2017 Emmys: Historic wins for Lena Waithe and Donald Glover Plus Sterling K. Brown wins for outstanding actor in a drama series

There are still some things we can count on: Stephen Colbert will find new and stinging ways to insult the president, Sterling K. Brown will give a helluva super-black acceptance speech, and no matter who’s president, Oprah Winfrey is still queen of America.

So how were the Emmys, you ask? Fairly enjoyable, very political and historic.

Both Donald Glover and Lena Waithe made history with their wins for outstanding comedy directing and outstanding comedy writing, respectively. Waithe, who co-wrote Master of None’s poignant Thanksgiving episode, became the first black woman to win an Emmy for outstanding comedy writing. Glover took home two trophies Sunday night for his work on Atlanta: He became the first black person to win for directing a comedy series and also won for outstanding lead actor in a comedy.

Waithe began by invoking U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters by beginning her speech with “Reclaiming my time.” She went on to shout-out her queer brothers and sisters, which was especially meaningful given that Thanksgiving was about her character Denise’s personal journey as a lesbian.

“I love you all and, last but certainly not least, my LGBTQIA family,” Waithe said. “I see each and every one of you. The things that make us different, those are our superpowers — every day when you walk out the door and put on your imaginary cape and go out there and conquer the world because the world would not be as beautiful as it is if we weren’t in it.

“And for everybody out there that showed so much love for this episode, thank you for embracing a little Indian boy from South Carolina and a little queer black girl from the South Side of Chicago. We appreciate it more than you could ever know.”

Waithe has had an amazing ride, from working as a writer on the Black & Sexy TV show Hello Cupid and writing on Bones to finding her way to a hit show in Master of None. She also produced Dear White People (the movie, not the Netflix show).

It was quite a night for Glover, who unseated two-time winner and Transparent actor Jeffrey Tambor for the acting trophy. “I want to thank Trump for making black people No. 1 on the most oppressed list. He’s the reason I’m probably up here,” Glover said while accepting the acting award.

Emma McIntyre/Getty Images

During his acceptance speech for his directing Emmy, Glover made sure to thank Hiro Murai, the primary director for Atlanta, who is largely responsible for its distinctive style. Murai and Glover have a partnership that predates the show. They’ve worked together on music videos, and Atlanta is Murai’s first television series directing job. He’s since directed episodes of Snowfall and Legion, both FX shows like Atlanta. Although Murai wasn’t a winner Sunday night, I have few doubts that we’ll see him on the Emmy stage soon enough.

And as long as I’m gazing into a crystal ball, I’ll suggest that we’ll likely see Insecure director Melina Matsoukas there too. Insecure was understandably excluded from nominations for its first season. But next year, when the exponentially better second season is eligible, will be different. (There were any number of comedies — The Good Place, You’re The Worst or Better Things, for example — that could have replaced Modern Family as a nominee in the outstanding comedy category. Not that it matters much. They still would have gotten trounced by Veep.) The first season of Insecure was strong, but showrunner Prentice Penny and Issa Rae now clearly have embraced the possibilities that HBO, and HBO money, offers. The writing has grown sharper, and I’m sure the Emmys will follow.

While Winfrey’s HBO effort, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, did not win for best television movie (the romantic and lovely Black Mirror: San Junipero did instead), no one was about to forget about Miss O.

Upon accepting an award for Last Week Tonight, John Oliver, asked, “Where’s Oprah? I’d like to thank Oprah’s seat-filler. I met Oprah once. It was like meeting the queen, but much, much better.”

This is Us actor Brown, who won for outstanding actor lead actor in a drama series, was the single person who not only was played off the stage but also had his microphone cut because he didn’t take the hint when the music in the Microsoft Theater rose to drown him out. The part of me that wanted to go to bed on time was annoyed. The other part of me was totally understanding, because who wouldn’t be completely jazzed about beating Anthony Hopkins in an acting contest after a 19-year Emmy drought for black lead actors, which is precisely what Brown did? No one with sense, that’s who.

Anyway, kudos to Brown for his ebullient speech-giving skills. He worked in references to Mad Men, Martin, black love (the idea, not the OWN series), Breaking Bad and Homicide: Life on the Street. And he thanked his co-stars, Chrissy Metz and Mandy Moore, telling them, “You are the best white TV family that a brotha has ever had.”

So, yeah, it took a while.

Other highlights of the night: British actor and rapper Riz Ahmed won for outstanding lead actor in a limited series for his role as Nasir Khan in The Night Of, making him the first Muslim and South Asian man to win in the category.

Ahmed, who is almost unfailingly effervescent, turned serious in his acceptance speech, but not without thanking Winfrey first since he sat next to her during the broadcast. “It’s always strange reaping the rewards of a story that’s based on real-world suffering, but if this show has shone a light on some of the prejudice in our society, Islamophobia, some of the injustice in our justice system, then maybe that’s something,” he said.

Of the many cracks at our president, the most biting included ribbing over the fact that he never won an Emmy for The Apprentice, which he was so bothered by that during a presidential debate with Hillary Clinton he was still insisting he should have won.

A consolation prize: Alec Baldwin won the Emmy for outstanding supporting actor in a comedy series for portraying him on Saturday Night Live.

The starring ladies of 9 to 5, Dolly Parton, Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda, took to the stage to reveal the outstanding supporting actor in a limited series (which went to Big Little Lies actor Alexander Skarsgård) and gave perhaps the most obvious subtweet of the evening:

“Well, back in 1980 … we refused to be controlled by a sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot,” Fonda said.

“And in 2017 we still refuse to be controlled by a sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot,” Tomlin chimed in.

As for Colbert, his barbs directed at Trump were so biting that I momentarily worried how our commander in chief would respond.

Among the many ribs: “There were over 450 original scripted shows made this year. Of course, there’s no way anyone could possibly watch that much TV, other than the president, who seems to have a lot of time for that sort of thing. Hello, sir! Thank you for joining us,” Colbert said while waving at the camera.

However, Colbert’s best line of the evening was directed not at the president but at fellow white late-night host Bill Maher. Colbert included Maher in a list of actors of color present at the ceremony, including Uzo Aduba, Samira Wiley and Anthony Anderson.

Capitalizing on Maher’s troubles after he had used the phrase “house n—-” on his HBO show Real Time with Bill Maher, Colbert remarked, “I assume he’s black because he’s so comfortable using the N-word.”

Nazr Mohammed isn’t retired, just prepared for his next phase in life He’s started a foundation to focus on bringing awareness and money to multiple causes

Chicago native and NBA veteran Nazr Mohammed has not officially retired after an 18-year stint in the league. And he doesn’t have much to say about when that announcement will come.

“I realized a long time ago, seeing other friends and teammates go through it. Only the great ones actually retire. The rest of us get retired,” he said. “I don’t feel like I need to officially retire, but I am retired. What I mean by that is, you know, there’s always a situation you would play for, but after a year has passed, I’m not really thinking in that mindset as far as playing again. I’m looking more into the business of basketball. There are things I want to do as far as looking for the right situation that can teach me the business of basketball and put me in a position where I have an opportunity to learn as much as I can. My dream is to one day run my own organization, whether it’s GM or as the president of an organization. I think I can manage and help build a championship team.”

But Mohammed is a multidimensional thinker whose skills have stretched far beyond the court. So for the next chapter of his career, he’s continuing to give back to others and teaching life skills to young girls and boys through his foundation. His off-the-court endeavors include the Nazr Mohammed Foundation, a fundraising organization that focuses on bringing awareness and money to a cause of his choice while hosting its own programs.

“You know how so many start a foundation and they have one particular cause? Just with me, it’s so many different things that I believe in and so many different causes that I’d like to support,” Mohammed said of his multilayered unit. “I decided that, you know what, one cause just isn’t enough, so I keep my foundation pretty broad.”

The University of Kentucky standout was selected in the first round of the 1998 NBA draft by the Utah Jazz right after his junior year. Utah traded his rights to the Philadelphia 76ers, with whom Mohammed spent the first two seasons of his NBA career. The 6-foot-10 center was an integral big man for the Atlanta Hawks, New York Knicks, San Antonio Spurs, Detroit Pistons, Charlotte Bobcats, Oklahoma City Thunder and his hometown Chicago Bulls. He played for the Thunder last season.

Mohammed attended high school at Kenwood Academy in Chicago and grew up in a big household led by his father, who immigrated to the U.S. from Ghana.

“There’s 10 of us. Three brothers, six sisters. I’m like fourth from oldest,” he said.

In February, he shared information about his life, his childhood and growing up in a Muslim household in a blog post about religion and politics. He wrote about his experiences with online racism, and his story picked up national attention.

“It’s funny, when I do my blog, something happens that’s just constantly being talked about on TV, and I knew I had an opinion,” he said. “I do plan on doing the blog again. I don’t know when, I don’t know what it’ll be about. When there’s something to talk about, I just have some things I need to say about it, and I just start writing and put it out there.

“The funny part is I never thought I was a writer. I actually didn’t like writing a whole lot, but after I get started, I think I’m getting better. I enjoy it, and once I get started I can’t stop.”

Meanwhile, Mohammed is busy running The Village Project for boys and girls ages 14 to 18.

“What we do is we get up to 100 kids. We try to get about 50 girls and 50 boys. We go through different things and different situations that kids may be going through from bullying to etiquette, financial planning, etc. We create the curriculum according to the what we feel are tools they will need to excel. Then come in and talk to them about financial planning so they can get an understanding about how to handle money, how to save, what bills to expect. When you’re young, no one ever really talks to you about money and financial planning. I think that’s something, especially in the black community, we kind of have to learn on our own.”

Mohammed spoke with The Undefeated about his foundation, family and his overall journey.


What was the idea behind starting your foundation?

I was trying to do something for my high school. I wanted to do something where I help them out academically and athletically, so I decided it was time to start up my foundation. I can kind of use my platform, my name, to try and help to raise money or have fundraisers for them.

My first fundraiser we raised a total of $40,000 for my high school. It helped them upgrade a couple of academic areas. We were able to upgrade some things in their main gym. My second year, I decided to change it up. It was a couple of organizations that I felt that were doing some outstanding things in Chicago and I wanted to highlight them. One of them was Sue Duncan Children’s Center, a place I attended in elementary after the school day to play ball. Back when I attended it didn’t a have a name, so we called it Sue’s. It was at a church; Sue made us read then do a book report before we could play. The other option was to read to some of the younger kids. Sue’s son, Arne Duncan, later became the superintendent of Chicago schools. President [Barack] Obama later named him secretary of education. We donated money to Sue Duncan Children’s Center. Also a place called CircEsteem. It’s an organization that is an afterschool program that kind of keeps kids engaged. They are teaching them like circus tricks. And another one was called Mercy Home for Boys & Girls. In the third year, I switched it up again. This time I did a big fundraiser for Kovler Diabetes Center with the University of Chicago. And the reason I chose diabetes was because of a couple of people in my family suffer from Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes. And I wanted to just kind of give back and bring awareness, because we all know how prevalent it is in the black community.

We would help them with the things they were doing as far as research, and they had programs where they were helping people pay for their medicine. In our fourth year, we decided to do something for autism. We did a big fundraiser to raise money for a couple of groups that were helping out in black communities, and communities everywhere. In the fifth year, we also donated to a couple of local organizations.

So that’s kind of what we do. We’re all over the place. If I see something where I feel like it’s a credible organization, or they’re doing great work and I can lend my name, or I could do something and raise money for them, I kind of just do it.

What’s been the hardest part of fundraising for you?

The hardest part is, it’s kind of sad. … You have so many people who say they want to help and they want to be part of what you’re doing, but they really want to help in certain ways. They only want to do certain things. So finding people who are willing to donate their time, or money, or their expertise, it’s been hard. There have been times where people have had their own agendas.

Which cause is the most like heart-tugging for you?

Honestly, all of them have been pretty equal. With autism, I had a friend who had two of his young children on the autistic spectrum. I had another friend whose son in high school was autistic. So that was something that was close to me. As far as diabetes in my immediate family, I have so many that are Type 1 and Type 2. Cancer, at the time I decided to do my fundraiser for cancer, I also had one friend pass from a form of cancer. I had another friend, his mom just found out she had cervical cancer, and I had two friends dealing with breast cancer, so that was something that was really close to me. With each fundraiser we did, there was definitely something that meant something dearly to me at the time and still does. I do have to admit, it is very rewarding doing The Village Project just because this is where we can help teenage kids, we can help young kids, and give them some directions.

As a ‘Windy City’ native, how do you feel about some of the community issues that have been plaguing the Chicago area?

Since I don’t live there full time, I can’t say it directly affects me. But being in Chicago, you just feel it. Growing up in Chicago and playing basketball, when I played, you almost had like an athlete pass, where if you’re doing good, you’re the good player, you are pretty much allowed to go play here and play there, and going to different neighborhoods and no one pretty much messed with you. The saddest part about the violence that’s going on in Chicago, you no longer see that pass. In the last couple of years, there’s been a couple of prominent high school athletes from Chicago who had been killed. When you talk about my city, I want you to talk about it for being a great city, it is. With all the violence that’s going on, the murder rate being so high in certain areas.

I think it’s time that I try and figure out what I can do. I’m as bashful about what exactly you can do with most people. There’s a lot of people working on it. I’m actually trying to find the right organization that I want to partner with, see where I can help.

How do you feel about rappers like Chance the Rapper and Common and others who are speaking out and taking a stand for what’s going on in the community there?

What Chance has been doing, it’s just been amazing. Just to be such a young guy. How intelligent and how passionate he is about the city, putting his money where his mouth is. It’s just been amazing. Some people forget Derrick [Rose] gave a million dollars to an after-school program in Chicago. It’s not talked about much; once it’s done, people forget quickly. Derrick put his money where his mouth was too. There’s people stepping up, people trying to support the city in whichever way they can, whether financially.

Are your children aware of and involved in your philanthropic efforts?

Yeah, definitely. I try to have them involved in little ways whenever we can. I definitely have them around when we do the big group stuff so they can just see what’s going on, letting them help fill gift bags, little things like that, just so they got a feel for what’s going on and kind of be part of it. I have a 14-year-old daughter who will be starting high school this year, 11-year-old son who will be in the sixth grade, and an 8-year-old daughter will be in third grade.

What’s been the most interesting part in being the giver?

I hate to say it, but one of the biggest reasons why I do it is when you give, that’s an opportunity to be selfish. What I mean by that is, when you give … I do it because it makes me feel good. At the end of the day, knowing that you’re in a position that you can help others and you can give and the smiles that you put on people’s faces and the happiness that you bring to others. It makes me feel good. It makes me feel good about myself, so if I can make myself feel a little bit better by giving to others, when I have the opportunity, I try to do it.

How has being a Ghanaian player in the NBA been for you?

It’s funny because I’m just doing my thing, and they’re so proud because I was the first Ghanaian in the NBA. So they’re so proud of it, but at the same time it’s one of those things, because I’m American-born, some people feel like, ‘We don’t know.’ Both my parents are from Ghana. I can’t pick where I was born. I feel like it just had a great impression on me. It’s a quality, and it’s something that is ingrained from different things for me. You know, growing up being the African kid in the neighborhood. You’re treated differently. People look at you differently. Your parents speak a different language but hear the accent.

My father, he really wanted us to understand the difference between being poor in America and Third World poor, how he grew up. We just got different culture and different view on things. Being included, once I became a good basketball player, having that background, my Ghanaian part and just being an African-American in America. I just got a chance to develop so many different views and be a part of so many different groups. That’s something I touched on in my blog about religion and politics.

How has your culture shaped you into the man you are now?

It’s in my DNA. My pops was a hardworking, smart, whatever it takes to be successful, whatever it takes to feed his family. It rubbed off on all of us, all the kids. It’s just part of our culture. You do whatever you have to do, especially being the man of the house. You feed your family, you keep a roof over their heads, you work hard, you try to achieve as much as you can, you learn as much as you can. It definitely shaped me into the man I am today. My father, he did it all first off. It’s kind of hard to explain what he did. During my lifetime, he owned gas stations, he’s done all types of things, but during my lifetime, he drove a cab first. He drove a cab in Chicago, then he wound up went into medallion. Medallion is the right to have a cab in Chicago. A friend of his wanted medallion, but he couldn’t afford to put it on the street, so my father bought his medallion. So now he had two cabs. He slowly put together where he at one point owned 11 cabs. He was a jack-of-all-trades, he did it all. We had a restaurant for a year or two. My pops, he would just work hard, get it out there, try to accomplish it.

If it fails, get backup. Try to figure out another way to accomplish another goal. He always told us, if you can, don’t work for anybody, work for yourself. I’ve always had that in my mind, but of course I haven’t been able to achieve considering it’s kind of hard to be on a team and work for yourself. I’m trying to figure that one out now.

Did you experience any racism growing up?

I feel like at some level, you can always question the way someone treated you, is it some form of racism or prejudice, but you don’t truly know. I found social media, that’s a wild experience. Most of my racism is through … I don’t really count that though. I haven’t experienced much racism that I can confirm in person. No one has called me out my name in person. It’s been more like you’ve had this feeling. And that this person could have been a racist or could have been prejudiced, prejudiced against tall people, black people, whatever it may be, Africans or in which box you want to check for me.

This man started the Facebook page ‘A Message from God’ and now has 1.3 million followers Lee Eric Smith’s messages help people through their difficult journeys

It started in October 2006, when writer Lee Eric Smith began to pen a book that included short spiritual inspirations.

“I can’t really describe it other than to say that I felt a voice on the inside saying, ‘Get up and go to your keyboard.’ ”

Experiencing his own personal spiritual encounters over the years, he trusted that little voice, and the journey began for A Message from God. By late 2008, Smith launched a Facebook fan page that now has more than 1.3 million followers, and it keeps growing by the day.

“It was written in the voice of God, and it was just the idea of writing something that would serve as guidance for people regardless of where they are,” Smith said. “The book was to be made available at no cost by subscribing to the mailing list on the website.”

Smith said he would post daily the things God was giving to him to help him through a difficult divorce. His journey started from that dark period, a time when he was beginning to post things that helped him.

“Just trying to get up each morning, face the day with love and hope, kind of making my own choice regardless of what negativity is coming at me and how can I take that, hand it over to God and have God produce something positive out of it. Just making that choice every day wasn’t always easy or comfortable, but I’m grateful for what’s come out of it,” Smith explained. “Those messages started resonating with people.”

The “A Message from God” Facebook page had a massive jump in followers in 2014 after the death of actor and comedian Robin Williams. Smith added a video clip from an interview that Williams did with reporter Diane Sawyer in which he opened up about his relationship with God.

“Given how much he had impacted people with his comedy, to hear him talk as thoughtfully as he did, I don’t know if you’d call it him talking about his faith, but he spoke about God,” Smith said. “I saw that video. I shared it online, and that thing went viral. I think it got like 17 million views around the world, and that really exposed the page to a much broader audience. Then I think that was around the time I went, that it jumped from, say, 100,000 to [200,000] or so, but it’s been steadily growing ever since.”

The 47-year-old writer spoke with The Undefeated about his personal journey and his spiritual page.

Where do you get most of your inspiration to share?

I often go through previous posts that I’ve shared. It was the type of stuff that I felt like God would say to me and anybody else just struggling to get through the day, is how those came. Now I might scroll through a post and it catches my attention, and I recognize that somebody else might get a bit of wisdom out of it. The overriding principle, I think, is that if you believe in such a thing as divine timing, that these messages are posted and the ones that are chosen, regardless of why I may think I’m posting it, there’s a larger plan at work. I consistently see people saying, ‘Oh, my God, this is exactly what I needed to see. I’m dealing with this right now.’

I’m always blown away when you see those because it speaks, I think, to how ultimately we’re all humans and we’re all dealing with the things that life throws at us regardless of whether you’re in Memphis, Tennessee, or Madagascar or Manila, the Philippines. There are people dealing with loss, with financial challenges, with, in some cases, war zones and violence. People are looking for hope. I think these messages tend to hit that common thread among all of us. That’s some of the beauty of it as well.

How much of these messages are self-care inspirationals, you ministering to yourself?

Thank God I’ve been able to move out of that season, so it’s a lot of things that are going better for me right now. I want to say it’s an old Charlie Brown quote maybe, and maybe he borrowed it from somebody else, but the phrase goes, ‘I teach what I need to learn.’ I’m keenly aware, even as I’m posting, that, because there’s this concept that if you are a teacher or a spiritual teacher or pastor or whatever, that God is finished working on you and that you’ve got everything all together and that’s why you can teach this, but I don’t believe that’s necessarily true at all.

Would you consider yourself as a preacher, a teacher or just a messenger?

I would consider myself a teacher and a messenger. I don’t think of myself as a preacher, even though some of the people who respond to our posts call me pastor. I don’t really think of myself that way because I don’t put myself on that kind of pedestal. I haven’t been to a theological seminary or anything like that. I do believe that there are things that God’s shown me over the course of my life, and I’m not even just talking about Bible stuff. God can use anything to teach us, from reading books and watching videos about quantum physics to understanding how photosynthesis works in a plant to understanding artificial intelligence. I mean, I have a broad range of interests, and one thing that has served as a unifying thing for me is approaching how I look at the world as if it all not only comes from God but is God.

That conditions my mind to look for the God in everything. Then if you can see God in everything, then you start to see connections where a lot of people don’t see. I like to think of myself as a messenger for those lessons and those connections, as well as a teacher.

What do you want readers to get from A Message from God the e-book, as well as the Facebook page?

The object of the whole project, both the Facebook page and the e-book, are to help the reader develop a closer relationship and understanding with God as they understand it. I often say things like, ‘I’m not trying to convert anybody to any particular line of thought or religion.’ This project, we have Muslim followers, we have Buddhist followers, we have … there’s a guy who contributes on the page regularly who’s an atheist, saying, ‘You guys are delusional for believing in God at all.’

I want to create, and we have created, this place where people — and admittedly they’re mostly traditional — we’ll just call them traditional Christians, but the environment and the community that we’ve created there is a place where you don’t have to believe the same thing. We don’t have to all believe the exact same thing to show love for one another, to be kind to one another and to want to help each other. It’s possible to be a Christian, or for a Christian and a Muslim to sit down and have a conversation over a cup of coffee and even talk about their faith without coming to an argument or blows and to walk away without feeling like you’ve forsaken your religion. That’s possible.

That’s one of the things that I love about our page, but my thing is that even if you read this book, you read the messages, and I tell people, I’m like, take … don’t trust anything you see on this page, but read it. Take your time and go to your private space. Take it to God in prayer or meditation, however that looks, whatever it is, and ask God, ‘OK, this is what I saw on this page. This is what I’ve always thought. I don’t know what to make of it. What should I do with it?’

Why is this project so important to you?

I’d say I think I was raised, certainly, with a feeling of connection to a higher power. I’ve always wanted to be of service. One of the things that was really important — particularly, again, in the days of my divorce, as I was moving through that process — was I wanted to … OK. All right. Here we go. … There were times when I considered ending my own life. That’s how rough it was at one point. I’ve been there. I asked God. I was like, ‘How do I get through this? How do I survive the day?’ Because at that point I couldn’t look beyond just the day that I was in. When I would wake up in the morning, I would ask God, ‘OK, God, who do you want me to be today?’ Usually, the answer was show love, kindness, practice forgiveness even for the people who are trying to destroy you right now. Pray and forgive them. Pray for them and forgive them and try to generate as much love and light as you can. I would strive to do that over the course of the day.

Now, I would give it my best shot. Sometimes my best shot was just getting out of the bed. Other days, I was able to post some of these messages and try to do that, but when I got to the end of the day and I could have my private time with God and say, ‘Hey, God, I did my best today. How did I do?’ I usually felt a voice in my soul saying, ‘Well done, good servant.’ That’s my advice on how to survive these tough times, is to stick to the principles God’s written on your heart and just try to live them out the best you can each day. That’s what I still try to do. That’s what I still work on each day.

How do you see ‘A Message from God’ panning out, moving forward?

I’ll be doing a podcast. That is our plan, and just to continue to mobilize this community to generate love. That’s one of the things I routinely tell people, is that in spite of everything you see going on in the world, whether it’s political upheaval, conflict or whatever’s going on in your world, each one of us can make the choice to be loving and kind and forgiving regardless of what’s going on around us. I believe what God’s really put in my heart lately is, how do we mobilize this movement to end world hunger? I believe we can do that in our lifetime.

If we can figure out, and we’ve already figured out, how to kill everybody on the planet many times over, if we can figure that part out, I refuse to believe we can’t figure out how to feed everybody. It’s just more a question of will. The way we’re going to do that is we’re going to show people the healing and redemptive power of love. Once we get that moving, we’re going to do miracles. Miracles is where this thing is headed.

Which is, most people tend to think of miracles as a supernatural kind of event, you know: the walking on water, the turning water to wine or coming back from the dead. Those are absolutely miracles, but what God’s revealed to me is that a miracle doesn’t have to be supernatural. A miracle is just a revelation of possibility where only the impossible was thought to have existed.

For instance, if you are poor and you are this close to having your utility bill cut off tomorrow and you have no way, you can’t imagine how you’re going to get this utility bill paid, and somewhere out of the blue a good neighbor, or a Samaritan if you will, gets together a group of friends and they all spare 50 bucks to pay off your utility bill, now you can argue there’s nothing supernatural about that. But if you didn’t think it was possible four hours ago and you look up four hours later and it’s happened, is that or is that not a miracle?

Wale officiates a WWE rap battle and other news of the week The Week That Was July 3-7

Monday 07.3.17

President Donald Trump tweeted: “At some point the Fake News will be forced to discuss our great jobs numbers, strong economy, success with ISIS, the border & so much else!” An hour later, CNBC posted that General Motors’ June U.S. sales were “down 4.7% vs. estimate 1.8% decline.” Not even a person with zero front office experience wanted to work for Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert. NBC News referred to Sally Hemings, President Thomas Jefferson’s slave and victim, as the former president’s “mistress.” A family carrying $93,000 in undeclared cash on their person through the Philadelphia International Airport were returned just $3,000 of the cash after being stopped by federal agents. The city of St. Louis has decided to push its minimum wage back from $10 per hour to $7.70; Gov. Eric Greitens (R-Missouri) said the previous wage, a 23 percent difference, would “take money out of people’s pockets.” Five alcohol companies have pledged over $67 million to study whether or not there are any scientific benefits to having a glass of alcohol a day. Oregon police killed an armed man trying to steal a helicopter from a local airport. Golden State Warriors forward and NBA Finals MVP Kevin Durant took about $9 million less in salary for some reason. Hip-hop artist Azealia Banks, who once called fellow rapper Iggy Azalea “Igloo Australia” and threatened to “throw a jar of my piss at her,” will join Azalea on a future song. A spokesman for Gov. Paul LePage (R-Maine) called assertions of the governor leaving the state for a 10-day vacation amid budget negotiations “fake news” despite two lawmakers from the same party claiming that the governor called and told them himself. Chief Justice John Roberts, speaking at his son’s graduation, told students, “I hope you will be treated unfairly so that you will come to know the value of justice”; four days before, the Supreme Court partially allowed the banning of Muslims from six countries. A 73-year-old Colorado woman drove an SUV into the swimming pool of a local resort. Kato Kaelin, friend of O.J. Simpson and a witness in the former football player’s murder trial, won a $12,000 raffle at a Milwaukee Brewers game. The White House refused to comment on the origin of the WWE-inspired video that Trump tweeted out on Sunday, denying that the video came from an anti-Semitic Reddit user.

Tuesday 07.4.17

CNN identified the Reddit user who created the GIF of Trump pummeling a WWE performer with a CNN logo superimposed over the wrestler’s face, which the president subsequently posted to his personal Twitter account; the user also apologized for his other offensive posts, claiming, “One of my best friends is a homosexual and one of my best friends is Jewish and one of my best friends is Muslim.” In “who made the potato salad?” news, a Washington Post food editor added cauliflower and feta cheese to his recipe. Hall of Fame professional wrestler Ric Flair, 68, and rapper Waka Flocka Flame, 31, celebrated Independence Day together. The Youngstown State University Police Department warned travelers about not wearing their seat belts to the tune of rap trio Migos’ “Bad and Boujee”: “Rain drops. Drop tops. This Independence Day weekend don’t get caught with your seatbelt OFF OFF OFF. U know what we’re saying @Migos.” In unrelated news, last month a YSU police officer was charged with operating a vehicle while intoxicated. Hip-hop artist Wale officiated a rap battle between professional wrestlers New Day and the Usos during WWE’s Smackdown Live, with the latter mentioning the alleged sex tape of one of the members of the former. ESPN’s Chris Haynes reported that Utah Jazz forward Gordon Hayward agreed to sign with the Boston Celtics, other reporters confirmed the report, and then minutes later Hayward’s agent refuted the alleged deal; five hours later, Hayward announced that he had indeed signed with the Celtics. Boston guard Marcus Smart tweeted, “What a celebration on this 4th of July! @gordonhayward Congrats and welcome!” and minutes later, it was reported that the Celtics were trying to trade Smart. Jazz center Rudy Gobert, Hayward’s former teammate, posted a video on his social media account singing along to Chris Brown’s “Loyal,” which includes the lyrics: “These hoes ain’t loyal.” The heirs of a Florida man who hid his dead wife’s body in a freezer for eight years to continue collecting her Social Security checks have repaid the government over $15,000. The Minnesota judge who presided over the Philando Castile manslaughter case wrote a letter of support to the jury that was responsible for acquitting Saint Anthony, Minnesota, police officer Jeronimo Yanez. A tennis website said No. 82-ranked Mandy Minella pulled “a Serena” by playing a Grand Slam match while pregnant, though, unlike Serena Williams at January’s Australian Open, Minella lost in the first round of Wimbledon. Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid yelled, “F— LaVar Ball!” during an Instagram livestream.

Wednesday 07.5.17

Rapper Tupac Shakur once told singer Madonna, whom he dated in the early 1990s, that he could no longer date her because she was white, and “I would be letting down half of the people who made me what I thought I was.” Corona beer signed a marketing deal with the University of Texas; the school’s athletic director called the partnership an opportunity to “promote the excitement and pageantry of collegiate sports.” Flying ants took over courts at Wimbledon. Reality television star Rob Kardashian posted nude photos of his ex-fiancée Blac Chyna on his Instagram account, accusing her of cheating with multiple men and having a drug and alcohol problem. Loquacious rapper T.I. butted in, for some reason, telling Kardashian to “take this L” and not look like a “Ronald McDonald the Duck”; Kardashian, still not getting out of his own way, then responded by accusing T.I. of paying Blac Chyna to have a threesome with him and his estranged wife, Tameka “Tiny” Harris. A conspiracy theory surrounding the murder of a former Democratic National Committee staffer is now being used to sell anti-aging face cream. Hip-hop artist Lil Yachty does not eat fruit. Vatican police busted a drug-fueled gay orgy at the apartment of an aide to one of Pope Francis’s closest advisers. In the most anticipated matchup since Mitt Romney-Evander Holyfield, late-night TV host Chelsea Handler will debate recently fired TV host Tomi Lahren. Los Angeles Clippers coach Doc Rivers plans to replace recently departed players Chris Paul, J.J. Redick and Jamal Crawford with 35-year-old guard Tony Allen. Cleveland Cavaliers forward Richard Jefferson, entering his 17th season and owed $2.5 million next year, is surprisingly not expected to retire this offseason. Filming and producing virtual reality porn is apparently hard. The Amazing Spider-Man actor Andrew Garfield, with the help of RuPaul’s Drag Race, came out as gay “just without the physical act.”

Thursday 07.6.17

Basketball prodigies Lonzo, LiAngelo and LaMelo Ball nabbed the cover of SLAM Magazine without father LaVar, who, not to be forgotten, wrote the cover story. Much like O.J. Simpson’s search for the real killer, President Donald Trump, seven months later, still hasn’t found the real hackers of the Democratic National Committee. Meanwhile, while speaking in Europe, the president pivoted between doubting Russia was involved in the 2016 election and blaming former President Barack Obama for not doing enough to stop Russia from meddling. Sports Illustrated found at least 40 people named after NBA Hall of Famer Shaquillle O’Neal — and two of them have younger brothers named Kobe. A female Capitol Hill reporter was barred from the House chamber because she was wearing a sleeveless dress. Gov. Paul LePage (R-Maine), best known for accusing “D-Money, Smoothie, Shifty” of selling drugs and impregnating white women in his state, told a local radio station that he makes up stories so the news media will “write these stupid stories because they are just so stupid, it’s awful”; LePage added that “the sooner the print press goes away, the better society will be.” USA Today celebrated National Fried Chicken Day by tweeting out a GIF of actress Octavia Spencer in a scene from The Help; the tweet was later deleted. U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry, who apparently fell asleep during the first day of Econ 101, lectured reporters at a coal plant: “Here’s a little economics lesson: supply and demand. You put the supply out there and the demand will follow.” The Cleveland Cavaliers, almost a week into NBA free agency and still without a general manager, lowballed general manager candidate Chauncey Billups by almost $2 million a year before the former NBA guard removed himself from consideration for the job on Monday. Nineteen-year Dallas Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki, still not about his paper, will sign a two-year, $10 million deal to remain in the Lone Star State. Four Brazilian soccer players were kicked off their team after video of one of the players masturbating two others was released online; club president Gilmar Rosso said, “If they want to get drunk, [be] gay or not, that’s their business.” The famous “Boomshakalaka” play-by-play call from 1990s video game NBA Jam was a misquote of Sly and the Family Stone’s “I Want To Take You Higher.”

Friday 07.7.17

Blue Ivy Carter, the daughter of JAY-Z, freestyled on her father’s new album, at one point rapping, “Boom shakalaka, boom shakalaka,” even though NBA Jam debuted 19 years before she was born. The Washington Nationals-Atlanta Braves rain-delayed-despite-little-rain game ended at 1:20 a.m. EST; fans at National Park were rewarded with free soda, ice cream, water, a transit system that shut down an hour into the game — and a 5-2 Nationals loss. A U.S. Mint employee was placed on administrative leave after leaving a noose made out of the rope used to seal coin bags on the chair of an African-American colleague. Atlanta Hawks guard Tim Hardaway Jr., son of five-time All-Star Tim Hardaway Sr., received a $71 million offer sheet from the New York Knicks; the elder Hardaway made just $47.1 million in his entire 14-year career. At the book party for conservative author Milo Yiannopoulos, chants of “F— CNN” broke out while little people in yarmulkes dressed as conservative commentator Ben Shapiro, who is Jewish, danced among the partygoers. All but settling the matter, the Russian foreign minister said Trump accepted Vladimir Putin’s “assurances that Russia didn’t meddle in the U.S. election.” A phallic-shaped rock formation in Norway that was intentionally damaged last month has been properly restored. Rob Kardashian, who posted nude photographs of his ex-fiancée Blac Chyna earlier in the week, was served with notice of a restraining order. Twenty-four-year-old rapper 21 Savage, who is dating 33-year-old model Amber Rose, said one of the benefits of dating older women is she makes him do things he doesn’t normally do, like “take vitamins and drink water.” Former college basketball coach Bobby Knight, who somehow wandered into the offices of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency back in 2015, was accused of groping four employees of the spy agency. Gonorrhea is becoming harder to treat with antibiotics. LaVar Ball shot back at Joel Embiid, saying that people who use cuss words like the 76ers center “don’t have no intellect”; Ball added that he had “three words for him: Can’t. Play. At. All,” which is actually four words.

Murder of new Army officer at Maryland part of a frightening surge in racial violence FBI investigating death of third-generation military man as potential hate crime

Summer semesters are often quiet in the ROTC offices at Bowie State University. The unit’s cadets are away, training in places from Kentucky to Tanzania. Those who graduated are launching their military careers.

But this summer the quiet is tinged with grief because one of their recent graduates, a newly minted officer, is dead. He was not killed in some faraway conflict. Instead, he was the victim of a murder the FBI is investigating as a possible hate crime at the nearby University of Maryland.

Lt. Richard W. Collins III, 23, was stabbed to death in the wee hours of May 20 as he waited for an Uber ride-sharing car with two friends on the College Park campus. Two days earlier, he had been commissioned as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army, and the following week he was set to graduate from Bowie State, a historically black university between Washington, D.C., and Annapolis, Maryland.

Collins, a third-generation military man who aspired to be a general, was killed in what police called a “totally unprovoked” attack. Court papers describe a white man screaming as he approached Collins and his two friends from a nearby stand of trees. “Step left, step left if you know what’s best for you,” the man said to Collins. Collins replied, “No,” and the man plunged a 3- or 4-inch knife into his chest, according to charging documents.

Police charged University of Maryland student Sean Urbanski, 22, with the murder. Urbanski, who grew up in a middle-class family in suburban Maryland, was described by authorities as a member of a Facebook group called Alt-Reich: Nation, which trafficked in racist, sexist and anti-Semitic material.

“Suffice it to say that it’s despicable,” University of Maryland Police Chief David Mitchell told reporters. “It shows extreme bias against women, Latinos, members of the Jewish faith and especially African-Americans.”

Within minutes of the stabbing, police found Urbanski sitting on a bus stop bench just 50 feet from the murder scene. They said a knife was in his right front pocket. Also, they noted, the crime was captured on video. Urbanski has pleaded not guilty and is being held in a suburban Maryland jail without bail. His lawyer, William C. Brennan, told a judge that his client was incoherent when he was arrested, and that drugs and alcohol likely played a role in the crime.

Prosecutors expect Urbanski to be indicted by mid-July on first-degree murder charges that could land him in prison for life without a chance of parole. The FBI is continuing to scour his cellphone records, emails and social media footprint for evidence needed to support federal hate crime charges, which could expose Urbanski to the death penalty. Prosecutors noted that his membership in the Facebook group, where one source in the office said his activity was limited to “liking” several posts, would not by itself be enough to sustain a hate crime prosecution.

Investigators may or may not find enough evidence for Collins’ murder to meet the legal standard for a hate crime. But its elements — a black victim, a white suspect with a connection to extremist social media, and the fact that Collins and Urbanski were complete strangers — have led many observers to see it as part of the mounting toll of racist incidents accompanying the rise of President Donald Trump.

After the murder, Rep. Anthony Brown (D-Md.) introduced a resolution, co-sponsored by 55 members of Congress, condemning the murder as “racially motivated” and pointing to a troubling rise in extremist activity on college campuses around the country. The NAACP, Brown and U.S. Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland, the second-highest ranking Democrat in the House of Representatives, called on the Trump administration to condemn the attack.

Participants at a candlelight vigil for Richard Collins III listen to a speaker before balloons are released in his memory at Bowie State University on Monday, May 22, 2017 in Bowie, Md. Collins, a student at the historically black university, was stabbed while visiting the University of Maryland, College Park. Sean Urbanski, a white student, has been charged with murder in Collins’ death.

AP Photo/Brian Witte

The president has spoken out against racial intolerance on several occasions: in interviews, on Twitter, in official statements and, perhaps most notably, in an address to a joint session of Congress in February. But critics say the president’s efforts have been sporadic and at times come off as perfunctory. Also, they have not matched the racist and anti-immigrant passions his often caustic presidential campaign stirred among some of his supporters.

“When individuals occupying our nation’s highest office spew hate-filled rhetoric and unapologetically associate with and staff the White House with white supremacists, our entire nation drinks from the same poisonous well,” said NAACP chairman Leon W. Russell.

Trump has said nothing about Collins’ murder, despite the victim’s military pedigree.

“I don’t know of any statement or reaction that came out from the White House on the murder of Lt. Collins,” said Brown, himself a retired Army colonel. “Quite frankly, I think the president has been lukewarm at best in demonstrating his disdain and disgust and disagreement with hate crimes and extremist misconduct. He has spoken on a few incidents, but it has been very lukewarm.”

The White House did not respond to an email requesting comment on the president’s silence.

Since last fall, hate crime watchdogs have cataloged 150 racist incidents on college campuses in 33 states, Brown’s office said. Off campus, there have been many more. The Southern Poverty Law Center counted more than 1,000 bias-related incidents across the country in just the first month after the election. Many of the alleged perpetrators alluded to Trump or his campaign slogans. Hate crimes were up 6 percent in 25 large cities across the country in 2016, according to a new report by the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino. Of the 25 localities surveyed, 14 hit or tied multiyear highs, the report said.

The number of incidents has tailed off, but alarming instances of racial violence have continued. On Memorial Day weekend, two men were stabbed to death and a third was badly injured on a train in Portland, Oregon, when they stood up to a man who was harassing two Muslim women. In court, the suspect, Jeremy Joseph Christian, 35, shouted, “Death to the enemies of America. … You call it terrorism. I call it patriotism.”

That same weekend, a white man was arrested and charged with intentionally running over two Native American men with his pickup truck in Washington state. One victim died and the other was hospitalized. Also that weekend, a white man yelling racial slurs and wielding a machete attacked and seriously wounded an African-American man in a Clearlake, California, apartment parking lot.

The Southern Poverty Law Center says some people take the president’s often harsh rhetoric as a signal to act on their racist sentiments.

“Trump’s racially charged, xenophobic campaign, coupled with his attacks on so-called political correctness, not only energized the white supremacist movement but gave people a license to act on their worst instincts — their anger, their prejudices, their resentments,” the law center’s president Ben Cohen wrote in an article on the organization’s website.

Even as the nation’s racial climate has turned stormy, few at Bowie State expected the hate to hit so close to home. Lt. Col. Joel Thomas, an Army Ranger who leads the university’s ROTC program, said it took a while for news of Collins’ murder to sink in.

“Initially, there was just disbelief,” he said. “I got a call on Saturday, and I don’t think it sunk in until I was at church the next day. This was a young man who did everything he was supposed to do. If he were on the front line, you would be a little more prepared for it.”

Montrose Robinson, a retired Army lieutenant colonel and the ROTC’s recruiting operations officer at Bowie State, had known Collins since shortly after he sent her an email inquiring about an ROTC scholarship in late 2012. It did not take long for him to be approved.

“He was a star, a model cadet,” Robinson said. “He excelled in physical training, and he was an excellent student. He wanted to be a general officer, and he had what it would take to be a general.”

The military had always been a big part of Collins’ life. His grandfather, Richard W. Collins Sr., served in a field artillery unit in the Korean War. His father, Richard W. Collins Jr., retired from the Navy after serving 25 years as an air traffic controller, with postings in places including Vietnam and Somalia. Collins, who had earned a business administration degree at Bowie State, was Airborne qualified and headed to be an intelligence officer.

Even while attending Annapolis Area Christian School for his final two years of high school, Collins had something of a military bearing. He was quiet and well-mannered, athletic and team-oriented. He played soccer and lacrosse and was devoutly religious. After he moved on to college, he would sometimes be seen in his ROTC fatigues picking up his younger sister after school.

“You always had the sense that he was well-raised. He was very respectful. He seemed to put effort into his studies,” said Don Wiley, a dean at Annapolis Area Christian. “He was gentlemanly and took care of his business. You got the sense the parents had sent him on a trajectory to become an officer and gentleman.”

The murder touched off an outpouring of support for the Collins family, who remain too devastated to talk publicly, according to a family spokesman. There were vigils at both the University of Maryland and Bowie State, and flowers, cards and notes of condolences have poured in from across the country.

But, disturbingly, not everyone has shared that sense of sorrow. Online, someone who identified himself as a classmate of Urbanski’s wrote in a screenshot released by police: “F— yeah Sean!!!!! That’s what happens when n—–s try and get frosty with an OG! Talk s—, get stabbed lol.”

In a comment on Facebook, Welby Burgone, a high school classmate of Urbanski’s who was training to be a dispatcher for the Anne Arundel County Police Department, posted an image that seemed to support that sentiment. It showed a crab holding a knife with the words “You mess with crabo You get stabo.”

The department denounced the post as “extremely insensitive.” Days after Anne Arundel police were alerted to the image via Twitter, Burgone was no longer working for the department, a spokesman said. Burgone could not be reached for comment.

The ROTC’s Robinson said it is unlikely that Collins would have attributed the nation’s always fraught racial climate to the president’s campaign. Collins was not one to “see race,” she said, and he had friends of many races. The night he was murdered, she said, he was out with two friends: an Asian woman and a white man.

“That’s who he was. He just looked at people’s spirit and who they were,” Robinson said. “When you are in uniform, you support the commander in chief, and I know that Richard did like the president. He is commander in chief, and Richard was excited and ready to serve.”

Ice Cube’s BIG3 league is not novelty or nostalgia MVPs, a protester, misfits — these ballers have something to prove and are playing to win

Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf is 48 years old and he’s in an LA Fitness about 15 miles west of Atlanta. He’s getting frustrated. Abdul-Rauf is not happy with the way his jumper is falling. So he’s pushing, relentlessly, with the same behind-the-back dribble. Then two more dribbles to the baseline. And then a jumper about 15 feet from the basket. Abdul-Rauf drills for an hour and a half, shooting from midrange, from the 3-point line, from the corner. Shooting from the wrong foot, shooting off balance.

He’s made 23 of 25 shots. But Abdul-Rauf does a special kind of math: “Nope! It doesn’t count! Don’t count my shots if they hit rim!”

When he’s done shooting, he battles Deaundrae Ballard, a four-star recruit headed to the University of Florida this season. Abdul-Rauf, who has been training Ballard and prepping him for his college career, squares up with the novice, who’s at least 6 inches taller. Three-pointer. Wet. Repeat. The sounds of other basketballs hitting the gym floor disappear. The other ballers getting in morning workouts have stopped to watch. Another 3. Swish. His gray sweatpants and royal blue shirt are drenched in sweat. It’s also dripping from his salt-and-pepper goatee.

Former NBA player Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, who will play in the BIG3 league, works on his handles while training for the start of the league.

Kevin D. Liles for The Undefeated

Abdul-Rauf shoots for two more hours. He’s done some variation of this routine every weekday since he was a Louisiana State University standout. But he’s going harder now than he has in a long time. The former Denver Nugget scoring machine, who was Colin Kaepernick before Colin Kaepernick was Colin Kaepernick, is gearing up for another chance at the national stage. He’s got a new team, the 3-Headed Monsters, with teammates Jason Williams, Kwame Brown, Rashard Lewis and Eddie Basden. And he’s got a new league to conquer. Abdul-Rauf is getting ready for the BIG3.


The phrase “dog days of summer” originated more than 5,000 years ago as a way to describe the months when the Dog Star, Sirius, would make itself most visible. Some believed The Dog was the cause of July and August heat. For the past century, afternoon baseball games have been a hallmark of those hot and lazy summer days, as fans flock to fields across the country to pass time with the heroes of the diamond. Yet, over the past 20 years or so, baseball has had an ever-decreasing impact on American culture, especially for African-Americans, who as of 2013 make up only 9 percent of Major League Baseball fans, far behind the black fanship of professional basketball and football.

For black folks, the dog days of summer, the season between June’s end of the NBA and September’s beginning of the NFL, are even more dogged because of the lack of sports they care to watch. That’s where Ice Cube and his BIG3 come in.

“Summer is boring as s—,” Ice Cube said at a January news conference announcing the BIG3, billed as America’s 3-on-3 Professional Basketball League. The league features former NBA players, most notably Hall of Famer Allen Iverson, in half-court games. It’s set to tour over the summer and to culminate in a championship game at Las Vegas’ T-Mobile Arena on Aug. 26. The league, which launches on June 25, comprises eight teams (with names such as “Power” and “3’s Company”) of five players each: three starters and two reserves. All are coached by legends such as Julius “Dr. J” Erving and Clyde Drexler.

“I feel great going into opening night,” Ice Cube said recently via mobile phone. “Fan interest is there. We have the teams and the talent to pull this league off. It feels good.”

From a distance, the BIG3 may seem like a novelty gig, a chance for nostalgia ballers to hit a few crossovers for YouTube and Instagram before retreating back into retirement. But a closer look at the league reveals passionate players, a brain trust and an organization that aims to be America’s second major pro basketball association.

Actor/rapper Ice Cube addresses the crowd at the 2017 BIG3 basketball league draft at Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino on April 30 in Las Vegas.

Sam Wasson/Getty Images

“We want this to be a viable [career] option for players who feel like they still got game and don’t want to go overseas, or who don’t want to do all that damn running up and down the court,” said Cube. “We hope to have an exciting season, and a championship game, with teams who deserve to be there.”

“I haven’t played against a lot of these guys, and they’re in their early 30s. By the grace and mercy of God, I didn’t have any problems.”

BIG3 is a real league. The competition is real. And the results are as unpredictable as they are exciting. Concepts for the BIG3 started on opposite sides of the country. On the East Coast there was Roger Mason Jr., a 2002 second-round draft pick for the Chicago Bulls who played for 10 years as a journeyman with teams such as the Toronto Raptors, San Antonio Spurs and the New York Knicks. After his final stint with the league in 2014, Mason joined the National Basketball Players Association as deputy executive director. While there, he spearheaded efforts to ensure that retired players had access to adequate health care.

Mason also has a passion for entertainment and for evolving the NBA’s tech thumbprint. Mason was the mastermind behind the inaugural NBA Player Awards show in 2015. It aired on BET, was a huge success and is a precursor to next week’s Drake-hosted NBA Awards on TNT. The BET version was executive-produced by Jeff Kwatinetz (an interesting guy), founder of entertainment company The Firm. Kwatinetz is also COO of Ice Cube’s Cube Vision film production company.

Mason had an idea he wanted to run by Kwatinetz: The NBA was seemingly headed toward a 2017 lockout (that was avoided), and Mason wanted to give players and fans something during the downtime. “My vision was a 3-on-3 tournament with active players,” said Mason. “It would give them something to do and keep games going. Then I learned that Cube and Jeff had been working on a concept for an actual league for about a year.”

The BIG3 teams don’t represent particular cities. Instead, the league will travel from Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York, to Charlotte, North Carolina, to Los Angeles, eight cities in total before the Nevada championship. Each stop will feature four games so every player gets seen. Think And1 Tour meets NBA basketball meets Harlem Globetrotters.

“Obviously, Cube and Jeff had been in the entertainment world,” Mason said. “And the idea of a touring league, similar to a music tour, was brilliant. I was all in to jump in with them after that.”

It was up to Cube, Mason and Kwatinetz to make the league familiar to fans while embracing rules that would make the game different, and innovative. The first team to 60 points wins. Halftime starts after the first team scores 30 points. There’s a four-point shot spread out over different areas of the court beyond the 3-point line (Ice Cube’s idea). The BIG3 features the return of legalized hand-checking, taking the ball outside of the paint after defensive rebounds. Once the rules were set, the trio set out to find established names. Chief among them was Iverson.


Allen Iverson was BIG3’s golden goose. Secure him and the league had its transcendent star. The 2001 NBA MVP and Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer was a human cultural landmark at the turn of the 21st century. His cornrows, baggy shorts, tattoos and hip-hop swag made him an icon. His name still resonates with NBA fans who remember the time he stepped over (now Cleveland Cavaliers head coach) Tyronn Lue in Game 1 of the 2001 NBA Finals and put Michael Jordan on skates in 1997. Even now, whenever Iverson shows up in public, whether it’s to retire his jersey in Philadelphia, or to conduct an interview, fans become enamored all over again. So grabbing The Answer was a major coup, even if he was reluctant to play at first. BIG3 is using his star power, producing a video series documenting his road back to basketball. Iverson obviously won’t be the same MVP he was in 2001, but any flashes of his previous greatness would make the BIG3 a must-watch spectacle.

“Iverson had some things going on overseas that didn’t go as well as he thought,” Mason said. “So I had to reassure him that this was as professional as it gets. And we let him know we’d work at his pace, so he can do what’s comfortable for him.”

Cube himself has been keeping tabs on Iverson’s preparedness. “I saw him in January and he looked good, but I saw him a few weeks ago and he looks more chiseled, and even more in shape,” he said. “His flavor and his style and what he brings to the league will be huge for us.”

Creating new pro leagues is hard. Vince McMahon’s XFL was set to be an offseason professional football league and flamed out after its first season. Donald Trump’s United States Football League was a disaster. The American Basketball Association, formed in 1967 and possibly the most renowned competitor to a major league, lasted nearly a decade, starred Dr. J, and helped revolutionize the way basketball was played. The ABA merged with the NBA in 1976.

Terry Pluto, columnist at The Cleveland Plain Dealer and author of 1990’s Loose Balls: The Short, Wild Life of the American Basketball Association, believes the era of leagues competing with the NBA is over. “The goal of the ABA was always to merge, never to exist on its own,” Pluto said. “And it came along at the right time. There will never be another ABA because of the timing. In 1967, there were only 10 [NBA] teams … 11 men on most rosters … 110 pro basketball players. The international game was nothing back then. Now, there’s basketball all over the world, and the U.S. has 30 teams and the D-League. I don’t see much future in anything new.”

For black folks, the dog days of summer, the season between June’s end of the NBA and September’s beginning of the NFL, are even more dogged because of the lack of sports they care to watch.

One reason it’s so difficult to battle established leagues is the fan bases that have followed teams for decades. Starting new franchises and getting fans to buy in is a major hurdle. That’s where the BIG3 has an advantage: It’s using players such as Iverson and former Sacramento Kings guard Jason “White Chocolate” Williams, a fan favorite. These guys are franchises in their own right, with their own followings. It’s more about them than the team, which has been at the heart of the NBA’s recent success and can be a driving force in BIG3’s longevity.

NBA legend Allen Iverson signs autographs before the NBA All-Star Game as part of the 2017 NBA All-Star Weekend on Feb. 19 at the Smoothie King Center in New Orleans.

Chris Marion/NBAE via Getty Images

That’s the secret to BIG3. Former NBA players bring a level of expertise that surpasses leagues looking to use minor league players or former college stars. So while the BIG3 may not revolutionize basketball in the way the ABA did, it’ll remind fans of the NBA they loved in the ’90s and early 2000s, which is just as valuable. “It’s a good product because the basketball IQ is off the hook,” said Ice Cube. “These guys just knowing how to play the game is the draw.”

There’s also another important incentive for players to perform at their best: money. Yes, BIG3 is a real league with real contracts. Each player has signed a $100,000 contract for the year. The Basketball-Related Income is 52 percent of the league’s revenue, to be split at the end of the season. The championship team gets the lion’s share of the money. Each subsequent team gets a smaller cut. So players have the incentive to take the game seriously.

But the biggest reason to expect the games to be competitive and intense is that the BIG3 is full of players who are out to prove doubters wrong. For every Chauncey Billups or Mike Bibby who wants to play versus his peers, there’s a Ricky Davis or Rashad McCants whose off-the-court reputations led to the premature demise of their pro careers. “I’m not in the league now because of executive reasons,” said McCants, who will be playing on Trilogy with Kenyon Martin and Al Harrington.

McCants was drafted 14th in 2005 by the Minnesota Timberwolves after leading North Carolina to an NCAA championship the year before. By the ’07-’08 season, McCants was averaging just shy of 15 points per game and shooting 45 percent from the field. He was, however, outspoken and, fairly or not, had earned a reputation for being difficult to coach. And he was also the first athlete to publicly date a Kardashian, appearing as a guest in 2009 on Keeping Up With The Kardashians while dating Khloe.

Rashad McCants of the Minnesota Timberwolves goes up for a shot against Yao Ming (No. 11) and Chuck Hayes of the Houston Rockets during their game on Dec. 20, 2008, at Target Center in Minneapolis.

David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images

By 2009, just four years into his career, McCants was out of the NBA despite averaging 10 points a game. “Me being out of the league has nothing to do with my play. To not get calls for four years? Not even a meeting?” McCants also came under fire in 2014 for comments about the athletic program at UNC. He’s spent the last few years bouncing around international leagues and sees the BIG3 as a chance to show owners that they were wrong to pass on him — and to also give them a chance to rectify their mistake. There’s an outside chance that someone like McCants could put on a show good enough to land back in the NBA. It’s an outcome BIG3 leadership fully encourages.

“If players get looked at by an NBA GM,” Cube said, “our league isn’t going to do anything to stop anyone from going back to the NBA, or any other league for that matter. We want this to be for the players. Really, we just want them to have fun.”


“Let’s go! It’s great to be around you guys!”

For McCants and other former players interested in joining the league, the first step to a championship was a combine and draft that took place in Las Vegas in April. McCants took center stage by breaking the ice: “I’m out here killing!”

The combine was an invitational for former NBA players: to run a few scrimmages so that player-coaches for each team — Gary Payton (who is just coaching, unfortunately), the aforementioned Iverson, Billups among them — could get a glimpse of their options and draft accordingly. The combine started tentatively enough, with players engaging in some one-on-one games. But mostly they were just feeling each other out, trying to determine how hard they wanted to go. “[My comment] got everybody’s attention,” McCants recalled. “It stole the show of me being the head of the pack and ready to go.”

On the other side of the court, there was a graying, slim participant quietly nailing jumpers. He was also dominating his one-on-one matchups. As he played, players took notice. It’s really him? But …

People were surprised to see me out there,” said Abdul-Rauf. “More than anything, they were surprised to see how I look. My stamina is still up. I look like I can still go out there and do it.”

BIG3 is a real league. The competition is real. And the results are as unpredictable as they are exciting.

Abdul-Rauf’s story has become part of sports lore. He was drafted by the Nuggets in 1990 as the third overall pick and soon became known as one of the league’s most feared streak scorers, infamously dropping 51 points on John Stockton’s head on a frigid December Utah night. The Mississippi native’s scoring prowess was so legendary that Phil Jackson tweeted in February 2016 that Stephen Curry reminded him of a young Abdul-Rauf. Then in 1996, it all came crashing down.

Denver Nuggets guard Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf stands with his teammates and prays during the national anthem before the game against the Chicago Bulls on March 15, 1996, in Chicago. Abdul-Rauf, saying that the U.S. flag was a symbol of “oppression and tyranny,” was suspended Tuesday for sitting down during the national anthem. Friday was Abdul-Rauf’s first game back.

AP Photo/Michael S. Green

That’s when the star point guard decided not to stand for the national anthem, citing that the flag and what it represents was in conflict with his Muslim faith. This prompted the NBA to suspend him for a game, costing him $32,000. The league eventually let him bow his head and pray during the anthem. By the end of that season, he was traded to the Sacramento Kings. He was out of the league by 2001, unable to even get meetings with other teams. There’s no question his protest caused his career to end — and that’s even more apparent by the fact he’s closing in on 50 and still giving buckets to players a generation younger than him.

“The [NBA] already knows the truth,” Abdul-Rauf said of his exile. “When I talk to people in the street, it’s common knowledge what was done to me. I can never get those contracts back. But God has blessed me to have my quickness and stamina.”

That quickness and stamina wowed his competition and coaches at the combine. “I was curious to see if I could get my shot off,” he recalled. “I haven’t played against a lot of these guys, and they’re in their early 30s. By the grace and mercy of God, I didn’t have any problems.” Abdul-Rauf is the oldest player in the BIG3.

Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf trains for the start of the BIG3 league at LA Fitness.

Kevin D. Liles for The Undefeated

While Abdul-Rauf was showcasing his skill and endurance on one side of the court, leading him to be drafted 17th (out of 24 players) by Payton’s 3 Headed Monsters, McCants was engaged in 3-on-3 scrimmages that were beginning to get heated. A referee made a questionable call in a game involving McCants, Corey Maggette, Stephen Jackson and others. Players got in the ref’s face, players got in each other’s faces, and the scrimmage deteriorated into a full-on scrum. The physicality and competitiveness set a tone for how the games might be played: physical NBA-style basketball that encourages trash-talking and ruggedness.

“A lot of times in [NBA] practices, players would play 3-on-3s,” said Mason Jr. “Some of those battles were the best battles no one ever saw. We’re unlocking these battles. … They’re competitive, high basketball IQ. It’s tough because you’re on an island defensively, so you have to step it up.”

What people may not realize is the fact that even though games are half-court and involve six players instead of 10, the cardiovascular toll can be greater than in a traditional game. For one, there’s a 14-second shot clock, which means attempts are going up rapidly and players are scrambling for rebounds. Also, no one can hide on defense. Defenders have to square up and create stops without much help. And with just six players on the court, everything is more spread out, so players have to cover more ground. Just shooting around? It won’t be enough. Players will have to show up to games in the best shape they’ve been in since they were in the NBA.

There’s definite potential for viral crazes, as Twitter videos are perfect for a league where a legendary point guard might end up face-first on the gym floor after a slick crossover. This works to the BIG3’s advantage, as the threat of embarrassment is going to pressure players to show up on June 25 ready to do business. “I don’t expect anyone to take this lightly, because they’re gonna get clowned if they do,” said Ice Cube. “Nobody wants to leave their legacy on the BIG3 court. Dudes are going to come out there and play with pride because that’s what I want to see.”

It’s impossible to predict the long-term success of a league like the BIG3. For Cube and Mason, if players get a chance to show off their talent and fans are entertained, then the BIG3 will find a winning formula. For Abdul-Rauf, the sustainability of the BIG3 means a chance to do something altruistic for members of the exclusive NBA fraternity — en route to making those summer days less dogged for fans.

Former NBA player and current BIG3 player Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf trains at LA Fitness.

Kevin D. Liles for The Undefeated

“For some people, pay is important,” he said via phone while on his way to yet another workout — and with a sureness he’s gained as a public speaker over the past decade. “You don’t know who this will help down the road. This could … last four or five years. Taking it seriously could help someone who’s struggling … now they can make a little money and get back on their feet. At the least, people might say, ‘We didn’t know he still had it.’ ”

Muhammad Ali helped this 7-year-old be proud to live as a Muslim in America His story taught me that patriotism can be not just obedience, but resistance

Muhammad Ali began boxing at the age of 12 because something was taken from him. Perhaps embarking on a career in boxing was an overzealous response to the theft of his red Schwinn bike, but in hindsight, the seemingly quotidian burglary might have been as consequential to history as the abduction of Helen from Troy.

Even as he began compiling accolades, including a gold medal in the 1960 Olympics, he was again stripped — this time of his dignity — when he was refused service at a diner in his hometown of Louisville, Kentucky.

Then, as he surmounted the pinnacle of the sporting world as heavyweight champion, he again had something taken from him. This time, it was his career. Banned from boxing because he thought the war in Vietnam was unjust, he remained undeterred. He was aware he came from a lineage of people who would not deny themselves what they rightfully earned, even if the society at large continued to withhold what was due to them.

His patience was rewarded. Eventually, he not only regained his rightful place as heavyweight champ, he ascended to an even loftier throne: the universally recognized greatest of all time. And yet again, he had something taken from him. This time, Parkinson’s disease stole the motor and speech skills that had made him the most magnetic and celebrated personality on earth.

Yet, his spirit endured. His commitment to the cause of his people never faltered. He did what he had always done when something was taken from him. He gave more of himself.

This was the Ali I was introduced to as a boy through worn-out paperback books in my elementary school library. Before Islam was conflated with a menacing brand of terrorism, it was largely invisible, except for the larger-than-life Ali.

My 7-year-old brain puzzled over the question. How can a man so undeniably and unapologetically Muslim be so synonymous with excellence in America? I was at that point resigned to an idea of a life much like Apu in The Simpsons, comfortable in a supporting role providing comic relief so long as I could avoid greater scrutiny and alienation.

It was strange for me to come across such a man. I felt being a Muslim was about as unusual to my classmates in Germantown, Wisconsin, as being an alien from Saturn. In fact, it was more unusual because I actually told my classmates I was an alien from Saturn rather than reveal to them my true heritage.

But there he was, even in the early 1990s, the most recognizable and widely celebrated athlete in the world — no easy feat in the midst of Michael Jordan’s championship run.

And his name, Muhammad Ali.

His story taught me and millions more that patriotism is not merely a metric of obedience but also resistance. That infamy earned by a commitment to human rights could transform over time to universal praise and effusive love. That we are not the sum of the slurs society may project on us, but rather the way we refer to ourselves.

He never hesitated to call himself The Greatest, and so he was.

And for that, we are greater.

“Surely we belong to God and to him we shall return.” The Quran (2:156)

Muhammad Ali knew how to play the villain, but dodging the draft turned him into a pariah An excerpt from Leigh Montville’s ‘Sting Like a Bee’

The famous quote did not come until a day later. The interviews on the lawn at 4610 NW 15th Street were long finished when Ali took a phone call in the morning from Tom Fitzpatrick, a 39-year-old sportswriter for the Chicago Daily News. The fight with Ernie Terrell was scheduled to take place in less than six weeks, March 29, 1966, at the International Amphitheatre near the Union Stock Yards in Chicago. Tickets had to be sold. There were reasons to talk to sportswriters from Chicago.

The Daily News was an afternoon paper, so Fitzpatrick was looking for a different angle, different words from what everyone would read over breakfast. He was not disappointed.

“I am a member of the Muslims and we don’t go to no wars unless they are declared by Allah himself,” Ali said into the phone. “I don’t have no personal quarrel with those Viet Congs.”

Bingo.

That second sentence, the one about the Viet Congs, would become the defining quote for all that followed for the heavyweight champion of the world. The initial rush of self-indulgent emotion recorded by Bob Halloran and the other reporters was enough to get America agitated about a man who talked too much, loved himself too much. The mention of the Viet Cong, first reported in the afternoon edition of the Daily News, then repeated on the wire services to newspapers across the country, brought a focus to that agitation, put all the anger into a convenient package.

“Those Viet Cong are not attacking me.”

Nothing against those Viet Congs? This was the hook. Was it dissent or was it treason? Common sense or sedition? No boldface or italics were needed. The words would jump off the page without help.

“We Muslims are taught to defend ourselves when we are attacked,” Ali further told Fitzpatrick. “Those Viet Cong are not attacking me.

“These Viet Congs are fighting a very nasty war over there,” he added. “There’s a lot of people getting killed. Why should we Muslims get involved?”

Variations of “I don’t have no personal quarrel with those Viet Congs” would be included in all future biographical stories about Ali. This would become his stand, his legacy: the ten words that changed his life. The quote would become part of American historical dialogue, stuff for schoolkids to remember. Who said “Give me liberty or give me death”? Patrick Henry. Who said “I don’t have no personal quarrel with those Viet Congs”?

An added quote would be assigned to him later: “No Viet Cong ever called me ‘n—–,’ ” but he did not say that. Not now, not for many, many years, if he ever did. The quote was said by other people — activist Stokely Carmichael, for one — but somehow was assigned to Ali in slippery history. His quote was, “I don’t have no personal quarrel with those Viet Congs.”

He would try later to give the words context. He would claim in his 1975 autobiography, The Greatest: My Own Story, that on his way back from the gym that day when he received the news, he had seen some kids throwing rocks at a little girl. He said he stopped and asked what was happening and the kids told him they were playing “army and Viet Cong” and the little girl was Viet Cong. The words made him flash to pictures he had seen in a magazine of a little girl walking among dead bodies outside Saigon. Troubled, he took this little neighborhood child in his arms and walked her home, away from the trouble. The incident was still in his head when he spoke later.

None of this happened. The autobiography would be filled with these little feel-good memories that were too good to be true, bedtime-story perfect, invented by the champ and ghostwriter Richard Durham. He never mentioned the little girl to any reporters on that day. He never even mentioned the Viet Cong until his late interview with Fitzpatrick. The quote that became remembered was another part of his daily torrent of words. Captain Sam Saxon, the man who first introduced Ali to the Nation of Islam in Miami, said he was with the champ at one point in the day and told him, “You got nothing against those Viet Cong,” and the champ agreed, yes, he had nothing against those Viet Cong. Ali perhaps remembered and repeated the phrase in the interview, nobody really conscious of the impact. There was no plan; the words came out with all the other words. The difference was that these words landed in the catch basin of the national mind.

Those Viet Cong were killing more than 18 American kids every day. The death total for 1965 had been 1,928 (double the casualties of any year in the Iraq War), and that would be tripled, to 6,350, in 1966 with the new escalation (more deaths in one year than in the entire Iraq War). In 1968, the height of the Vietnam War, 16,899 American kids would lose their lives. That would be 46 per day.

Not being upset with the Viet Cong seemed much worse than not submitting to the draft or not wanting to be involved in the war. Graphic pictures of these dying American boys had begun to appear on the nightly news. The enemy was supposed to be the enemy.

“I don’t want to scare anybody about it, but there are millions of Muslims around the world watching what is happening to me,” Ali said to Fitzpatrick. “I’m not making a threat [that they’ll get angry and do something]. I’m just saying maybe.”

This was heavy stuff.


Ali was familiar with the role of villain. He had chosen it in the early stages of his professional career, tried it on as if it were a black hat and a scowl discovered in the back of a family closet. He kept it when he found that it brought increased attention and larger paydays.

His marketing idea was that bad was much more interesting than good, an approach that newspapers, the television nightly news, and the gossipy woman next door had adopted long ago. People were more interested in paying money to see Sylvester the Cat than Tweety, Tom more than Jerry, Wile E. Coyote more than that beep-beep Road Runner.

This approach was adopted when Ali returned from the 1960 Olympics with his light-heavyweight gold medal and found himself back at the beginning in the professional side of the sport, no more than another low-watt attraction fighting unheralded opponents named Terry Hunsaker, Herb Siler, Tony Esperti, and Duke Sabedong. Where was the money, the instant payoff for those hundred-plus amateur fights? (His amateur record has been recorded in various places with various numbers, ranging from 99-8 to 137-7.) Where was that joy the country felt when he stood on that podium in Rome, the “Star-Spangled Banner” played for the world to hear? He was in a hurry. What would make people notice again? The answer appeared on his television screen.

“Soon after I turned pro, I discovered that even though I won the Olympic title, I wasn’t making any money,” Ali said to Alex Haley in Playboy. “I was the only champion who didn’t have no jack jangling in his jeans. . . . One night I was watching Gorgeous George on TV. He was jumping around making a lot of noise and threatening his opponents and I said to myself, ‘This guy’s on to something. I think I’ll put some of that into my act.’ ”

Gorgeous George, whose real name was George Raymond Wagner, was an eighth-grade dropout from Nebraska who had become one of television’s first stars in the Fifties, as notable as Lucille Ball or Milton Berle or Bishop Fulton J. Sheen. He strutted into the ring in sequined robes and high-heeled shoes and had bleached-blond hair that looked as if it came from the same bottle Marilyn Monroe used. His personal “valet” preceded him, squirting perfume into the air. George was a sissified, exaggerated stereotype of a homosexual, effeminate to the ultimate, totally in love with himself. He also was a sneaky, dirty wrestler once the matches began. The combination was irresistible. People howled from the moment he was introduced. A ringside spectator named Hatpin Mary sometimes would stick said hatpin into George’s grand backside somewhere during the proceedings, to everyone’s amusement.

Ali, as Cassius Clay at the time, adopted pieces of this act — the villain was known as the “heel” in wrestling, the hero known as the “babyface” — and added some of his own. The adopted parts involved the self-important bluster, the constant confidence, the repeated declarations about how pretty he was, the demonization of every opponent. He became a shouter, eyes bugged out of his head, one of those people who always seemed to be ticking, ready to explode. The predictions, the rhymes, the nonsense were part of his act.

American boxer Cassius Clay (Muhammad Ali) in the ring after his defeat of Sonny Liston in their world heavyweight title fight at Miami Beach, Florida.

Harry Benson/Express/Getty Images

He was especially insufferable and comic in the buildup to the first fight with Liston. He called Liston “The Bear,” and wore a light blue jacket that said “Bear Huntin” on the back. He went to Las Vegas, screamed outside the champ’s house, confronted him in a casino, made his life miserable. He asked if that big bear was as “rangy and fast and pretty as me.” Gorgeous George couldn’t have done any better.

Ali was familiar with the role of villain.

“[Clay] is light-hearted and breezy and has just enough twinkle in his eyes to take most of the obnoxiousness from the wild words he utters,” Arthur Daley of the New York Times said before the fight. “When they are imprisoned in print, however, the twinkle is never captured and Cassius just becomes nauseous.”

The twinkle made its last unadulterated appearance in the moments after Ali won the title. He was outrageous, comical, as he shouted in triumph from the ring at the sportswriters who picked Liston to win easily. He boasted about his looks, his ability, his battle plan for the odd fight that he had won when Liston refused to come out for the seventh round. No doubt about it, the night the young challenger captured the title he was a hoot. He made even his worst detractors admit they had been wrong about what would happen.

The change came the next day with his announcement that he was a member of the Nation of Islam. The comedy of the past was overwhelmed by the message of the present. The bigmouthed character became a Black Muslim. This was not what most of the paying public wanted to hear. The villain’s words now meant something. The jokes took second place to personal philosophy.

“I don’t have to be what you want me to be,” Ali said at his press conference. “I’m free to be who I want.

“I go to a Black Muslim meeting and what do I see?” he said. “I see there’s no smoking and no drinking and their women wear dresses down to the floor,” he said. “And then I come out on the street and you tell me I shouldn’t go in there. Well, there must be something in there if you don’t want me to go in there.

“In the jungle, lions are with lions and tigers with tigers and redbirds stay with redbirds and bluebirds with bluebirds,” he said. “That’s human nature, too, to be with your own kind. I don’t want to go where I’m not wanted.”

The softness here was in contrast to the national image of the NOI and the Honorable Elijah Muhammad. For the white folk who had paid attention, not a large group at the start, this was a cult more than a religion, a theology that talked about white devils and spaceships and a black scientist named Jakub, who had an enormous head and created the white devils 6,000 years ago to persecute the black man.

The Muslims had demands. What was it that Malcolm X always said? “Nobody can give you freedom. Nobody can give you equality or justice or anything. If you’re a man, you take it.” Most national stories about the faith mentioned the large number of convicted criminals who now were members.

At first, there was the thought that Ali’s conversion was a phase, a mistake by a 22-year-old guy — 22 years, 39 days at that — who had landed in a new situation with new levels of fame and economics. He had been brainwashed by some slick salesmen, sold this bill of curious religious goods. He would grow out of it soon enough. A Black Muslim? He would realize a heavyweight champ could have a much easier life.

“He’s always been such a good boy,” said his mother, Odessa Clay. “He’s been taken in by these Muslim people. We pray he’ll see the light — and we think he will.”

Muhammad Ali at the Howard university with the Muslim journal ‘Muhammad Speaks’ produced by an African American organization (Nation of Islam).

Henning Christoph/ullstein bild via Getty Images

“That Muslim stuff is a phony religion,” said his father, Cassius Clay Sr. “They brag that they don’t drink, smoke or fool around with women. That is only one commandment. There are Ten Commandments.”

The depth of Ali’s belief soon became established. If this was a brainwash, it was a very good one. Standing at the side of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad after Malcolm X’s death, the heavyweight champion of the world became a potential target for revenge. He never blinked.

As city after city rejected the idea that it should be the host for his rematch with Liston because of worries of Black Muslim violence, because of the potential for his assassination, his commitment never changed. As the fight finally landed in a hockey rink in Lewiston, Maine, and he trained in Chicopee, Massachusetts, trailed by five policemen every day as he went from his motel room to the converted banquet hall where he sparred, he laughed about the threat. As he was guarded by more than 200 policemen on the night of the fight, with hourly reports of Malcolm X Muslims coming north from New York to kill him, he laughed some more. He then dropped Liston in one round with one “anchor punch,” supposedly taught to him by old-time actor Stepin Fetchit, and as all of America wondered what the hell was going on, he exulted.

“Nobody wants to kill me,” he said. “If they shoot, the gun will explode in their hands, the bullets will turn, Allah will protect me.”

Booed during the introductions, booed during the lopsided fight, booed at the end, Ali converted the night into a morality play.

The Lewiston win was followed six months later with the 12th-round TKO embarrassment of Floyd Patterson. Poor Floyd, 31 years old, was a gentle man, a practicing Catholic, a two-time heavyweight champ who had been knocked out twice by Liston in the first round, causing him to disguise himself in shame when he walked the streets after the fights. He was cast here as a classic babyface by Ali, drawn for the fight as “The Rabbit,” as the white man’s version of a good black man, yessir, nosir, Uncle Tom. Ali cast himself, of course, as the heel. He was the belligerent black man the white man feared in the night.

Booed during the introductions, booed during the lopsided fight, booed at the end, Ali converted the night into a morality play. True Black Man pummels Fake Black Man. He would use this plotline often during his boxing career, no one ever sure if he was kidding to hype the crowd or was as serious as could be. The answer was left to the observer to decide. Ali simply laid out the story.

His domination of Patterson was obvious. The challenger, who claimed he hurt his back in the fourth, didn’t win a single round. Ali played with him, taunted him, called him “the white man’s black man,” said, “Come on, black man, fight for America.” He seemingly could have knocked him out in any round, finally dropped him in the sixth, then finished him in the 12th. Ali would claim that he was waiting for the referee to stop the fight all night, that he tried not to hurt Patterson, but the ringside view mostly was that he punished the challenger for insisting on calling him “Clay,” not his Muslim name, in the prefight publicity whirl. Fake or real, the villain was in charge all the way.

“He’s mean,” legendary retired champion Joe Louis said. “He worked that poor Floyd over good. He handled him like a baby and he gave him more than he had to give him. I think he could have knocked him out from the first round if he wanted to, but he didn’t want to. I think he just let him have it for fun.”

“While we were fighting, Clay said maybe once or twice in the earlier rounds, maybe like in the third or fourth, ‘What’s my name?’ and I said ‘Cassius,’ ” Patterson said years later. “And finally, in the latter part of the fight, I’d say in the ninth, tenth or eleventh round, and I was really taking a really bad beating, suffering, he said ‘Now what’s my name?’ I believe I said the same thing, ‘Cassius Clay and that’s what it’s always going to be, regardless of the results of this fight. Cassius Clay.’ ”

“Round one, I said, ‘What’s my name?’ ” Ali said, some number of years later. “He didn’t say nothing. So round two, round three, I hit him with my right hand. ‘What’s my name?’ He said, ‘Muhammad Ali, Muhammad Ali.’ ”

Either way, the fight was a showcase for Ali. This was how well he could box. The two bouts against Liston had been characterized by their strange conclusions. This fight was characterized by Ali’s abilities. He had dazzle, flash, incredible speed. There never had been a heavyweight champ like this young guy. He danced and moved like a middleweight, but had the size and power of a heavyweight. He had told everyone before the fight that Joe Louis would have been too slow to beat him. Rocky Marciano would have been too short. Jack Johnson would have been too ugly. Jack Dempsey would have been too light and couldn’t punch. That left him at the top. The Greatest. He looked the part against poor Patterson.

He said he didn’t need love. He had talent.

“I’m not worried about those boos,” he said. “Those were white people. I got all the black people, some white people, too, and the people of Africa and Asia.”

That theory would be tested with his remarks about the draft and the Viet Cong. The volume became louder. Starting now.

An anti-Muslim attack in Milwaukee hits too close to home I worry about my mother in an America where hate is becoming routine

“O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you nations and tribes so that you may know one another.”

Verse 49:13 of the Qu’ran


I can’t help but think about my mom.

She, like the survivor of what appears to be a hate crime in Milwaukee early this week, wears hijab — not to express a rabid militancy but because she takes delight, solace and direction in her religion. Yet, my mom’s devotion, like the religious observance of the survivor, continues to be inseparably linked to the fallacy that a woman in hijab is an active, catastrophic threat to our physical safety.

Think about your mom. Odds are she is not a homicidal maniac. What would you think if someone assaulted her because of what she was wearing?

The Islamic Society of Milwaukee is the mosque I grew up in, in the city my family calls home. I used to play tackle football in the prayer hall that the woman was leaving when she was allegedly targeted, manhandled and shanked.

According to an email that the Islamic Society of Milwaukee sent to community members Wednesday, the woman, who has asked to remain anonymous, is a “petite woman in her late 50s.” She was walking home from the mosque’s morning prayer service when a man got out of his car and attempted to rip off her hijab. As she resisted, he began “punching and kicking [her] in the head and back while she was on the ground.” She also suffered a cut on her arm that “was not serious.” Although she managed to return home after the attack, the woman may have suffered a seizure while she was trying to call for help. Eventually she was hospitalized, and she was released Wednesday.

In a city often cited as the most segregated in the country, Friday prayer at this mosque may be the most diverse moment in a metropolitan area defined by racial concentration and hierarchy. Standing in defiance to this segregated reality, a mosaic of Muslims stand heel to heel and shoulder to shoulder, indivisible.

My mom volunteered for more than a decade in this mosque, helping kids, including the victim’s daughter, learn about their religion. In effect, shielding them from the noxious delusions of radicalization. I wish this attacker had taken her class.

He would have learned from an unnervingly tender and impossibly enthusiastic woman. Someone who introduces children to Islam sans fire and brimstone, preferring a mystical mix of spirit-affirming prayers and heroic history.

Professionally, as a personal banker, my mother plays equally as therapist, financial adviser and spiritual guru to hundreds if not thousands of clients dog-paddling in a stubbornly stagnant economy. Despite my exasperation and concerns as to whether she fears discrimination, she declines to even acknowledge the possibility of a threat against her safety. Her reassurances were comforting — until I read about this hate crime so close to home.

According to BuzzFeed News, authorities are not investigating this as a hate crime “at this time.” A spokesperson for the Milwaukee Police Department told the website they had “confirmed the details of certain aspects of the woman’s story, and added there was no reason to doubt its validity.”

After two fabricated claims of hate crimes on Muslims shortly after the November 2016 election, a healthy dose of skepticism may be appropriate. Independent of the veracity of this woman’s claims, however, one cannot deny that anti-Muslim violence is becoming all too common in communities, blue and red alike, across the country. Mosques are being burned down, innocent people attacked and homes vandalized. To suggest that these acts of intimidation and violence advance our national security is to forget that these individuals are deserving of basic human rights.

Many of the victims of anti-Muslim bias are not even Muslim, underscoring the absurdity of targeting people for their presumed religious affiliation. Some Muslim rights activists suggest that a lack of empathy is a barrier to even recognizing hate crimes against Muslims.

Growing up, I reveled in the fact that I shared my birthday with George Washington. My love for him led me from the suburbs of Milwaukee to Washington University in St. Louis and eventually Washington, D.C. Every move felt like destiny was bringing me closer to my childhood hero. I felt a deep connection to what I understood to be his commitment to the cause of liberty, religious or otherwise, and equality.

Reluctantly, I have come to better understand our first president, whose greatest service to his slaves was freeing them after he died. Perhaps at the time this was indeed a courageous act of great magnanimity. To me, however, it comes off more like the self-congratulating equivalent to: “Freedom?! Over my dead body!”

It’s so strange to realize some people in our nation would sooner lionize slaveholders, rapists and war criminals in our collective national consciousness than honor the personal space of a woman returning home from her house of worship.

As if she were the enemy.