallied from 3-1 down to defeat Tracy McGrady’s Orlando Magic. The first-round pick from the University of Colorado played for four NBA teams in his first five seasons before settling in Detroit. And for the first four games, Billups struggled to find an answer for Magic point guard Darrell Armstrong. Billups’ shot wasn’t falling. And Detroit, the East’s top seed, was on the brink of elimination — and embarrassment.
But then something clicked for Billups. A hunter’s mentality. Billups could be a shark or a guppy. The predator or the prey. Shots drawing iron earlier in the series found water. His confidence swelled. Billups scored 40 points in Game 6 and officially lowered Orlando’s casket in Game 7 with 37. “That,” he says, “was the point where I felt like I can be the dude I always thought I could be.” An all-time great sports nickname, “Mr. Big Shot,” was born.
During Game 1 of that very series, an increasingly familiar face sat courtside. LeBron James — 18 years old, and still two months from being chosen No. 1 overall in the 2003 NBA draft — gushed over McGrady’s felonious posterization of Mehmet Okur. Neither he nor Billups could imagine that the high school phenom would experience His Moment on the very same court just four postseasons later.
The NBA looked different on May 21, 2007, when the Cavs tipped off against the Pistons in The Palace of Auburn Hills. It was their second consecutive postseason meeting. Detroit won the previous matchup, LeBron’s first postseason, in seven games. Detroit had held Cleveland to the lowest point total in any Game 7 in league history. In ’07 the NBA had yet to fall completely in love with the 3-point shot. Kobe Bryant still searched for a post-Shaq title. James’ current running mates, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, were in high school.
And before LeBron’s Game 5 heroics came Game 1’s, for lack of a better term, decision.
The Pistons — led by Billups, Richard ‘Rip’ Hamilton and Rasheed Wallace — harassed James all night in the series opener. Double teams. A healthy dosage of hard contact. ’Bron, despite nearly notching a triple-double with 10 rebounds and nine assists, only had 10 points on 5-of-15 shooting. Down 78-76 in the waning seconds of the game, James opted against taking a contested but makeable layup, instead zipping the ball to the corner — Donyell Marshall was wide-open. Marshall missed. And though Detroit eventually won 79-76, the home team was anything but pleased. In the Pistons’ locker room was an aura of having barely escaped. “It’s a positive that we won,” Wallace said after the game, “but it’s a negative because we didn’t feel like we won.”
And per a routine that has been consistent throughout his entire career, what LeBron did in the loss (as opposed to what the winners did to win) was the sexy post-game debate topic. Twitter was new, James himself didn’t join until 2010. But in newspapers, in comment sections, chat rooms and in barber shops from Compton to Cleveland, LeBron’s decision to defer the final shot dominated discussion.
“I like my teammates to be able to knock down open shots even if I can get all the way to the rim—and kick it out for a three,” James had said prophetically before Game 1. “I like the satisfaction of guys like Sasha [Pavlovic], Anderson Varejao, Donyell Marshall, Larry Hughes, Drew Gooden and all those guys on our team to feel like they’re important on our team.” He stuck to the script after the game, too. “I go for the winning play. The winning play when two guys come at you and a teammate is open, is to give it up. It’s as simple as that.”
Marshall, who made six threes in the previous game to help send the Cavs to the East finals, saw the beating James took. “It’s one of those things where it’s damned if you do, damned if you don’t,” says Marshall, today the head basketball coach at Central Connecticut State University. “Should he have taken the shot? Maybe. But why? Because he’s LeBron James? At the end of the day, if I make the shot, nobody is saying anything.”
In private, the backlash didn’t seem to bother James. What did agitate him were the critiques of his teammates being less than worthy of his once-in-a-generation skill set. Historically trustworthy of his teammates, dating back to his high school days, bashes against them only fortified the Cavaliers’ bond. He’d turned 21 five months earlier, yet Marshall saw a veteran’s cool in James. And while the entire country chastised him, James leaned even more closely on his crew. “One of the very many things I respect about ‘Bron,” says Billups, “is he’s always been comfortable with who he is, and who he was. ‘Bron’s the kinda guy … wired to make right play at the end of the game. And all game. He puts pressure on the coach to make sure everybody in the game can make a shot, because they might get it.”
The next day, in practice, head coach Mike Brown ran the same exact play. He put a few seconds left on the clock. And he put Marshall in the same exact spot. LeBron again drove to the basket and beamed a pass to Marshall. “I make the shot and LeBron and the whole team run and mob me like we had just won Game 1,” Marshall recalls laughing. “We actually made a joke out of it.”
As the series plowed along, the intensity skyrocketed. A trip to the Finals hung in the balance—Cleveland’s first as a franchise or Detroit’s third journey in four seasons. The Pistons captured the first two games on its home floor. In Game 2, both LeBron and Larry Hughes missed what would have been game winners, throwing gasoline on the conversation which began after the opener. Cleveland captured Games 3 and 4 at Quicken Loans Arena, tying the series. LeBron led the charge in both.
The first four games were decided by a total of 16 points. The stage was set for a critical Game 5 in Detroit where Cleveland was 1-5 in the previous two postseasons. What lay on the horizon was one of the most prolific performances in NBA history. The Moment that would announce the arrival of a kid called “The King.”
Brian Albritton Jr. attended Game 5 with his father, along with a friend and his friend’s father on May 31, 2007—the same day Kobe Bryant made headlines by demanding a trade from the Los Angeles Lakers. Albritton Sr. and Jr. are Detroit natives and—like father, like son—are diehard Pistons fans. After having completed his junior year at Hampton University, Brian Jr. was home to decompress, and to visit family. A suite at the Palace, thanks to his friend’s dad, was the hottest ticket in town. Though Brian Jr. was not sold on the hype around LeBron James.
“Back then,” says Albritton, now 31 and an account executive at Qualtrics, “I was part of the ‘Carmelo’s better than LeBron’ camp.” He was far from alone. Throughout The Palace ran the belief that no one man could beat the Pistons, who in 2007 were the Eastern Conference equivalent of the San Antonio Spurs with regard to their willingness to play team basketball.
The Cavs remained in striking distance of the Pistons through the first three and a half quarters. LeBron was his normal self—scoring when needed, distributing the ball to teammates. Midway through the fourth quarter, though, a flip switched. Exit LeBron James. Enter Freight James. A 17-foot jumper from LeBron gave the the Cavs an 81-78 lead with six minutes left. Aside from a Drew Gooden free throw, James would be the lone Cavalier to make a field gold in the final 17:48. He was the only one to score—period—in the final twelve minutes and forty-nine.
In Albritton’s suite, jaws dropped. People in the crowd looked at each other, some for comfort, some just to make sure what was happening wasn’t a dream. It wasn’t. It was Detroit’s nightmare. LeBron was coming. And there wasn’t a force in the world built to derail him that night. “It was one of those situations where you’re conflicted because you’re watching greatness,” Albritton says, “but he’s putting it on you.”
Even Donyell Marshall didn’t quite realize exactly what was happening. “It’s great to be a basketball player. It’s great to be on the floor with the guy,” Marshall says. “But you don’t really get to see what he did, because you’re in the moment.”
Albritton, meanwhile, felt the momentum shift with each James bucket, but refused to believe the inevitable. “I was like, ‘Yo, [the Pistons are] still going to win this. He can’t do this by himself.’” A driving and-1 layup and three pointer were appetizers: with less than forty seconds left in regulation, the Pistons held an 88-87 lead. The Palace was on its feet. In disbelief, but on its feet, regardless. Albritton felt alone in an arena of over 22,000. “I’ve never seen anything like it,” he says.
James used a hesitation and between-the-legs dribble to propel himself toward the rim. He threw down a thunderous dunk, the violence of which reverberated loudly throughout The Palace and on televisions across the country. The flush was so violent, All-Defensive Second Team member Tayshaun Prince cut his losses by getting out of dodge. After a Billups 3 that gave Detroit a two-point lead and Brian Jr. belief that his assertion of James’ one-man explosion not being enough, came another James dunk. Then Billups barely missed the game winner.
Tied game. Overtime. Unfortunately for Albritton, James was only getting started.
In the first extra five minutes, the Pistons punched back like any champion would. But James—a leaping, sprinting, shooting, uncontrollable weapon of mass destruction in signature Nike Zoom Soldier 1 Witness PEs—responded with full force. “I just remember saying, ‘He can’t keep this up,’” Albritton recalls. “Because he was the only person scoring! It was literally like the four might as well not even come down the court on offense.”
The one-man inferno was by design. Get No. 23 the ball and get the hell out of his way. Donyell Marshall didn’t score a point in Game 5, but considers it one of the finest games in his 18-year playing career. According to Marshall, in the huddle, there was a sense James was doing something special. No one wanted to say much. Just let it happen.
“That was one of the first times I really heard him say, ‘You guys just get the stops for me on defense and I’ll take care of you guys on offense,’” says Marshall. “It was one of them things like, ‘Yo, you gon’ take care of the offense? We got you on defense.’ If you look at it, we banded together. We got the stops. We got him the ball and he took over.”
On the opposite end of the court, the Pistons scrambled for a solution. Any solution. A common blueprint for slowing James down, even now, is forcing him to shoot jumpers. Detroit’s best bet was to live with the results of James pulling up from 25 feet. Only they weren’t living. James was sucking the life out of the arena, one rib-cracking body blow at a time.
Anytime Billups and the Pistons had the chance to devise a scheme, they did. They talked during timeouts. They chatted between free throws. For the Pistons, a veteran squad with experience in close games, this run from LeBron was new territory even for them. They’d ended the Shaquille O’Neal-Kobe Bryant Lakers dynasty three years earlier. They didn’t lose to supernovas.
“We tried everything and everybody,” says Billups. “Tay [Prince] was on him for a while, then ’Bron got cooking. Rip was like, ‘Boom, lemme take him.’ He started frontin’ Rip. Then I was like, ‘Bro, lemme take him. Probably somebody need to pressure him. Give him a different look.’ Then he started cooking me. I can honestly tell you we tried everything we had. But with the great ones, it happens. I just never seen it happen like that.”
They sent double teams. They forced him baseline. The entire time, LeBron said nothing. He wasn’t a trash talker to begin with, at least not with the Pistons. Much like with his basketball hero, Michael Jordan, Detroit was a hurdle he had to clear in order to get to the next chapter of his career. “We didn’t make it easy on him,” Billups says. “He was going to the floor hard, man. We was putting him on the wood. Hard. And he was just bouncing back, getting up, not saying nothing. He kept coming to the rack, kept doing his thing. I respect it.”
Those in Albritton’s suite sat dazed and confused. Look to the left for comfort? There was none. Look to the right? It’s someone rubbing their temples. Albritton Jr. couldn’t quite put his finger on what was happening. He leaned over to his dad. “Yo, has anyone else scored in a while? I don’t know what he’s at right now, but it feels like he has the last 50.”
“I don’t know,” said Albritton Sr. Dad was exasperated.
Maybe because, to make matters worse, they witnessed the explosion up close and personal. Their suite was on the basket where James was painting a Motown masterpiece that would make Berry Gordy jealous. LeBron’s elbow jumper over three Pistons with the shot clock expiring in the first overtime broke Albritton Jr.’s spirit. Of course Billups remembers the shot, too. “He had so many,” he says. “But that one right there was just like, ‘Aight, s–t. If we doubling, and he’s doing that, what else can we do?’ ”
As the game careened into its second overtime, an entire arena understood history was taking place. There was the step-back jumper with Prince’s defense so smothering he may as well have been inside James’ jersey. Then came the behind-the-back crossover jumper on Billups. While it wasn’t exactly Iverson on Jordan, it did seem like the soundtrack to James’ repertoire was Snoop Dogg’s classic 1993 “Serial Killa” as he gave Pistons fans Six million ways to die. Choose one.
Marv Albert, Doug Collins and Steve Kerr called the game for TNT. Albert labeled LeBron’s performance “one of the all-time in NBA history.” When James’ 3 tied the game at 107 with 1:15 remaining, Kerr dubbed the performance “Jordan-esque.” Yet and still, a familiar scenario greeted LeBron in OT2’s final seconds. Shades of Game 1 a week and a half earlier returned in full force. However unfair, after everything he’d done to keep the Cavaliers in above water, it was winning time. Sink or swim.
There was James, at the top of the key, with the game tied and the ball in his hands. Billups D’ing him up, looking him square in the eye. The Palace was on its feet again, both in awe and pleading for any sort of miracle. ’Bron cupped the ball by his waist, eyeing the clock — and Billups. Stalking prey, like a cheetah in the wild. With five seconds remaining, James made his move, gliding by Billups and splitting the double team of Tayshaun Prince and Jason Maxiell, who opted not to foul. That put James at a spot on the floor that has always been his on-again-off-again fling: the free-throw line. Marshall stood in one corner. Damon Jones was wide-open in the spot that Marshall had been in four games prior. Only this time, LeBron kept the rock for himself.
James made the layup, giving the Cavs a 109-107 victory.
When Albritton Jr. turned on the car radio, his suspicions were confirmed. James finished with 48 points, 9 rebounds, 7 assists and 2 steals. He scored 29 of the Cavaliers’ final 30 points, and the final 25 consecutive. “I told you nobody else scored!” Albritton yelled. A decade later he admits, “That night is when I was like, ‘There’s no question about it now. He’s that deal.’ He couldn’t miss.”
LeBron was burgeoning pop culture royalty in 2007. He was one of the NBA’s biggest names with one of its brightest futures. The season prior, as a 20-year-old, he’d finished with season averages of 31 points, 7 rebounds, 7 assists and 2 steals, trailing only Kobe Bryant and Allen Iverson for the scoring title. But it wasn’t until Game 5 of the 2007 Eastern Conference finals when LeBron The Phenom disappeared and made way for LeBron The Superstar. “That one performance was his validation,” says Billups, who is a full-time NBA analyst at ESPN. “It was him coming into being a grown man. It was him saying, ‘I just did this to them? Yeah, I can do this.’ You talk about confidence and momentum? It … gave him momentum for the rest of his career.”
The series ended in Cleveland the next game, giving the Cavs their first Finals appearance. And while they were swept by Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and the San Antonio Spurs, a moment James later admitted he wasn’t mentally prepared for, it was the beginning of James’ decadelong Eastern Conference dominance: He’s appeared in every East final since 2007, sans 2008 and 2010.
As Marshall and James walked off the court after Game 5, the two allowed themselves a brief escape into euphoria. They’d backed the Pistons, the Eastern Conference gatekeepers, into a corner. They walked into the tunnel when James suddenly stopped. Pistons fans crowded around as the players disappeared to the locker room. An intense energy still permeated the arena. One Detroit fan caught ’Bron’s ear.
“We’ll see you in Game 7,” the fan guaranteed, “just like last year!”
“No,” James said with defiance, “you won’t.”
I’m going to see Game 6 of the Eastern Conference semifinals Friday night between the Washington Wizards and the Boston Celtics. I really, really, hope that this isn’t the last NBA basketball game in D.C. this season.
If you listen to music in this country, you should know who L.A. Reid is. One half of the original team that started LaFace Records, Babyface being the other, he’s been a dominant force in the industry for a generation. He’s the kind of guy who’s always making various people’s power lists, and in an era in which the concept of the record company mogul is kind of a dying breed, he’s still around. But now, he’s out at Epic Records. It’s not exactly clear why, either, because it’s not like he wasn’t enjoying plenty of success. Where he lands will be fascinating.
President Donald Trump is letting the tweets fly, again. After apparently nearly incriminating himself during an interview with NBC’s Lester Holt, he decided it was a good idea to get up and start tweeting even more things that could eventually end his administration — which for my money, is exactly what he wants to do. No. 1, he admitted that he fired FBI director James Comey because of his investigation into Trump’s Russia ties, which in most leagues is a foul, to borrow a sports phrase. Then, he basically threatened a congressional witness.
The man in charge of Rikers Island is stepping down. Joseph Ponte is his name, and New York Mayor Bill de Blasio put him in charge of the Big Apple’s correctional facilities three years ago. Let’s just say that he’s not exactly leaving without a cloud over his head. De Blasio talked long and loud about how he was going to close Rikers, but that still hasn’t happened, and Ponte’s own proclivity for being extremely shady is as much of a reason to point to as anything else. In short, conditions for inmates are not getting better in NYC anytime soon.
LaVar Ball’s had a decent week. He’s managed to stay in the news cycle without being completely destructive and sell a few shoes in the interim. Also, if you want to hear the clearest example of why most people have no issue with Lonzo Ball’s father, but actually like him, look no further than rapper The Game, who broke it down in pretty simple terms. He also managed to get into a bit of a row with Kobe Bryant, but in the end, NBA execs say this will not affect his son’s draft status. Which, for Lonzo, is all that should matter.
Coffee Break: I’m not going to lie. I don’t want to read or watch content about Tupac and Biggie for the rest of my life. I just don’t. I know that some people do, and that’s fine, but personally, with each successive project about their lives and deaths, I feel ickier as a fan of hip-hop. USA Network has greenlit a series called Unsolved.
Snack Time: Missy Elliot has always been a style icon, and that ain’t changing anytime soon, so to see her on the cover of Elle magazine is a big win for her and the culture in general.
Missy Elliott is on the cover of Elle Magazine this month pic.twitter.com/jGURfl9fKB
— The Dinner Table Doc (@dinnertabledoc) May 11, 2017
Dessert: Need a good gift for mom? How about a Nike outsole iPhone case! For real, though, they’re dope.
Kobe Bryant may be retired from the NBA, but the Black Mamba has found time to keep the sport in the forefront of his life. He has partnered with Nike and the Los Angeles Boys & Girls Club to create a new basketball league for kids.
The Mamba League was launched to teach kids ages 8-10 core basketball techniques and the importance of teamwork while building relationships and showing young athletes how the game connects to everyday life. From February to April, 40 volunteer coaches from the Nike Community Ambassador Program and the Boys & Girls Club mentored, taught and trained 288 players from four underserved communities in Los Angeles County — Nickerson Gardens in Watts, Whittier, West San Gabriel Valley/Monterey Park and Venice — for eight weeks.
“The Mamba League is a fun league for kids to learn the game, have fun, but also understand the connection the game has with life in general and convert that into being a better son, a better daughter, a better student,” Bryant said in a Nike video about the program. “I’m really excited about building this league with my Nike family.”
Bryant wanted to take the Mamba League in a direction slightly different from most youth programs. Basketball rims were lowered to 9 feet, a foot shorter than a regulation hoop, in order to give players room to develop their skills. Coaches were briefed on how to communicate different drills and techniques to players of all skill levels.
Another unique factor of the league was its female turnout, which can sometimes be modest in male-dominated basketball programs. Female coaches were brought in to train the girls, who made up around 45 percent of the league’s rosters.
Although the league was formed to help players learn the mechanics of the game, Bryant hopes the lessons learned during the eight weeks will be valuable in their everyday lives.
“This is more than just a competition,” Bryant told players at the Mamba Challenge tournament in April. “The league is about empowering players and coaches and seeing kids increase their self-confidence as young leaders both on and off the court.”
Plans are to expand to more sites next year.
A normal day in the life of former NFL quarterback Michael Vick is spent with family, maybe indulging in some golf and during this time of year taking in some NBA playoff games.
“I wake up and I try to handle all my business by 2 o’clock. I’m golfing from 3 to 5, maybe practicing some short game, trying to get better as a golfer,” Vick said. “Then come home and spend time with my kids if I don’t go to pick them up around 3:30, and that night I’m trying to find the best TV show I can find. Right now it’s the playoffs, though.”
He was rooting for the Indiana Pacers, who were swept by the Cleveland Cavaliers in the first round of this postseason.
Vick announced his retirement in February after spending 13 seasons in the NFL, which included times filled with controversy, a prison sentence, a second chance and acts of remorse that involved advocating for animals.
April 30 marked the beginning of the postretirement Vick era. He’s turned his sights to the next chapter: guiding young athletes. Teaming up with the National Playmakers Academy (NPA), he launched the V7 Elite Playmakers Showcase Series, a premier sports camp in the South and East geared toward young athletes ranging from fifth- to 12th-graders.
The showcase provides an interactive camp setting where the kids will receive a combination of instruction from elite college and professional coaches and athletes, have their performances evaluated by college coaches by livestreaming, access to exclusive V7 gear (Vick’s official clothing line) and competition among elite talent. V7 Elite Playmakers Showcase Series kicked off its multicity tour Sunday at Tennessee State University in Nashville.
Vick’s next chapter represents his road to healing, including forgiving himself after serving 18 months in federal prison following a guilty plea to dogfighting conspiracy on Aug. 27, 2007.
On April 25, 2007, police raided his Virginia property and found several neglected pit bulls and evidence of dogfighting. By Aug. 24, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell had suspended Vick indefinitely without pay, but later said he’d have to show genuine remorse to get a chance at resuming his NFL career.
Vick, who was the No. 1 pick in the 2001 NFL draft by the Atlanta Falcons, made four Pro Bowl appearances over his professional football career. He still holds the record for the most career rushing yards by a quarterback (6,109) and the most rushing yards by a quarterback in a season (1,039). The former Virginia Tech standout’s on-the-field career accomplishments include the NFL Comeback Player of the Year (2010) and the collegiate Archie Griffin Award in 1999.
Goodell conditionally reinstated Vick after his release from prison in July 2009, and in August of that year he signed a two-year contract with the Philadelphia Eagles and was fully reinstated in week 6 of the 2009-10 NFL season.
In his dark days, those prison days, Vick said, he did a lot of writing.
“I wrote a lot of people, whether it was prominent people, ambassadors, vice presidents. I was writing everybody,” he said. “I got over like 50,000, 60,000 pieces of mail that came through the prison systems for me. That just goes to show that people did care, and it was people of all different races, all different backgrounds, all different colors, all different denominations, and that’s what kept me uplifted.”
Vick was a target for animal rights activists, and protests followed him in the latter stages of his career. After Vick signed with the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2015, head coach Mike Tomlin told Trib Total Media that Vick had made efforts to atone for his past. “Rest assured that he has done a lot since some of the things that he has gone through. His track record to this point speaks for itself,” Tomlin said.
According to MNN.com, “since his release from federal prison in 2009, Vick has worked with the Humane Society to help stop dogfighting, and he helped get the Animal Fighting Spectator Prohibition Act passed in Congress. Recently, he made a trip to the Pennsylvania statehouse to support a bill that would give police more authority to rescue pets left in hot cars.”
Vick opened up to The Undefeated about retirement, his showcase series, prison and his journey to forgiveness.
How is retirement for you?
I feel good in retirement. As of right now, I feel like I’ve got enough going on to keep me occupied, and I think postcareer, for a lot of players, you worry about what’s to come or you don’t plan for what’s to come, and I didn’t have a plan. I just kind of followed all my resources and just allowed them to help me dictate what was best for my immediate future following retirement and I’ve got combines, showcases coming up for kids.
Ten different showcases in 10 different states, different cities. I’ve got a clothing line that’s about to emerge and some other things that sparked my interest that I think would be beneficial for my brand long term.
How did you decide on starting your showcase and your clothing line?
Well, I’ve done a lot of camps over the years. And camps, they follow the same format. And I think with a showcase, it gives collegiate coaches the opportunity to come out and view the kids and the kids can get some form of recognition in terms of being recruited by a major, Division I university or a DIII school.
I think every kid can place at some level of college football and I’ve been around those kids, following them. A lot of them now are entering the NFL from working with them in 2010, 2011, and that’s the exciting part about it. I’ve found so many kids who I can influence and who I can help.
In regards to the clothing line, I had my brand with Nike years ago, V7, and V7 did very well. We had five different shoes, we had a clothing line consisting of hats, T-shirts, headbands, and it was just a brand within itself that was taking, and I figure now it’s about the next generation.
A lot of kids follow me. A lot of them admired my style of play and look up to me as a role model, so I figure I’d come with the V7 the next generation and just keep the brand going.
How is your showcase camp different from other traditional football camps?
We’re continuing to help educate the kid moving forward. Some kids are going to be sophomores, some are going to be juniors, some are going to be rising seniors. For the younger guys, the underclassmen, they’ll get an opportunity to come back every year, annually, and as the season goes on, anything that they learn from these combines they can take it and apply in the season while they’re playing.
They can’t get it all, but just a weekend worth of consistent coaching and letting the kids know like this is the proper form, this is the proper technique, this is the attitude that you’ve got to display, competition-based, what your vision has to be as far as your competitiveness. Those are things they can take a long way, and it’s up to them to practice these skills on their own postcombine.
How many children do you expect at each showcase?
It’s going to vary. We’re thinking in places like, cities like Atlanta, Dallas, Texas, we’re looking at 500, 600 kids maybe. I don’t want to overwhelm it. I want to be able to be accessible to all the kids that’s at all the combines, so if registration gets too crazy, we’re going to shut it down. But looking at capping off, always trying to cap off at around 400 kids, which will be a good look.
We want to encourage more the middle-school kids, sixth through eighth grade, to come out and be in attendance. They’re the ones that’s going to be able to learn from the older guys, from the guys that are sophomores, juniors, seniors. Even at a young age you can vicariously learn, and we want to always make that a priority.
You’re beginning the camp at an HBCU, Tennessee State University. How did you decide on the various locations?
We would love to go to black schools, but you’ve got to cater to what’s available and the amount of kids that you can have, and it depends on how many fields that they have. That’ll always dictate where the location will be, but we want to be accessible to a whole diversity of people.
Football players come in all sizes, all colors, all shapes, whether small or big, and we encourage everybody to come out. And it’s going to be a great learning experience, first and foremost, and an opportunity to compete at a high level, which is most important.
It’s all about just turning that page, the next generation of athletes to come, on and off the field and, most importantly, being student-athletes. That’s what’s most important, and that’s probably what I preach more than anything. I believe the classroom is more valuable than sports and I took that seriously, and I think that was the reason why my way was paved for me as time went on.
Looking at your overall journey, what is the difference of what you learned when you first got into the league versus what you know exiting?
Well, I think when you first come into the National Football League, it’s a show-and-prove attitude that you have to have. On the field, you want to show your franchise or the franchise who picked you that you were worthy of the pick, whether it’s the first pick or the 250th pick. It’s all about dedicating yourself and it’s all about honing your skills to be the best that you can be, for the overall franchise and for the city. Because, depending on your position, you have a city on your back.
Throughout the whole process, you don’t really understand what it’s like to be in the NFL as far as the glamour, the limelight, all the splendor that may come along with it that you enjoy and that’s what we dream of, but I think inside of that sometimes we lose sight of the real dream, and that’s trying to win a championship and being the best citizen that you can be outside of football.
We lose sight of that, and at a young age I didn’t accept that. I didn’t want to take that responsibility on. I just wanted to play football and just be a good, honest, genuine person. After I had my situation, which I call it, I went in, I came out a better person. I got with a group of people who really cared about me and cared about my well-being and wanted me to succeed off the field first and on the field secondary.
I thought that was important, and what I learned as I went through those years was that it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish. And if I could do it all over again, if I was the person I am today, I wouldn’t have never went through some of the things I went through. But it made me a complete person, and I’m still growing as the days go on.
I think just the journey within itself helped me to mature to a grown man who is dedicated to family, dedicated still to football, and dedicated to my off-the-field endeavors, whichever they may be.
What stages did you go through to overcome your adversity?
Well, I think just stage 1 was accepting it, knowing that, listen, I screwed up, I made a mistake, and somehow, some way this has to be corrected, but as of right now, I don’t know how I can do it, but I know it’s some challenges ahead that I’m not going to like, but I have to deal with.
Step 2 was living in it and understanding that, listen, I’m in a place where I don’t want to be, it was all self-inflicted and I accept it, and it hurts right now and I’m struggling, but I put my faith in God and not in man.
Step 3 was just the whole belief in the people around me and the whole faith thing that I had. And believing in God centered me around people when I came home that gave me a different vision, a different structure, a different outline on what my life could look like in seven years.
I looked at it and I accepted, and I said, ‘Listen, I’ve pushed through the toughest parts of my life, and maybe there will be parts of my life that will be tougher. I know what I leaned on. I’m accepting the truth and faith,’ and being proactive, making my life a reality in terms of what I wanted, and I did that. And that’s where I’m at to this day, and I stand by it.
What has been the hardest part of your journey?
The hardest part of my journey, I think, is being in prison for 18 months. That’s something that you never envision. I know it’s times where people can visualize moments and put yourself in positions and say, ‘Oh no, I don’t want to do that. I never want to be in that position.’
I was one of those guys who always straddled the fence and thought about what could possibly be the worst thing that could happen, and prison, I think, was it. And I never expected to be in that situation or wanted to be, and when I found myself in that situation I was like, ‘Oh, my God, this has happened to me,’ but not for a week, not for a month, or a weekend. It was for 18 months.
Were people’s thoughts and opinions of you important?
Yeah, I always cared what people thought about me ever since I stepped into preschool. I was one of the guys who I always wanted to make my teacher proud. I never wanted to disrespect. If it was a teacher and I looked at her and I thought she was nice and kind and I thought she was beautiful and sweet, then I would go out of my way to make sure that she was proud of me.
At what point did you forgive yourself?
I forgave myself once I finished my prison sentence. I think when it was all said and done and it was over with, I forgave myself. I did my time, and then I was ready to walk into a different walk of life.
Who inspires you?
It’s so many people that inspire me. I would have to say so many coaches. Andy Reid inspired me. Mike Tomlin inspired me. Arthur Blank inspired me. My kids inspired me. My wife, family. Man, the list goes on and on.
A lot of people out there who give me so much inspiration. LeBron James inspires me. Kobe Bryant inspires me. Isaiah Thomas, he inspires me after what he went through last week. I get inspiration from so many places that it’s unbelievable. Even Sergio Garcia winning the Masters two weeks ago from all the adversity he went through.
I find inspiration in people and the moments that they have that’s gratifying. I relate to those situations on all levels because I feel like I’ve been there at some point, and that’s where my appreciation for life comes from.
Do you read a lot?
I did a lot of reading when I was in prison. I still read a lot now. I don’t have a lot of time. I read so many books when I was in prison. I think I’ve read enough for 40 years. I swear. That’s all I did. If I wasn’t playing chess — I learned to play dominoes towards the end — so if I wasn’t playing chess, I was reading. I was always thinking. I always had my mind involved in something.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
Man. I think the best piece of advice I’ve ever received was just the character of a man and what it exists of. I think some people take that for granted, and I think if kids learned that from a young age this world would be a better place. Character goes a long way, and it’s all dictated on how you present yourself over a certain time span, and that’s what I believe in.
I just thought the character of a man dictates the type of person that you are, how people perceive you, was the best piece of advice that I could get because it fits the mold of me. It may be different for other people.
What do you tell other young men who ask for your advice?
Dream. That’s it. You dream, and that may actually turn into something, but I think you have to have imaginary thoughts of what you want your life to look like, because I know from the age of 10 I knew exactly what I wanted my life to look like. Some things went as planned, some things didn’t, but my life turned out the way I wanted it to be and it looked like what I envisioned when I was young, so dream.
If there’s anything regarding your sports path that you could’ve changed, what would that be?
If it’s anything that I truly would change to this day, because I think I did it all, like when I was younger I was lazy. As I got older, I worked harder. I would say just self-preservation. I would have preserved my body a little bit better. I just had ankle surgery, and it stemmed from a lot of downs, a couple of injuries that I had back in the day. Preserving myself is what I would have did just a tad bit better, but the competitive side of me didn’t allow me to do that when I was young.
What do you tell your babies, your children now about perseverance, growth and maturity?
My son is 14, my oldest daughter is 12 and my youngest daughter is 9. I tell them to dream, and the ultimate character to them is going to be dictated on what they learn every day in this household. How they see their mom and their dad conduct themselves on a daily basis. Being vicarious learners and having goals.
Like two weeks ago, I asked them what they wanted to be, all of them. Give me two things that you want to be or you want to do when you turn of age, 18, 21, finish college, and they all had some good answers and I was satisfied with what they wanted. And I think if they can narrow that focus and just take it serious, I think the sky’s the limit for them all because they’re all smart kids and they’ve all got goals and aspirations — but it starts when you’re young, and I try to instill that in them.
What do you see yourself doing in the next five years?
In five years, I see myself coaching. I’m setting the platform up now to get me geared into coaching and understand what it’s about. I already know I can do it on the highest level because I played on the highest level. It’s just all about information that won’t be redundant, but I’ll have to just be able to do it all over again.
It’ll give me the opportunity to chase a championship. I want to celebrate one more time in my life. I did it when I was young, had success in college. I didn’t win a national championship, but I know what it feels like to have those good moments and those good years, and I just want to feel that feeling again. If it takes coaching to chase that and be able to fulfill that need in my life, then why not give it a shot?
The NBA playoffs never disappoint — especially when it comes to kicks.
Michael Jordan, Game 6, Allen Iverson and the infamous step over, King James ascending his throne at the Palace of Auburn Hills — each one of these historic playoff moments was seized in a fresh pair of sneaks. From Air Jordans to Converse, player exclusives to limited editions and zip-ups to high-tops, every year, style and circumstance dictate which pair is crowned the freshest of all. Starting with the pinnacle Air Jordan XIIs in 1997 and ending with a heartfelt tribute on a pair of Nike Kobe A.D.s in 2017, these are the most iconic sneakers from every NBA playoffs since 1997.
Air Jordan XII ‘Flu Game’
No pair of sneakers on this list — or in the history of the NBA playoffs, for that matter — is more legendary than the Air Jordan XIIs that Michael Jordan wore on June 11, 1997, in Game 5 of the NBA Finals. In them, Jordan played through “flulike symptoms” (although his personal trainer revealed years later that it was food poisoning, while conspiracy theorists still believe the sickness was the result of a hangover) to put up an incredible 38 points (13-of-27 field goals, 10-of-12 free throws), seven rebounds, five assists and three steals in 44 minutes. Like the game itself, the red-and-black colorway of the Air Jordan XIIs he wore that night has since been referred to as the “Flu Game.” In 2013, the autographed game-worn shoes, which Jordan gave to a Utah Jazz ball boy after his performance, were sold at auction for $104,765. No game-worn Jordan shoes have ever been sold for more.
Air Jordan XIV ‘Last Shot’
Psycho: I’m liable to go Michael, take your pick / Jackson, Tyson, Jordan, Game 6, raps Jay Z on the 2011 hit “N—-s in Paris.” Jay references Game 6 of the 1998 NBA Finals between the Chicago Bulls and Utah Jazz, which produced one of the greatest shots of Michael Jordan’s career: a 20-foot jumper over Bryon Russell with 5.2 seconds left that ultimately won the game and a sixth championship for Jordan and the Bulls. The sneaker Jordan wore in this moment was dubbed the Air Jordan XIV “Last Shot” because in January 1999 he announced his second retirement from the NBA, making the jumper not only his last shot in Game 6 but also the last shot of his career — at least at the time. Jordan returned to the NBA in 2001 to play for the Washington Wizards for two seasons, so the XIVs now commemorate the “last shot” Jordan took as a Chicago Bull.
Nike Air Flightposite ‘The Future’ PE
For the 1999 playoffs, Nike blessed a then-22-year-old Kevin Garnett with Nike Air Flightposite player exclusives (PEs) for the first round, which saw Garnett and the Minnesota Timberwolves face Tim Duncan and the San Antonio Spurs. These rare black-and-white PEs are glorious — with Garnett’s initials on the tongue of each zip-up shoe and the words “The Future” on each heel tab. The Spurs beat the Timberwolves, 3-1, in a best-of-five series, but Garnett won the sneaker battle against his then-fellow Nike-endorsed athlete (and career-long foe) Duncan, who sported the Nike Air Vis Zoom Uptempo. Duncan did win the 1999 NBA championship in his shoes, though.
Adidas The Kobe
Before he was one of the faces of Nike, Kobe Bryant was endorsed by Adidas, signed by the company out of high school in 1996, when he was drafted. Bryant appeared in his first NBA Finals in 2000, when the Los Angeles Lakers faced the Indiana Pacers, and during the series he wore his third signature sneaker, the Adidas The Kobe. Perhaps the most memorable image of the shoe is that of Bryant lying on the Staples Center hardwood, writhing in pain as he clutches his foot. In the second quarter of Game 2, Bryant suffered a left ankle sprain after he went up for a jumper and his defender, Jalen Rose, landed on it. The injury forced Bryant to miss Game 3, although he returned for the remainder of the series to help lead the Lakers to the first of three straight championships. The sprain didn’t necessarily mean the shoe lacked ankle support — because Rose eventually admitted to purposely injuring Bryant.
Reebok Answer IV
No one had a better view of the kicks Allen Iverson wore in the 2001 NBA Finals than Tyronn Lue. With less than a minute left in overtime of Game 1 between the Philadelphia 76ers and Los Angeles Lakers, Iverson translated his trademark crossover into a fadeaway jumper to seal the game. While contesting the shot, Lue fell to the ground and Iverson punctuated the swish (two of his 48 points on the night) by stepping over Lue in slow motion and planting both of his signature Reebok Answer IVs firmly on the floor. Everyone remembers Iverson’s “step over” — and the shoes he was wearing when he did it.
Nike Flightposite III
T.I. once said, “You ain’t gotta be a dope boy to have money.” In a similar regard, you ain’t gotta be a superstar to have some dope kicks. During the 2002 postseason, Antonio Daniels was far from a superstar, coming off the bench in all 10 of the San Antonio Spurs’ playoff games. But, boy, were his shoes sweet. Daniels rocked the Nike Air Flightposite IIIs in a white-and-black colorway that is virtually impossible to find on the resale market nowadays — even on eBay. Here’s to hoping A.D. still has a pair.
Air Jordan XVIII
On April 16, 2003, Michael Jordan played in the final game of his NBA career while wearing the white, royal blue and metallic silver colorway of his Air Jordan XVIIIs. Unfortunately for Jordan, with his Washington Wizards missing out on the playoffs, the shoes didn’t make it past the regular season — at least on his feet. Dallas Mavericks swingman Michael Finley and Detroit Pistons shooting guard Richard “Rip” Hamilton both swagged the XVIIIs during the 2003 postseason. For Hamilton, a former teammate of Jordan’s in Washington, it was a long time coming. The greatest of all time once told Rip that he wasn’t good enough to wear Jordans.
Nike Air Zoom Huarache 2K4
After six years with Adidas and a year as a sneaker free agent, Bryant inked an endorsement deal with Nike in the summer of 2003. But not until 2005 would Bryant get his signature sneaker, so Nike tided him over with the Nike Air Zoom Huarache 2K4s. In the 2004 All-Star Game, Bryant wore the sneakers in red, white and blue. During the regular season, his Huaraches matched his Lakers uniform in either white, purple and gold, or black, purple and gold, depending on whether the team was home or away. The 2004 Finals brought a battle of the Huaraches, with Bryant in his Lakers colorways and Detroit Pistons guard Lindsey Hunter in the All-Star colorway. Hunter beat Bryant in his own shoes, with the Pistons winning the series, 4-1.
Air Jordan XX PE
Ray Allen has been Team Jordan since day one. When Nike first announced the launch of Jordan Brand on Sept. 9, 1997, Allen’s name was listed in the press release among the original group of NBA players endorsed by the future multibillion-dollar sub-brand of Nike. Because Allen is an Air Jordan O.G., the player exclusive sneakers he received in 18 NBA seasons are next to none. The best in his PE collection? The Air Jordan XXs that he wore in multiple variations of his green, gold and white Seattle SuperSonics colors during the 2005 playoffs. How Allen pieced together the best postseason of his career (26.5 points per game) in a shoe with a flimsy ankle strap is beyond even the basketball gods.
Converse Wade 1 Playoff Edition
When’s the last time a player dominated an NBA Finals in a pair of Converse? Surely in the 1980s, during the Magic Johnson and Larry Bird era … right? Nah. In the 2006 NBA Finals, a young Dwyane Wade threw it back to the good ol’ days, wearing his two-tone Converse Wade 1 Playoff Edition sneakers all the way to hoisting the Larry O’Brien Trophy for the Miami Heat. Wade was the best player in the series against the Dallas Mavericks, averaging 34.7 points in six games to earn the honor of Finals MVP. Since 2012, Wade has been endorsed by the Chinese company Li-Ning, after also spending a few years with Jordan Brand. But the first sneaker deal he signed as a rookie was with Converse.
Nike Zoom Soldier 1 ‘Witness’ PE
It was hard not to marvel at the sight of LeBron James in the 2007 playoffs — especially in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals against the Detroit Pistons, when he dropped a whopping 48 points, including the final 25 of the night for the Cleveland Cavaliers in a double-overtime win. Two games later, we saw James lead the Cavs to the NBA Finals at the youthful age of 22, which Nike celebrated with the “We are all witnesses” marketing campaign in anticipation of James winning his first championship. The company’s special gift to The King was two player exclusive editions of his Nike Zoom Soldier 1 (one pair in white, wine and gold for home games, and the other in navy, white and gold for the road) which featured the motto “Witness” on the outer sole of each shoe. The San Antonio Spurs swept the Cavs, 4-0, to end James’ magical 2007 playoff run.
Adidas Team Signature KG Commander Limited Edition
When Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett were traded to the Boston Celtics in the summer of 2007 to join forces with Celtics stalwart Paul Pierce, it wasn’t a question of if, but rather when the “Big Three” would bring an NBA championship back to Boston for the first time since 1986. The Celtics wasted no time. In the first season of the Big Three era, Boston won the title in a throwback series against the Los Angeles Lakers. During the 2008 Finals, Garnett wore the limited edition Adidas Team Signature KG Commanders, which commemorated Boston’s run to the title and Garnett’s first Finals appearance with his face on each shoe’s outer sole and an illustration of the Larry O’Brien Trophy on the inner soles. Adidas released only 48 pairs of the shoe (eight for each of the series’ six games), sold at retail for $1,017 each. All profits were presented to the NBA Cares community partners in the Boston area. In his first season in Boston, Garnett gave back in more ways than one.
Nike Zoom Kobe IV ‘61 Points’
On Feb. 2, 2009, Kobe Bryant went into Madison Square Garden and put up a monstrous 61 points against the New York Knicks. Four months later, when the Los Angeles Lakers advanced to the NBA Finals to face the Orlando Magic, Bryant came out in the special edition Nike Zoom IV “61 Points” in both home and away colorways, which paid tribute to his historic scoring night at MSG and the Lakers’ run to the Finals with a Sharpie scribble-style design. Like he did to the Knicks in February, all Bryant did was score against the Magic in June, averaging 32.4 points in L.A.’s 4-1 series win. After the Finals, Nike rolled out an updated version of the shoes, the Nike Zoom IV “Finals Away,” featuring the letters “MVP” on the tongue of each shoe — a nod to Bryant being named the 2009 Finals’ most valuable.
Nike Air Force One High PE
Rasheed Wallace had the swaggiest sneaks in the 2010 Finals — fact. Playing for the Boston Celtics in his second-to-last season in the NBA, Wallace balled against the Los Angeles Lakers in some green patent leather high-top Nike Air Force One PEs. He’d begin games with the shoes strapped up tight, but as the night went on he’d let that ankle strap hang like he was on the blacktop. In Wallace’s 15 NBA seasons, Air Force Ones were his staple, so Nike gave him a stockpile of PEs, which featured a silhouette of him shooting a fadeaway jumper.
Adidas adiZero Rose 1.5
It’s easy to forget that Derrick Rose was once the best player in the NBA. Every now and then he’ll show flashes of his healthy past, but it’s hard to imagine that he’ll ever match the version of himself that was so fun to watch during his NBA MVP-winning 2010-11 season. That year, the Chicago Bulls earned the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference over a Miami Heat team led by LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. Playing in his signature Adidas adiZero Rose 1.5s, Rose averaged 27.1 points and 7.7 assists in the playoffs, taking the Bulls to the Eastern Conference finals, though the Heat claimed the series over Chicago, 4-1. Based on Rose’s numbers and durability (he played 97 games during the 2010-11 season), the adiZero Rose 1.5s appeared at the time to be the best-performing basketball shoes Adidas had ever released. Now they’re yet another relic from his now unbelievable season.
Nike LeBron 9 Elite ‘Home’
In 2007, he couldn’t get it done in the Nike Zoom Soldier 1s. Four years later, he fell short in the Nike LeBron 8s. But finally in 2012, LeBron James won his first NBA championship. And when James hoisted the Larry O’Brien Trophy after defeating the Oklahoma City Thunder in five games, he was wearing the white, black and gold-accented Nike LeBron 9 Elite “Home.” Like Michael Jordan winning his first title in the Air Jordan XIs and Kobe Bryant winning his first in the Adidas The Kobes, the Nike LeBron 9 Elites will forever be connected to The King’s championship legacy.
Air Jordan XX8 PE
If the Air Jordan XXs that Ray Allen wore in the 2005 playoffs are his best PEs, the line of Air Jordan XX8 PEs he wore in 2013 playoffs are a close second. Allen certainly had a bigger moment in the XX8s — arguably the biggest shot of his career. In the waning moments of Game 6 of the 2013 Finals between the Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs, Allen scurried back across the 3-point line and hit a heroic game-tying deep ball with 5.2 seconds left. Allen and the Heat stole Game 6 and beat the Spurs in Game 7 to win the title. Weighing in at just 13.5 ounces, the XX8s are the lightest Jordans ever made. So who knows, if Allen had been wearing a different (and heavier) sneaker in that moment, maybe he wouldn’t have made it back across the line. Maybe the Spurs would’ve won in 2013?
Nike LeBron 11 PE
It must have been humbling for LeBron James to see his opponent, Manu Ginobili, come out in Game 1 of the 2014 Finals between the Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs in a pair of Nike LeBron 11 PEs. Then James must’ve felt some type of way four games later when Ginobili was celebrating his fourth NBA championship in the 11s. Yes, Ginobili beat James in his own shoes. Savage.
Nike LeBron 12 Elite PE
One of the most disrespectful things in the game of basketball is LeBron James being denied the Finals MVP award in 2015. It went to Golden State’s Andre Iguodala as James lost in his first year back with the Cleveland Cavaliers. But James absolutely dominated the series, averaging 35.8 points, 13.3 rebounds and 8.8 assists a game. He also was a sneaker showman in the series, wearing seven different pairs of Nike LeBron 12 Elite PEs in six games (he swapped shoes during Game 3). We can only imagine what he would’ve whipped out had the series gone to a Game 7.
Under Armour Curry 2 Low ‘Chef’
At the beginning of the 2016 Finals between the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers, two-time NBA MVP Stephen Curry’s signature Under Armour Curry 2 Low “Chef” sneakers were released. And when Twitter got a hold of a picture of the low-cut, plain-Jane white shoes, the roasting began, with people calling them everything from the “Let Me Speak to Your Manager 5s,” to the “Life Alert 3s,” and the “Yes, Officer, I Saw Everything 7s.” Curry pettily clapped back at the haters when he wore the shoes to practice after a win over the Cavs in Game 4. He reportedly wanted to play in them in Game 4, but Warriors general manager Bob Myers and his agent, Jeff Austin, talked him out of it given his history of ankle injuries. Maybe if Curry would’ve worn the Chefs in the series the Warriors wouldn’t have blown a 3-1 … never mind.
Nike Kobe A.D. PE
It only took one game for the most important sneakers of the 2017 playoffs to be determined. A day after his 22-year-old sister, Chyna, was killed in a car accident in their home state of Washington, Boston Celtics star Isaiah Thomas played in Game 1 of a first-round series against the Chicago Bulls in a pair of Nike Kobe A.D.s PEs that he customized by writing the words “CHYNA I Love You,” “CHYNA R.I.P. Lil Sis” and “4-15-17,” the date she died, on them. The sneaker tribute could not have been a better way to remember his late sister on the court.