Are we entering the end times for the NFL? Professional basketball offers the NFL a blueprint for success: embrace the black culture of the majority of your players

The National Football League, the American sport that comes closest to resembling a religion, has its end times in sight: the year 2021. “The likelihood,” NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith said in August, “of either a strike, or a lockout is in ’21 a virtual certainty.”

Doomsdays. Humanity has always been obsessed with them.

Every religious text has mention of the end times. In just the past 30 years, we’ve survived Halley’s comet, Y2K, the end of the Mayan calendar and the rapture that was supposed to happen in September. But nothing lasts forever. The NFL has survived lockouts and strikes before and has seemed like Teflon for the past decade with sky-high broadcast ratings, massive revenues and an annual American holiday called Super Bowl Sunday. But the league has serious competition for American pastime status from the National Basketball Association.

This may seem far-fetched now, while the NFL’s television ratings lead the NBA’s by a wide margin (although numbers were down last season, and some wonder whether television ratings, in a streaming world, matter as much as they used to). And the NBA doesn’t have anything close to dominating a whole day in America like the Super Bowl. But the NBA, which is as popular as ever in this social media era, continues to embrace an important fact about American culture: Black culture and black people determine cool. Cool resists linear structures. If the NFL wants to maintain its dominance, it needs to embrace black culture or get left behind. Just like baseball.


Let’s be clear: The 2017 NBA Finals between the Golden State Warriors and the Cleveland Cavaliers was the league’s most watched Finals since Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls played the Utah Jazz in 1998. But the average 20.4 million viewers who tuned into each game is equal to the average viewership for a single Sunday Night Football game in 2016. And the NFL is still an unmitigated cash cow, with a net worth of more than $13 billion, dwarfing the NBA’s $6 billion figure. The average NFL franchise is worth $2.5 billion. Worth of the average NBA franchise: $1.36 billion, a 3.5-fold increase over the past five years. Over at Major League Baseball, the average team is worth $1.54 billion, but 50 percent of viewers are 55 or older, up from 41 percent in 2010. And in its defense, the MLB can still captivate the country when it has historic World Series matchups like last year’s battle between Cinderellas in the Chicago Cubs and Cleveland Indians. And they almost doubled back with a monster championship series between the Yankees and Dodgers if the former hadn’t lost to the Houston Astros. ESPN data shows the average age of baseball viewers at 53. The average age is 47 for the NFL, and it’s rising. The average age is 37 for the NBA, and it seems to be staying there. Baseball’s television ratings continue to trend downward.

Howard Bryant, ESPN senior writer and author of Shut Out: A Story of Race and Baseball in Boston, summarizes the NFL’s stance in relation to the NBA and MLB: “Post-ABA merger,” he says, “basketball has done by far the best job of adapting to the people who play the sport, baseball the worst. The NFL has been in between, leaning towards a bad job.”

Why might the NFL be on its way to becoming MLB? Because the NFL is looking at a 2021 season that may not even be played. Because the NFL’s ostensibly mainstream stars — Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Eli Manning — who have dominated the past decade, are getting old. And many kids are being steered away from playing the game in its tackle form. “Participation has dropped,” Mark Murphy said in January. He’s president and CEO of the Green Bay Packers and a board member at USA Football. “There’s concern among parents about when is the right age to start playing tackle, if at all.” In a recent (nonrandom) study of NFL players, 110 out of 111 brains examined showed signs of the degenerative brain disease chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).

But the NFL could spiral mostly because, perhaps more than at any other time in pro football history, the league is at a crossroads when it comes to race. League news right now leads with racial conflict. Players are protesting. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and owners are somewhere between demanding and begging them not to. And in the middle, fans fight over whose boycott of the NFL is actually having an impact on the ratings, if any at all.

“The NBA has caught up or passed the NFL on the cool factor. Whether that translates on the revenue side, that’s hard to know.” — Andrew Brandt, director, Moorad Center for Sports Law at Villanova

Free agent Colin Kaepernick, to bring attention to systemic racism and police brutality, opted on Aug. 14, 2016, not to stand for the national anthem. This has placed the NFL at the center of a discussion about race and sports. Kaepernick’s protest has spread around the world, from European soccer games to Midwestern high school football games. By most accounts, the NFL has botched the handling of the protests. A year later, Kaepernick isn’t in the league despite evidence of him being good enough to start on some teams, and he could surely be a backup.

The reason the anti-protest backlash has become so impactful for the black community is because there’s an understanding of what the fervor about protests is really about—silence. There are contradictions in just about every sentiment of outrage about the protests. Just look at the viral image of an NFL fan wearing a “I stand for the National Anthem” shirt while sitting on a flag. And at the fact that the NFL didn’t even start requiring players to stand for the Anthem until 2009—after the Department of Defense paid the league $5.4 million for “paid patriotism.” And at the fact the NFL actually violates flag codes in some of their representations of patriotism. Jerry Jones himself sat during the anthem at his first Cowboys game, in 1989. And Donald Trump’s finger-pointing at players (and owners) doesn’t erase the fact he insulted John McCain for being a prisoner of war and has lied about calling Gold Star military families who lost soldiers in battle this year. The anger over protests isn’t about patriotism, it’s about silencing black athletes. Steps the NFL may or may not make to quell protests will be seen as an endorsement of that silence.

On Oct. 15, Kaepernick filed a formal grievance against the NFL alleging collusion by team owners. “I think he should be on a roster right now, the Packers’ Aaron Rodgers said in August. “I think because of his protests, he’s not.” Jay-Z rocks a custom Kaepernick jersey on Saturday Night Live, and his actual jersey leads the 49ers’ sales, even though he hasn’t taken a snap for them this season. Kaepernick’s likeness rules the streets. All the while, Kaep rarely speaks, instead continuing his push to donate a million dollars of his own money to various charities across the country, volunteering to donate backpacks to students and suits to parolees. Without so much as a news conference, Kaepernick is part of a daily news cycle, thanks to a massive social media following that watches his every move.

What Kaepernick is learning is something NBA players have known for years: Their social media channels are the best ways to get their points across. So when NBA commissioner Adam Silver sent out a memo reinforcing the rule that players had to stand for the anthem, NBA players (J.R. Smith notwithstanding) mostly took it in stride. That’s because they understand their social impact reaches further than the average NFL player’s. (Odell Beckham Jr., with 9 million Instagram followers, has the most by far of any NFL player.)

LeBron James, who has 39 million Twitter followers and 33 million Instagram followers, expressed that much in a news conference after he called Donald Trump a “bum” on Twitter: “My voice … is more important than my knee. What I say should hit home for a lot of people [to] know where I stand. I don’t believe I have to get on my knee to further what I’m talking about.”

The NBA, its individual players, and fan community have used social media to become a 12-month sport.

Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors goes to the basket against the Houston Rockets on October 17, 2017 at ORACLE Arena in Oakland, California.

Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

And that’s where the NBA dominates the NFL: at social media, where everything is happening. On Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, NBA teams have an average of more than 7 million followers, while NFL franchises average 4.6 million. Even during the NFL’s last season, there were more hashtags on Twitter dedicated to the NBA. In 2016, Forbes ranked the top athletes on social media: Four of the top 10 players were from the NBA, and the rest were international soccer stars. NFL players didn’t crack the top 10. The NBA social media connection allows players to enter lives and households in new and intimate ways.

Another major reason for the NBA’s ability to lap the NFL in social media is the NFL’s draconian rules about sharing videos online. Last October, the league sent out a memo barring teams from posting clips or GIFs of games. Teams that did so would be fined up to $100,000. While teams such as the Atlanta Falcons use clips from Madden video games to “show” highlights every Sunday, the NFL’s hard line limits many teams’ ability to deeply connect with fans where they are — which is, so much of the time, on their phones.

“The NBA is the more progressive league when it comes to digital,” said Jaryd Wilson, digital content manager for the Atlanta Hawks. The Hawks have become an online darling thanks to creative Twitter posts and engagement with fans online. “In-game highlights are our highest digital performers and our most engaging types of content.”

The NFL’s limits on social media, and teams’ subsequent mockery of the decision, exposes a blind spot about American culture. African-Americans dominate what’s trendy on social media, and if “Black Twitter” determines that something is viral, it often becomes an American cultural phenomenon. Think of phrases such as “lit” and “on fleek” or crazes like the mannequin challenge — these began in blackness. On any given week, a new black-centered sensation, such as the NSFW #ForTheD challenge that dominated social media last month, takes over the country.

The NFL had that viral moment with Cam Newton doing his signature dabbing celebration in 2015, but he was as chastised for it as he was celebrated. Letters were written to newspapers about his “pelvic thrusts,” and Newton’s “arrogance” became the center of the story. And after a humbling Super Bowl loss to the Denver Broncos, Newton seemed put in his place. Instead of embracing him, the NFL demonstrated that it didn’t understand what moves the needle in American culture. It cut down one of its viral superstars — something the NBA just doesn’t do.

“The NBA has been significantly ahead of other leagues in diversity since the ’80s, and excitement has grown since.”

“Diversity is very important to us,” said the Hawks’ Wilson. “We know our demographic, and our audience, and it is about keeping up with those trends. We always think about how can we tap into diverse communities while trying to push ourselves forward.” It affects the Hawks’ bottom line significantly. The organization has taken things a step further by offering a full-on embrace of Atlanta music: acts such as T.I., Gucci Mane and Big Boi perform at halftimes throughout the season, which has resulted in increased ticket sales and price inflation every time a concert is announced. The Hawks’ Philips Arena is even now home to rapper Killer Mike’s Swag barbershop.

The NBA understands that rock is no longer the dominant genre of music. Last year’s Finals marketing soundtrack featured songs from Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN. while the NFL featured the return of Hank Williams Jr. — who was dropped from ESPN’s Monday Night Football six years ago for likening President Barack Obama to Adolf Hitler. And while the NBA features a list of rap stars and rhythm and blues singers during All-Star Weekend festivities, this year the Super Bowl will feature Justin Timberlake, whose last, 2004 Super Bowl performance featured him pulling off a piece of Janet Jackson’s clothing, exposing her breast. Whether or not the move was planned, it went awry, and Jackson caught the backlash as Timberlake’s career flourished. These kinds of things resonate, and the NFL’s de facto pardoning of Timberlake is another reminder to the black consumer that the league doesn’t cherish their concerns the way the NBA so often does.

“The NBA has caught up or passed the NFL on the cool factor,” said Andrew Brandt, director of the Moorad Center for the Study of Sports Law at the Villanova University and host of The Business Of Sports podcast. “Whether that translates on the revenue side, that’s hard to know.”

Yet, even as black America is ravaged by socioeconomic disparities, a 2015 Nielsen study explains that we’ve reached a tipping point with regard to black economic influence. “Today’s American mainstream is rapidly changing, and that change can be attributed in part to the growth and activities of African-Americans in the marketplace. Social media and the internet have become go-to communications platforms for African-American stories and content.” The study goes on to state that black consumer power is growing at unprecedented levels, reaching $1.2 trillion in 2015, a 275 percent increase from 1990. So the appeal to the black consumer is about more than just what’s “cool.” It’s about a consumer base that is increasingly vital.


The NBA season kicked off last Tuesday with a display of the chokehold professional basketball has on compelling storylines. LeBron James faced off against his former teammate and passive-aggressive foe Kyrie Irving. The Warriors lost a buzzer-beater to the newly constructed Houston Rockets that now boast Chris Paul — all while a Klay Thompson doppelgänger was the social media joke of the night. But the NBA’s offseason was almost as entertaining, full of memed stories and social media buzz, from the petty feud between Irving and James to Thompson’s Ferris Bueller’s Day Off-like adventures in China, Hoodie ’Melo and Kevin Durant’s bizarre Twitter dramas. The NBA, its individual players and fan community have used social media to become a 12-month sport.

Meanwhile, the NFL is years-deep into a seemingly never-ending barrage of Spygate, Bountygate and Deflategate. There was the Ray Rice domestic abuse case. Accusations about covering up CTE analysis. All of this, though, seemed only to slightly dent the NFL’s impenetrable shield: People seemed to have accepted the judge and jury status of Goodell, the misogyny and abusive history of too many players who continue to play despite domestic abuse cases, and folks kind of knew that playing football was damaging to athletes in the long term. But Kaepernick’s protest and its fallout illuminated a sharp and deep conflict within the NFL—and among its fans—that many weren’t expecting.

“Go back to Ken Griffey Jr. wearing his hat backwards in batting practice and they all lost their minds.” — Howard Bryant

An Oct. 11 study by The New York Times makes clear that the NFL is now one of the “most divisive” brands in America. The league doesn’t have to choose between its black players and white audience, but it does have to find a middle ground between black players and fans, and its white fans, a dilemma unique to the National Football League. The NFL is the only major male American sport that has mostly black players and a mostly white audience. The NFL is 67 percent black, but its audience is measured at 77 percent white. And although the league is two-thirds black, its top stars are white. In 2015, seven of the NFL’s nine top endorsement earners were white. Since then, black athletes such as Cam Newton and Odell Beckham Jr. have stormed the top ranks, but endorsements largely focus on quarterbacks. The New York Giants are the only team in the NFL that has never started a black quarterback. Of the 32 teams in the NFL, there were six black starting quarterbacks as of Week 7.

But by the time of the 2021 labor negotiations, the aforementioned Brady/Brees/Rodgers/Manning quadrumvirate will be out of the league. Andrew Luck, Derek Carr and Marcus Mariota are the quarterbacks most poised to be the league’s next torchbearers, and with them are Russell Wilson, Jameis Winston and Dak Prescott. So what happens when the faces of the league are as black as the rest of the players? How the NFL reacts will determine the future of the sport. Major League Baseball and the National Basketball Association have both been at the same racial crossroads. One league offers the NFL a blueprint for success, and the other a cautionary tale.


The NBA has had multiple eras in which it has had to realign based on demographics and its top stars. In 1979, three years after the NBA merged with the ABA, the league had a nearly identical demographic makeup as the NFL. Seventy-five percent of the NBA’s players were black, up from 60 percent a decade before, and only two of the league’s top 20 scorers were white. At the same time, 75 percent of the audience was white. Attendance was down, as were ratings, to the tune of a 26 percent decrease against the previous season. A 1979 Sports Illustrated article titled There’s An Ill Wind Blowing For The NBA laid out the question plainly: Is the NBA too black?

The article examined the feeling among fans and some owners that black athletes were “undisciplined,” “overpaid” and played “playground basketball” — all dog whistles. An unnamed executive was quoted: “The question is, are they [the black players] promotable? People see them dissipating their money, playing without discipline. How can you sell a black sport to a white public?”

There was a time when it seemed impossible for major league baseball to fall out of favor as the leading American sport.

The NBA answered that question two ways. One, David Stern became commissioner in 1984. “Stern said, ‘I’m just going to put the best people on the floor,’ and he said the same thing for the front office,” said Richard Lapchick, founder/director of The Institute for Diversity and Ethics In Sports (TIDES). “The NBA has been significantly ahead of other leagues in diversity since the ’80s, and excitement has grown since.”

The league also lucked up by being able to lean into its racial divide with a ready-made rivalry between the bombastic and very black Los Angeles Lakers, led by Magic Johnson, and Larry Bird’s Boston Celtics. Stern, to his credit, embraced the clash, marketing the rivalry and letting the racial subtext become one of the main storylines. The league rode that popularity through the ’80s and ’90s with respectable black stars like Michael Jordan who didn’t upset the American status quo. Jordan was, in many ways, the perfect black athlete for corporate America. He stayed out of politics, seemed nonthreatening, and was a money machine.

Then came the NBA’s next racial crossroads: Allen Iverson. AI, the anti-Jordan, had cornrows, tattoos, jewelry — and he just did it his way. Iverson tested the limits of Stern’s acceptance of black culture. Iverson was from the ’hood, had been embroiled in a nasty fight before going to college, and didn’t bother cleaning up his language. While the NBA struggled with Iverson’s imaging, Reebok embraced his persona, tying their AI shoe to urban culture. They called it The Answer, and it was a monumental success.

A generation of athletes looked up to Iverson. And as those players mimicked his style, the NBA cracked down. In 2005, Stern instituted a dress code for the NBA, making players drop the baggy clothes and dress business casual. LeBron James, just entering his third year, was amenable to the change: “No it’s not a big deal, not to me.” The usually reserved Tim Duncan had stronger thoughts: “I think it’s a load of crap.” Of course now NBA players are the most style-forward athletes in the world. Every night is a runway show.

In 2014, when a tape of the Clippers’ then-owner Donald Sterling uttering racial slurs leaked online, new commissioner Silver was quick and decisive, issuing a lifetime ban. It was the only viable option. The fans were ready for Sterling (who had a long history of animus toward African-Americans) to go, and the Warriors’ Stephen Curry had planned on walking out during a game if Sterling kept his status. There could be no wiggle room. In fairness, the NBA had to work out many of its racial battles before the era of social media. So while the league’s virtual expulsion of Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf in the mid-’90s was just as despicable as what’s happening to Kaepernick, the league didn’t have to fight those issues in real time on social media, like the NFL does now.

“There’s a cottage industry in predicting and hoping for some sort of downfall in the NFL due to concussions, or domestic violence or whatever the latest crisis people seem to make of it,” said Brandt. “I kind of smile when I hear that, because we’ve been talking about that for a long time and NFL continues to grow financially.”

But it’s important to remember that there was a time when it seemed impossible for major league baseball to fall out of favor as the leading American sport. There are numerous reasons for baseball’s dwindling cultural impact: steroid scandals, strikes and shrinking attention spans. However, it’s undeniable that baseball’s lack of connection with America as a whole is directly tied to its refusal to embrace black culture.

“You go back to Ken Griffey Jr. wearing his hat backwards in batting practice and they all lost their minds,” said ESPN’s Bryant. “It was the greatest threat to the integrity of the game because the best player in the game, who all the young people loved and wanted to emulate, was doing something cool, and they shot it down. That was baseball’s last opportunity to catch people and be hip to Madison Avenue, because drugs ruined the game for the next 25 years.”

Baseball’s tacit insistence upon “tradition” and unspoken rules are all too often coded language for a refusal to accept cultural norms that aren’t firmly white American. Bat flips and celebrations are seen as being anti-baseball when they’re really bits of culture inserted by nonwhite athletes. In 2015, Chris Rock landed a scalding indictment of baseball’s popularity during a video for HBO’s Real Sports.

Calling himself an “endangered species, a black baseball fan,” Rock insists that baseball’s focus on its history, a history that excluded African-Americans for the first half of the 20th century, is a turnoff for black fans who aren’t into a time when only white players were allowed to play. And Rock suggests that baseball will fall further away from mainstream popularity as long as it continues to ignore the black fan and players. “Maybe if baseball can get a little hipper, a little cooler and just a little more black, the future can change,” he said in the monologue. “But until then, blacks and baseball just ain’t a good match anymore. Blacks don’t seem to care, but baseball should be terrified.”

The NFL may be gaining an understanding of its need to let black players express themselves to their fans. The league has loosened up the penalties for touchdown celebrations, which has so often been a vibrant space for black player expression and trash talk on the field. Now, players can celebrate while using the football as a prop, celebrate as a team and celebrate on the ground, which were previously 15-yard penalties. And the ESPN Twitter account promoted a Week 5 Packers vs. Cowboys game with a video of battle rappers DNA and K-Shine rhyming about their favorite teams at a barbershop. It’s a start, and a sign that the NFL is inching toward some of the cool points that the NBA snatched. But with Kaepernick still unemployed, the league, stuck in its ways, continues to scramble without a sophisticated strategy or uniform approach in place.

Doomsdays. Humanity has always been obsessed with them. But the NFL is at a crossroads at a time when black culture is simultaneously as powerful, relevant and under attack as at any point in American history. What side of that history is the NFL going to stand — or kneel — on? The almighty National Football League has decisions to make, and so do its players and fans.

Redskins SVP Tony Wyllie is more than a boss; he paves the way for others Induction into the National Black College Alumni Hall of Fame shows his selflessness

It was almost a roundtable discussion. Person after person shared nearly identical sentiments for one man, but they were in different places, at different times, holding a one-on-one conversation.

Asked about their working relationships with Washington Redskins senior vice president of communications Tony Wyllie, seven people described him as selfless, a giver and a person who gives back.

He’s been responsible for the budding careers of many young public relations and communications professionals. Although he’s widely known as a huge champion of advancement for people of color, he notices the passion in any young professional. No matter their race or gender, he is willing to help those interested in earning higher opportunities.

Now his name will go down in history for his hard work and dedication. Wyllie is being inducted into the National Black College Alumni Hall of Fame Friday in Atlanta. The Hall of Fame honors a class of individuals annually who have made strides in their careers and are graduates of historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs).

Wyllie graduated from Texas Southern University with a degree in journalism and later worked as part of the university’s sports information department. He earned his MBA from Rice. As he advanced in his career, he spent time in the front offices of the Houston Oilers, Tennessee Titans and the Los Angeles Rams.

His path has been heralded by his commitment to raise the stakes for other black public relations executives. He has helped young professionals fill public relations positions within NFL organizations across the league.

In 1992, Wyllie was a public relations intern for Rob Boulware in the San Diego Chargers organization. He advanced and made a promise to Boulware that he would reach back and help others. Since 1995, that’s been Wyllie’s goal and it’s spanned far beyond his work with any organization.

“I’d like to believe that I gave him a good example of work ethic,” Boulware said. “I gave him a good example of dealing with people from a public relations perspective. I was very fortunate in some of the folks who brought me along and one of the things that they would tell me is that the initial PR stands for people relations versus public relations, that you deal with the people as individuals. You try to treat them the way that you want to be treated.”

“I asked him, ‘What can I do to pay you back for helping me?’ ” Wyllie said of his conversation with Boulware. “And he said, ‘I want you to reach out. You’ll have to work twice as hard, be three times as good.’ And he said, ‘I want you to reach back and help someone the same way I’m helping you.’ So, see, I remembered that promise and I basically kept it. And he’s really grateful that I kept that promise as well, because he reminds me of it all the time.”

Kevin Cooper, once Wyllie’s intern, founder of Point One Group tech company and former senior director of communications for the Houston Texans, told the story of Wyllie’s birth, and Wyllie confirmed Cooper’s story.

“I’m a miracle baby,” Wyllie said. “I was extremely premature and my mom had miscarriages before me and she had many miscarriages after me. I’m an only child, not by choice. The doctor told my dad and my grandma that only one of us was going to make it. I’m here through the power of prayer. So, I was called ‘one town miracle baby.’ That’s my testimony, so you know God had his hand on me from day one. The New York paper had my picture with an incubator and whole bunch of teddy bears. I guess what really drove me was to make my mom proud. She was in a coma for a couple of weeks, for crying out loud, to even birth me. So, I always was driven, you know, to make her proud.”

The Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity member is thrilled to be an HBCU grad, and honored to be inducted into this year’s class. The theme of his ceremony speech will be about “team.”

“I wouldn’t be here without a strong team, and I worked with them, professional teams my entire life, including in school. It’s about the team that I had around me.”

Wyllie’s parents, who ushered him into this world, will watch him accept his accolades along with his wife, Natasha Wyllie, and their children, James, 10, and Toni, 8.

Meet some of the people Wyllie has influenced and are part of his team.


Wyllie – from the introduCtion to now

I’ve known him now for about 18 years. I grew up right in the shadows of Texas Southern University. So, I’m from pretty much an all-black neighborhood. Texas Southern University is a HBCU. I didn’t go to an HBCU. My first internship, he gave it to me with the Titans. And my second internship, he recommended me to the Rams. And my third internship, he recommended me to the New York Giants. And then my fourth internship, he hired me with the Texans. So, it’s one of those situations where he saw something in me that I didn’t see back in the day, and, you know, we’ve just been bonded. Kevin Cooper

I played baseball at Texas Southern and he spoke at one of our athletic banquet dinners and for the entire athletic community at Texas Southern. He was the keynote speaker and he gave a speech on his background, and also what he does. I wasn’t aware that these jobs existed, so he really introduced me to it and really sparked my interest in it. After he spoke to us and I really did my research, I think I emailed him or wrote him a letter showing my interest in possibly doing something for the Texans. It was one of the first couple of times I reached out to him. I was unable to reach him. I didn’t get an internship, but I kept at it. I still have an email from May 9, 2002. I sent him an email expressing my interest in going into the sports business world. He responded, he said, ‘Corry, keep pushing in order to break the door down. I’ll keep you posted.’ I always kept that because that’s really a motivational quote for me, is to keep pushing in order to break the door down. You know, when I got my first internship, when I got my first full-time job, you want to move from a coordinator to a manager to a director. Now I’m at a VP level. That’s always stuck with me and I’ve always kept that email, because you really have to have that mindset. He’s really been influential in my career and my professional development and growth. This is my fourth year with the Giants.Corry Rush, vice president of communications, New York Giants

This will be my 15th season with the Rams. My first position with the Rams, I was assistant director of football communications. I started here in 2003. Before I got here, I spent two years of PR assistance with the Seahawks and started out as an intern to Tony Wyllie in Houston, Texas. Before I was an intern with the Texans, I did public relations for Tennessee State University. I was the public information officer there. I went to Tennessee State and graduate school in Middle Tennessee State, and so, when the Houston Oilers moved from Houston to Tennessee, they had training camp at Tennessee State, and we [Tennessee State] played our home games at, that time, the Adelphia Coliseum. That’s where the Titans played. So, that’s where we played our home games too. So we worked closely with that PR department and Tony Wyllie was the director of PR for the Titans and that’s how I met him. I’m originally from Gary, Indiana.Artis Twyman, senior director of communications, Los Angeles Rams

I started as an intern [Washington Redskins] and then I was hired full time and I actually worked with him from, I think it was April 2015 to January 2017. I started with a broadcasting focus at Clemson. Met someone at work through Clemson football who had just finished an internship with the Redskins over the summer. So this was 2012 that she completed it. I was telling her I was looking to do something different and she just spoke very highly of her time there and Tony, and so she gave me his contact information. I’m sure anybody will tell you Tony literally knows, like, 12,000 people. So let him tell the story, he will tell you I called him and emailed him every week. It was not that frequent. I was persistent, as far as he would say to me. He gave me my first full-time opportunity as well.Alexia Grevious, senior manager of marketing and communications, Magic Johnson Enterprises

Jason Jenkins, NFL Miami Dolphins SVP of Communications and Community Affairs, introduced us. A few months later, I started working for Tony in the Washington Redskins public relations department … basically learning from the best.Gianina Thompson, senior publicist NBA/MLB, ESPN

Wyllie the shaper and influencer

When I was first an intern there with the Titans, they didn’t have a hotel room for me that was set up, so I wound up just trying to sleep on his couch. And that’s kind of where we kind of started that bond. And it’s just who he is. He really cares about people, he cares about doing things the right way, if that makes any sense. And you know he cares about doing his job well. He cares about his family and he cares about his children. Cooper

Tony is absolutely one of those people who really gives back and pays it forward. I just look back on my time in the business how guys like Tony Wyllie have been influential in my career and I apply that to others and try to help others that are coming up in the sports business world.Rush

Tony was definitely the reason why I’m in the NFL today. A lot of the stuff I learned from Tony has absolutely nothing to do with public relations communication, just some life things that I have implemented, in how you just treat people, and the relationships you build, and hard work and that type of thing. It’s been beneficial to me.Twyman

I feel like Tony’s always imparted knowledge. But one of the things that I’ve always kind of admired about him … and he’ll tell the story of how one of his former mentors did it for him, was giving him the opportunity and saying you don’t really have to thank me, just get in there, do your thing and make sure you reach back and help somebody else. And just given his track record alone, the NFL and even outside of the NFL, he has placed so many people in just great, great opportunities.Grevious

He’s shaped my career because of his bold unselfishness. He wasn’t trying to make me the next best Redskins PR person, but instead he was equipping me to work towards becoming the best African-American woman to make boss moves, whether that was working for him or outside of him. That’s very rare in bosses, because bosses can easily have the instinctive training to be more concerned with how you can make them or the department or that specific company better … but not him … he wanted me to be curious about PR … about the Redskins … about the NFL. He also pushed me to be curious and expose myself to other elements of the industry as well. He made me well-rounded, and pushed me to be curious and ask the right questions and always stay true to being a learner and taking the time to listen to anyone, no matter the title or where they work – from the janitor to an executive.Thompson

Wyllie’s advice is sage and long-lasting

It’s weird how he and I got so bonded. People would see him and they’d think of me, or they’d see me and they’d think of him, and it’s just kind of the personality that he has, it’s such an infectious personality that he draws people together for a common bond. It’s not black, it’s not white, it’s not brown, he just appeals to everybody. You know, he has the ability to have conversations with people that are multibillionaires, owners, or players that are fresh off of the practice squad. It doesn’t really matter. I think that he really treats everyone the same, he’s a connector, and he cares.Cooper

Him giving back and being a phone call away when you need some advice. That’s part of my story and I try to make sure that I play that same role for other people that are in the business now or are trying to get into the business.Rush

Treat people with respect. I can give you two examples of that. Treat everybody like they are on the same level as you are, and do your best on everything. No matter what it is. If it’s making copies, whatever it is, make sure you try to do it as best as you can and get the job done. A lot of times, you’ll have excuses, well, I can’t do it because of this and I can’t do it because of that. Try to eliminate all the excuses and get the job done. — Twyman

The best piece of advice [Wylie has given] just because now I am very confident, along with the fact that so many people are just kind to me during my journey. But I always, anytime a student reaches out, I definitely make sure I help them. You know, I was in charge of hiring the interns at the Redskins, so I didn’t always pick the students that had the most traditional kind of PR past in school, but really just try to get a feel for people and try to give them an opportunity.Grevious

It’s not who you know, but the reputation that you create for others to want to meet you and further work with you … and better yet, for people to want to equip you with the right tools and exposure to help you get to that next level … and to continue that cycle by paying it forward to others that come after you (he helps me and I help others who will do the same). Especially with minorities, because we as minorities have to look out for one another.Thompson

Wyllie leaves lasting impressions

It’s a very much a source of pride, of who he is and who we are and what we can be and you know I’m proud of him. I’m superproud of him, of what he is and who he is, and what he’s become. And here’s the thing about it. He’s got a lot more stuff that he’s going to accomplish in his career. He’s a young man, and he’s going to be even greater than what he is today. So, I’ve got nothing but pride for him, and what he’s doing, and where he’s going, so this is just one honor that he has and I know that he’s going to have many more.Cooper

The thing I think that would resonate with most people is the example he set for African-Americans, how he treats people, the relationships that he has, and just how important it is to him to uplift the race and to make sure he is an example that others can follow, and he wants those people to be examples that others can follow. Once you do that, you look up, and now you have a lot of people doing the same type of thing. If I had a chance to introduce him, I would kind of breeze by all the awards he has, but I would talk a lot about the difference he has made in the lives of African-Americans in our country. — Twyman

Yeah, and he is just so about minority advancement. He truly embodies we have to get more black and brown people in these spaces, cause you know that’s the only way that our voices are going to be heard and difference is going to be made. So with that I just I definitely appreciate how that’s been at the forefront of his mind. He’s just a great leader, someone who’s passionate, who understands that his platform is not for him. It’s not his own, it’s to help others who focus on doing the job and, you know, doing it very well but also teaching and allowing others to come in to understand it, to learn it, to make it their own, to make their own wings and kinda soar. Someone who is extremely just loving and caring, and if you are on his good side, you are good.Grevious

LL Cool J talks hoops, giving back and being a Kennedy Center honoree ‘Wherever I go, hip-hop goes. When I stand there, I’m standing there for the culture.’

LL Cool J is often mentioned as one of hip-hop’s young pioneers who burst onto the scene years ago and remains a relevant staple in culture. His head-bumping beats, charismatic concrete rhymes, and swagger of a Kangol bucket hat and heavy gold chains introduced hip-hop in a way that can never be ignored, only used as a blueprint.

His first single in 1987, “I Need a Beat,” put the music label Def Jam on the map. Thirteen albums later, at 49 years old, rap’s first sex symbol will be the Kennedy Center’s youngest honoree since Stevie Wonder and the only hip-hop honoree in the center’s 40-year history. It’s no coincidence that the Grammy Award winner hosted the Grammy Awards five consecutive years from 2012-16. And then there’s acting. He’s starred in several hit films and shows, which landed him a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame last year.

August 2017 marks the 13th year that the Queens, New York, native is holding his annual Jump & Ball community camp in his hometown. The summer camp is free, and hundreds of kids participate in competitive basketball as well as double Dutch, chess, kickball and handball.

At Daniel O’Connell Playground in Hollis, Queens, LL spoke with The Undefeated about his commitment to giving back to his hometown, how Michael Jordan’s dominance in the game corrupted his New York Knicks fandom, his report card on Magic Johnson’s leadership at the Los Angeles Lakers and, of course, hip-hop and fashion.

Using a line from his ’90s hit “Mama Said Knock You Out”: Don’t call it a comeback; I’ve been here for years. With more than 30 years in the game, LL Cool J is not slowing down one bit.


What started Jump & Ball, and what keeps it going as it celebrates its 13th year?

I know from growing up in this neighborhood [Southeast Queens] that there’s nothing to do. My grandmother always told me that an idle mind is the devil’s workshop, so when you don’t have anything to do, you’re on the corner [selling drugs]. I wanted to give the kids in the community something to look forward to. There were a lot of hustlers out here when I was growing up. They weren’t doing everything right, but they would throw ball tournaments. And for us as kids, we were like, ‘Wow, we’re having fun.’ I wanted to do it the right way and pay it forward, back to the kids.

For 12 years, I was just throwing basketball tournaments and letting the kids play ball. But we have kids looking up to players like Steph Curry, Kevin Durant and LeBron James, so I felt this year going forward that I needed to introduce them to a little more structure where they could learn skills and how to play competitively.

How would you describe Queens, New York? What does it mean to you?

For me, it’s home sweet home, but it’s something different to everyone. If you came out here and got your chain snatched, it might not mean the same thing to you that it means to me (laughs). But I love being here; it’s a family. I just want to keep doing the right thing for them and keep it going.

Are you still a recovering New York Knicks fan?

I’m a loyal New Yorker, but I’m going to keep it absolute 100 with you: Michael Jordan ruined everything for [all other players for me]. I was trying to be a Knicks fan, but MJ was killing the game. But, yes, I’m a Knicks fan first. I love my man [Charles] Oakley and Anthony Mason. Antoine Mason, Anthony’s son, is an unbelievable player too. I’m in Los Angeles, but I’ll never be a transplant. That’s never going to happen! The idea that I’ll be in L.A. and become a pure L.A. guy is ridiculous. I’m New York all the way.

How do you feel your friend Magic Johnson is doing as the new Los Angeles Lakers president of basketball operations?

That’s my great friend, I love him, and I’m just so happy for him. I believe in what Magic is doing with the Lakers. He has the right formula and understands the players and life after basketball. Look at me, it’s like I’m doing recruiting for the Lakers (laughs). Lonzo [Ball] is going to be incredible. His father is hilarious; shoutout to the entire Ball family.

You’ve been a huge supporter of the BIG3 tournament. What drove that fandom?

It was a genius idea by [Ice] Cube. I love to watch Al Harrington, DeShawn Stevenson and all these guys go out there and play. It’s going to keep getting better and better. Players can go from Jump & Ball, then a Division I or II college, maybe the NBA afterwards and then the BIG3 league. The BIG3 is a perfect complement to the NBA for the players that get out but still want to hoop. It’s crazy dope.

LL Cool J spins a basketball during week four of the BIG3 three on three basketball league at Wells Fargo Center on July 16, 2017 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Rob Carr/BIG3/Getty Images

Is hip-hop evolving or do you feel it’s losing heart?

[You have to first ask yourself,] ‘Lost heart to who?’ If you’re a 35-year-old and you grew up listening to one thing and now you have a 15-year-old listening to another thing, then maybe it lost heart to you in that sense. But from an artist to fan connection, it hasn’t lost any heart. I feel the connection is as strong as ever. I’m always going to love the culture of hip-hop and be a believer of its original foundation. I’ll forever be LL Cool J The Original, but at the same time, I don’t have a problem with new music. There are a lot of great artists out here … but there’s always going to be someone putting out some garbage [music], whether it’s 1987 or 2077.

How does it feel to be the first hip-hop artist to receive the prestigious Kennedy Center Honors?

I would have never imagined it in my wildest dreams. Wherever I go, hip-hop goes. When I stand there, I’m standing there for the culture. I’m not standing there necessarily with or against the powers that be. I’m standing there for the hip-hop culture.

You recently did a photo shoot with [fashion designer] Marc Jacobs and Salt-N-Pepa for the fashion issue cover of InStyle Magazine. What inspires your style?

My style is inspired by where I’m at right now [Queens]. I just have the resources to maybe get every piece instead of just one now. I can wear what I have on right now for a magazine cover or if I was at Mr. Chow’s [restaurant]; it would look fancy. But here in Queens, it looks regular. I didn’t forget where I came from. I dress, talk and walk the same. I’m just growing and making my dreams come true.

Daily Dose: 8/21/17 Dick Gregory’s legacy is more than just as a comedian

It was quite a D.C. weekend for your boy, y’all. I spoke at the memorial celebration for a hero of mine, Cool “Disco” Dan, which was a thrill, an honor and really quite the all-encompassing experience. He got a proper send-off.

At around 2 p.m. Monday, I’m going to turn on my television. I’m going to watch a bunch of idiots with boxes on their heads and goofy glasses staring at the sun. In all honesty, eclipses are cool but way low on the list of natural phenomena that catch my eye, pun intended. Aurora borealis? Dope. Double rainbows? Very cool. Looking into the biggest star in our world to see if a satellite will block it? No thank you. Not trying to burn my retinas for that cheap thrill. But here’s all you need to know about the fun!

Dick Gregory died last weekend. He was not only a comedian but also a civil rights activist and a food pioneer, as far as I’m concerned. He was big on healthy eating as a lifestyle, and his business ventures on that front were how I was first introduced to him. As a kid, it was fun to learn that his history with America was wildly different from just pitching veggie smoothies. Nonetheless, he died at the age of 84. The following tweet sums up pretty much everything he was about.

If you show up on a historically black college campus wearing a Make America Great Again hat, you’re looking for trouble. Not because historically black schools are intolerant, but with all that’s been happening in America, people are understandably upset. So if two high school girls show up at Howard University claiming they were just looking for lunch and then start posting on social media about how they believed they were mistreated, I ain’t buying it. Obviously, that was going to happen, and quite frankly, now they know how a lot of black folks feel on predominantly white campuses.

Magic Johnson might have a serious issue on his hands. He recently took over as president of basketball operations for the Los Angeles Lakers, and everything seemed to fall into place. They landed Lonzo Ball without much headache, considering, and from the rumor mill, it appears that all sorts of players want to join after this season. LeBron James’ name has been on that list, but Paul George is the one who most actively seems likely. One problem: You can let him say it, but the team can’t pursue him. Magic and the Lakers are being accused of such.

Free Food

Coffee Break: No good deed goes unpunished. When San Jose, California, tried to erect some tiny houses for the city’s homeless population to have somewhere to live, the residents at the original site raised complaints, saying they basically didn’t want them. It’s unbelievable how heartless people can be.

Snack Time: I have no idea why people insist on challenging real-life NBA players to one-on-one battles. You are going to get embarrassed, period. The latest victim found himself done at the hands of Dennis Smith Jr.

Dessert: If you haven’t listened to A$AP Ferg’s Still Striving, you need to. Joint knocks.

What if it wasn’t all a Dream (Team)? Five 1992 Olympic what-if scenarios — 25 years later Dominique Wilkins’ injury, Jordan sticking to his word and Shaq over Laettner. What if?

Want to feel nostalgic? Great. Better yet, want to feel old? Twenty-five years ago today, the 1992 U.S. men’s basketball team won Olympic gold. Canonized as “The Dream Team,” the squad curb-stomped an entire world of competition, and its international impact is eternal.

The Dream Team opened the NBA’s door into China — and the world’s love affair with the game of basketball. Their Olympic tuneups weren’t as much games as they were red carpet ceremonies as they laughed, galloped and, in Toni Kukoc’s case, smothered the life out of opponents, beating them by 44.3 points per game — second only to the 53.2-point margin of the 1956 squad anchored by Bill Russell. The Dream Team’s song is one to which the entire world knows the lyrics — thanks to the documentaries, features and books in the quarter-century since their summer excursion. But even a crew with some of the game’s most iconic names — Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird — isn’t immune to the “what if” game. It makes for a psychedelic voyage into a parallel universe.

What if Team USA had taken gold in the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, South Korea?

This is, by far, the most important question involving The Dream Team. America winning bronze in the ’88 Games was a watershed moment. The Soviet Union defeated the United States 82-76 in the semifinals (there’s a Russia/America-beating-us-at-our-own-game joke that will not be told right now). Up until 1988, only collegiate players were allowed in Olympic play. That talk soon shifted. “Personally, I would like more of a chance to compete,” Team USA and then-Georgetown head coach John Thompson said. “I’m also an advocate of professionals playing in the Olympics.”

Not everyone was for the change. Bill Wall, executive director of the United States Amateur Basketball Association, touched on philosophical issues: “Do you want to watch the best players beat everyone else?” It turns out the answer was a resounding yes. In Munich, on April 7, 1989, FIBA voted 56-13 to allow pro players to participate.

Many, like Boris Stankovic, FIBA’s secretary general, saw it as Olympic basketball’s “triumphant entry into the 21st century.” Stankovic was a chief proponent of allowing NBA players access, as they were the only professionals barred worldwide. One of its most vocal critics, however, turned out to be the United States Amateur Basketball Association, which took the stance that pro players’ involvement eliminated its opportunity to participate.

So, did America’s bronze medal showing in the ’88 Games lead directly to the introduction of NBA players? Perhaps not 100 percent, but it undeniably aided a process already in motion. Put it this way: If anything defines Big Sean’s Last night I took an L, but tonight I bounce back, it’s Team USA basketball 1988-92. It’s also fair to say that if America had won gold in 1988, the push for NBA stars may never have happened.

NBA players in the Olympics are the norm these days, but in the immediate aftermath of the decision, the desire to play was slightly better than 50-50. Superstars such as Isiah Thomas, Magic Johnson and Karl Malone didn’t hide their excitement. “[I’d] go in a heartbeat and pay my own ticket,” Malone said. But a 1989 poll revealed only 58 percent of NBA players would play if afforded the opportunity. The biggest one to say no? Jordan. Which brings us to the next point …

What if Michael Jordan had stuck to his word and not played in the 1992 Olympics?

Let’s get the elephant out of the room. The Isiah Thomas/Jordan factor was a real issue — a beef with origins in the 1985 All-Star Game, known in hoops circles as the “freeze-out game.” How do we know Jordan didn’t want anything to do with Thomas as a teammate? He said it himself. “That was one of the stipulations put to me [on the team] — that Isiah wasn’t part of the team,” he said in a 2012 Dream Team documentary. The Thomas exclusion remains a thrilling subplot of ’90s basketball because of how the selection committee did whatever it had to do to get Jordan while sacrificing Thomas.

The Detroit Pistons’ floor general wasn’t one of the first 10 players selected. The Olympic selection committee began choosing players shortly after the 1991 playoffs ended. It was in those same playoffs that the Pistons, swept by Jordan and the Chicago Bulls in the Eastern Conference finals, infamously walked off the court before time expired in Game 4. Thomas was seen as the linchpin in one of the most infamous examples of pettiness in sports history. But even with Thomas on the outside looking in, Jordan still wasn’t a lock. Peep the timeline:

April 1989 Jordan says he’s not interested in playing in the Olympics again (he won gold in 1984). The thought of giving up another summer didn’t appeal to him.

May 1991 In one of the more revealing yet often forgotten interviews of his career, the ’91 MVP once again states his hesitation to Pat Riley. The season was long enough, and adding the Olympics would only shorten recovery time. But he doesn’t slam the casket shut either. “The only reason that I would wanna go is,” he says, only semi-joking, “if we feel that we certainly can’t win with the team we put out there.”

“Do you want to watch the best players beat everyone else?” It turns out the answer was a resounding yes.

July 30, 1991 — Agent David Falk denies that both of his clients, Jordan and Patrick Ewing, are undecided about what to do the next summer.

Aug. 1, 1991 — Playing in his first competitive golf tournament at the Western Amateur in Benton Harbor, Michigan, Jordan seemingly deadens any hope of Olympic dreams. “There are a lot of professionals who want to play and, being that there are a lot of professionals that haven’t played — and I’ve played — I don’t mind giving the other guys an opportunity,” he says. “Right now it’s a closed door for me.” For the golf aficionados wondering, he shot an 85 that day.

Aug. 10, 1991 — “I’m working on him,” Magic Johnson says. “I even told him I’d give him a million dollars if he’d do it. But so far he hasn’t changed his mind.”

Aug. 25, 1991 — Few remember the attacks on Jordan’s patriotism because of his reluctance to play in the Olympics. Three weeks after his statement about sitting out, Jordan reconsiders, promising to make the decision in a few days but saying it would be his and his alone. “Not one forced on me by what somebody else says or wants,” he said.

Sept. 4, 1991 — Thomas says if he’s not invited to the ’92 Games later that month he will not blame Jordan. “While I cannot speak for Michael,” Thomas says, “I can say that such a feud does not exist.”

Sept. 24, 1991 — The selection committee releases the names of 10 players invited to form the 1992 Olympic men’s basketball team: Charles Barkley, Larry Bird, Ewing, Johnson, Malone, Chris Mullin, Scottie Pippen, David Robinson, John Stockton and, yes, Jordan. Jack McCloskey resigned from the selection committee over Thomas’ snub, calling the omission “ridiculous.” As for Jordan’s response? “If I had anything to do with the selection, I would’ve selected my mother and my sister. I didn’t have anything to do with it.” Riiiight.

March 18, 1992 — By now, Jordan is openly stating he wants to play. But not until the money ceases looking funny. Jordan’s camp was unhappy about marketing rights — in particular, the official Olympic T-shirt that bore semblances of all team members. He had no issue with USA Basketball, a nonprofit organization, making money. He did, however, have beef with the NBA making coin. It was a subtle but undeniable example of what The New York Times at the time called a “deteriorating relationship with the NBA over the issue.” Jordan was adamant that money wasn’t the motivation for holding out. However, “This is a business,” he says. “This is what happens when you let professional players in.”

March 20, 1992 — Turns out that headache lasts only 48 hours. Jordan’s agent, David Falk, confirms that a compromise will be reached, and Jordan will be in Barcelona, Spain, that summer. USA Basketball had secured the face it so desperately coveted. Without Jordan, Team USA likely still wins gold. But it begs the question, is the NBA the global international force it is now if Jordan stayed stateside in the summer of 1992?

What if Shaquille O’Neal had been chosen over Christian Laettner as the Dream Team’s college player?

Love him or hate him — and many did both — Laettner’s star power was undeniable heading into the Summer Games. His resume at Duke was drunk with achievement: back-to-back national championships in ’91 and ’92, a three-time All-American, Final Four MVP and National Player of the Year in ’92. Combine all that with one of the most iconic plays in college basketball history, and Laettner’s stock was sky-high. Surrounded by elite talent that trumped his, it’s beyond understandable why he barely got much tick in the ’92 Games. That said, if you ever want to win a bar bet, ask who averaged the fewest points on the Dream Team. Chances are most will say Laettner (4.8), who went on to have a solid NBA career, averaging 12.8 points and 6.7 rebounds over 13 seasons. The correct answer, though, is Stockton (2.8), as the future Hall of Famer missed the first four games with a broken leg.

“I’m working on him,” Magic Johnson said. “I even told him I’d give him a million dollars if he’d do it.”

But let’s keep it a buck. This is Shaq we’re talking about. In 1992, the feeling was post-up centers would have difficulties in the trapezoid-shaped lane of the international game. Hindsight is 20/20, but it’s violent to envision what a 20-year-old O’Neal would have done to the likes of Angola or Germany. Seriously, picture this: Johnson leading the break, with Jordan and Pippen on the wings and a young, nimble 20-year-old O’Neal as the trailer:

It’s fun to imagine young O’Neal running fast breaks in Barcelona, because we already know how destructively poetic young O’Neal was running fast breaks in Orlando with Penny Hardaway. O’Neal would later receive his own gold medal at the ’96 Olympics in Atlanta, but the four-time NBA champion didn’t like his ’92 omission. “I was pissed off. I was jealous,” O’Neal said in 2012. “But then I had to come to the realization that I was a more explosive, more powerful player. Laettner was a little bit more fundamentally sound than I was.”

What if Dominique Wilkins never ruptured his Achilles?

The Original ATLien was one of the more entertaining and beloved players in the ’80s and into the ’90s. His 47 points in Game 7 in Boston Garden vs. Larry Bird and the Celtics in 1988 remains one of the all-time great playoff performances (despite being in a loss). He won two dunk contests, in 1985 and 1990. Even Jordan admits Wilkins was robbed in 1988 when he lost in Chicago. “I probably would’ve given it to [Dominique],” Jordan said years later. “But being that it was on my turf, it wasn’t meant to be.”

Wilkins is also one of five non-centers in NBA history to average at least 26 points for a decade — the other four being Jerry West, Jordan, Allen Iverson and LeBron James. In layman’s terms, Wilkins was that deal. The issue with Wilkins’ legacy, however, is what plagues Chris Paul today — his teams never advanced past the second round. But by the start of 1992, there seemed to be momentum building for Wilkins to become the 11th professional player to be added to the Dream Team. Unfortunately, Wilkins ruptured his Achilles tendon against the Philadelphia 76ers in January 1992, ending his season and whatever shot he had at making the Olympic squad. At the time of his injury, he was putting up 28.1 points per night.

How the story played out: Portland’s Clyde Drexler was announced as the final NBA player to make the squad in May 1992. Wilkins eventually played on the second iteration of the Dream Team two years later, a dominant squad in its own right. But we’re all left to wonder how differently Wilkins’ Hall of Fame career might have been remembered. What an acrobatic light show the fast break of Johnson, Jordan and “The Human Highlight Reel” would’ve produced in Barcelona! It’s the second time we missed out on a Magic and Dominique tag team — the Los Angeles Lakers had the chance to select Wilkins No. 1 overall in the 1982 draft, opting instead for James Worthy (a selection that worked out extremely well for the Lakers in the ’80s).

What if Magic Johnson had been unable to play?

For context, only 263 days had passed between Johnson’s announcement that he had HIV (Nov. 7, 1991) and Team USA’s first Olympic game (July 26, 1992). In the immediate aftermath of his announcement, America began to emotionally distance itself from Johnson. Advertisers and marketing agencies ceased using him in their campaigns. How sick was he? Would he wither away in front of our eyes? And should he even be allowed to play basketball? The debate became one of the most polarizing of its day.

“If Magic Johnson is prohibited from participating in the Olympics,” a New York Times response to the editor ran in February 1992, “then the accepted risk factor for all sports should be re-evaluated.”

“Americans have always regarded our Olympic athletes as role models for our boys and girls, which Magic is not,” another stated. “Let him use his energies and money setting up a trust fund of a few million dollars to pay the medical bills of the women he may have infected.”

On Feb. 3, 1992, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) ruled that athletes with HIV were eligible to participate. Later that same week, Johnson not only participated in the NBA All-Star Game in Orlando, Florida, but he also took home MVP honors with 25 points, nine assists and a spine-tingling 3-pointer that has since transcended sports. Johnson, of course, went on to become one of the faces of The Dream Team and a beloved executive, broadcaster and ambassador of the league.

But what if history were different, and the IOC had ruled differently? Not only would that have been tragically inhumane, but athletes with HIV being ruled ineligible means no Magic Johnson. No Magic Johnson means no Larry Bird and no Michael Jordan. No Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and Michael Jordan means no Dream Team. One decision quite literally changed the world.

The 30 best NBA throwback jerseys ever Nike will release classic uniforms for eight teams this year, but we’re doing the whole league

The NBA just got some new swag. After 11 years with Adidas as its official apparel provider, the league is now with Nike. The partnership that makes Nike the NBA’s exclusive on-court uniform and apparel supplier as of Oct. 1 was originally announced in June 2015. Nike recently revealed a first-glance look at the league’s new uniforms earlier this week.

For the first time in history, the logo of an apparel partner will appear on the NBA’s uniforms, which Nike crafted using Alpha Yarns and recycled plastic bottles. How does that translate? Compared with Adidas’ current product, the Nike uniforms are more flexible, dry 30 percent faster and also feature larger armholes and a reshaped collar. Nike has even re-envisioned uniform designation by eliminating the traditional concept of “home” and “away” jerseys. With four options to choose from at the beginning of the season, each NBA team will select the jersey it will wear at all home games for the entire year, while visiting teams will decide on a contrasting uniform. This means teams won’t be restricted to wearing white at home.

Lastly, yet most importantly to the culture, Nike will provide eight teams with “Classic Edition” uniforms — aka throwback jerseys, set to be unveiled in October — to celebrate the most memorable on-court looks of the past.

But why do just eight? The NBA’s other 22 teams deserve throwbacks too. So, which oldie-but-goodie jerseys would we like to see each team wear during the 2017-18 season? Man, there are a lot to choose from, and The Undefeated is here to throw it all the way back — to the times of Afros, short shorts, O.G. franchises and now-legendary hoopers — with the best throwback jerseys for all 30 NBA teams.

EASTERN CONFERENCE

Atlanta Hawks

Dikembe Mutombo (No. 55) of the Atlanta Hawks looks on against the Golden State Warriors on Feb. 4, 1997, at San Jose Arena in San Jose, California.

Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images

Dikembe Mutombo, 1997

*Wags finger* “No, no, no,” as Hall of Fame big man Dikembe Mutombo would say — there is no jersey in Atlanta Hawks history that’s better than this red, black and yellow edition from the ’90s that features a hawk clutching a ball in its talons. In 2016, the Hawks retired Mutombo’s No. 55. Hope this one is in the rafters.

Boston Celtics

Bill Russell (No. 6) of the Boston Celtics moves the ball up court during a game played in 1967 at the Boston Garden in Boston.

Dick Raphael/NBAE via Getty Images

Bill Russell, 1967

The Boston Celtics’ jerseys have barely changed in the 71-year history of the franchise. Same colors. Same font and lettering. Same classic feel. However, back in the days of Boston legend Bill Russell, Celtics players didn’t have names on the backs of their jerseys. So, if you ever see Isaiah Thomas with just his No. 4 behind him, you’ll know Boston is going retro.

Brooklyn Nets

Julius Erving (No. 32) of the New York Nets looks on against the Boston Celtics during a game played circa 1975 at the Boston Garden in Boston.

Dick Raphael/NBAE via Getty Images

Julius Erving, 1975

The Brooklyn Nets were once the American Basketball Association’s New York Nets. This was when Julius Erving, a three-time ABA MVP, was at the peak of his powers — and so was his beautiful Afro — and wearing the iconic American flag-themed uniforms. A cartoon version of Erving, donning the same jersey and glorious ’fro, appeared on the 2003 video game NBA Street Vol. 2.

Charlotte Hornets

Larry Johnson (No. 2) high-fives teammate Muggsy Bogues (No. 1) of the Charlotte Hornets during a game against the New Jersey Nets played circa 1991 at Brendan Byrne Arena in East Rutherford, New Jersey.

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Larry Johnson and Muggsy Bogues, 1991

From 1988 to 2002, before the franchise relocated to New Orleans, the Charlotte Hornets were a force in style. It’s hard not to reminisce about strongman Larry Johnson, 5-foot-3 point guard Muggsy Bogues, a young Alonzo Mourning and Steph’s sharpshooting pops Dell Curry in their white, teal and purple pinstriped uniforms. After a two-year layoff without a pro hoops team in the city, the NBA established the Charlotte Bobcats as an expansion team in 2004. The Bobcats wore less-than-memorable blue, orange and white uniforms for 10 years before the team got its Hornets name and colors back from New Orleans in 2014. Atop franchise majority owner Michael Jordan’s to-do list should be finessing Nike into bringing back these classic uniforms. With the Jordan Brand Jumpman logo on the jerseys, of course.

Chicago Bulls

Michael Jordan (No. 23) of the Chicago Bulls stands on the court moves the ball at the perimeter against the Los Angeles Clippers at the Sports Arena in Los Angeles.

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Michael Jordan, 1984

Nothing says rookie-year Michael Jordan more than the images from the 1985 dunk contest, in which the then-21-year-old version of the greatest of all time took flight, with his gold chains swinging in the breeze, while he wore a red Bulls jersey with “Chicago” in slanted cursive. This is no question the best Bulls jersey of all time. You know who would wear it with some swag? Jimmy Butler. Actually, never mind.

Cleveland Cavaliers

Terrell Brandon (No. 1) of the Cleveland Cavaliers reacts against the Sacramento Kings during a game played on March 11, 1997, at Arco Arena in Sacramento, California.

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Terrell Brandon, 1997

Even doper than these late ’90s alternate Cleveland Cavaliers uniforms in black, blue, orange and white (which are much sleeker colors than the Cavs’ wine and gold) are the team’s warm-ups, featuring a ball swishing through a hoop on the backs. LeBron James would look too tough in these during his final season in Cleveland. Just kidding. Kind of.

Detroit Pistons

Grant Hill of the Detroit Pistons moves the ball during the game against the Houston Rockets on Feb. 15, 2000, at Compaq Center in Houston.

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Grant Hill, 2000

In the summer of 1996, the Detroit Pistons revamped their uniforms, changing their colors from red, white and blue to teal, black, yellow and red. They also introduced one of the fiercest logos in league history. The new design takes the engine part after which the team is named, a piston, and plays off the concept of a car’s horsepower by incorporating a stallion with a flaming mane. To add to the flair, the S’s in “PISTONS” on the front of the jerseys elongate into exhaust pipes. Nike needs to bring back whoever created this design ASAP.

Indiana Pacers

Reggie Miller of the Indiana Pacers pictured on Nov. 30, 1995, at Arco Arena in Sacramento, California.

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Reggie Miller, 1995

This is the uniform in which Reggie Miller, the greatest Indiana Pacer of all time, had the two greatest moments of his career: his eight points in 8.9 seconds and his infamous choke sign directed at filmmaker and Knicks superfan Spike Lee. Honorable mention: The 1989-90 away jersey in a more pale blue, with “PACERS” in a yellow panel stretching across the front. Both uniforms are way nicer than the hideous Hoosiers-themed “Hickory” jerseys that Indiana wore in 2015.

Miami Heat

Alonzo Mourning (No. 33) of the Miami Heat celebrates against the Sacramento Kings on Nov. 22, 1996, at Arco Arena in Sacramento, California.

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Alonzo Mourning, 1996

Simply put, these red alternate Heat jerseys from the ’90s are flame emojis 🔥 🔥 🔥.

Milwaukee Bucks

Glenn Robinson of the Milwaukee Bucks gets into position against the Sacramento Kings during a game played on March 13, 1996, at Arco Arena in Sacramento, California.

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Glenn Robinson, 1996

This is the best jersey the Milwaukee Bucks have ever worn, an alternate hunter green number with a huge buck on the abdomen and the team’s name that fades from white to purple. Born in 1994, Bucks superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo was a toddler when these jerseys popped in the mid-1990s. If Nike brought them back, the Greek Freak would surely make them pop.

Orlando Magic

Anfernee Hardaway (No. 1) and Shaquille O’Neal of the Orlando Magic return to the court during a game played circa 1994 at the Boston Garden in Massachusetts.

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Shaquille O’Neal, 1993

The most iconic uniform pinstripes belong to the New York Yankees. But a close second are certainly the stripes on the jerseys that the Orlando Magic wore in the 1990s. Is there a swaggier tandem in NBA history than Shaquille O’Neal and Penny Hardaway? Nope, and it’s not even close. They changed the game in their white, royal blue and black uniforms, embossed with stars on the chest as the letter A in either “ORLANDO” or “MAGIC.” And don’t get us started on the warm-up jackets. Too much sauce.

New York Knicks

Patrick Ewing (No. 33) (left) and Larry Johnson of the New York Knicks talk while playing the Sacramento Kings on Feb. 20, 1997, at Arco Arena in Sacramento, California.

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Patrick Ewing and Larry Johnson, 1997

As with the Boston Celtics, the uniforms of the New York Knicks haven’t changed much over the years. Yet, in the mid-’90s, the team added a nice touch of black trim to its road jerseys, which were worn by countless Knicks, from Patrick Ewing, John Starks and Charles Oakley to Allan Houston and Latrell Sprewell. One player who never got to rock this jersey — and probably never will, with his days as a Knick numbered? Carmelo Anthony.

Philadelphia 76ers

Philadelphia 76ers rookie guard Allen Iverson.

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Allen Iverson, 1996

A rookie Allen Iverson with no cornrows, one tattoo and “SIXERS” on the chest of a bright red jersey — paired with his red and white Reebok Questions, of course — is nothing short of iconic. Take notes, Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz. This is where #TheProcess began.

Toronto Raptors

Vince Carter of the Toronto Raptors seen during the game against the Houston Rockets on March 25, 1999, at Compaq Center in Houston.

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Vince Carter, 1999

The Toronto Raptors should’ve kept the 1995 uniforms that they entered the league with forever. In more than two decades, the franchise has yet to top its 1990s purple away jersey, with red, black and gray trim, featuring a roaring raptor dribbling a basketball. Swagged by both Tracy McGrady and Vince Carter early in their careers, this is one of the greatest NBA jerseys of all time. To celebrate the team’s 20th anniversary during the 2014-15 season, the Raptors broke out the “Dino” uniforms in throwback fashion. It won’t be another anniversary year, but why not do it again for the 2017-18 season?

Washington Wizards

Earl Monroe (No. 10) of the Baltimore Bullets looks on against the New York Knicks during an NBA basketball game circa 1969 at the Baltimore Coliseum in Maryland.

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Earl Monroe, 1969

Forget the classic red, white and blue Washington Bullets jerseys that inspired what the Washington Wizards currently rock on the court. Bring back the blue, orange and white Baltimore Bullets uniforms from the late 1960s. Nowadays, they would be dubbed the “Hands Up Don’t Shoot” jerseys, given the extended-arms design of the L’s in “BULLETS.” #BlackLivesMatter

WESTERN CONFERENCE

Dallas Mavericks

Adrian Dantley of the Dallas Mavericks dunks during an NBA game against the Los Angeles Lakers at the Great Western Forum in Los Angeles in 1989.

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Adrian Dantley, 1989

The Dallas Mavericks should definitely return to the logo that features a big blue letter M topped with cowboy hat — inside a green basketball. For decades, this classic design made its way onto the shorts of Mavericks uniforms, the best of which came in the form of alternate green jerseys with Wild West-esque font on the front. Pull some strings, Mark Cuban!

Denver Nuggets

Alex English of the Denver Nuggets shoots a free throw against the Washington Bullets during an NBA basketball game circa 1990 at the Capital Centre in Landover, Maryland.

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Alex English, 1990

Sweet 8-pound, 6-ounce, newborn infant Jesus, these multicolored Denver Nuggets uniforms from the ’80s and ’90s are sweet. Name a throwback NBA jersey with a centerpiece logo as loud as Denver’s rainbow city skyline. But it works, as there certainly isn’t one as bold and beautiful as what Hall of Famer Alex English wore on his chest before several players on Denver’s current roster were born.

Golden State Warriors

An October 1968 photo of Al Attles of the San Francisco Warriors. (AP Photo)

AP Photo

Al Attles, 1968

In eight games during their 73-9 NBA record-setting 2015-16 season, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green balled out in the alternate yellow edition of the team’s vintage “The City” uniforms, originally released for the 1966-67 season, nearly 10 years before the franchise won its first NBA title. Like Golden State’s current uniforms, the throwbacks, worn by the likes of Rick Barry, Nate Thurmond and Al Attles, feature the Bay Bridge in a circular illustration on the front of the jersey, with the words “The City” in bold letters over it. The best part of the jersey is each player’s number on the back, which is illustrated in a Bay Area cable car above his name. As the Warriors chase their third title in four years, these uniforms must be in rotation.

Houston Rockets

(From left) Guard Clyde Drexler, center Hakeem Olajuwon and forward Charles Barkley of the Houston Rockets stand on the court during a May 7, 1997, playoff game against the Seattle SuperSonics at the Summit in Houston.

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Clyde Drexler, Hakeem Olajuwon and Charles Barkley, 1997

The season after winning back-to-back NBA titles in 1994 and 1995 in legendary red, yellow and white uniforms (which the team still frequently wears), the Houston Rockets switched it up with a completely different color scheme to complement its Hall of Fame trio of Clyde Drexler, Charles Barkley and Hakeem Olajuwon. The pinstriped red, navy and white uniforms are complete with an intricately designed rocket ship that swirls around the team’s name on the front of the jersey. Perhaps a new Rockets big three of Chris Paul, James Harden and Anthony could take the court in these this season. Not so fast, though. Houston has to lock up that trade for Anthony first.

Los Angeles Clippers

Bob MacAdoo (No. 11) of the Buffalo Braves stands on the court against the Boston Celtics during a game played in 1974 at the Boston Garden in Massachusetts.

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Bob McAdoo, 1974

This was a tough decision. It was hard not to go with the throwback Zeke McCall cursive-lettered Clippers jersey, worn by a young Quincy McCall in Love & Basketball. Long before the 2000 film, and current Clippers stars Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, the franchise began in New York as the Buffalo Braves, led by Hall of Famer Bob McAdoo. As simple as the baby blue jerseys that McAdoo and the Braves wore for eight years before the team moved to California in 1978 were, they’re superclassic. Even Jay-Z knows about the retro McAdoo jersey.

Los Angeles Lakers

Magic Johnson of the Los Angeles Lakers passes against Terry Porter of the Portland Trail Blazers at the Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Portland, Oregon, circa 1988. (Photo by Brian Drake/NBAE via Getty Images)

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Magic Johnson, 1988

Imagine rookie point guard Lonzo Ball dropping dimes in the purple road uniforms in which Magic Johnson and the “Showtime” Lakers dazzled en route to five championships in the 1980s. C’mon, Nike. Bring these back for Lonzo, and for the people.

Memphis Grizzlies

Shareef Abdur-Rahim of the Vancouver Grizzlies during a game against the Golden State Warriors played on Jan. 8, 1997, at San Jose Arena in California.

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Shareef Abdur-Rahim, 1997

The 1995-2001 teal Vancouver Grizzlies jerseys are the dopest uniforms in NBA history — don’t @ us. The bold team name sprawling across the chest, the funky color scheme and trim that includes red, brown, black and white, the ferocious logo of a grizzly bear clawing a basketball on the shorts — what is not to like about this jersey? After six seasons in Canada, the franchise relocated to Memphis while maintaining the same mascot. So it’s only right that Nike allows Memphis to pay homage to the team’s former city with these glorious jerseys.

Minnesota Timberwolves

Kevin Garnett of the Minnesota Timberwolves during a game against the Houston Rockets on Feb. 26, 1998, at Compaq Center in Houston.

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Kevin Garnett, 1998

A young Kevin Garnett in the black alternate Minnesota Timberwolves uniforms, with Frankenstein-esque lettering and green pine trees lining the jersey and shorts — SO tough. As Minnesota pushes to make some noise in the deep Western Conference this season, the team’s young core could use some intimidating flair — like Garnett and the Timberwolves had way back when.

New Orleans Pelicans

Chris Paul of the New Orleans Hornets directs the offense against the Houston Rockets on Feb. 27, 2011, at the New Orleans Arena.

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Chris Paul, 2011

What’s the best throwback jersey for a 15-year-old franchise that gave up its first mascot to another city? Look no further than the Mardi Gras-themed “NOLA” uniforms the team formerly known as the New Orleans Hornets wore several years ago, when Chris Paul was still the point guard of the squad that drafted him. It’s hard to imagine that folks in the Big Easy wouldn’t welcome a return of these purple, green and gold jerseys, especially come next February.

Oklahoma City Thunder

Gary Payton of the Seattle SuperSonics dribbles against the Los Angeles Clippers during a game at the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena circa 1991.

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Gary Payton, 1991

How crazy would it be if Russell Westbrook, Paul George and the Oklahoma City Thunder paid tribute to the franchise’s former city by taking the floor next season in throwback Seattle SuperSonics jerseys, circa the Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp days? It was a sad time when the team left Seattle in 2008. Hope the city will get another franchise one day. But until then, it’s only right that Nike and the Thunder pay respect to the team’s roots.

Phoenix Suns

Jason Kidd of the Phoenix Suns moves the ball during the game against the Charlotte Hornets on Jan. 29, 2000, at Charlotte Coliseum in Charlotte, North Carolina.

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Jason Kidd, 2000

You can’t tell us that the Phoenix Suns’ talented young trio of Devin Booker, Marquese Chriss and Josh Jackson couldn’t swag these black alternate throwbacks out. The Valley of the Sun needs these blast-from-the-past jerseys.

Portland Trail blazers

Clyde Drexler of the Portland Trail Blazers dribbles the ball against the Washington Bullets during an NBA basketball game circa 1992 at the Capital Centre in Landover, Maryland.

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Clyde Drexler, 1992

We can already see it: the starting lineup of the Portland Trail Blazers being announced to the tune of the Drake, Quavo and Travis $cott More Life track “Portland,” before the players take off their warm-ups to reveal the vintage Blazers uniforms that Clyde Drexler & Co. made iconic. What a moment that would be.

Sacramento Kings

Nate Archibald of the Kansas City Kings dribbles the ball up court against the Washington Bullets during an NBA basketball game circa 1975 at the Capital Centre in Landover, Maryland.

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Nate Archibald, 1975

Before journeying to Sacramento in 1985, the franchise was known as the Kansas City Kings, with royal blue, red and white uniforms and a logo that’s been updated to fit the team’s new purple, black and gray color scheme. If the Kings threw it back with jerseys to the Kansas City days, Nike would definitely have to make rookie point guard De’Aaron Fox a visor.

San Antonio Spurs

George Gervin of the San Antonio Spurs shoots a free throw against the Washington Bullets during an NBA basketball game circa 1980 at the Capital Centre in Landover, Maryland.

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George Gervin, 1980

The San Antonio Spurs still wear the old-school gray jerseys with the letter U in “Spurs” illustrated as a cowboy boot spur. Another subtle throwback could come through the reissue of the black 1980s Spurs jerseys that feature “SAN ANTONIO” on the front in white trim. These are definitely not too flashy for the modest Kawhi Leonard.

Utah Jazz

Karl Malone (No. 32) and John Stockton of the Utah Jazz talk during a game against the Sacramento Kings circa 1997 at Arco Arena in Sacramento, California.

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Karl Malone and John Stockton, 1997

Karl Malone, John Stockton and the Utah Jazz took back-to-back L’s in the 1997 and 1998 NBA Finals to Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls — but they did it in style, with purple road uniforms adorned by a Utah mountain. Too bad Gordon Hayward never got to wear this jersey before dipping out to Boston this summer in free agency.

Summer League MVP Lonzo Ball is Lakers’ newest sneaker free agent Just like Kobe in 2003. Here’s how Ball’s looks compare with the Black Mamba, side by side.

Lonzo Ball is a Los Angeles Laker, but in the sneaker world? He’s a free agent. As innovative and genius as his shoe decisions have been this summer, we’ve seen it before in Los Angeles — from one of the greatest Lakers of all time. Ball already has his own signature shoe — the heftily priced $495 ZO2s, made by his family’s Big Baller Brand — but the rookie point guard and Las Vegas Summer League MVP has kicked off his NBA career by playing the field when it comes to footwear.

In the Lakers’ two opening summer league games, Ball, as expected, took the court in his BBB kicks. First, he made his pro debut in a pair of white, purple and gold “Sho’time” Z02s. These are the same ones he wore when he walked across the stage after the Lakers chose him with the No. 2 overall pick in June’s draft. Playing in them, Ball posted an abysmal 5-point, 5-assist and 4-rebound performance in a 96-93 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers. The next game, an 86-81 loss to the Boston Celtics, Ball bounced back with a triple-double (11 points, 11 assists, 11 rebounds) in a pair of black and gold “Prime” ZO2s.

Yet, in the next four summer league games in which he appeared, Ball did not lace up his ZO2s. Instead, he flipped the script by playing in Nikes, James Harden’s signature Adidas, Stephen Curry’s signature Under Armours and Air Jordans. “When you’re a big baller, you can wear whatever you want,” he told TNT’s David Aldridge after recording a monster 36 points in a 103-102 win over the Philadelphia 76ers in a pair of Nike Kobe ADs. Once Ball began to stray from BBB, each night the Lakers were scheduled to play, folks on social media were pressed about what he had in store — like, “What shoes would Lonzo wear next?”

“It’s making a statement to the brands of what they could have had with an open mind,” LaVar Ball told ESPN’s Darren Rovell of his son’s summer league turned sneaker free agency. If you remember, the Ball family met with Nike, Adidas and Under Armour before the NBA draft, but all three sneaker companies passed on signing the 19-year-old phenom. Since he already had a prototype shoe, LaVar Ball was simply asking too much of the companies, calling on them to license BBB from him. Never in the history of sports, or sneakers, had there been such a demand.

Early in his career, future Hall of Famer Kobe Bryant spent a season as a sneaker free agent.

“If the price is right,” LaVar Ball continued when asked whether there’s a chance his son could still ink a deal with a big shoe company. Perhaps a bidding war is in store? “Something like that,” Lonzo Ball said before the summer league semifinals.

Yet, as bold as Ball was with his summer league sneaker changes, there’s a close-to-home precedent. Early in his career, future Hall of Famer Kobe Bryant spent a season as a sneaker free agent. After signing with Adidas as a rookie, and becoming the face of five different pairs of signature sneakers, Bryant reportedly dropped a whopping $8 million to part ways with the company in 2002.

Also included in the deal was the agreement that Bryant wouldn’t sign with another brand in 2003. So he spent the 2002-03 NBA season, in which he and the Lakers were chasing their fourth consecutive NBA title, wearing every shoe imaginable. From Air Force 1s to AND1s to Converse and even a slew of Air Jordans, including “True Blue” 3s, “Flint Grey” and “French Blue” 12s and “Concord” 11s. As Ball tests the sneaker market, just like Bryant did back in the day, let’s take a side-by-side look at some of the shoe choices made by the rising star rookie — and the retired legend, nearly 15 years ago.

Lonzo in Air Jordan 31 Lows vs. Kobe in Air Jordan PE 8s

When in doubt, just whip out the J’s. During his season without a sneaker contract, retro Air Jordans, in every edition and colorway he could get his hands on, were Bryant’s go-to. His favorite? Player exclusive Air Jordan 8s in purple and gold, with a white base for home games and black base for road games, made especially for Bryant (he also had PE 3s and PE 7s). As for Ball, he didn’t go retro, but he broke out a pair of low-top Air Jordan 31s in the summer league semifinals against the Dallas Mavericks, posting 16 points, 10 assists and 4 rebounds in just 21 minutes before leaving the game in the third quarter with calf tightness — a better night than he had in a full game wearing the ZO2s during his summer league debut.

Lonzo in Under Armour Curry 4 Finals PE vs. Kobe in Converse Weapons

On their feet, both Bryant and Ball paid tribute to championship-winning point guards who came before them. Fourteen years after the Lakers won their final NBA title in 1988 as part of the famed “Showtime” era of the franchise, Bryant channeled his inner Magic Johnson in 2002 by rocking Converse Weapons — the shoes the Hall of Fame point guard, and current president of basketball operations for the Lakers, wore in the 1980s. Flirting with another triple-double (14 points, 7 assists, 9 rebounds) against the Brooklyn Nets, Ball wore the Under Armour Curry 4 Finals PEs that two-time league MVP Curry unveiled en route to the Golden State Warriors winning their second NBA title in three years this summer. Because of a mild calf strain in his right leg, Ball was forced to sit out of the Lakers’ summer league championship matchup with the Portland Trail Blazers. But how dope would it have been if Ball had decided to wear a pair of Weapons, a la Magic and Kobe, and won the title? Too dope.

How dope would it have been if Ball had decided to wear a pair of Weapons, a la Magic and Kobe?

Lonzo in Adidas Harden LS “Night Life” vs. Kobe in Reebok Question

It has to be a little weird to wear the signature shoe of a fellow player. But that’s exactly what Bryant did during the 2002-03 NBA season, and Ball followed suit. Two seasons after the Lakers beat Allen Iverson and the Philadelphia 76ers in the 2001 NBA Finals, Bryant donned Iverson’s signature mid-top Reebok Questions in multiple variations of Lakers colors. Months removed from his first matchup with Harden and the Houston Rockets, Ball sported a pair of Adidas Harden LS “Night Life” shoes, dropping a triple-double (16 points, 12 assists, 10 rebounds) in a 94-83 Lakers summer league win over the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Lonzo in Nike Kobe ADs vs. Kobe in Nike Air Flight Huarache

What made Ball ditch the ZO2s after two games for a pair of Bryant’s Nike Kobe ADs? “You know,” Ball said after he willed the Lakers to a 103-102 win over the Philadelphia 76ers, “Mamba mentality. Thought I’d switch it up.” The first brand Ball turned to when he decided to shake things up with his sneakers was Nike — the company Bryant signed with in June 2003 after a season testing out Nikes, most notably PE Nike Air Flight Huaraches. With a signature line of 14 shoes and counting, Bryant is one of the most iconic faces of Nike and will be for the foreseeable future.

But could the Black Mamba soon be joined at the brand by a Big Baller? If Ball bases his decision solely on the first performances of his young career, he’ll go with Nike, even if that means completely reshaping his father’s BBB vision and maybe even leaving the ZO2s in the past. Because in Kobes, Ball dazzled to the tune of 36 points, 11 assists, 8 rebounds and 5 steals — he did it in Showtime style, the way the Lakers hoped he would.

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

Daily Dose: 5/26/17 The Bronx salutes Khalif Browder on his birthday

OK, so y’all know I’ll be on #TheRightTime on Friday afternoon. By now, you also know about #TheMorningRoast on Sunday mornings. But, on Memorial Day, Aaron Dodson and I will be co-hosting The Dan Le Batard Show. Yay!

Thursday was a public relations disaster, again, for the White House. President Donald Trump managed to create fiascos on, like, four different fronts after getting into a handshake battle with France, pushing aside Montenegro‘s prime minister and calling Germany a bad country. Then, at the end of the day, we found out that Trump’s son-in-law is part of the focus of an FBI investigation. Oh, and on top of that, Trump decided to bad-mouth NATO, all of which ended in what many people are calling a completely disrespectful speech.

Thursday would have been Khalif Browder’s 24th birthday. If you don’t remember, he was the kid who was locked up at Rikers Island for years with no charges and eventually killed himself after he was released. His life and death are an example of the worst-case scenarios involving the penal system in this country. Jay Z ended up making a documentary about his life. Thursday in New York, the Bronx renamed a street after Browder with a ceremony that included his family. I get angry every single time I think about how he had his life stolen from him by the New York Police Department.

When I was a kid, sick days from school meant watching The Price Is Right. Yet, while it’s not the greatest American game show of all time — that’s Family Feud — it is in the top five. And within that show, the single greatest prize game in TV history is obvious. That would be Plinko. And earlier this week, some guy broke the all-time scoring record for the pegboard contest that everyone loves. The guy who did it couldn’t be more adorable, and his 15 minutes of fame have been quite fun.

If you’ve heard me on the radio recently, you know how I feel about LaVar Ball. His dustup with Kristine Leahy was a bad look, not to mention his insensitive comments about Kyrie Irving’s mother. But he is a man about his business. And as I’ve said many times, his Kardashian business model is one that I love in theory and like in practice. Can’t wait for the Balldashians. Magic Johnson agrees with me. Now, there’s a separate question about whether these two families can even coexist within the Los Angeles Lakers organization.

Free Food

Coffee Break: Some people think Lil’ Yachty is everything that’s wrong with hip-hop, from his moniker to his mumble rap style to his lack of concern for the old school. Frankly, that’s all nonsense, IMO. I like the young man. He’s got a new album out called Teenage Emotions.

Snack Time: Um, there’s a new collaboration between Drake’s OVO and the Clarks shoe company that you can go ahead and buy if you’re trying to get your pimp wizard game on this summer.

Dessert: Need a summer plan? Try Zac Efron’s Baywatch diet. Apparently, it works.