‘Orange is the New Black’ star Dascha Polanco talks Michael Jordan and her journey as a single mom ‘We all have our own hardships that act as a piece of motivation for us to push forward’

The 35-year-old Orange is the New Black (OITNB) star Dascha Polanco grew up in Brooklyn, New York, and was an athlete in high school. But she hit the basketball court last week in the NBA All-Star Celebrity Game playing alongside teammates Jamie Foxx, Common, Quavo of Migos and WNBA player Stefanie Dolson.

“I love that there are two women, Katie [Nolan] and Rachel [Nichols], coaching the [NBA All-Star] Celebrity Game,” said the actress who was on Team Clippers, the winning team. “I was very competitive when I used to play softball in school, so I was excited when the opportunity to play [in the Celebrity Game] came up.”

Polanco is best known for her role as Dayanara “Daya” Diaz in the hit Emmy- and Screen Actors Guild Award-winning Netflix show OITNB. Her first taste of Hollywood was in the independent film, Gimme Shelter, starring opposite Vanessa Hudgens and Rosario Dawson. Her big- and small-screen credits include Joy, The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story, The Perfect Match and The Cobbler to name a few.

Born in the Dominican Republic, she emigrated to Brooklyn as a young girl with her parents and became a citizen in late 2013. Borrowing the words of Alicia Keys’ Empire State of Mind, “Ima make it by any means, I got a pocketful of dreams,” Polanco didn’t sit on her dreams just because she was a young single mom living with the help of government assistance. She didn’t let the stereotypes of a label define what she could or couldn’t do. She went back to school to become a nurse at New York City’s Hunter College, where she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in psychology. Then she began working as a hospital administrator at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx.

While studying nursing, Polanco signed up for acting classes at BIH Studios, where she eventually got signed to a talent agency and later landed OITNB in 2012, which changed her world forever.

The fierce and bold mother of two spoke with The Undefeated about why Michael Jordan is the greatest of all time despite her New York team allegiances, how she defies labels and uses fear to tap into an even stronger hustle, what it means to be an Afro-Latina in America and how overcoming insecurities is an everyday job.


Growing up in Brooklyn, are you a die-hard Knicks fan or have you become a Nets fan since they’ve become the Brooklyn Nets (previously the New Jersey Nets)?

I root for all New York teams. I grew up a Knicks fan and have so many memories watching the games with my family. As long as the Nets are the Brooklyn Nets, I’ll cheer for them too.

Who is the GOAT athlete?

Michael Jordan, hands down. And yes, I know I’m a Knicks fan, but MJ all the way. When I worked in the healthcare field, I had Jordan quotes all over my office. He is the epitome of dedication, perseverance and beating the odds. In my son’s room, I even have the poster of MJ with his arms stretched out.

What is your favorite Michael Jordan quote?

“Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence wins championships.” You can relate that quote to any situation in life. When I used to work in the operating room, it took a team of surgeons and nurses to get the job done, [and now as an actress, it takes so many people with different roles to make everything come together].

Where did your motivation come from as a young single mom going back to school to become a nurse, and then later taking acting classes while still working in the health care field?

We all have our own hardships that act as a piece of motivation for us to push forward. I remember living in a shelter and using food stamps and getting treated like a piece of crap every time I went into the city for welfare. That treatment made me feel ashamed and embarrassed, but it also encouraged me to want to have my own and be independent. I could have chosen to do nothing [and accept the stereotypes associated with the labels that were given to me], but I chose to go back to school. No label can define me. I’m Dascha and I am a force.

What’s something you didn’t think you’d have to adjust to as a celebrity?

I never was able to buy things because I wanted to; it was always because I had to. Now I have the choice and can treat myself, but I even struggle with that because I’ve become conditioned to be fearful of losing [what I work for]. But I’ve gotten to the place where I’ve learned to embrace what I deserve.

When you were working at the hospital, why didn’t you tell anyone that you were also filming Orange Is The New Black?

Where I come from, we don’t say the things that we’re working on. [Sometimes] people don’t want to see you grow. When I’m working, I don’t speak about it. I just let it show for itself. All of my life, I’ve gotten negative feedback when I’ve said I wanted to be a singer, actress or a dancer. I’d hear, “Ahh, girl, that’s so hard … I don’t think you’re going to make it doing that.” So I don’t give them the opportunity to put that negative energy into the universe. I don’t have to tell everyone my goals, because at the end of the day, everyone wants to succeed but no one wants to see anyone else succeed. I stay quiet and keep my goals in my control and my protection.

How have you overcome insecurities?

It’s a process that you ideally try to overcome, but you’re always working on it. There are days that I feel ugly and fat, and I have to tell myself to cut it the hell out. I started acknowledging what I’m feeling and exploring why I’m feeling that way. I look back at my experiences growing up and it’s rooted from not feeling like I’m enough. [And in the present day] maybe it’s that I’m around a group of sophisticated people and I feel I don’t talk as proper as them or I’m at a table with models and I’m the only one eating bread. Those insecurities come about when I’m so focused on everything else and I’m not taking the time to be aware of myself. So now I stop, meditate, stop again and go.

Where does your courage come from?

It might be genetic because my mom [who died at 46 years old] was one courageous woman emigrating [from the Dominican Republic], and just her tenacity in every situation. My mom and dad are my heroes and have taught me to take advantage of the now in life.

I recently booked a film that I never thought that I would get. [I can’t say what it is yet.] It’s a small role, but it’s with someone that I’ve always wanted to work with. I was so nervous that even my armpits were sweating. But I took a moment before I went on set and reminded myself, I am here because I deserve to be. You were brought to America by your parents to do whatever your heart wants to pursue, so take this moment to have the power and courage to take advantage of this moment. Fear is just one layer before your breakthrough. Give me a little bit of fear so I can beat it up and come out even stronger.

What does it mean to be an Afro-Latina in America?

There’s these labels and terms that we’ve created so people could understand their roots, what they identify with and where they come from. Even though I’m considered Latina, I’m really a Caribbean woman because I have African roots too. I love being a combination of pure melanin and having exaggerations in my body and movement.

But sometimes these labels are just a way of grouping individuals and putting people against each other — where it becomes about exclusivity instead of bringing people together. Growing up, the black community embraced me but not as much as I embraced them. It was always, “You’re not black, you’re Spanish,” but culturally I connected with them. It’s always been that constant battle but a lot of people feel that way. Even without racial differences, not everyone feels like they’re American too.

Tell me about your work with the D.R.E.A.M (Dominican Republic Education and Mentoring) Project?

I always wanted to do something for the youth in my home country, so I fell in love the D.R.E.A.M Project. The organization is kind of like a YMCA where the kids get education and job training. A lot of the kids are orphans and are growing up through hard times.

Together we’ve launched a theater arts program for these children. The talent that comes through these kids out of hardship is just amazing. The kids play instruments and are so good at so young. I knew we had to create a space to feed their talent so it could be used as a way to express themselves [and heal]. D.R.E.A.M Project has created a school [that they’ve named after me] and now these kids get to write their own script and tell their own story through performance.

Taye Diggs is working with us now too. I encourage people to take a trip to the Dominican Republic and share moments with these kids. It’s truly a remarkable experience.

Tristan Thompson: ‘Vince Carter was our Michael Jordan’ ‘The Carter Effect’ proves that without ‘Vinsanity’ there’s no Toronto basketball and no Drake

Many of us remember the high-flying, 6-foot-6 phenom who took the NBA by a storm that could only be known as “Vinsanity.” From his jaw-dropping dunks to his captivating energy, Vince Carter’s journey is one of epic proportions. And so much of it is captured in The Carter Effect.

The documentary, directed by Sean Menard and executive produced by LeBron James, catapults viewers back in time to explore how the eight-time NBA All-Star played a major role in solidifying the Toronto Raptors’ notoriety in the NBA and creating a basketball culture that put the city on the map.

Friday night, Uninterrupted teamed up with Beats by Dre for a screening of the film, followed by a panel discussion featuring Menard and executive producers Maverick Carter, Future The Prince and Tristan Thompson. Cleveland Cavaliers forward and Toronto native Thompson explained just how influential Carter was for both him and his city growing up.

“Vince was our Michael Jordan,” he said.

The film, which features Tracy McGrady, Thompson, Carter and Toronto native and rapper Drake (who is also one of the film’s executive producers), captures the intoxicating thrill Carter’s arrival brought to a hockey town whose basketball team was seen as a joke amid a league of popular teams in American cities.

Throughout the film, Carter discusses his arrival in Toronto, his legendary win in the 2000 slam dunk contest, his role in making the city a destination for athletes and celebrities and his heartbreaking departure. All of it is placed in the context of Toronto’s contributions to music, art and culture. The lesson: Carter is a large part of the reason that we take the city seriously today. Future The Prince truly drove that point home, telling the audience there might not be a Drake if Carter hadn’t come first.

“If you had told me 20 years ago that a half-white Jewish kid from Toronto who sings and raps would be as big as he is today,” he said. “I would say there’s no way.”

The Migos’ Quavo to rock custom LeBrons and Currys in the NBA Celebrity All-Star Game Sneaker artist Mache: ‘Quavo wanted one of each shoe, the LeBron and the Curry. That was the main thing.’

LOS ANGELES — One player in Friday night’s NBA All-Star Celebrity Game will be a little swaggier than everyone else. That drip will be brought to you by Migos’ Quavo, who will take the hardwood in custom Nike LeBron 15s and Under Armour Curry 4s, inspired by the hip-hop supergroup’s No. 1 album Culture II (which reached 1 billion streams in just 20 days) and designed by none other than go-to sneaker artist Dan “Mache” Gamache.

“Them the Culture Brons,” said Quavo in a video Mache posted to his Instagram on Thursday night. Each pair of shoes was presented to him at Finish Line’s All-Star kickoff party, at which the Migos graced the stage.”The Culture Brons and the Huncho Currys.” (A nod to his nickname, Huncho, and his joint album with Travis Scott, Huncho Jack.)

Mache previously worked with both Finish Line and Quavo last December, when he customized pairs of red, white and blue LeBron 15s, aka the “Huncho Berkmar Brons,” which the rapper presented to the basketball team at his alma mater, Berkmar High School in Georgia. A few months later, for 2018 All-Star Weekend, Finish Line commissioned Mache to paint 50 pairs of sneakers, 25 LeBrons and 25 Currys, for both the Migos and their hooping frontman. On Thursday, the NBA announced that Quavo had been added to the lineup of players (along with another addition, Justin Bieber) to star in the All-Star Celebrity Game, giving him a prime opportunity to break out the new heat on the court. (Don’t forget: Quavo can actually hoop.)

Instagram Photo

Before the game, The Undefeated caught up with the Connecticut-based Mache.


How were you approached about customizing Quavo’s All-Star kicks?

I’ve been working with Finish Line for a while, and my man Brandon Edler … they were already talking about All-Star Weekend … and we finally got the ball rolling. Quavo wanted one of each shoe, the LeBron and the Curry. That was … the main thing. We worked with a graphic designer to come up with ideas for the themes. Obviously, we wanted them to be about Culture II. … I literally overnighted all Migos’ pairs on Tuesday. I made 25 of each pair. I know Finish Line and Migos, they’re gonna do something, whether it’s giving it away to fans, family, friends or something.

What was the design process like?

I had to get all 50 pairs done in a week. That was a big reason why the theme was pretty clean and not too crazy, just because we had to replicate them in that quick of a turnaround. Yeah, we wanted to make them dope too, so pretty much what we did is we vectorized all the designs. I stenciled a lot of the stuff, in terms of the swooshes … and for the LeBrons, it was about speckling the midsoles. It’s a lot of prep, little tedious stuff. But the actual paint job wasn’t hard.

Q: Do you think Quavo will wear both the LeBrons and the Currys in the Celebrity Game? A: I think he’s planning on wearing one pair each half.

How did you approach incorporating the elements of the Culture II on the shoes?

It was too hard. It’s funny, because I actually did a pair of Culture-themed cleats for Julio Jones for last year’s Super Bowl. That was a lot more about detail because I was doing the real album art on the cleats and incorporating Julio. That was a challenge. This one was more about going by the design. It wasn’t too hard … more of a fun project. The quantity and the turnover was the biggest challenge, but I never say no.

Are the doves on the Currys stenciled?

Yeah, everything we did just for time. We plotted out stencils. They were one-offs for every single pair. There was a fresh stencil for every shoe that I did. So for all of the Currys, there were 50 sets of doves, 50 sets of ‘II’s,’ 50 sets of ‘Quavo’s.’ That was the best way.

Did you know Quavo would be playing in the Celebrity All-Star Game?

No. I think Quavo and Finish Line were hoping. I think they assumed he was going to play. Then when he finally did get added, it was good timing. I know he’s also doing the Adidas Celebrity Game, but obviously he’s not gonna wear LeBrons and Currys in the Adidas game. We knew that wasn’t gonna happen. So when he finally got added to the NBA game, it was like, ‘Oh, thank God!’ The shoes didn’t go to waste.

Instagram Photo

What was it like watching the video of Quavo’s reaction to seeing the shoes for the first time?

It’s always the best part. No matter how famous or popular the person is, you can’t fake if you’re happy or not. So to get the reaction, it’s always the most rewarding part for me still. If I have a chance to deliver a shoe myself, I do. But getting the video is just as good.

Do you think Quavo will wear both the LeBrons and the Currys in the Celebrity Game?

Oh, I’m most certain he will. I think he’s planning on wearing one pair each half.

What do you think Quavo represents in terms of fashion, swag and sneakers?

In terms of fashion, obviously a lot of brands are looking to entertainers as their icons now. It’s not so much like in the times when I grew up, when it was Bo Jackson or Michael Jordan pushing the units. It’s rappers like Kanye, Quavo, the Migos, 2 Chainz, Big Sean, Kendrick doing a lot with Nike, all those guys. It’s great for the culture and helps bridge the gap. It’s dope because it gives me an opportunity to work with more clients.

Have you met Quavo?

I haven’t yet, but I’m sure at some point I will, especially if we keep working together. I’m just glad he knows who I am. He gave me a shout-out this time.

At Jordan Brand’s NBA All-Star pop-up? A working Interscope recording studio The space opens Friday and is laser-focused on the new youth culture

LOS ANGELES — If you want to cop some kicks, or lay down a hot 16-bar verse, then the Jordan Brand pop-up, called Studio 23, is the place to be during NBA All-Star Weekend 2018. Located just outside of downtown L.A. in Little Tokyo, the two-level space houses the freshest new Jordan products, as well as a music studio experience co-created with Interscope Records.

“M.J. [Michael Jordan] transcended the game of basketball into culture, into art, into music. That’s what this space is really about,” said Sarah Mensah, general manager of Jordan Brand North America. “As we look to set the higher standard of greatness, it’s about that intersection between that culture of the game of basketball and the culture of, in this case, L.A.”

The pop-up opens to the public on Friday, but Jordan has a few requirements to get in. Folks who RSVP’d through the app commonly used for the brand’s events can only enter with a valid middle school, high school or college ID. So don’t expect anybody’s moms or pops to be navigating the venue. This weekend, Jordan is dedicated to catering to the youth and embracing a new generation of the brand’s athletes, apparel and consumers.

Don’t expect anybody’s moms or pops to be navigating the venue.

In the entryway of the space hangs the official black-and-white All-Star Game jerseys, which, for the first time in NBA history — and since Nike officially launched Jordan Brand in 1997 — feature the Jumpman logo. The next room is home to a retail space, where creative customization is not only welcome but encouraged. On-site tailors and local artists are around to help tinker with the apparel: bomber jackets, hoodies, fanny packs and more.

It’s also hard to miss the “Recording In Session” sign that leads upstairs, where you’re greeted by the Jumpman logo next to the iconic Interscope “i” on the wall of an area that appears to be taken straight from the record label’s headquarters. Multiplatinum plaques, from Dr. Dre’s The Chronic to the Eminem’s The Marshall Mathers LP, are mounted around two studios, where real live producers are there, and ready, to work on tracks for anyone bold enough to enter with a pad and pen.

Oh, and don’t forget about the sneakers. Jordan’s latest releases are on display and available for purchase, including Drake’s Air Jordan 8 OVOs (in two colorways, black and white), as well as both the “Black Cement” and “Free Throw Line” Air Jordan 3s.

“It was 30 years ago that MJ did that iconic dunk from the free-throw line. There’s that group of folks that understand what the ‘Free Throw Line 3’ is all about. But this space is not just about that,” Mensah said. “This space is about the current Jordan athletes we have. Folks like Russell Westbrook, the reigning MVP, Kemba Walker, LaMarcus Aldridge, Jimmy Butler. That’s the future generation, and it’s really on us to look to those guys to really lead the future and see the new standard for greatness.”

A first look at the film poster for Kyrie Irving’s ‘Uncle Drew’ Director Charles Stone III says the Celtics guard and first-time actor is a renaissance man

On the court, Kyrie Irving has handles. And on the soundstage, he’s not too shabby either. Uncle Drew, the extension of a hilarious viral Pepsi ad campaign, is in theaters this summer. But in the interim? Irving’s director, Charles Stone III, says he’s as much a beast on film as he is when finishing at the rim.

Kyrie Irving with Charles Stone on set of Uncle Drew.

Quantrell Colbert/Lionsgate

“Kyrie does very, very well,” said Stone, who also directed 2002’s Drumline. “He’s one of these cats who is turning out, in my eyes, to be a renaissance man. He also sings. He’s got a lot of different talents. Kyrie definitely presents an understanding of who the Uncle Drew character is. Outside of not being classically trained, and having certain skills that actors typically have, he had a real innate sense, a built-in countenance of this character. People are going to be really surprised — especially opposite of a Lil Rel. They made quite the odd couple!”

LilRel Howery as “Dax” in UNCLE DREW.

Quantrell Colbert/Lionsgate

The film is a triple threat, Stone said, because it’s a story about underdogs, a heartfelt coming-of-age story and a comedy. Lionsgate, the studio producing the film, provided The Undefeated with an exclusive first look at the film’s first poster. The poster itself, the director added, is a signal for greater things to come.

Quantrell Colbert/Lionsgate

“To me, this is interesting because it’s a play on the Michael Jordan logo of him slam-dunking. Here you have this old guy who is kind of doing the same thing. It’s a subtle nod to a great superhero of basketball history,” Stone said. “Uncle Drew, in many ways, is a superhero. He’s got superpowers in the sense that he can play at the level of a 20-year-old. It’s a real subtle hint at what’s to come.”

Cam Newton confounds both his fans and his haters — but he’s not so different from the rest of us Award-winning essayist and poet Claudia Rankine explores the Panthers quarterback his brilliance, sullenness, fragility and resilience

Cam Newton is an incredibly talented human being who has a job white Americans see as a white man’s job, and apparently this is vexing to America. Cam Newton is sometimes reduced to his athleticism, as in “an athletic quarterback,” aka black, which is predictably comforting to America. Cam Newton wears a Superman T-shirt under his jersey, which is a wink to America. Cam Newton likes flashy clothes like NFL legend Joe Namath, which is scandalous to America. Cam Newton is arrogant, and that is outrageous and an oxymoron to America. Cam Newton has a shoe contract with Under Armour, whose CEO, Kevin Plank, once supported racist Donald Trump, and this is commonplace in America. Cam Newton has a son named Chosen and a daughter named Sovereign-Dior, which seems like freedom to America. Cam Newton is a typical male human holding misogynistic beliefs who says sexist things like “It’s funny to hear a female talk about routes,” and this reveals something about him but not something about America? Cam Newton believes winning is everything, and that is reassuring to America. Cam Newton celebrates winning by dancing on the field, and that is distasteful to America. But mostly, Cam Newton is a young man growing up in the American public while being extraordinary and ordinary and disappointing and magnificent and resilient all at once. Cam Newton is no Colin Kaepernick, which means he still has a job, America.


The genius of Cam Newton’s father was not to shut down his son’s need for expression and attention but to compartmentalize it. When Cam wanted to be noticed, his father told him to dress up on Fridays. The message communicated was to play the game so you can do what you want one day a week. After his rise to quarterback fame for the Carolina Panthers, people took offense to his celebratory dances; Newton was advised to instead give the ball to a child when he was done. The implication was that he should play on American sentimentality around childhood innocence and all would be fine. Share the moment with the children and you will be able to have your moment, because the win, Cam Newton, was never about you. You are a means to an end that does not include you. Newton incorporated the advice into his celebratory routine.

And yet the one place Newton appears to be the least edited is in his body. Among his gifts is the ability to inhabit his emotions fully. Whether walking out of a news conference to sulk privately after a major loss or when celebrating exuberantly, Cam Newton is simply being himself. And that self is not defined by the scripts that are created in a country governed by anti-black racism: He is not a criminal, though he did steal a laptop in college; nor is he overtly political, though he did once raise his fist in the symbol of black power; nor is he an Uncle Tom, though he does understand how easily he could lose what he has earned, and he recently went on the record defending Panthers owner Jerry Richardson after racism and sexual assault allegations: “When you hear a report about Mr. Richardson, a person that we all, as an organization, have so much respect for and the people who did come out saying certain things about racial slurs, sexual assault … it’s still allegations.”

We Americans have difficulty facing our realities, and when confronted with someone who understands the precariousness of his status due to his identity as a black man, Americans interpret their difficulty with him to be solely his failure. Newton’s latest failure is his continued support of Richardson, which makes me wonder whether he understands that his talent is separate from Richardson.

Newton belongs to a league in which one owner, Houston’s Robert McNair, said, “We can’t have the inmates running the prison.” If Newton understands he is being objectified, he has his own agenda within that understanding. Like Michael Jordan, Newton is a company man. He has come to work and to be paid. But Newton’s stance is messier and more flamboyant than Jordan’s. I can’t remember Jordan making untoward statements or dressing that differently from those we might encounter in corporate America.

Though Newton doesn’t overtly protest against company rules, he also refuses to conform entirely to the unspoken rules for the black professional in his dress and occasionally in his actions. In the run of protests that began with Kaepernick taking the knee and then grew into an NFL-wide confusion over whether the protests were against Trump, white supremacy, police violence against blacks, or the owners’ racist statements, Newton raised a fist in honor of black pride but in protest of nothing apparently. He told reporters: “I did it to show black pride because I am an African-American. But more or less, I want all people just to see when I play, I want them to see the joy that I go out there and play with.”

Cam Newton is a human being, and apparently this is troubling to America.

If the silent and beloved GOAT, Jordan, is on one end of the protest spectrum and the outspoken and beloved LeBron James, Serena Williams and Kaepernick are on the other end, then Newton lives between these legends with an eye on his owners: “For the two hours, three hours, whatever a time that a sporting event is on or your team is playing … people from different shapes, colors, creeds, ethnicities and cultures come together. At that moment, they’re rooting for the same thing. I feel as if we all stick together, if we all come together and listen, hear, speak, we can better help the situation,” Newton once said. “We get nowhere divided.” Despite all that has transpired in the U.S. since President Obama’s statement “There are no red states or blue states, just the United States,” Newton still lives by Obama’s edict.

In fact, all of us who are not on the streets protesting but doing our jobs and collecting our pay and health insurance and retirement are in Newton’s lane. The political and corporate structures that govern our lives know how to punish protesters, with “free agent” status, but this other way of being, this pragmatic if flamboyant way of being, where one tries not to bite the hand that feeds, this lane that Newton exemplifies, confounds owners, players and fans alike—even as we remain complicit with his positioning. Most of us sit behind our desks, doing what we do, trying to get paid, while all manner of shit goes down around us. Every single day, with troubling tweets coming out of the Oval Office, should be the day we as Americans risk something for the greater good of our democracy, but the traffic of our lives continues uninterrupted by those taking to the streets in protest of this administration. We didn’t sign up to be activists. And neither did some of the athletes who get paid millions to entertain us.

It is difficult to fault Newton for wanting to hold on to who he is, which includes what he has. Newton’s swagger suggests an independence and freedom we see unleashed on the field, but only on the field. All his millions come at the expense of not pointing out the racism and misogyny that exist inside the culture of his sport and the structure of our country. That’s the price of the ticket. Cam Newton can be Cam Newton as long as he throws touchdowns and keeps winning.

Last year’s encounter with sports writer Jourdan Rodrigue made all the headlines. Newton seemed genuinely surprised that Rodrigue came to a news conference prepared with the correct football terminology: “It’s funny to hear a female talk about routes. Like, it’s funny.” His sexism was apparent. It lives alongside Rodrigue’s own blatant racism (see the reports about her Twitter account). In listening to Newton’s subsequent apology, the part that stands out is the one that points to the lesson he has learned:

“The fact that during this whole process I’ve already lost sponsors and countless fans,” Newton said, “I realize that the joke is really on me.” If we imagine that the security of black stars’ economic status means they can risk disrupting or displeasing the American public, think again. Though he ends his apology with the statement “Don’t be like me. Be better than me,” which is in direct conversation with Jordan’s Gatorade ad “Be Like Mike,” Cam Newton is basically just like us, America.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From Chicago to the Congo, Nate Fluellen is sharing his experiences in the Urban Movie Channel’s new travel series The travel vlogger and HBCU grad is living his wildest dreams

When Nathan Fluellen’s international economics professor at Tennessee State University (TSU) challenged him to travel to more places than him, he accepted. Professor Galen Hull had visited more than 80 places around the country, and that concept intrigued Fluellen.

The ideology was not new to him. He grew up in a household where his mother embarked upon mission trips abroad, and his cousins spent time working and living overseas.

“She had been in Brazil four or five times, South Africa, Italy and Egypt,” Fluellen said.

So he set out to travel the world, documenting his experiences and branding himself as World Wide Nate.

Now he has landed a 13-episode reality travel show on the Urban Movie Channel (UMC). In World Wide Nate: African Adventures, a crew follows the Chicago native as he hikes the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s mountains, cruises the world’s largest lava lake, rappels alongside a 600-foot-tall waterfall in Lesotho and treks through the Rwandan jungle alongside silverback gorillas and more.

“Me, a kid from the South Side of Chicago, was walking in the footsteps of my ancestors seeing the same majestic mountain ridges. I was speechless,” Fluellen says in the first episode, with more new shows to return in the spring.

Fluellen’s exploits include food, culture and fun, and he offers viewers the opportunity to experience Africa through his charm and adventures.

According to his website, in March 2016 he became one of the first sponsored U.S. tourists to visit Cuba in more than 50 years. His adventures have been sponsored by Chase Bank, Marriott, Time, Fortune, Travel + Leisure, Ford and Lincoln Motors, Essence.com, Ebony.com, Mensfitness.com, AOL.com and the South African Tourism Board. He is a three-time winner of LAWebfest’s most outstanding series and series host.

After graduating from historically black TSU in 2004 with a degree in economics, Fluellen decided to take his first trip, recalling the challenge from his professor. He set his sights on Barcelona, Spain.

“It’s the city that’s romanticized about, and just being a Michael Jordan fan growing up, and the Barcelona Olympics, it was exciting,” he said. “I’m an adventurous person. I’ve always been an explorer. Prior to me going, I had started taking Spanish classes at the Tennessee Foreign Language Institute. I met new people from all over the world, and other professional athletes. I’m meeting them and they’re just happy to see another black person. It was an eye-opening experience. I felt like I was finally living my dream of being an international man of leisure.”

Fluellen’s vision initially was to write a book capturing his travel experiences. He thought he would create a book that would include the push of a button to play a video — but then came the iPad, he explained.

So the 36-year-old opted for an online blog experience and started chronicling his journey on MySpace when the social media forum was most popular.

“I would just write, ‘Day One, this is what I did, from sunrise to sunset,’ and people would just read it and be like, ‘Oh, that was tight. That was dope.’ So I had bought a better camera, a digital camera, then I bought a camcorder, then bought a better camcorder, and I started recording my videos and taught myself how to edit on Final Cut Express.”

A friend from college who had a knack for editing videos reached out to Fluellen, and they founded his webisodes. Fluellen’s cousin introduced him to the digital director at Ebony, who hired him as a travel editor on a gig that took him to the Bahamas to cover the 2006 Miss Universe pageant. This is when his journey took off in the paid space.

“It was superfun, and that’s when I met other travel people and learned about press trips,” he said. “I was just really learning the game, as far as how people are making it into a career, and this is like my passion.”

Fluellen said the hardest part of his journey was lack of financing.

“It’s like when people ask you, ‘Pick something that you love so much that if you didn’t get paid, you’d do it every day,’ ” he said. “There’s been days I ain’t get paid, and I’m still doing it. There wasn’t always a lot of money in the industry. And then it was like the cat-and-mouse game, where they understood the value but then they kind of wanted to see how much experience you had, to see if they wanted to pay you your value or not. And then now, people understand the value of video content.”

The most interesting place Fluellen has visited is Rwanda.

“It was so clean, and the people were just so brown and chocolate. And the landscape was so green and lush. Rwanda was unique.”

Living in Los Angeles, he also has a passion for health and fitness. He trains six days a week and participates in boxing, body weight and core exercises.

“I’ve always played basketball growing up. I played a little football, did some track, some high jumps. I took weight training classes and always kept my ear to the fitness and the importance of diet [at TSU].

He does boxing training, yoga, surfing and rock climbing and includes eating a balanced meal as a core principle of fitness. His clean diet includes foods high in protein and low in carbs. He’s incorporated this lifestyle into his travels, sharing his Train Hard Thursday workouts and cheat day meals on Fried Chicken Friday with his social media followers.

“I have to have a cheat day,” Fluellen said. “I eat pretty healthy. I’ll usually cook some salmon, kale and some asparagus, avocado and tomato. I’ll eat that all during the week.”

Giving back is also at the top of Fluellen’s list of priorities. He joined RakLife, an organization that uses random acts of kindness as a mantra to help the less fortunate around the world on a recent trip to Paje, Zanzibar, where they helped feed 300 elderly citizens. He is also interested in starting a scholarship fund at his alma mater that will send students abroad to study in Colombia.

Roy Jones Jr.’s next chapter is about sharing his boxing skills, his final fight and passion for life As he prepares, he’s teaching others as one of Star Vizn’s featured athletes

It was his speed. It was his footwork. His mesmerizing moves.

Watching Roy Jones Jr. in the boxing ring during his prime was like watching a well-crafted dance battle. In each of his bouts, Jones came out with a fight plan that would invite opponents into his world time and time again — a world where he won so much that he made history.

Jones is a six-time world champion whose career spans four weight classes (middleweight, super middleweight, light heavyweight and heavyweight). The elite boxer, rapper and commentator is the only boxer in history to start his professional career as a light middleweight and move up to win a heavyweight title. He won the silver medal in the light middleweight division at the 1988 Summer Olympics.

Jones has the combination of Sugar Ray Leonard’s handwork and Muhammad Ali’s passion. In a career that includes him soaring from obscurity to glittering fandom, his razzle-dazzle in the ring thrust him into the spotlight. Not that one needs to tell the Pensacola, Florida, native about the contributions he’s made to the boxing world. He knows his resume.

Jones also has a surprisingly prolific rap career, with one of his famed songs titled “Ya’ll Must’ve Forgot.”

Now he’s sharing his skills with the world. He has partnered with Star Vizn to offer a first-class experience in his boxing world.

Star Vizn is an online training platform where youths, adults, athletes, future entrepreneurs and aspiring entertainers can learn how to become better at their craft through an app. The platform allows anyone to gain exclusive, behind-the-scenes training from some of the biggest names in their industries on both iOS and Android.

The monthly subscription service is dedicated to users of all ages. Jones lends his expertise, joining other former professional athletes such as Jerry Rice, Robert Horry, Dominique Wilkins, Melissa Gorga and Cameron Mathison.

Focusing on fitness and sports training techniques, Star Vizn offers workouts ranging from as little as five minutes to a grueling 50 minutes as well as personal audio training. Jones’ 12-week training camp includes cardio, total body strength and endurance workouts through his legendary boxing and self-defense techniques and interval fitness training.

Jones applauds Star Vizn for introducing the platform, which was not widely available during his prime.

“You get to learn who I am through this app,” Jones told The Undefeated. “We didn’t have that when I was coming up. We didn’t have that in my prime. You feel me? If we would have, I’d have been watching Muhammad Ali and Michael Jordan every day, along with a little bit of Barry Sanders.”

Roy Jones Jr.

Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Jones, recently wrapping up his media tour in the ABC Studios in New York City, mic’d himself. He knew which camera to face. He recited rap lyrics during sound check and said he is always prepared. He didn’t need any direction.

Jones said Star Vizn gives him the opportunity to regain some of the time he lost not being part of social media. Collaborating with Star Vizn is important because to the boxer it’s a conduit to give back the things he learned during his journey.

“The things that God blessed me to be able to learn and accomplish, I can now share all my experiences with the world if you want to learn or if you want to know or if you want to be shared with,” Jones said. “It’s very beautiful for me because it’s an opportunity to give back yet to also strengthen the core of amateur boxing and professional boxing, because they saw what I did with my career, where I can show you how I did that now.

“God blessed me to be able to do so many remarkable things with my career and during my career that stays relevant because they are the best highlights on YouTube. We all get to benefit from the fact that people can go back on social media now, look at it and share it, and they share my videos all the time because nobody has more intriguing yet exciting videos of boxing than does Roy Jones Jr. You ain’t gotta go back and look at one fight; you can go back and it’s a whole collage. It’s songs, videos of true stuff that I did in fights that nobody else did. So that’s what kept me relevant. When people say they want to look at boxing, you want to see boxing, you want to see fighting with excitement to it. You’ll go watch probably two or three people: Muhammad Ali, Mike Tyson and Roy Jones Jr.”

Jones’ music even got noticed in the 1990s era when hip-hop connoisseurs appreciated elements of music that described real-life situations. His music was often a testimony of the portrayal of his life, except he said he didn’t smoke or drink.

“Once I learned how to box and I got my steps down pat, I used to go in my mirror at nighttime and I was practicing stuff. I put my music on,” Jones said.

He said that his most memorable fight was against James Toney on Nov. 18, 1994.

“At that time, I was trying to get to be the man and James Toney was the man,” Jones said. “He was knocking out all comers, he was beating pretty much everybody with the exception of Dave Tiberi, and he was a bully. He was a mean bully that really could fight, so it was no weaknesses in him. He had the attitude, he had the personality, he had everything. He had the skills, he had the power. He had everything. So when you look at him, you’re like, ‘Wow, how’s somebody gonna beat him?’ But I didn’t look at him that way. I looked at him like, ‘Ha, how’s he gonna last with me?’ And that’s what I did to him.”

The hardest part of Jones’ journey has been ending his time as a fighter.

“At the end of the journey, when you finally get everything that you want and you try to tap into that hunger or that drive or that motivation or that anger that you used to have … very difficult to get it because when you do everything you want to do, what’s left?”

Jones’ idol was the legendary Ali.

“Without him I would be nothing, because he set a standard and a bar for me that I had to follow suit with because he was the reason I started boxing,” Jones said. “Without him I’m nothing, because I wouldn’t know where to start without seeing him fight.”

Jones often thinks about chronic traumatic encephalopathy, but he’s not too concerned about his own brain trauma although he has been taking blows since he was 10.

“It is something that you have to worry about,” Jones said. “I always have been concerned about it to a degree, but yet I knew I wasn’t wrapped too tight to start with, so it can’t mess me up much more than I already am. But I thank God that I’m still capable of handling myself, speaking to where people can understand what I say. Knowing how to slow down and be a commentator and do things in a way that or in a manner that people can comprehend exactly what I’m trying to say.”

He believes in causes such as fighting the Libyan slave trade and welcomes other athletes’ voices to shed light on social causes of interest.

“You’re gonna stand up for it when you first see it happening so that you can hope to bring enough attention to it to get it stopped before it does hit home,” he said. “Everybody’s entitled to their own opinion. I’m here because I want to do the Star Vizn thing and ready to promote Star Vizn but I’m not afraid to speak out for what I believe in, and anytime that I have an issue or they have an issue, everybody’s entitled to what they want to do. We have freedom of speech in the United States of America, so you think something’s wrong with something or you think something needs to be adjusted with something, then you have a right to go stand up for it. Everybody don’t have to do it. It’s not an obligation of yours, but you’ve got a right to do whatever the hell you want to do. So if you want to go stand up for that, you have the right to go stand up for that.”

Jones lives a healthy lifestyle. On Monday, Wednesday and Friday he wakes up at 5:15 a.m. to play basketball at 6.

“Sometimes I go back to sleep. Sometimes I go home and eat breakfast and go to work in my yard, however it goes. But about 1 or 2, I train my fighters. Then most of the time about 4, I go back to the basketball gym and dominate the kids, and I come back home at about 8 o’clock at night. I train my fighters for a second time. Then I’m in the bed. And it’s a hectic week and a hectic day, but that’s how I live.”

He still maintains a healthy diet. When training he does not eat red meat, sweets, dairy or bread.

“I got myself in shape, went out to L.A. for the filming, got my mind right, went back to my old self. I put on my boxing uniform, got my workout uniform, got my mind into workout mode. Start thinking about what I did when I fight, what I do, how I see boxing on a whole, how I see the technique of boxing, and we went to work.”

Jones is also preparing to leave the ring. He announced that his farewell fight in the cruiserweight division will take place Feb. 8 in his hometown of Pensacola. Although his opponent has not been determined, he is set to headline the Island Fights 46 card that will include a mixture of boxing and MMA matches.

The 48-year-old (turning 49 on Jan. 16) in his prime was untouchable until his 2004 bout with Antonio Tarver.

Jones has won 11 of his past 12 fights, with his most recent on Feb. 17 last year when he knocked out Bobby Gunn in the eighth round in Wilmington, Delaware. The win was Jones’ third in a row against low-level opposition.

These days he begins his morning with an early basketball game with a few youth in the Pensacola area. Yet he remains one of the most viewed boxers on YouTube, and he is well-aware of the stardom younger generations of people still let him bask in — and he intends to keep it.

A look back at Latrell Sprewell’s very angry ‘Sports Illustrated’ cover The image was after the P.J. Carlesimo incident and at the tightest possible intersection of sports and race — not in a good way

What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the name Latrell Sprewell? His 35-point performance at Madison Square Garden with the New York Knicks facing elimination in the 1999 NBA Finals? Him dunking on Jaren Jackson in the third quarter of that game?

Maybe it was his return to the Garden for the first time in more than a decade, last year, as a “friend” of Knicks owner James Dolan, not a foe. Perhaps it’s this recent Priceline commercial, supposedly a display of Sprewell’s sense of humor — at his own expense.

Or is it a moment obscured from the public’s eyes: Sprewell choking then-Golden State Warriors head coach P.J. Carlesimo during a December 1997 practice, leaving the gym and returning, apparently to attack Carlesimo again?


Or is what you recall the aftermath, when the 24th pick in the 1992 NBA draft became a pariah? His name and likeness became synonymous with violence. The Warriors voided the then-three-time All-Star’s contract, and the NBA, a season removed from celebrating its 50th birthday, suspended him for a year after the episode escalated into an avalanche of bad press that the league did not need one month into the pivotal 1997-98 season. Several stars — Hakeem Olajuwon, Shaquille O’Neal and Scottie Pippen among them — were injured, Michael Jordan was all but certainly retiring, and a lockout was looming.

Then, in addition, the Milwaukee-born, Flint, Michigan-raised Sprewell, one of the NBA’s rising (albeit reluctant) stars, was labeled persona non grata. He’d admittedly committed an act of violence against his coach. It was an act that seemed to confirm every absurd fear about the rise of the overpaid, petulant, violent (and *gasp* black) athlete. It was the problem with sports, to let sportswriters and fans alike tell it. And although Sprewell acknowledged that his actions were inexcusable — “I don’t condone what I did,” he told The New York Times in 1998 — he took issue with how he was portrayed. This was epitomized by the cover of Sports Illustrated’s Dec. 15, 1997, issue.

“It’s always a picture of me looking mad or being aggressive,” he said during a news conference one week after the incident, for which he was initially suspended 10 games without pay. “I never saw pictures of myself where I had a smile on my face. It was always negative.”

The enigmatic Sprewell was easy to cast as the villain. The former University of Alabama and Three Rivers Community College standout was an aggressive slasher and defender. His appearance was menacing — to people who associated cornrows with criminal activity. And Spree had previously fought teammates. He absolutely considered himself a fighter, but only in self-defense.

“I don’t get upset unless somebody’s doing something to me or to my family, disrespecting me to where I just can’t tolerate it,” Sprewell told Time in 2000. That’s how he viewed the altercation with Carlesimo.

The choking itself, said to have happened in practice during an argument about Sprewell’s effort (“Put a little mustard on those passes,” Carlesimo reportedly told him), triggered revealing discourse, in the pre-social-media era, about the very often uncomfortable intersection of race and sports.


Sports Illustrated flew into the eye of the storm and made a valiant effort to unpack the situations. And while the story itself excellently contextualized the NBA’s head-on collision with race, the image — Sprewell, in mid-scream — chosen for the Dec. 15, 1997, issue’s cover was provocative for the wrong reasons. Sports Illustrated was the de facto bible of sports at the time, in an era before breaking news spread via Woj Bombs and trending topics. A time when writers discussed stories with editors via phone calls — not yet in Google Hangouts, or Slack.

Phil Taylor doesn’t remember exactly how he heard about what transpired between Sprewell and Carlesimo, but as a senior writer for Sports Illustrated at the time, he called his editors to discuss how they planned to cover it. “This was a huge story … right in my backyard, and as lead NBA writer, I knew I was going to be writing something lengthy,” said Taylor, now a contributing writer for The Athletic. “I’ve often thought that if it happened now, we would have obviously been able to put something out on Twitter and everyone would have just written stories immediately. But I remember thinking that [as a weekly publication] we were not going to be able to get an immediate story out there.”

“One of my first thoughts was, at least put P.J. on there looking angry too.”

The Sprewell-Carlesimo incident took place on a Monday — the worst-case scenario for the magazine, which was finalized for the mass printing on Sundays. Back then, hundreds of thousands of issues would be sent to subscribers and would be available on newsstands on the Wednesday/Thursday of the following week. Local outlets such as the San Francisco Chronicle were already on top of the story. That extra time, though, did allow Sports Illustrated to fine-tune its coverage, and Taylor ended up writing two of the three stories: a look at who Sprewell was and an essay about race and the NBA.

“We knew that by the time the story came out, the story might have advanced beyond what we knew at the time we were writing,” Taylor said. “So we wanted to come up with something to better put this into context, and that’s where we started talking about the issue of race in the NBA and what the Sprewell incident had to do with that.”

In a break from covers that featured full-bleed photography, a particularly incisive excerpt from Taylor’s essay was featured — white type on a black background:

“Latrell Sprewell has been publicly castigated and vilified, and any player who gets a similar urge to manually alter his coach’s windpipe will surely remember Sprewell’s experience before he acts on that impulse. Problem solved. But the Sprewell incident raises other issues that could pose threats to the NBA’s future, issues of power and money and — most dangerous of all — race … ”

Placing that much text on the cover of a magazine was rare for SI. “The editors liked what I wrote, and I think it was our managing editor Bill Colson … thought it was so strong that we should put those words on the cover.”

Part of Taylor’s satisfaction came from his belief that the cover would differ from what had quickly become a typical characterization of Sprewell as angry. Until he saw it, that is.

“My words … but they added that picture of Sprewell, and that was disappointing to me,” said Taylor, who didn’t see the cover until the issue came out. “One of my first thoughts was, at least put P.J. on there looking angry too. But maybe that would have been inflammatory as well, because then you would have had a black man screaming at a white man. That sort of anger could be interpreted as racial, but … would have at least been more fair.”

It was unfair to Sprewell because although what he did was undeniably wrong, Carlesimo was far from … docile. He was notoriously hard on his players, and notoriously unpopular for it. “We’ve been face-to-face on many occasions,” Rod Strickland, who played for Carlesimo while with the Portland Trail Blazers, told the Baltimore Sun.

“I’ve often thought, that if it happened now, we would have … put something out on Twitter, and everyone would have just written stories immediately.”

“I played under him, so it doesn’t surprise me,” Tracy Murray, who began his career with Portland, added.

After the Warriors hired Carlesimo in 1997, he was the focal point of their “No More Mr. Nice Guy” campaign, appearing on billboards with his coaching staff dressed like a team of FBI agents. Carlesimo was depicted as an enforcer; he was celebrated for an approach that alienated players and, more importantly, never translated into success in the NBA.

“P.J. was a guy who stirred it up, and was as bellicose and belligerent as Sprewell was,” Taylor said. But Carlesimo had a vastly different relationship with the media, Taylor added. He was very cooperative and affable and would ask about the reporters’ well-being. He’d remember their first names. That charm likely played a factor in Carlesimo receiving more favorable coverage than Sprewell, who was tight-lipped with the press.

Imagery is as important to a story’s narrative as reporting or analysis. A March 2002 issue of Sports Illustrated featured Charles Barkley in shackles. It drew criticism from Sports Illustrated staffers, readers and Barkley’s friend and colleague Kenny Smith alike. Golfweek’s infamous Tiger Woods “noose” cover, from January 2008, got its editor and vice president fired. LeBron James’ historic moment as the first black man to grace the cover of Vogue that spring was sullied by the black man-as-savage beast stereotype it projected. According to Taylor, the media routinely overlooks the reverberations of such editorial decisions.

“The media in general has always, and definitely at that time, underestimated the power of the images of black athletes,” said Taylor. “I don’t think the implications of putting an angry Sprewell out there occurred to them. I’m not even sure the implications of putting Barkley in chains occurred to them — until the backlash came.”

Taylor noted that no black editors were involved with the Sprewell story. “I might have been the only black writer or editor at that time,” he added. The magazine could have placed an expressionless Sprewell on the cover, and it would’ve been just as captivating. That’s how great the treatment is, and how powerful Taylor’s words are. But the cover — and all of the more incendiary examples that preceded it, and will surely continue to follow — represent a more hazardous issue: a failure on the part of many media professionals to grasp the complexity of stereotypes and the way they’re bound to black identity, and how all of that affects the way black people are viewed and treated.

Still, though, Taylor gives Sports Illustrated’s editors credit for deciding to explore the NBA’s racial undercurrent. After discussing the atmosphere with them, he said, Colson asked if the magazine should write about it. Taylor was stunned, as that was “edgy” for Sports Illustrated — and really for any mainstream sports publication of that era.

“They were willing to take on a controversial issue, although they kind of regressed on it … by choosing the picture they chose,” he said. “I wish they hadn’t done that.”

Sprewell survived his figurative public stoning and continued his career with the Knicks and then Minnesota Timberwolves. The clothing and footwear company AND1 even branded him “The American Dream” upon his return to the NBA in 1999 — the last time the Knicks made the Finals. The events of December 1997 never impeded Sprewell’s career, but it ended abruptly in 2005 after he claimed he couldn’t feed his family on the three-year, $21 million deal the Timberwolves offered him. That Priceline commercial, where he pokes fun at his mistakes, is poignant considering the headlines that have emerged since his retirement.

Despite Sprewell’s success after the incident, he remains symbolic of poor decisions and explosive anger. Regardless of Sports Illustrated’s intentions, that’s all their cover screams about him too.