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

Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

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.

Wake up! It’s the 30th anniversary of Spike Lee’s ‘School Daze’ In this #BlackLivesMatter era, the ’80s film is still very relevant

It was late summer of 1986. Jasmine Guy was standing on the streets of New York City, fresh out of a dance class at the Alvin Ailey School, when she heard a word unfamiliar to her: Wannabe.

She’d just run into director and eventual cultural purveyor Spike Lee. She first met him back in 1979, when she was a high school senior and he was a senior at Morehouse College who was directing the coronation at the school where she danced. Back then, he was telling folks that he planned to go to film school and had aspirations of being a director — although, at the time, Guy wasn’t entirely sure what that meant.

Spike had some news for her. “I just finished my first movie, you’ve got to see it,” she remembers Lee telling her. He was talking about 1986’s She’s Gotta Have It, which is now of course a lauded Netflix series of the same name. She saw the movie and was mesmerized by the very contemporary piece that was in black and white and dealt with sex, relationships and intimacy. She’s never seen anything like it before. With black people. And she was impressed.

She ran into him again on those New York streets, and this was the time that he added a new word to her lexicon. “I’m doing another movie, and you’re going to be in it, so send me your headshot. You’re going to be a wannabe.” She was confused. “You know how you all are,” she remembers Lee saying. She had no idea what he was talking about. Wannabe.

But she soon learned. As did everyone else who would consume Lee’s epic portrayal of a fictional historically black college in School Daze, a movie that altered how we publicly talked about blackness and historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs). For the uninitiated, the idea of a “wannabe” was a caricature of (for the most part) a high-yellow, lighter-skinned woman with long hair whose physical attributes look more European than African. “Wannabe” was also an attitude: Wannabe better than me.

School Daze. It’s been three decades to the day since theaters were lit up with a historically black campus waking up — this was when Nelson Mandela was still locked up, and students called for divestment from South Africa. Three decades since Spike Lee brought us a story of conflict, of when students pledging fictional Greek fraternities were pitted against those who desired global and local social change. The Gamma dogs. The Gamma Rays. The Fellas. The Wannabes. The Jiggaboos — oh yes, the Jiggaboos. School Daze was about the tensions between light-skinned black folks and dark-skinned black folks.

Everything was right there on a 50-foot screen. No escaping it. We had to consume it. And address it. “It was like, Wow, this guy’s really going to go there,” says renowned director Kasi Lemmons, whose first film role was in School Daze. “He’s really going to explore these issues. It occurred to me, when I saw it, how important it was because it explored so many things that you just hadn’t seen.”


In so many ways, School Daze was an extension of what was happening on campuses. It tapped into activations that were happening in the mid-1980s, and after it was released, it inspired and engaged other students, amplifying the work that was already taking place.

Darryl Bell — who was one of the “big brothers” in School Daze, his first role — was quite active as a real-life student at Syracuse University. He attended rallies where black and Latino students were mobilizing, much in the same way that Laurence Fishburne’s Dap did on Lee’s fictional campus of Mission College. In real life, Bell pledged Alpha Phi Alpha.

“I wanted to know more about these Alpha fellas,” says Bell. He remembers seeing them at rallies. “The idea that Alpha men were involved in, and on the forefront of talking about, issues that mattered — the divesting of South Africa — it encouraged me to be part of student government. All of these things … my experience at Syracuse, you saw in the film. … We were engaged in voter registration. We put on a fashion show to raise money to give scholarships to high school students. … That was the life I was living. That’s why I was so desperate to be in the movie. … This is all about me and what I’m living everyday. It was an extraordinary example of art imitating life.”

The film was more than entertainment; even before A Different World, it really illuminated HBCU campus life. It shed a light on colorism, one of the most uncomfortable and unspoken issues among black folks — something we’d been battling for generations and, in a lot of ways, still are.

“There was … division between the men and women,” says Joie Lee, who portrayed Lizzie Life in the film, “in terms of what constitutes beauty. I wasn’t ‘fine.’ I wasn’t considered that. I did not fit that standard of beauty, perhaps because I was brown-skinned. Perhaps because my hair was nappy, and natural. The women that are considered fine … were light-skinned or had ‘good hair’ — I’m using that term loosely. Those were some of the issues that [we were] grappling with.”

Thirty years later, the film still holds up. Replace School Daze’s international concerns with the Black Lives Matter movement and the activism, especially in this current political climate, most certainly feels familiar. “It does have a relevance to what’s going on today,” says Kirk Taylor, who portrayed one of the Gammas. “In terms of the look, in terms of the content, in terms of the final message about waking up … we need to wake up as much now as we did then — and stay awake. It’s easy to be lulled into a false sense of security, or false peace, and not be aware that things still need to be addressed. Things still need to be changed.”

Stay woke, indeed.

Olympic gold medalist and seven-time world champion Brittney Reese believes MLK’s dream is alive and well The long jump star says King’s beliefs influenced her a lot in her journey

On Aug. 28, 1963, King delivered one of his most powerful and inspirational speeches at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. The “I Have a Dream” speech became known as one of his most famous oral addresses in American history.

“I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up, live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal,’ ” King said.

The civil rights movement was also a time when athletes were facing equality issues of their own. And King knew sports. He knew sports was and would become a platform in society, lending cultural relevance to race and politics.

And 50 years later, King is still affecting the sports world today, inspiring athletes like Olympic gold medalist (2012) Brittney Reese. A multitalented athlete who played high school basketball in her hometown of Gulfport, Mississippi, Reese recognizes King knew the significance sports would have on society, although he was never an athlete. The 31-year-old seven-time world champion says his dream is alive.

“I’m in a sport that’s predominantly black, and it just is amazing how we come together as athletes in our sports,” Reese said. “He [King] actually kind of paved the way. And then Muhammed Ali paved the way for us to be able to be in a sport without having any kind of racial tension going on. We still have some bumps in the road and there will be some bad eggs in the basket now and then, but I feel like his dream is still alive and still doing some of the things he preached about in certain sermons.”

In the 1960s, King appeared publicly with Ali at a demonstration for fair housing in Louisville, Kentucky. Track stars such as Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their fists in a Black Power salute during the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City.

These are just a few moments that merge sports and culture that she will never forget.

Reese gained popularity when she began dominating in track and field in high school. The long jump is her area of expertise. It’s a title she wears with pride. She still holds the indoor American record in the long jump with a distance of 7.23 meters.

But through all of her accomplishments, she often recalls the first time she heard of King. It wasn’t in a textbook. It was at home by way of her mentor and grandfather King David Dunomes, who shared stories about the civil rights movement, including the time he traveled to Washington, D.C., to hear King’s speech.

“Growing up, I knew probably a lot more than a lot of other people in my area, but being able to see the effect he’s made across the world, especially for black people, is real remarkable,” Reese said of what she learned about King. “I’m grateful to have a grandfather that was supporting him through those times and was able to walk with him in those times. I got to learn a lot of the insights that most people my age wouldn’t know. He made a big impact in my life.”

Dunomes died suddenly in 2017, which marks one of the hardest times in Reese’s life. But she is an overcomer and keeps all of her memories of her grandfather close to her heart.

Reese is a seven-time USA Track & Field Outdoor Women’s Champion in the long jump, a three-time World Outdoor Champion (2009, 2011, 2013), a three-time World Indoor Champion (2010, 2012, 2016), the current indoor long jump American record holder besides being the 2012 Olympic Games gold medalist and 2016 Olympic Games silver medalist.

She is also the track coach at San Diego Mesa College. Born in Inglewood, California, and raised in Gulfport, Reese began by competing in the high jump and 400-meter dash. She was named Mississippi’s 2004 Gatorade Player of the Year for track and field and enrolled at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College and played basketball before accepting a track and field scholarship to the University of Mississippi.

As she trains daily for her upcoming indoor long jump competition just one month away, she is raising her 10-year-old son Alex, who she says doesn’t experience a lot of racial tension. However, Reese plans to instill King’s memory in him by teaching the importance of equality.

“He doesn’t see a lot of the racial tension. But I want him to understand that he’s a black kid, and what we went through, and what Dr. Martin Luther King did helped allow him to be able to play with the kids that he likes to play with now. He doesn’t see color, which is something I want to teach him. But I also want him to know his roots and his family … Let him know where he came from and what Dr. Martin Luther King stood for, and how he’s able to be around the people that he’s around today.”

Informing Alex of his roots is a priority for Reese. It’s a sentiment she internalized from her great-grandmother Ethel Lee Brooks, who always told her to “know where she came from” and taught her the act of giving back.

“I think that played a significant part in my career and in my life also,” Reese said. “Once I attained the medal [Olympic gold], the first thing I did was come home and show the kids back in Gulfport, Mississippi, what I’ve done. I’ve been blessed and lucky to have a city to be behind me every step of the way. They’ve been behind me my entire life, ever since I was young enough to give a newspaper, they were there.”

To pay homage to Brooks and keep up with King’s ideology of the moral function of education, she launched the B. Reese Scholarship in 2012, which helps one male and one female student annually with upcoming college expenses. In May 2013, the Reese Scholarship was even awarded in Baltimore County Public Schools.

“I want to try to motivate the kids and get them involved in track, and that’s where the scholarship came from — helping other mothers, because there’s a lot of single mothers out there. The scholarships have a lot of funds, but just to help them with books for the first semester or help them get started on their way. And I also have a camp that I like to put on and help show the other kids different drills that they can do to help them be successful in the next part of their life. I think my great-grandmother was the reason that I just got so accustomed to giving back, because her telling me never forget where you came from has always stuck with me.”

She donates turkeys over the holidays and spends a lot of time with the homeless in Gulfport.

“You know, it’s been a tough journey. I’ve had ups and downs, but I’d say one of the better is probably my Olympic medals. That’s been the highlight of my career. Me being able to have that lets them know how hard I worked, and that nothing in life is easy, that you’re going to have to work to get what you want.”

Janet Jackson surprises ‘Essence’ award winner Missy Elliott The 9th Annual Black Women in Music event sets off a week of Grammy festivities

The vibe was old-school glamorous New York last night for the Essence 9th Annual Black Women in Music event. Missy Elliott was honored at the jam-packed Highline Ballroom, and phones were in the air as none other than Janet Jackson surprised Elliott with a truly emotional speech, and presentation of the award.

“Some rhyme, some rap, some act, some choreograph, some write hit songs, some create whole new sounds,” said Jackson. “Some women are able to make [their] mark in some of these fields. But there’s only one woman who has made her mark in all of these fields…Not only have you made your mark, but she’s done so with boldness and courage.” Love & Hip Hop empresario Mona Scott-Young also spoke on behalf of her client and friend Elliott.

The drinks were flowing as luminaries such as Grammy-nominee Rapsody, as well as the Grammy-nominated Janelle Monae, Remy Ma and T.I. toasted Elliott’s creativity and 1990s dominance. Also enjoying the evening: Epic Records president Sylvia Rhone, Atlantic Records Chairman/COO Julie Greenwald, and BET Chairman/CEO Debra Lee. “I wouldn’t wanna be any other color but black,” Missy Elliott said, award in hand. “There’s something about our DNA that can’t be taught, it comes from a different place.”

 

New York Knicks visit balcony where King was shot Front office, players and coaches call the moment ‘chilling’

Martin Luther King Jr. was staying in Room 306 at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee, on that dismal day of April 4, 1968. He was assassinated on the balcony outside of his room at the place now known as the National Civil Rights Museum.

The day King was killed, the New York Knicks’ front-office power trio of president Steve Mills, general manager Scott Perry and vice president of player development and G League operations Craig Robinson were all in elementary school. But they each have a vivid memory of the sense of loss the world experienced.

Perry, a Detroit native, was only 5 years old.

“I just know that there was sadness in my household. I can remember that. At that young age, it was this deep sadness,” he said.

Mills was 8 years old, but he recalls the sense of loss and his parents and grandmother being in “shock.”

Robinson, the brother of former first lady Michelle Obama, was about 5 years old. He remembers the sadness, but it also was the first time he was introduced to the word “assassination.”

“I also remember it was the first time I had a discussion with my parents about death that wasn’t caused by illness or old age,” he said. “I remember that very clearly because you heard the word ‘assassinated’ and you were like, ‘What does that mean?’ And everybody was sad. It was like the whole neighborhood was sad. It was one of those things, one that you can remember a dark cloud. I don’t remember much, but I remember a dark cloud.”

For the first time, the three men visited the museum with their team, coaching staff and other members of the Knicks organization last week.

And they all got to stand on that balcony where King lost his life while in Memphis advocating for the black struggle.

Private team tours are not new to the museum, established in 1991. But this year, player and team attendance for these tours has increased.

As the world approaches the 50th anniversary of King’s death, known as MLK50, teams are taking the opportunity to treat the private tours as a bonding experience, reflecting on the legacy of King and the civil rights movement.

For Mills, being able to spend time at the museum ahead of the 2018 commemoration was special.

“We had the opportunity, actually, to go out on the balcony, so to end up out there was just incredible. It was very captivating and interesting,” Mills said.

Robinson said that the visit was far more emotional than he’d imagined because it is the location of King’s death and because of the players’ reactions.

“These young guys didn’t grow up thinking about it the way we did, and this was a first event for a lot of the guys,” Robinson said. “And even the guys who had been there before, it had been remodeled and new, and it was interesting talking to them and seeing the disappointment in the way things were. So that was emotional for me, as well, seeing their reaction.”

Mills said Knicks guard Tim Hardaway Jr. was showing his teammates photos he’d taken on his phone a day after the visit.

“He was talking about how important it was for Walt Frazier, who was a very sort of introspective guy who doesn’t talk that much, to hear him talk about his experiences as a team and how they used to go and sit at counters and get arrested,” Mills said.

Walt Frazier and Courtney Lee at the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis.

Tom Zweibel

Frazier, a Hall of Famer who played for the Knicks from 1967-77, is the team’s color commentator.

“For our players to hear one of the legendary Knick players talk about those experiences from a personal level, I think that’s what we’re here to do, to try to get these guys connected and understand where they fit. I thought that was a very emotional moment as part of the experience,” Mills added.

Perry called the visit a tremendous learning experience.

“It was a great time for reflection about all the things that had happened in history. And when you leave there, it does really, really give me more of a sense of purpose about trying to do better and serve people.”

The mission of the National Civil Rights Museum is to chronicle key episodes of the American civil rights movement, examine today’s global civil and human rights issues, provoke thoughtful debate and serve as a catalyst for positive change, according to its website. It holds 264 exhibits, including historic collections and interactive pieces.

Knicks forward and team captain Lance Thomas has visited the museum three times, but it was his first time with the Knicks team.

“I think it was amazing, especially for us coming around this time of year,” Thomas said. “It was very powerful. A lot of people know who Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is but they don’t really know the story of the things that he was a part of and the things that he stood for, and we were very lucky to be able to have that tour and to have that team experience. We saw people locking into reading a lot of the descriptions on the wall. … I think we’ve come a long way, and it’s an unbelievable testament to thriving and pushing for things that you believe in. I feel like if Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. were still alive, he would be proud of the progress that has been made.”

Knicks guard Courtney Lee frequented the museum during his two-season stint with the Memphis Grizzlies. This was his fifth visit.

“It’s always good to go back,” Lee said. “Especially with a different group of guys, with all the foreigners we have on our team, it was some of their first time going. So just seeing their reaction once they learned about how this country was built and the sacrifices that a lot of people made for us to live in equality — their reactions were priceless, pretty much. I can speak volumes to how Martin Luther King helped us out.”

Team veteran Jarrett Jack first visited the Civil Rights Museum when he was 15 years old.

“We had AAU nationals here in Memphis. My mom and dad are both from Louisiana, so they are familiar with the struggles and the rigors of what Dr. King and what men and women were fighting for so long,” Jack said. “They made it a point to take us even at a young age when we probably didn’t appreciate it. They would make us understand the history and kind of turn it into, instead of a basketball fun activity for us, but more of an experience. So this was probably my third time. They allowed us to go out on the balcony, which is where Dr. King had his last moments, and that was kind of chilling just to stand in the spot where he fell.”

The 34-year-old said he understands that although King is usually celebrated once a year, his legacy, his teachings and his many speeches live on daily.

“When you think about it, he’s been dead 50 years. … Five decades. … Half a century, which is a very short time for us to do things like play in the NBA or make whatever you want to do possible,” Jack said.

Visiting the museum was important to Perry because it aligns with the organization’s vision of making sure players are well-rounded.

“Basketball is something that they do as a job, but it doesn’t define them totally as people, and that’s what we want, those guys to really be well-rounded. When they’re done playing basketball, there’s a lot of life hopefully for them. Giving them a chance to experience things like what they experienced [at the museum] can go a long way,” Perry said.

For Robinson, the museum introduces some history that is not traditionally taught in schools.

The Knicks and their management team visited the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis.

Tom Zweibel

“We have some foreign players on our team, and I was mentioning to Frank Ntilikina about the wall that has a lot of the black history heroes on,” said Robinson, who was Mills’ teammate at Princeton. “And I was explaining to him how, even for me, I knew who Harriet Tubman was, and I knew who Sojourner Truth was or Frederick Douglass or Dred Scott. But there were like 16 other people there who I’d never heard of. And I was just remarking at how little we get in African-American history growing up in schools. And now it’s more because you have a month now. When we were in school, you didn’t have a month. You had those encyclopedias that were beige, that every black family had, and you would flip through. But [Ntilikina] said, ‘You know, I never had any African history.’ He grew up in Belgium, family is Rwandan, and so here I am like, ‘Man, I didn’t have this,’ and then he tells me he didn’t have anything. Just watching him, that was eye-opening for me.”

The intersection of race, sports and culture exists, and the Knicks’ front office wants to encourage a climate that welcomes conversations around topics that may intrigue players.

“I try to make myself available to talk about all that stuff when they want to talk about it,” Robinson said. “I try not to be sort of editorial with my comments because, first of all, we have a professional relationship, so I don’t want my feelings to be their feelings. But secondly, of course, with my history and my familial relations, I sort of try and keep church and state separate, but whenever they want to talk about something political, I’m always right there to talk about it. And you would probably be surprised by the number of times we talk about that stuff. We have quite a few players who like to engage in what’s going on in the world today.”

Mills agreed with Robinson, saying that the three of them are always open to “answering questions, giving a perspective and letting guys have an opportunity to frame what they’re experiencing and give them some perspective.”

Perry said their doors are always open for issues beyond the players’ profession.

“That’s just how I was raised to be as a person,” he said. “I think one of the broader lessons and the type of culture that we want to have here when you start talking about sports and how it intertwines with society is unification, and that’s what we’re about.”

Live from Sundance: Spike Lee says he’ll celebrate iconic Air Jordan ads at NBA All-Star Weekend The legendary director is on top of the world with his Netflix version of ‘She’s Gotta Have It’

Spike Lee was center stage at a brunch Monday morning to celebrate his successful Netflix series, She’s Gotta Have It.

The series, he says, was the brainchild of his wife Tonya Lewis Lee. The idea for doing the series on the digital streaming service was born two years ago, at Sundance, which is the largest independent film festival in the country. “From day one I told people we’re not making television — we’re making cinema. I directed all 10 episodes. We’re making a long a– movie. I was never making this for TV,” Lee said. “When the original film came out in 1986 it was only 86 minutes, so it was a joy to come back and revisit this.”

It was another packed house for a Blackhouse Foundation event — standing room only as people juggled plates of sausage, eggs, fruits, mini pastries and cups of juice. Lee also said this is the 30th anniversary of the commercials he made with Michael Jordan, something he’ll celebrate at the NBA All-Star Weekend in Los Angeles.

“We’re going to go in the writers room in February for the second season,” he said of the Netflix series. Lee joked to much crowd laughter that if Malcolm X had been four hours, Denzel Washington might have won the Oscar for best actor instead of Al Pacino.

Up next for Lee is a new movie, Black Klansman, which he said will soon go into production and will star John David Washington.

Live from Sundance: Tonya Lewis Lee on why she created a ‘Monster’  The producer — and wife of the iconic Spike Lee — has the hottest film the nation’s largest film festival

PARK CITY, UTAH — Tomorrow is a big day for Tonya Lewis Lee and her team: the January 22 premiere of Monster happens at the Sundance Film Festival, and it’s one of the most anticipated films in Park City. That makes her nervous — “It’s like [people] haven’t seen the movie yet! How do [they] know?!” — but it most certainly also makes her feel good.

Monster is a film that she’s been hoping to get made for a dozen years. There have been a bunch of starts and stops and finally, here we are. The cast is stellar: Oscar-winner Jennifer Hudson, A$AP Rocky, Nas and Kelvin Harrison Jr. are all part of the film, and it’s helmed by Anthony Mandler in his directorial debut. Mandler is best known for his frequent video collaborations with with Rihanna, and has also collaborated on video projects with Jay Z, Beyoncé, Usher, and Lana Del Ray, among many others. The script is based on the novel of the same name by Walter Dean Myers, and was written for the screen by by Hampton University’s own Cole C. Wiley and award-winning playwright Janece Shaffer.

And the film’s concept feels very ripped from today’s headlines.

“Maybe we can change the way kids are locked up. Maybe we can change the over-sentencing of juveniles. We had to stay with it and make it happen.”

“It’s about a 17-year-old black boy who makes one bad decision and is looking at, potentially, his life being thrown away forever,” Lewis Lee says, while sitting in a Park City gallery, one of the many spaces brands have taken over for the duration of the festival. “For me, I have children and I have a boy and when I read the book I was so moved. It’s so creatively written … I fell in love with it.” This was a chance to tell a story that we don’t often see on film.

Monster is an opportunity to contribute a dramatic story about a brown boy coming of age that could impact not only the way people look at brown boys, but potentially our criminal justice system,” says Lee. “Maybe we can change the way kids are locked up. Maybe we can change the over-sentencing of juveniles. We had to stay with it and make it happen.”

This project — her Tonik Productions teamed with John Legend’s Get Lifted Film Co. and Bron Studios to produce this drama — is in line with the mission-driven work she adores. “And I’m unapologetic about that,” Lewis Lee says. “I am blessed to be in a position to create content and media. I feel a real responsibility to create something that moves the human condition forward in a positive way. I hope in the work that I do, it’s entertaining, but that we’re getting messages out there to impact our world and make it better.”


Toward the back of the gallery space is a makeshift photo studio, and people like director Anthony Hemingway are coming in for portraits. This year, the festival has a record 39 projects that either feature black people as the first, second or third lead, has a black director, black producers or black writers. This is a moment and everyone here is buzzing about it.

“When Spike started making movies…he was like if I’m getting through the door, I’m bringing a whole lot of people with me. And he’s done that. And those people have brought people.”

Lewis Lee, who is married to iconic director Spike Lee, is happy that there’s much to celebrate in Black Hollywood these days. But, she cautions, there’s still so much more work to do. “When Spike started making movies, there weren’t that many people out there doing it. To his credit, he was like if I’m getting through the door, I’m bringing a whole lot of people with me,” she says. “And he’s done that. And those people have brought people. So here we are now in a moment where young people can look to my husband and his colleagues and say, Oh My God! If they can do that, I can do that.” She says that people are seeing now that there is a path.

“I look at people like Issa Rae … going back to Spike, Issa will tell you the ’90s formed who she is…to how she can be here. I look at Justin Simien (creator of Dear White People) — that’s a direct line. In terms of women and black people, we have come a long way. We have a long way to go, but it’s exciting to get our voices out there and tell our stories.”

And the stories are robust. Many of the black projects being shown at Sundance this season tap into racism — however nuanced or overt — and the current political climate. “I think we’re trying to grapple with the issues of our time,” says Lewis Lee, who next is working on a film about the Fisk Jubilee Singers. “John Legend said, ‘preparation meets opportunity.’ And we are prepared. And we’re getting a chance to talk about the issues of our time in a really wonderful way.”

John Legend at Sundance: ‘We need to humanize the young people’ ‘Even when they make mistakes,’ he says of the new film, ‘Monster,’ ‘they’re worthy of our grace.’

PARK CITY, UTAH — At a Saturday afternoon panel discussion, Blackhouse Foundation leader Brickson Diamond touted the record 39 black projects being featured at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. Behind him, John Legend, Tonya Lewis Lee and moderator Jason George (Grey’s Anatomy; chair of SAG-AFTRA’s Diversity Advisory Committee) applauded along with the standing-room-only crowd — which included black-ish creator and Girls Trip co-writer Kenya Barris. This was a moment. Never have so many black projects been a part of the film festival.

This specific panel was set to discuss the hotly anticipated film Monster. Based on Walter Dean Myers’ award-winning novel of the same name, the film is about a creatively gifted black teen who is accused of a crime he says he did not commit — and who endures an unrelenting criminal justice system. Lewis Lee and Nikki Silver produced. “We were looking for partners who were invested in social justice issues. … [That] led us to John Legend,” Lewis Lee said of the Grammy-, Tony- and Oscar-winning Legend.

Legend, an executive producer of Monster, said from the stage that the project is in line with a mission close to his heart. “Once I read the script, I was on the edge of my seat,” he said. “I was super into what was happening on the page. I spend a lot of time thinking about mass incarceration, and how we end mass incarceration, in America. We’re the only country in the world that puts our kids in solitary confinement. … We need to humanize the young people. We need to … even when they make mistakes, they’re worthy of our grace, our consideration and our love. We failed to protect them from trauma. This film is about … is a kid allowed to make mistakes? Is a kid allowed to be a kid?

Monster’s ensemble cast includes Kelvin Harrison Jr. (The Birth of A Nation), Academy Award winner Jennifer Hudson (Dreamgirls), John David Washington (Ballers), Jeffrey Wright (The Hunger Games: Mockingjay), Jennifer Ehle (Zero Dark Thirty), A$AP Rocky (Dope), Nas (The Get Down) and Tim Blake Nelson (Fantastic Four). Other panelists included director Anthony Mandler, writer Cole Wiley, Silver, Mike Jackson, Aaron L. Gilbert and Kelvin Harrison Jr., the film’s star.

The person behind the Sundance Film Festival’s blackest year ever Brickson Diamond creates spaces for black creatives to thrive at the nation’s largest indie film festival

This time of year, every year for about the past decade, Brickson Diamond is among the most famous names in Park City, Utah. He’s not a filmmaker in the traditional sense, but he sure sees to it that black films and black film creatives are represented, supported and (when a delicious bidding war gets underway) properly feted at the annual Sundance Film Festival.

“I’m just an interloper,” he deadpans. Nah — he’s selling himself way too short.

This year, Diamond, who heads up Blackhouse — the foundation that helps expand opportunities for black content creators in film, television, digital and emerging platforms — is celebrating a major coup: A record 39 black films are being presented at the largest independent film festival in the United States; Sundance was founded in 1978.

“I gotta be honest,” says Diamond, whose actual job is chief operating officer of an independent corporate advisory firm called Big Answers LLC. “I don’t believe there are any more black creators than there used to be, I just think there are more pathways for their voices to be heard. Sundance’s palate, the palate of the festival, and the palate of the audiences have been refined in a way that makes appropriate room for all these stories.”

And the room, thankfully, is now a little bigger.

Diamond’s mission officially kicked off at the festival 11 years ago, but the seed was planted in 2005 when he attended for the first time. He was visiting with some friends from business school — he was the lone black guy in the house — and someone scored a few tickets to a film screening for something called Hustle & Flow.

“My favorite is when black people show up with their luggage like, ‘I don’t know what I’m supposed to do, but Blackhouse is here, so now I’m here.’ ”

“They were like, ‘Well, Brickson will go and see that!’ I was like, ‘OK, I will …,’ ” he says with a laugh. “It was my first Sundance movie. [The screening] was in a gymnasium … the basketball hoops were kind of pushed on the side. The cast got up and they were crying, all happy, and loving it. You see [other] people running up and down the aisles the whole movie. It turns out they were making offers for the film, and they were doing it before the credits rolled. … Fast-forward and you watch the release, and you watch the Academy Award nominations, and you watch, you know, Three 6 Mafia at the Oscars.” It was a moment.

So Blackhouse was birthed in 2007, and that year there were seven black films at Sundance. “We were real generous: black director, black subject matter or black star lead — so if Danny Glover’s in a movie, we counted it.” It was a starting point. What was missing was programming.

“My favorite is when black people show up with their luggage like, ‘I don’t know what I’m supposed to do, but Blackhouse is here, so now I’m here.’ And we help [them] understand … how to navigate this world as we push the festival,” Diamond says.

The foundation has since expanded, creating a presence at spaces like the Tribeca Film Festival, the LA Film Festival, the Toronto International Film Festival and AFI Fest. At this year’s Sundance festival, Blackhouse is hosting loads of activities, including programming like a panel on diverse storytelling that features Jada Pinkett Smith, Effie Brown, Poppy Hanks, Radha Blank, Lena Waithe and Christine D’Souza Gelb. There’s a “Women of Color in Hollywood” panel that will be moderated by Angela Rye, as well as a panel that will include producer Tonya Lewis Lee and Grammy- and Oscar-winning singer (and now Hollywood producer) John Legend.

But, of course, most of the focus is on what is coming out of Sundance. And the expectation is that a film like Monster — featuring Oscar winner Jennifer Hudson, A$AP Rocky, Nas, John David Washington and Jeffrey Wright — is going to be a festival smash. Also on deck: Blindspotting with Daveed Diggs; Skate Kitchen with Jaden Smith; A Boy. A Girl. A Dream: Love on Election Night with Omari Hardwick and Meagan Good; Come Sunday with the aforementioned Glover and Chiwetel Ejiofor; and Burden with Forest Whitaker and Usher Raymond.

Yet, with as much progression as has happened, there’s still more work to be done. Diamond is ready for more even more diverse representation at the festival, and he’ll also be looking for a spark for the next movement.

“I hope that on the ground at Sundance, we’re not just seeing more black people everywhere, but we see them engaged … right? [And] my Asian-American brothers and sisters, and my LatinX brothers and sisters, and my LGBTQIA brothers and sisters, and my indigenous brothers and sisters, all are repping for each other. We all need a seat at these tables so that … increasingly diverse consumers can be satisfied. That’s what I’ll be looking for.”

Ready for a ‘Swaecation’? Rae Sremmurd star Swae Lee confirms solo debut Fresh off the duo’s gig narrating the NFL Playoffs, Swae preps a spring soundtrack

Swae Lee, one half of the award-winning duo Rae Sremmurd, let the cat out the bag on Twitter shortly after midnight. His solo album, Swaecation, is on the way and will be arriving very soon.

Swae Lee’s announcement winds up a very productive 2017 for both him and his partner-in-rhyme, Slim Jxmmi. They are currently the official narrators of the NFL playoffs, with 12 different ads airing nationally on TV and the web. Swae continues to reap the benefits of well-placed musical drops too. His standout appearance on Jhene Aiko’s “Sativa” only whet fans’ appetites for more. His definitive moment came with a feature on French Montana’s international hit “Unforgettable“—undeniably one of last year’s best songs, with over half a billion YouTube views.

With a catalog that includes his own hit records and songs he’s written for other artists — like Beyoncé’s “Formation,” for example — this is a hugely anticipated project. But Swaecation doesn’t spell the end of Rae Sremmurd. SremmLife3 is in production, as Swae confirms. He’s releasing his album just ahead of festival season, though, and with Migos’ Culture II on the way, fests, day parties, cookouts and kickbacks are already heating up.