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

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

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

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

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

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

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


TEAM WORLD

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

TEAM USA

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

*Injured, will not play in game

 

When in doubt, ‘Trust the Process’

Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

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

Will Lonzo Ball play?

Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

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

The dunk contest before the dunk contest

Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images

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

Can Jamal Murray do it again?

Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

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

Throwback threads

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tom Zweibel

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

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

Perry called the visit a tremendous learning experience.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tom Zweibel

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘The Chi’ and ‘South Side’ go beyond the violent rep of Second City’s South Side Is television finally starting to represent the real Chicago?

In the premiere episode of the already critically acclaimed The Chi, a fresh-faced, precocious African-American teen is shot to death on the streets of Chicago’s South Side. After lifting a gold chain and sneakers from a dead body, an affable teen named Coogie, portrayed by Jahking Guillory later runs into the deceased boy’s stepfather, Ronnie (Ntare Guma Mbaho Mwine) — he’s racked with grief and looking for payback. Coogie tries to reason with the man, but it’s too late.

A gun goes off, and Coogie is left stretched on the pavement, bleeding to death. There are no heroes and no villains. It’s a devastating moment. And while it seems in line with all-too-familiar real-life headlines associated with the South Side, things are more complex and nuanced on The Chi.

Chicago has struggled to shake off a rep as America’s most dangerous city. According to a recent USA Today piece, 650 people were killed in the city in 2017, a 15 percent drop from 771 people in 2016. And for much of last year, the Windy City didn’t even rank among the highest murder rates in the country: St. Louis; Baltimore; New Orleans; Detroit; Kansas City, Missouri; Memphis, Tennessee; and Cleveland. Chicago did, though, surpass New York and Los Angeles’ combined murder rates for the second straight year. And most of these murders happen on the predominantly black West and South sides.

And yet The Chi, created by actor/producer/activist Lena Waithe, avoids being tragedy porn. Waithe portrayed Denise in Netflix’s acclaimed and award-winning Master of None and made history in 2017 as the first black woman to win an Emmy for comedy writing for the show. A proud native of the South Side, Waithe grew up on 79th Street near Chicago’s Dan Ryan Expressway before moving to suburban Evanston, Illinois, during her preteen years.

There was comedic gold in the lives of everyday, hardworking, blue-collar black folk.

“[Chicago] is not a jungle,” she said a few weeks ago on CBS This Morning. “It’s not a bunch of hooligans with no hearts and no souls. Every black boy isn’t born with a gun in his right hand and a pile of drugs in his left. They’re born with the same amount of hope and joy as every other little baby in the world.”

Hollywood has had a long, complex history with regard to its portrayal of Chicago — and way before today’s gang issues, it’s very often been about the city’s infamous gangster side. Starting with 1931’s Little Caesar (Edward G. Robinson as a not-so-subtle stand-in for the Chi’s Al Capone), it’s taken years for the city to transcend its image of a lawless town under siege by gunfights and political corruption.

There’s the beloved 1975 tearjerker Cooley High, the 1997 romantic poetry drama Love Jones and the Ice Cube-headlined 2002 box office hit Barbershop. “Black Chicago” has had an even more turbulent representation, particularly on the small screen.

The landmark ’70s CBS series Good Times is perhaps the most celebrated (and polarizing) television show about the Chicago black experience. Hailed as a game-changer during its initial run starting on Feb. 8, 1974, the groundbreaking Mike Evans-created series, developed by legendary television producer Norman Lear, took America inside Chicago’s poor Cabrini-Green housing projects.

There were struggles, but Florida and James Evans instilled family values and a strong moral code into their three children. But the controversial death of James, Good Times’ lone father figure, had critics crying foul. And it didn’t help when the catchphrase-wielding J.J. Evans — Dynomite!!! — was pushed front and center as the show’s reigning star.


The Chi is executive produced by both Waithe and rapper/actor Common, a fellow Chicago native. The 10 episodes are directed by Rick Famuyiwa of the film Dope, as well as behind-the-camera talent that includes Tanya Hamilton (Night Catches Us), Dave Rodriguez (TNT’s Animal Kingdom and USA’s Queen of the South) and Roxann Dawson (Netflix’s House of Cards, PBS’ Mercy and ABC’s Scandal).

This is not to say that The Chi doesn’t delve into hard-knock realities. There’s a distinct feel in its scripts and in the acting that you won’t find on such procedural dramas as the Dick Wolf-produced Chicago Fire, Chicago P.D., and Chicago Med — so vanilla, so pedestrian that they may as well have been set in Any City USA.

Showtime’s long-running Shameless (shot largely in Los Angeles) follows a dysfunctional yet tight-knit white family in the North Lawndale section of the South Side. And CBS’ formulaic “Chicago” sitcom Superior Donuts revels in the diversity of its black, white, Latino and Middle Eastern cast members. But it doesn’t aim for the idiosyncrasies of The Chi, filmed on the South Side, giving it a rich, textured feel, and the narrative is ignited by the murder of a promising young basketball player.

Frustrated law enforcement officers struggle for answers in a neighborhood weary and distrustful of cops. This is a city, in real life, that has been embroiled in a series of high-profile police brutality scandals. And everything about the series screams authentic all-caps CHICAGO, even down to the show’s sound, which included the homegrown genre of stepping music, as well as Chicago artists such as Chance the Rapper, Kanye West, Chicago Children’s Choir, Sir Michael Rocks, and Noname. On The Chi, there is life, laughter and even hope.

For the Chicago-born Sylvia Jones, one of the scribes behind The Chi, working on the series has been a revelation. “This is Lena’s baby … her vision,” said the former local news producer at WGN and WLS. She quit her job in 2016 and flew out to Los Angeles to chase her dream of becoming a television writer. “Very often, shows about Chicago show people either tragically poor or affluent. But there’s not a whole lot in between on television, and that’s what most of us are in real life. … The Chi tries to show black people in all their complexities.”

Indeed, Jason Mitchell (Mudbound, Straight Outta Compton) plays Brandon, a gifted, hungry chef with dreams of opening up his own restaurant with his ambitious girlfriend, Jerrika (Tiffany Boone). There’s the aforementioned Coogie, Brandon’s half brother: a wild-haired, unabashedly quirky kid who rides past murals of Chicago’s adopted son President Barack Obama on a canary yellow bike while listening to Chance the Rapper’s “All We Got.” And Mwine as the drifter Ronnie, a troubled yet loving stepfather who also happens to be a police informant. Alex R. Hibbert (Moonlight) dives into the show-stealing role of Kevin, a charismatic tween who has a crush on a cute schoolmate. And Jacob Latimore is Emmett, an obsessive sneakerhead and girl-crazy playboy living with his mother. The all-too carefree young man is finally forced to face the sobering responsibilities of fatherhood.

It’s a stellar cast, rounded out by Chicago native and Oscar-winning rapper/actor Common and the criminally underrated Sonja Sohn (The Wire) as Brandon’s protective alcoholic mother. The Chi is a welcome nuanced television portrayal of Chicago’s black working class shown through a complex lens that sidesteps the usual one-dimensional stereotypes. And The Chi is not alone.


This fall, Comedy Central will debut the workplace comedy South Side. It’s set in and around a rent-to-own appliances and furniture business in Chicago’s notorious section of Englewood. It’s a risk-taking premise for sure: finding comedy in the heart of an infamous neighborhood that in past years has claimed Chicago’s highest murder rates. But according to Bashir Salahuddin, who came up with the idea for the series with his brother Sultan Salahuddin and former fellow Late Night With Jimmy Fallon writer Diallo Riddle, humanizing the community of Englewood is priority.

Many of the actors and workers on the set of South Side are actually from Chicago. And Salahuddin says he hopes to show another side of low-income communities like Englewood, which is experiencing a noticeable upswing. From January to October 2017 there were 130 fewer shootings, a 43 percent decrease. And, even as conversations about gentrification swirl, openings of both Starbucks and Whole Foods have injected a sense of economic optimism.

“A huge chunk of our show is actually shot in Englewood,” said Salahuddin, 41, from his Los Angeles home. Like The Chi’s Waithe, he was born and raised on the South Side. Salahuddin, who also stars as referee Keith Bang in the breakout Netflix wrestling comedy GLOW, recalls hearing hilarious stories from his boy who worked at a Rent-A-Center in Chicago. That’s when the idea hit. Salahuddin knew there was comedic gold in the lives of everyday, hardworking, blue-collar black folk.

“I remember being shocked the first time I saw Friday because all I knew about the West Coast was Boyz n the Hood and Menace II Society,” he said. “So to see the same ’hood backdrop where those two movies took place in, but with a strong black family where the mother and father are together and working and they are staying on their son to better his life, those values portrayed in that environment … blew my mind. We want people to experience the same thing with South Side and say, ‘Oh, there are other kinds of things going on in Englewood, and some of it is really funny and thoughtful.’ ”

For Atlanta native Riddle, also 41, immersing himself in the idiosyncrasies of Chicago culture as well as the city’s notoriously segregated history was an eye-opening experience bigger than West Side vs. South Side, Harold’s Chicken Shack vs. Uncle Remus or Chicago Cubs vs. White Sox.

“When I meet a white person from Chicago, I’ll often say, ‘Man, this person can be from anywhere,’ ” Riddle said. “But a black person from Chicago feels a lot more specific. It’s a weird mix of Midwest and heavy South. Even when I would talk to Bashir’s family or listen to Chicago artists like Kanye [West], there are little things that were tapped into their way of speech and culture that you don’t see anywhere else. For us, this was unclaimed territory. We knew we needed to do a definitive show that jumped into that specific culture.”

“Often, shows about Chicago show people either tragically poor or affluent. But there’s not a whole lot of in-between on television. And that’s what most of us are in real life.”

The emergence of The Chi and South Side come at a time of exceptional growth for the Chicago entertainment industry. According to the Illinois Film Office, which awards a 30 percent tax credit to film, television and advertising productions, in 2016 alone projects generated an estimated $499 million in Illinois spending, a 51 percent increase over the previous year. From 2011 to 2015, $1.3 billion was injected into the cities’ economy, bringing in local jobs and a much-needed kick to hard-hit neighborhoods.

One of the eight major television series filmed full time in Chicago is Empire. “Chicago has such a great pool when it comes to local actors,” said Joshua Allen, a supervising producer on the Fox ratings-fixture and himself a Chicagoan. “People have slept on Chicago forever as a theater town, because when people think theater, they usually think of New York. But it has a huge, vibrant theater scene, so we have a lot of actors we can pull from.”

Both South Side and The Chi offer fresh, challenging takes on the home of the blues. Perhaps that’s why The Chi in particular resonates so profoundly, and South Side, even before its premiere, seems full of possibility. Lena Waithe, and the trio of Diallo Riddle and Bashir and Sultan Salahuddin, are creating work that tells their truth: the good, the bad and the absurd. There’s a newfound black power and freedom that jumps off the screen — as on such other uncompromising shows as Donald Glover’s surreal Atlanta (FX), which returns in March, and Issa Rae’s fearless Insecure.

“There are millions of TV shows, so we have to stand out,” Salahuddin said. “Why do all this stuff and then not show people something authentic?” Indeed.

Memphis Grizzlies players and coaches share sentiments about playing on MLK Day An event-filled weekend and win over Lakers gives team an edge going into MLK50

When NBA players live and work in a city where Martin Luther King Jr. made such an impact, they find themselves faced with a duty to defend their home court. The Memphis Grizzlies maneuvered their way to a 123-114 win over the Los Angeles Lakers on Monday at the FedEx Forum in the 16th Annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Celebration.

The day consisted of many festivities including the honoring of WNBA and NBA players during the 13th Annual National Civil Rights Museum Sports Legacy Award. This year’s recipients were Penny Hardaway, Sam Perkins, James Worthy and WNBA All-Star Swin Cash. The award recognizes dedicated contributions to civil and human rights and laying foundations for future leaders through their career in sports in the spirit of King.

(From left to right) Grizzlies interim coach J.B. Bickerstaff, Penny Hardaway, Sam Perkins, Bernie Bickerstaff, Swin Cash and James Worthy tour the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tennessee.

Joe Murphy/NBAE/Getty Images

The weekend was filled with events that included a discussion at the National Civil Rights Museum (“MLK50: Where Do We Go From Here”) with Cash, Grizzlies guard Mike Conley and Lakers center Brook Lopez. Before tipoff on Monday, the honorees participated in the Earl Lloyd Sports Legacy Symposium.

Sports teams often visit the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, which houses the location where King was shot. Check out what players had to say about playing in Memphis on MLK Day while the city prepares for MLK50, the 50th year commemorating King’s death.


“When you have this opportunity to pay that respect, you do this job with the best of your ability. You give everything that you’ve got in honor of those who had to fight those fights for you and the sacrifices that they made for you. … Understanding how the organization, the city, and the community fought to get the game back on Martin Luther King Jr. Day was an eye-opening thing. It was an awareness of just how important this game is and how much it means to be played today.” – Grizzlies interim head coach J.B. Bickerstaff

“This is my second time that I remember being part of MLK Day. It’s a special game, special moment for a person that did a lot for not only African-Americans but for us as a society. It’s always good to come out here and celebrate him.” – Grizzlies guard Mario Chalmers

“It means a lot [to play in Memphis]. It brings a lot of my passion out and makes me want to play harder for the organization and for the Memphis fans. It’s my first MLK Day playing. It felt great. I’ve visited [the National Civil Rights Museum] twice. I learned so much about history. Coming from Canada, you don’t really know a lot because it’s very multicultural. I figured out a lot of things, like how to appreciate my culture more.” – Grizzlies guard Dillon Brooks

“Coming out here every night and playing for Memphis means so much to me because the fans are great. I’ve got a lot of fan base from when I was in school. I can put up two jerseys: one for college and one for the NBA. Martin Luther King gave us a chance to chase our dreams, so I’m happy to play on this day.” – Grizzlies guard Tyreke Evans

“It’s an absolute honor to play on this holiday, I think. For where we are as a world and where we’re trying to go, Martin Luther King Jr. stood up for what was right. But what really separates him is he really emphasized doing it through a peaceful manner, and all he wanted is what everyone should want and that’s equality. To be able to play on this day, especially with a sport where you get so many people from different backgrounds and different places across the world, it’s an honor.” – Lakers head coach Luke Walton

On this MLK holiday, it’s important to know how Memphis Greenspace took down those Confederate statues The South’s historical parks for too long have held racist symbols and histories

When a group of African-American men hit upon a strategy to rip statues of Confederate leaders Nathan Bedford Forrest and Jefferson Davis from Memphis’ parks, they did more than remove images of racists from places of honor to places of obscurity.

They wrote the first chapter of a how-to manual on how black people can begin to liberate their leisure spaces from racist symbols and racist histories.

After Tennessee’s historical commission denied, once again, Memphis’ request to remove from two parks the statue of Forrest, the Confederate general who led a massacre of hundreds of surrendering black Union soldiers at Fort Pillow in 1864 and who was an early leader of the Ku Klux Klan, and Davis, who was president of the Confederacy, a group of black men formed Memphis Greenspace Inc.

Because the Tennessee Heritage Act doesn’t apply to private parks, they were able to persuade the city to sell the parks to them for $1,000 each. Then, in the dark of night on Dec. 21, cranes arrived, tore the statues of Forrest and Davis from their bases and hauled them away.

While Greenspace was formed to get rid of the Confederate statues, its actions should shine light on the fact that, like in Memphis, many parks and recreational spaces throughout the nation are fraught with racist symbols and racist histories that repel many African-Americans — and that it’s way past time to flip the script on that.

This predicament, in fact, was the subject of a 2016 study by KangJae Lee, an assistant professor at the University of Missouri whose research centers on parks and recreation. After examining findings that show most visitors to national and state parks are disproportionately white, he looked at why black residents who live near Cedar Hill State Park in Cedar Hill, Texas, rarely go there.

His work revealed a legacy of Jim Crow. For generations, their parents and grandparents were barred from the park, contributing to a cultural disposition that kept them away, not to mention the fact that Cedar Hill Park was once a large slave plantation — a fact that goes unmentioned at the park’s historical sites and feeds into black resentment.

Kind of like how Forrest’s history of being a Klansman and a slave trader were nowhere to be found on his statue.

Other ghosts of racism haunt city recreational spaces.

In Savannah, according to Donald Grant’s 1993 book The Way It Was in the South: The Black Experience in Georgia, an 1866 law barred black children from its parks unless they were accompanied by white children, and in 1890, when bicycling became popular, it forbade black people from using its bike paths.

In 1911, around the time Confederate statues began to be erected in many public spaces in the South, all of Atlanta’s parks were off-limits to black people, and by 1926, they could only use three of its parks. Many, in fact, were arrested for walking through the “white parks” on the way to work.

That scenario resonates with Van Turner Jr., director of Memphis Greenspace. He said one of the factors that drove him to take down the statues of Forrest and Davis was the fact that they were grim reminders of a time when his father and other black people weren’t allowed in those parks unless they were with a white person.

Confederate symbols in public spaces also conjure images of oppression in Jacksonville (Florida) Confederate Park, which sits north of downtown and has a monument to women of the Confederacy, stirring resentment in many of the African-Americans who live near the area.

A Confederate monument erected in 1898, at the beginning of the Jim Crow era, in downtown Jacksonville’s Hemming Plaza praises the Confederate soldier for “deeds immortal” and “heroism unsurpassed.”

Sixty-two years later, African-American civil rights demonstrators would be beaten bloody in that same place by racists wearing Confederate uniforms and wielding ax handles.

No mention of that in Hemming.

Yet, as Memphis Greenspace has shown, that past doesn’t have to be black people’s future when it comes to parks and recreational spaces.

Besides demonstrating and strategizing to expunge racist monuments from recreational spaces, a broader purpose exists here. That purpose is to persuade black people that they are entitled to enjoy recreational spaces that their tax dollars were supporting even during a time when they were either intimidated, or outright barred, from enjoying them.

Brothers like Turner have shown the way. And while the strategy that Memphis Greenspace used may not necessarily be fit for other places grappling with how to take down monuments honoring racists, their actions can be used to begin a blueprint to empower black people with the belief that they deserve to enjoy public spaces that white people have always enjoyed.

That’s because although those places may hold memories of past pain, they also hold potential for future health, for battling the obesity and inactivity that disproportionately plague African-Americans.

And now that we have a way to get rid of monuments to white supremacists who died to keep us out of those public spaces, it’s time for us to begin to claim them as our own.

The legendary ‘XXL’ Jay-Z, LeBron James, Kanye West and Foxy Brown cover It helped launch then-Def Jam honcho Shawn Carter as a ‘business, man’

By 2005, in the post-The Black Album era, Jay-Z was almost two years into a retirement from releasing solo albums. Kanye West was soon to erase any doubts about a sophomore slump with his second studio album, Late Registration. LeBron James had delivered on the prep hype: He finished his second season with the Cleveland Cavaliers averaging 27.2 points, 7.4 rebounds and 7.2 assists. The best was yet to come for all three, as they stood together on the August 2005 cover of XXL, alongside Foxy Brown, who was signed to Def Jam Records at the time and preparing an album titled Black Roses.

Shot by Clay Patrick McBride (whose website opens with a look from the shoot), it was a gatefold cover, and the fold featured Freeway, Memphis Bleek, Young Gunz, Teairra Marie, Peedi Peedi and DJ Clue. Incoming Island/Def Jam CEO Antonio “L.A.” Reid, in one of his first moves, had hired Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter as president of the historic Def Jam Records, and under that umbrella came the relaunch of Jay-Z’s R0c-A-Fella Records — without co-founder Damon Dash. The 2004 split between Jay-Z and Dash was the No. 1 topic in hip-hop. And as for James, he was not signed to any label, but he appeared on the magazine as a symbol of his close relationship with Carter and of Carter’s reach to the world of professional athletes with Roc Nation Sports.

The cover idea was President Carter’s cabinet, and the XXL cover captured a moment in time before Jay-Z, West and James, all household names in 2005, were catapulted into another stratosphere of social impact, cultural influence and financial success. More than a decade later, Jay-Z is one of the most successful creative entrepreneurs, West is arguably the most influential cultural figure on this globe, and James, in his 15th NBA season, is still the best basketball player in the world.


In 1996, music journalist Andrea Duncan-Mao was throwing a party. Among the invitees were Jay-Z, Dash and Kareem “Biggs” Burke. At the tiny New York City Bar, they told anyone within earshot about a record label they co-founded called Roc-A-Fella Records and about Reasonable Doubt, an album from Jay-Z. Drinks flowed late into the evening. “It was fun,” said Duncan-Mao, who profiled Young Gunz for the XXL cover story. “Dame was a visionary … really good at his job. But I think he started to really enjoy the fame, power and the lifestyle.”

By 2005, XXL was the pre-eminent hip-hop publication, and the monthly competition with The Source and other magazines meant battles for landing the most influential images and stories was intense. “The covers were everything,” said Elliott Wilson, who was editor-in-chief from 1999 to 2008. “I was being judged by how many units these magazines sold. I used to stress over the numbers. I [always] had [handy] printouts of what every XXL, The Source and VIBE sold.”

With Jay-Z transitioning into an executive role, and his recent break-up with Dash, Wilson knew who he could turn to for a splash. “Whenever there was a drought,” Wilson said, “Jay was always relevant.” The cover would serve two purposes: to bump up sales numbers on the newsstands and to have the No. 1 name in hip-hop tell his side of the Roc-A-Fella breakup.

Dash had already had his opportunity. In June 2005, Wilson and his team had put Dash and the rapper Cam’ron on XXL’s cover with the tagline Jay-Z Can’t Knock These Harlem Boys’ hustle, a callback to a classic Jay-Z song. Dash had started his own Damon Dash Music Group. Among the statements Dash made to XXL: “I don’t understand what’s going on with Jay.” So it was time to reach out to Jay-Z for the other side of the story. “You knew things weren’t good,” said Wilson. “but you couldn’t actually see it coming. … They were such a symbol of brotherhood.”

For Wilson, who joined XXL after working as music editor at The Source, and at College Music Journal, the hip-hop magazine wars were a real thing. Wilson joined XXL with a goal of outselling The Source at the newsstands within a year. It took him until 2003, and by 2005, Wilson was aiming to cement XXL’s reputation as the go-to music publication.

Jay-Z agreed to appear on the cover of the August 2005 issue and even suggested to Wilson his vision of a cover concept. Jay-Z wanted to do a presidential cover to reflect his new role at Def Jam. The photo shoot took place at New York City’s Chelsea Piers inside a mock Oval Office, and while all this was going on, team XXL included a teaser for the Jay-Z cover in the July 2005 issue: The last page in the magazine featured a Roc-A-Fella chain displayed prominently. The tagline was The Chain Remains — Wilson drew inspiration from Naughty By Nature’s 1995 “Chain Remains,” from Poverty’s Paradise.

When Wilson listened to Jay-Z’s guest verse on West’s “Diamonds From Sierra Leone Remix” there’s the line: The chain remains, the gang’s intact … but the XXL presidential cover actually reflected a more popular line from “Diamonds”: I’m not a businessman. I’m a business, man. Jay-Z, West and James were in very businesslike black suits, and Foxy Brown was in a sleek black dress. Because of Jay-Z’s ownership stake with the Brooklyn Nets, an early version of the cover included Vince Carter and Jason Kidd — instead of James. “I was thankful Vince and Jason didn’t make the [final] cut,” said Wilson. “I knew LeBron … would be a big deal.” It would be a few more years until Barack Obama became the 44th president of the United States, but Jay-Z was making himself an unofficial black president on the cover of a magazine.

In the one-on-one interview with XXL features editor David Bry, Jay-Z addressed his split with Dash, saying, “I’m not in the business to talk about guys I did business with — I want you to print all this — been real tight with, for over 10 years. But since there’s so much out there, so much has been said, I will say this one thing: I’ma just ask people in the world to put themselves in my shoes. However the situation happened, whether we outgrew the situation or what have you, it was time for me to seek a new deal in the situation.” Shawn Carter was speaking to Bry. The beloved Bry, an author and hip-hop scholar, recently died of brain cancer.

Jay-Z stepped away from his role as president and CEO of Def Jam in 2007. During his tenure, artists such as Young Jeezy and Rick Ross had huge successes. West, Rihanna and Ne-Yo became global stars. At the same time, projects involving Ghostface Killah, Method Man, Beanie Sigel, Memphis Bleek and the Young Gunz sputtered. Artists such as LL Cool J spoke out in frustration. Jay-Z also came out of “retirement” and released Kingdom Come in 2006, to mixed reviews. Questions were raised about whether Carter was focused as a music executive, and whether there were creative conflicts of interest.

Music journalist Amy Linden profiled Memphis Bleek for that presidential issue. “Sometimes I wonder whether having an artist as the head of the label is a good thing or bad thing,” said Linden. “On one hand … artists recognize art in other people. On the other, you can wonder [whether] an artist is going to worry about someone competing with him.”

Wilson has fond memories of the presidential cover, in particular an inside shot: Jay-Z and West re-created an iconic Robert Kennedy-John F. Kennedy shot. “I did a lot of great covers,” Wilson said. “Unfortunately, this cover doesn’t always get mentioned. It definitely deserves its rightful place. … It marked the beginning of Jay-Z moving on to the next stage of his life.”

More than a decade later, the impact of the split between Jay-Z and Dash still resonates. Then-senior editor Anslem Samuel Rocque, now managing director at Complex, who profiled Freeway in the issue, believes the breakup was inevitable. “I don’t think Jay would be where he is now if he continued to be a big fish in a small pond,” Rocque said. “He couldn’t keep rolling with [the] same folks. I don’t want to diminish anyone … but they were holding him back. In retrospect, it was what he had to do.”

As for Wilson, who went on to become co-founder of the popular hip-hop site and podcast Rap Radar and now works as an editorial director of culture and content for Tidal, there is one regret about the presidential cover. “No disrespect to Foxy, but as good as a career as she’s had, she’s not the cultural icon that Jay-Z, Kanye and LeBron are,” Wilson said. “When I look back … I’m like, holy s—, I had Jay-Z, Kanye and LeBron. If I had Rihanna, it would have been one of the greatest magazine covers of all time.”

In Memphis, the changing legacies of Elvis and Martin Luther King Jr. The city loved the singer but struggled for years to honor the man who was killed at the Lorraine Motel

I didn’t know the two white men. And if they knew of me, it was only because I was the newest black reporter at the morning newspaper in Memphis, Tennessee, the city where Elvis Presley grew up and Martin Luther King Jr. died.

“Well,” one of the men said as I entered the men’s room, “if they are going to have a national holiday for him [Martin Luther King Jr.], they should have one for Elvis too.” The men looked stricken when I entered the room, as if hearing their conversation would cause me to judge them, the newspaper, the South …

I looked away.

I didn’t want to seem to judge or scorn them with my eyes. Besides, even as a struggling young reporter, I’d learned to look for meaning in people’s speech that went beyond the words they spoke. And in the man’s tone, I’d heard a reverence for the supposed “King of Rock ‘n’ Roll” and not disdain for the slain civil rights leader who’d been assassinated in Memphis in 1968.

For many outside of Memphis, Elvis was the ultimate appropriator of black culture: a continuation of the white King of Jazz (Paul Whiteman) and the white King of Swing (Benny Goodman), a forerunner of the supposed white kings of rap (Eminem and Vanilla Ice), pretenders whose claims to their respective thrones melted into pools of absurdity.

But during his rise to stardom in the 1950s, Elvis had been a majestic talent: an electrifying singer and performer. In his 1960s movies, which were usually formulaic showcases for his talents, Elvis exemplified a boy’s idea of a cool man. He drove fast cars, he chased pretty women and he knocked bad guys out with deft blows. And he was beautiful, just as Sam Cooke and Ray Charles were. Like them, Elvis’ voice and life straddled Saturday night and Sunday morning, the secular and divine.

More important to many in Memphis, Elvis, a native of Mississippi, was a Southern man who’d come home again and stayed there. His generosity among the locals was legendary. People proudly wore the jewelry he’d given them. They drove the Cadillacs he’d given them too.

On Sundays, Memphis radio stations played Elvis’ gospel music, for which he won his only three Grammys. He’d died in 1977. He was just 42, and in the early 1980s in Memphis, many were still trying to come to grips with his death.

Meanwhile, in the early 1980s, Memphis had come to grips with Martin’s death in one place in a disdainful way: at the Lorraine Motel, where the civil rights leader had stayed before his assassination. Martin’s room was marked by a few pastel ribbons and little else. I continue to be haunted by the mournful breeze I saw stirring the fraying ribbons.

I’d gone to the sagging motel to interview Margaret Walker, who regaled me with stories about the racism and the sexism she’d had to overcome to produce poems such as For My People.

Walker was staying in a room just a few doors down from where Martin had stayed in the hours before an assassin’s bullet claimed his life on April 4, 1968. When I walked by Martin’s last room, I saw a black woman sitting on the bed in another motel room a few feet away. A white man was putting on his suit or taking it off. This was in the middle of the day.

A lot has changed since then. Since 1991, the former Lorraine Motel is a part of the National Civil Rights Museum. In the early 1980s, Memphis largely neglected Beale Street and its blues heritage. Today, Memphis and a revitalized Beale Street celebrate the blues.

Furthermore, Memphis has had black mayors. Birmingham and Selma, Alabama, have too, circumstances that would not have been possible without the crusade that Martin led.

Indeed, the powerhouse football programs at Alabama and Georgia, which will be on display in the national championship game Monday night in Atlanta, wouldn’t be possible without the modern civil rights movement either. So many of the teams’ key players are black. Neither football program was integrated before 1971.

Today, people all around the world will mark what would have been Elvis’ 83rd birthday. They will sing his greatest hits. They will watch his movies. And those who knew him will tell stories about what made the man special.

Next Monday, Martin will be remembered too. He led a movement for equality, justice and peace that didn’t start with him and won’t end with us. In the darkest hour, Martin said, light a candle. When what he called the mountain of despair loomed highest, he said, pluck a stone of hope from that mountain.

In 1983, President Ronald Reagan signed a measure making the third Monday in the year a federal holiday. The holiday began to be observed three years later. And this year, the national King observance falls on what would have been Martin’s 89th birthday.

In some ways, the ritualized ways we remember Martin, including the replays of his most famous speeches and sermons, his greatest hits, have become a kind of forgetting, not of Martin but of our shared responsibility to help make America a better country and the world a better place.

So it won’t be what any one of us does next Monday, but it will be what we can come together to do next Tuesday and beyond that will honor Martin. During his life, he was an American and world leader. He challenged his country to live up to its highest ideals.

And his words, deeds and example challenge each of us, now and always, to find ways to further that noble cause.

Nike unveils City Edition uniforms for 26 NBA teams The question is, which team has the swaggiest look?

All four editions of Nike’s NBA uniforms have officially dropped. First came the home and away uniforms, which the company, in its first year as the league’s official apparel provider, dubbed the Association and Icon editions. Then came the Statement uniforms, designed with the bravado and swag required for big games and rivalry matchups. On Wednesday, for 26 of the NBA’s 30 teams, Nike released its City Edition uniforms, geared toward honoring “the fans — those who, 41 times a year, take pilgrimage at their local arena, and whose passions help define each respective team’s identity,” according to a press release. “The Nike NBA City Edition uniforms represent insights and emotion from the court to the upper deck to the cities’ streets, in pursuit of a unique way to capture each team and its city in a way that respects the past and present of the clubs while also positioning them for the future.” The Houston Rockets, Miami Heat, New York Knicks and Toronto Raptors will unveil their City Edition uniforms for the 2017-18 season at a later date, according to Nike.

Designs range from paying homage to the 50-year anniversary of the sanitation workers’ strike in Memphis, Tennessee, to the incorporation of snakeskin and camo prints and the use of the iconic “PHILA” script to mimic the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

Which team has the best look? That’s for you, the fans within each respective city, to decide (people are voting for what’s hot and what’s not at The Undefeated’s Instagram stories). Here are the 26 uniforms:


Atlanta Hawks

Boston Celtics

Brooklyn Nets

Charlotte Hornets

Chicago Bulls

Cleveland Cavaliers

Dallas Mavericks

Denver Nuggets

Detroit Pistons

golden state warriors

 

Indiana Pacers

Los Angeles Clippers

Los Angeles Lakers

Memphis Grizzlies

Milwaukee Bucks

Minnesota Timberwolves

New Orleans Pelicans

 

Oklahoma City Thunder

Orlando Magic

Philadelphia 76ers

Phoenix Suns

Portland Trail blazers

Sacramento Kings

San Antonio Spurs

Utah Jazz

Washington Wizards

Memphis Grizzlies honor civil rights movement and Martin Luther King Jr. with new Nike uniform Front-office execs discuss the ‘I Am a Man’-inspired look in our exclusive interview

The NBA’s most meaningful uniform of the season honors the civil rights movement, an iconic slogan, and one of the era’s most fearless, Martin Luther King Jr.

On Friday, the Memphis Grizzlies announce the release of its MLK50 City Edition uniform. The new look marks the fourth and final installment of the series of uniforms presented to all 30 NBA teams by Nike in the company’s first season as the league’s official apparel provider. Nike’s Association and Icon uniforms follow the traditional home and away concept. The Statement uniforms (for example, Golden State’s “The Town” jerseys) are geared to styling big games and rivalries, while the City uniforms, which have yet to be fully released across the league, draw inspiration from each team’s community.

Memphis, Tennessee’s, version of the City uniform honors the 50 years that have passed since the Memphis sanitation workers’ strike for racial, social and economic justice. The movement was sparked by the deaths of two workers, Echol Cole and Robert Walker, who were killed by a malfunctioning garbage truck on Feb. 1, 1968. The strike brought King to Memphis, where he was assassinated on the balcony outside of his room at the Lorraine Hotel, the very day after delivering his now timeless “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech.

The stark and subtly designed black-and-white uniform, with an underlined wordmark, draws inspiration from the “I Am a Man” slogan, which served as a powerful rallying cry in bold lettering on protest signs wielded during strike marches. The Grizzlies will debut the jerseys on the court in a nationally televised home Martin Luther King Jr. Day matchup against the Los Angeles Lakers, set for Jan. 15, 2018. The team is also scheduled to wear them on April 4, 2018, in support of the National Civil Rights Museum’s (located at the Lorraine Motel) remembrance of the 50th anniversary of assassination of King.

The Undefeated spoke with Grizzlies president of business operations Jason Wexler, as well as John Pugliese, the team’s vice president of brand, content marketing, broadcast and communications, about the process of bringing the tribute to life.


How did the idea come about — to honor the 1968 sanitation workers’ strike?

Wexler: As there’s been greater flexibility in uniform design over the years. And, locally as we approach the 50-year anniversary of MLK’s death, we felt that maybe there was an opportunity in the lead-up to express the history of how we got here. The difficult thing was the uniform design would have to be 100 percent spot-on to be completely respectful, and completely understanding of the magnitude of the history we’re trying to bring awareness to. We were committed going into it, that if the design wasn’t spot-on, respectful and understanding, we weren’t going to do it unless we could get the design perfect. We really commend the designers at Nike for coming through.

When did the Nike design process begin, and how hands-on was the Grizzlies organization?

Wexler: We understand the importance of MLK Day, and the anniversary of his death being [at its] the 50th year in Memphis. So we really gave Nike a lot of background with regard to what we’ve done with the museum. We shared with them what our intentions were from the organization for this year, and the things we want to recognize. They were able to look at that, combined with their take on the history of Memphis. It was really a great partnership in terms of design, and part of that is fueled by the fact that Memphis is the second-biggest Nike city in the country. Their North American Logistics Center is here, so their design was really motivated both by the history, and Nike’s physical presence, and civic presence, in our community.

 

The Grizzlies will debut the jerseys in a nationally televised home Martin Luther King Jr. Day matchup against the Los Angeles Lakers on Jan. 15, 2018.

Why the ‘I Am a Man’ sign?

Wexler: When you look back to the history of what led to April 4, 1968, it came from the sanitation workers’ strike, and those signs are the most iconic image of the strike. And the church, Clayborn Temple, where the strikers organized, and marched from is literally across the street from FedEx Forum. The Civil Rights Museum is four blocks away. We’re in their backyard. So when we were looking for design inspiration and we look back to that moment in time, that’s the most iconic image.

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One thing that really struck me about it, too, is last year when the team was doing a tour of the National Civil Rights Museum, Elliot Perry, one of our owners, who does radio commentary, and player support with respect to player initiatives in the community … he was leading this tour and he points to a person in the photo, and goes, ‘This is my grandfather.’ So this is somebody we know, and work with every day. In this city, this is a very much so alive connection. It’s history but it’s not ancient history. It’s history that’s very present among us daily with the people who are in … Memphis. We’re not looking back so far — we’re looking within ourselves to try and find the right inspiration.

Was the plan always to keep the uniform simple, like the ‘I Am a Man’ sign?

Wexler: Once you decide on the sign as the design influence, it’s so powerful in and of itself, and the starkness of it is so powerful. You look at all the photos of the era, and they’re all pretty much black-and-white photos. You see all these incredibly dignified people leading marches dressed in their dark suits and ties, and it’s inherently a somber moment and event. To sit there and try to dress that up or add flair or pizzazz to it would just do a disservice. If we could not get the tone and aesthetic exactly right on this, we weren’t going to do it. And I think part of the tone and aesthetic was appreciating the inherent seriousness of the subject matter and being respectful of that.

“The uniform design would have to be 100 percent spot-on to be completely respectful, and completely understanding of the magnitude of the history we’re trying to bring awareness to.”

What’s the significance of the use of blue on the mostly black and white uniform?

Pugliese: We utilized Beale Street Blue accents on the both logos in the waistline and the collar on the back. The reason why we wanted to use Beale Street Blue was to highlight location. Our address is 191 Beale St., and Clayborn Temple, where all the protest started, is adjacent to us, right next door, we’re in their backyard. And Beale Street is also the site of the new I Am a Man Plaza opening in April 2018.

Do you remember seeing the final design of the uniform for the first time? What was going through your mind?

Wexler: You go through a fair number of uniform iterations in the course of design, but when we pulled up the screenshot of the jersey, with Memphis in that same block font that everyone here knows and that single underline, you look at it and go, ‘This … captures what we’re trying to do in bringing recognition and awareness to the history here.’ It draws a direct … respectful and purposeful correlation … it was just clear that it worked. Once we landed on that design, the amount of refinement was nominal. The designers really got it.

Pugliese: It’s respectful and powerful together. And it was really the starkness of the wordmark, and how it was treated. When we saw it, we were all taken aback, and knew we had something special.

How did the Grizzlies players react to the design of City Edition uniform?

Pugliese: A few players have seen it, and they got it right away … especially the ones who have been here for a while. They’ve been part of this community, seen the work that we’ve done in partnership with the museum … they immediately got it and loved it … Mike Conley, first and foremost, who’s been here for his entire career, saw it and understood it.

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Wexler: Mike’s understanding of MLK Day … we put on an entire weekend of events, discussions and conversations in and around the game, and Mike has always been a part of that. He knows that imagery as being so immediately recognizable.

“It’s history but it’s not ancient history. It’s history that’s very present among us daily with the people … in Memphis.”

How often will the Grizzlies be wearing this uniform?

Pugliese: There are two key dates. We will debut it on Martin Luther King Day and end on the anniversary of his assassination. But we’ll wear it a few other dates, also. We want to tell the story throughout that entire date range.

How important is this uniform — with regard to the legacy of MLK, and the civil rights movement — in the city of Memphis?

Wexler: Emerging out of the remembrance of Dr. King, we are trying to bring awareness and attention … As the Grizzlies, what we can do is use our megaphone and our platform to make sure that everybody locally, nationally and globally understands what the history is, and bring attention to the National Civil Rights Museum, which has done a remarkable job of documenting that history.

And [it’s about] what we refer to as a ‘call to reflection’: ‘Where do we go from here?’ The ‘I Am a Man’ slogan is bigger than just a uniform, hence why it was inspiration and not a literal translation onto the uniform. We’re not trying to be the interpreters of what that slogan means to the city, we’re just trying to bring awareness and reflection, and let other people make those decisions.

WATCH: City of Memphis gets rid of two Confederate statues Monuments to Klansman Nathan Bedford Forrest and Confederate President Jefferson Davis come down after campaign

Two Confederate statues were removed from former public parks in the city of Memphis, Tennessee, after the properties were sold to the nonprofit agency Memphis Greenspace. It all went down Wednesday at 9:01 p.m. in the city, which coincidentally has the area code 901.

The decision to proceed with the removal came to fruition Wednesday after the city council voted to sell the parks where the statues were located.

During the summer, educator and city activist Tami Sawyer started the #TakeEmDown901 campaign, which was followed by protests that ended in arrests and sparked the initiative that prompted the removals. The campaign even got support of athletes and coaches including the then-Memphis Grizzlies head coach David Fizdale.

According to The New Tri-State Defender, the parks were sold for $1,000 each, which legally gave the agency authority to remove the statues.

Confederate general Nathan Bedford Forrest, a slave trader, was the first grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. Jefferson Davis was president of the Confederate States of America from 1861 to 1865 and lived in Memphis.

Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland posted a statement on Facebook that it was important to see the statues removed ahead of the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s death in 2018.

“The statues no longer represent who we are as a modern, diverse city with momentum,” he wrote.