Backstage at ‘The Late Show’ with Jon Batiste The musical director and former point guard on why it’s important to keep score

On a recent Wednesday afternoon, Jon Batiste reached over to the Crosley record player in his dressing room at the Ed Sullivan Theater. He lifted the needle so that Stevie Wonder’s In Square Circle could provide a little background music while he talked in the dim glow of what once was Carol Burnett’s dressing room. Old-fashioned showbiz lights still frame the vanity’s mirror, although the vanity itself is covered with books, hats, records and a speaker. A couple of paintings lean against the mirror.

The musical director of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert was quiet and relaxed, possibly the most subdued he’d been all day.

Batiste, 31, rarely stays still, which is the only way a person can hold down his Late Show gig while also acting as artistic director at the National Jazz Museum of Harlem, recording new music, promoting a Christmas album, reimagining “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” collaborating with Wynton Marsalis, writing op-eds for The New York Times and constructing a tribute to dancer Carmen de Lavallade for the 2017 Kennedy Center Honors. Batiste is arguably the country’s most visible preservationist and celebrator of jazz. He and Stay Human, The Late Show’s house band, reach roughly 3 million people each night through their televisions.

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Jon Batiste’s fingers glide across the keys of a Steinway & Sons piano in the Stay Human rehearsal space ahead of a live taping at The Ed Sullivan Theater in New York City.

Melissa Bunni Elian for The Undefeated

The Late Show has recently vaulted to the top of the late-night ratings on the wings of host Stephen Colbert. Monday through Friday he provides a wry yet sunny accounting of how the world is descending into a morass of fear, uncertainty and, lately, how it’s being pushed there by famous men who can’t keep their hands to themselves. Batiste sets off the monologues with a tinkle of piano keys, a laugh or a quip. He’s the amen corner for Colbert’s sharpest jabs.

On the gray, overcast day after a terrorist plowed into a bike path in New York, killing eight people, Batiste strode into his eighth-floor office. When he crossed the threshold to find a stranger waiting for him, he held out his hand and let out one of his trademark “Yeeeeeeeeeeeaaaaaahs.”

His buoyant, irrepressible happiness might seem inappropriate for the day after a tragedy, even for a man who comes from the land where people give you a parade when you die. (He grew up in Kenner, Louisiana, about 20 minutes from New Orleans, before moving to New York as a teen to attend The Juilliard School.) Nevertheless, he was humming, scatting and upbeat. Batiste considers transmitting that energy to be part of his job.

“It’s an interesting line to thread, to find a joyous sound that also matches the tone of the material in the show,” Batiste said. “That’s the real challenge every day, is finding out, OK, how do we find that thing that’s gonna push the energy that we want forward but not come across as insensitive or not come across as kitsch or out of taste? And that’s what I enjoy. I love these artistic challenges.”

He’d been listening to The Commodores on the way to work, and he sat down on the small gray couch in his office, barely able to contain his humming until I joined him in the chorus of “Lady (You Bring Me Up).”

Admittedly, it’s hard not to bop your head once you hear the lively strings and driving beat of “Lady.” The Commodores are part of a playlist that Batiste made for 2017. At the beginning of every year, he compiles a mix of songs, a sort of aural lookbook for the next 365 days. This year’s mishmash included contemporary Bob Dylan, 1920s and ’30s Louis Armstrong, Peggy Lee and Michael Jackson’s Dangerous album.

The yearly mix provides a thematic foundation for what Batiste wants to reference in the show. About a week after we spoke, Batiste and Stay Human played an arrangement of “Lady” during a Late Show commercial break. It’s evidence of the thoughtfulness that defines his tenure as Late Show bandleader.

“I like putting stuff into the machine and then seeing what comes out of the machine. The brain, that’s like our processing machine,” Batiste said. “So for me, I like to just make a list of all the stuff that I want to digest and assimilate and then I just live with it.”


Batiste has had years of experience putting music into his “processing machine.” He began playing with his father, Michael, in the family’s Batiste Brothers Band when he was about 6 or 7.

The Batistes are one of New Orleans’ most respected and legendary jazz clans, and they’ve often worked side by side with the Marsalis family. Both Batiste and his mentor, Wynton Marsalis, attended high school at New Orleans Center for Creative Arts. Wynton’s father, pianist Ellis Marsalis Jr., headed the jazz department there and was succeeded by clarinetist Alvin Batiste, a distant cousin of Jon’s.

“Him and Alvin and Clyde Kerr and Kidd Jordan, they were like the four village elders who taught everybody in New Orleans music from the last 40 years,” Batiste said. His upbringing in a family of jazz musicians and his experiences playing point guard, both in school (where he was part of a state championship-winning squad) and for an AAU team, gave Batiste his energy, his musical acumen and his constant all-American drive for self-improvement.

Jon Batiste is an avid dresser, usually opting for suits with bold colors or prints paired with custom made sneakers.

Melissa Bunni Elian for ESPN

“It’s a discipline to achieve whatever your desired end result is,” Batiste explained. “In sports, there’s a score. There’s statistics, and there’s a winner and a loser and a championship, and there is one team that gets it. It’s just very clear-cut.

“I think, in order to get better at being a musician and a bandleader and a composer and all these different things, you have to create things that are that clear-cut, because the competition that you’re up against is yourself. So it’s harder, if you’re not willing to look into the mirror, to define what the end result is. It’s very easy to get to a certain level and to just coast, and to not push yourself to be better, because nobody is really keeping score.”

That constant pushing isn’t just what Batiste expects of himself. He expects it of his bandmates in Stay Human too.

It’s important to get “the team to where’s there’s a built-in camaraderie and built-in sense of purpose, that you’re OK passing your guy the ball to take the shot when it counts in the fourth quarter,” Batiste said, again likening the job to running a basketball team. “It’s not always going to be you that gets to take that shot. You may have to trust your sixth man, or your 2 guard. You’re running point, and I played a lot of point. You’re going to have to trust … I’m not going to be able to take this shot. This is not a smart shot for me to take.”


Batiste comes to work after lunch — this time, he raved about the meatball sandwich at a spot on 53rd Street and Ninth Avenue — usually taking a car from his apartment in midtown Manhattan. His office is filled with sunlight, although the view is basically of a construction crane, thanks to New York’s never-ending real estate development. He’s got two keyboards, a Mac, an amp, a drum set, an electric bass and a Mason & Hamlin baby grand piano. An unopened bottle of Dom Pérignon still in the box, sits on his windowsill — he doesn’t drink.

He catches up on the news and tries to get an idea of what the show will address. Because Colbert riffs on the day’s news for his nightly monologue, things at The Late Show are often in flux right up until it’s time to tape the show. That means Batiste finds himself flipping through the musical library in his head on deadline and making last-minute changes at sound check.

“Picking music for TV is so specific,” Batiste said. “It has a mystery to it until you pick that right song, play that right beat, and then it’s like, ‘Oh, of course I should have been doing that.’ So it’s a mystery until then. You gotta crack the code.”

The code-cracking continues in the Stay Human rehearsal space, which is about the size of a McMansion bathroom.

Jon Batiste, left, reacts to the music while practicing new material with his band, Stay Human, a few hours ahead of a live taping at The Ed Sullivan Theater in New York City.

Melissa Bunni Elian for The Undefeated

The Late Show tapes four days a week. So Monday through Thursday, 10-plus people cram into the space with their instruments, including a tuba and a drum set, and jam.

Batiste’s assistant squeezes into a chair next to the upright Steinway and plays a song from her phone through the Marshall speaker that sits on the piano. Gradually, the band picks up the groove and joins in. There’s little to no sheet music.

Batiste and the band rehearse for roughly an hour, their choices guided by that night’s guests and notes from a morning production meeting that his assistant attends. Then he’s off to comedy rehearsal with Colbert, where the two go through Colbert’s proposed monologue. A small gathering of crew makes up the audience for the rehearsal, which was kept so off-limits that not only could I not watch, I couldn’t even be in the building while it was taking place.

All those little riffs and interjections that feel natural and spontaneous when you watch Colbert’s monologue? They’ve been rehearsed.

After comedy rehearsal, Colbert and his staff make script changes and Batiste refines his music selections. Then there’s a sound check on the stage with the whole band. This time, Batiste was working through a song with Jonathan Groff, who played King George in Hamilton and now stars on the Netflix series Mindhunter. The two fumbled around to find the right key for a jokey promotional duet for Mindhunter that Groff sang with Colbert.

While everyone ventured off to hair and makeup, Late Show staff members shepherded the night’s audience into their seats. They were treated to a bawdy warm-up act by comedian Paul Mecurio. Batiste and Stay Human played a 15-minute concert, and Colbert came out, introduced himself to the audience and took questions.

Finally, they make the television that shows up after the local news five nights a week.


Duke Ellington favored natty suits and a top hat. Cab Calloway rarely performed without his conductor’s baton, white waistcoat and tails.

While Colbert sticks to a uniform of sober suits and dress shoes, his bandleader favors blazers from Mr. Turk and fresh Jordans. Batiste is a consummate sneakerhead, and while he sat and talked on his sofa, he casually dribbled a basketball between his feet.

Now Batiste has access to an entire collection of covetous footwear, an actual binder full of sneakers, via The Late Show’s stylist. He’s an admirer of Russell Westbrook’s sartorial boundary-pushing, and though his loyalties are not wedded to one particular NBA team, he casually follows Oklahoma City.

Unlike Calloway, Batiste doesn’t come out in a zoot suit every night. But there’s a special element of showmanship involved in being a bandleader. It’s a skill, one that Batiste, who swears he used to be shy, had to learn. And his personal style, which he began to cultivate after moving to New York, is part of it. Presentation, he insists, is separate from being a skillful musician.

Jon Batiste is an avid dresser, usually opting for suits with bold colors or prints paired with custom made sneakers.

Melissa Bunni Elian for The Undefeated

“I think it really is important to think of them as different things,” Batiste said. “It requires a certain understanding of yourself and your comfort zone, and then stepping outside that and expanding your comfort zone. I actually didn’t see a connection with the two. Also, when I was growing up, it was more the older family members who took that role of presenting the band and everything like that. … That’s always a shock to people who I’ve known for a long time, to see how both those things have developed. It’s a surprise, almost, like a different person has emerged.”


Batiste interprets the world through the youthful ears of a wizened soul. His workspaces at The Late Show are a cornucopia of old and new. Crosley and Marshall are companies that specialize in making music equipment that draws on vintage aesthetics but benefits from modern technological innovation. It’s a theme that recurs throughout Batiste’s working life — he began playing for vocalist Cassandra Wilson, now 61, when he was just 22. He’s a jazz musician whose instrument of choice is the melodica, a contraption that looks like a small hand keyboard with a mouthpiece and sounds like a harmonica.

“A lot of people think that this instrument, you know, is like a child’s toy,” Batiste said, but he loves it. He recounted how he showed it to Stevie Wonder the first time they met, when Batiste was still a student at Juilliard.

“Man, you ever played one of these?” Batiste asked Wonder.

Wonder took the instrument, played it, then gave it back.

“Yeah, I used to play them, but I would get so much spit in them, I stopped,” Wonder told him.

“Oh, you got jokes!” was Batiste’s retort.

Unlike many of his earliest predecessors in jazz, Batiste boasts formal musical training besides everything he learned in his family’s band. He earned a master’s degree from Juilliard.

“I feel like it connects me to the ancestors more, the kind of founding fathers of the music,” Batiste said of his musical education. “Mothers and fathers, because women were a big part of it as well. There’s a lot of female artists that I think are still actually becoming recognized that we don’t even know about. The training just gives me another tool. Nothing can hurt you in pursuit of knowledge, the pursuit of your craft.

“You know, there were great musicians who were the most erudite, studied, and they knew everything there was to know even before there were all these schools. And there were also musicians who didn’t know all that stuff, but they knew it in their own way. So, in my mind, I don’t even think about it like I’m educated more so than a musician who didn’t go to a conservatory. It’s just I know the terminology. But the person who knows it is the one who experiences it. So, if somebody is playing it on their instrument, they know it. … Whether they call it a C scale or dominant seventh chord or they just know it by whatever they know in their mind, when they play, it’s there.”

In Batiste’s office there’s a poster of Mavis Staples, one of his many heroes.

“She’s not just a musician now, she’s bigger than music,” Batiste said. “[Her involvement] in the civil rights movement and being a force for goodwill and a force of peace and a force for faith and a force in all kinds of ways. It’s amazing.”

Staples represents what he wants to achieve, Batiste said, “just what kind of energy I want to have as a performer and a celebrity. Somebody that’s authentic and is very real and also accomplished and all that, at the same time.”

In marrying youth with tradition, drawing a line from zoot suits to Jordans, Batiste has become a vehicle for advocating and communicating about jazz. He’s reverential, but not stuffy, and always repping New Orleans. (When it comes to gumbo, Batiste prefers filé to okra as a thickener for the city’s signature stew — that’s how his mama makes it.)

For decades, there’s been a panic that jazz, born in Louisiana and spread via the Great Migration, radio and vinyl, is dying. As once-booming jazz corridors in cities such as Washington, D.C., and Kansas City have shrunk or transformed, those changes are accompanied by understandable worries that no one’s interested in carrying on the genre’s traditions, that a uniquely American art form is going underappreciated outside of Lincoln Center, the Kennedy Center and rich people’s wedding receptions. Damien Chazelle won an Academy Award for directing a movie around that theme.

But there’s always a young, handsome, passionate and charismatic ambassador keeping the legacies of Bird and Miles and Satchmo alive. In the ’90s, it was Batiste’s mentor, Wynton Marsalis. Now Batiste has picked up the torch, along with the requisite fedora and porkpie hat — he’s got a stack of them in his dressing room and more in his office. As for the next generation? Well, Batiste turned 31 in November. He celebrated by traveling to see his 8-year-old nephew’s piano recital. The culture is in safe hands.

No matter if it’s a rehearsal or an actual performance, Batiste and his band member play full out, laughing and having fun with each note they play.

Melissa Bunni Elian for The Undefeated

“I don’t expect that jazz is always going to be on top like it was in the ’20s, for example,” said jazz pianist and bandleader Herbie Hancock. “The music is always evolving and constantly changing, and it’s very difficult for a lot of listeners to keep up with that.”

But he’s optimistic about Batiste’s work on The Late Show. “That experience is incredible because you’re challenged in a lot of new ways, doing that type of TV show,” Hancock said. “Because of the kind of talent he has and his experience in jazz, he’s able to more easily adapt and include new ways of dealing with the music for that kind of show than if he had not had it.”


As darkness began to settle over Manhattan, it was time for a show.

Batiste sprinted onstage to greet the show’s live audience. Joined by Stay Human, they pumped up the crowd with James Brown’s “Get Up, Get Into It, Get Involved” and an arrangement of Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five” modeled after Tito Puente’s salsa-fied version.

One of Colbert’s guests was writer and Aspen Institute president Walter Isaacson, who was there to promote his new biography of Leonardo da Vinci. To introduce Isaacson, the band played an up-tempo rendition of “Oh! Didn’t He Ramble,” a New Orleans ditty from 1902 later popularized by Jelly Roll Morton and Louis Armstrong.

“I grew up with his whole family,” Isaacson explained to Colbert. “The wonderful Batiste family of New Orleans.” Isaacson gestured toward Batiste. “He’s a great man.”

When the interview concluded, Isaacson walked over for a hug, thrilled that Batiste had chosen to pay musical homage to their shared roots.

Later, Colbert said goodbye and the band exited. While the audience made its way to the lobby, stopping for pictures with cardboard cutouts of Colbert, Batiste huddled with the host for a post-mortem of the night’s show.

The process of assembling and putting out a newspaper used to be known as the Daily Miracle. Making late-night television involves many of the same pressures related to accuracy, tone and intellect. On top of that, it’s got to be funny, and it’s done in front of a live audience.

No wonder The Late Show tapes smack in the middle of Broadway. With Colbert and Batiste at the helm, it’s clear that’s exactly where it belongs.

Spike Lee’s ‘She’s Gotta Have It’ reboot is radical and timely With help from a Pulitzer-winning playwright, the reboot is a sexy and worthy binge

It’s appropriate: Right when high-profile white Hollywood actresses and feminists are calling out predatory white men in the industry, igniting a major conversation about sexual harassment and male accountability, an empowered black woman character is speaking out against the street harassment and patriarchy she experiences each day — and she seems to speak for real-life black women everywhere. This character is the iconic Nola Darling from Spike Lee’s progressive new Netflix series She’s Gotta Have It.

DeWanda Wise (Shots Fired, Underground) plays Darling in the small-screen version of Lee’s movie of the same name. More than 20 years after he introduced the radically free character (originally portrayed by Tracy Camilla Johns), the new Nola is still challenging the same archaic, toxically masculine landscape — exacerbated by gentrification and casual racism.


Like in the film, Nola is a smart, 20-something artist and sexually liberated New Yorker who refuses to abide by or be defined by societal norms. She’s a good daughter and a good friend, the type of woman you want in your circle. She balks at commitment, but not because she’s particularly jaded or afraid of it. She just doesn’t find it necessary, especially not when so many men around her are happily and unapologetically engaging in multiple relationships with no strings attached. The playing field isn’t level, but she can still attract and entertain as many men as she pleases.

The difference, of course, lies in the way she is perceived — versus how men are perceived. To men, even the ones she’s bedded, Nola is a “freak,” greedy, and open to any and everyone who wants her, regardless of whether she’s interested. Nola is self-possessed, and she wears club clothes during the day, which is enough to threaten even the most confident man. “What kind of lady acts like a man?” one male character asks. But still, as the saying goes, she persists. Midway through the 10-episode season, Nola experiences a powerful turning point. This isn’t a moment that makes her adjust her identity — Nola’s purpose is actually clarified.

Courtesy of Netflix

A confident evening walk down her block is interrupted by a random man who tries to push himself on her. He fails, fortunately, as she scurries up her steps. Then he calls her a “b—.” Nola is visibly shaken, and angered by the fact that this dude got to her. He made her feel weak and helpless in front of her own home, in the neighborhood where she grew up. As demeaning as the situation is, it thrusts Nola further into her creative work. She produces her most revolutionary piece yet, a graffiti series that calls out rampant street harassment.

Nola Darling splatters words — including “b—-” and “mamacita” — across the walls of Brooklyn buildings. Written anonymously, and while blinded with anger, the artwork strikes a nerve within Nola’s community, imploring both enablers and perpetrators to reckon with themselves.

But as Nola finds this artistic release and reclaims her own power, she’s still confronted by the oppressive natures of the men in her life. Pretty boy Greer (Cleo Anthony), married businessman Jamie (Lyriq Bent) and fellow free spirit Mars (Anthony Ramos) predictably want to rescue her. But Nola resists, leaving each of them to hold their fragile egos in their own hands. She finds her way back to the more grounded and drama-free Opal (Ilfenesh Hadera), a woman with whom she’s been in and out of a relationship. It’s no accident that Nola finds companionship with someone who sees her as an equal, and who embodies maturity and empathy.

This is not to say that Nola is a commitment-phobe. She just chooses to approach romance in a way that satisfies her — and frees her from dictatorial rules of dating and relationships that benefit men. So these three men in particular become extensions of her sexuality, whether they’re comfortable with that or not. Like herself, Greer is self-assured, artistic and constantly searching for his next inspiration. But, as the son of a French black man and a white mother, he’s also blinded by his light-skinned privilege and uses it to present himself as superior to others. He can throw it down between the sheets, though, so there is that.

Jamie is the stable one, the older, distinguished gentleman who has his stuff together but goes home to a wife and son. But that’s OK, as Nola apparently isn’t checking for him quite like that right now, or perhaps any day. Jamie is protective of Nola, always claiming he’s ready to throw it all away for her. He’s fascinated by her youthful spirit and sexy confidence and how easy it is for her to express herself — basically for being everything he is not. But, like all the men in her life, he makes the mistake of thinking his interest in her guarantees a commitment from her.

Courtesy of Netflix

Then there’s Mars, Nola’s kindred spirit. The half Puerto-Rican, half black artist in black-rimmed glasses and new $200 kicks. He’s fun, woke and quirky, makes sex as thrilling as an amusement park ride and is always there just when Nola needs him. He can’t be taken seriously, which is why Nola keeps him around. But he still gets in his feelings when Nola doesn’t give him the attention he craves.

Lee, along with an impressive writing staff that includes Pulitzer Prize winner and professor Lynn Nottage (Sweat), breathes present-day life into Nola at just the time when the amplification and celebration of black women who choose, as opposed to being chosen, is needed. Elevated via a pitch-perfect portrayal by Wise, the new She’s Gotta Have It is unapologetically black, sexy, radical and feminist in a way that has never really seen before on-screen. This is a binge-watch worth your time.

Author Jesmyn Ward talks about enduring hurricane season, the South, and what it means to be a MacArthur ‘genius’ She has a deep love for the South, but isn’t sure she wants to finish raising her children there

Winning a MacArthur “genius” grant can be a little bit like winning the nerd lottery.

Not only are you recognized for your intellectual prowess and contributions to society, but it’s publicly announced to every major media outlet in the country that your bank statements will be a bit bigger. MacArthur fellows get $625,000, with zero strings attached, spread over five years.

“It didn’t feel real until everyone knew, and then, of course, you speak to people that you haven’t spoken to in years, and everyone congratulates you,” said author Jesmyn Ward, one of 24 people honored by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation this month. “It’s a huge, huge honor, but it is overwhelming. It is overwhelming. Everyone immediately wants to borrow money.

“Everyone is already like, ‘Oh, so we’re rich now. We’re rich.’ ”

Ward, 40, was already a superstar. Her novel Salvage the Bones won the 2011 National Book Award, and this year her latest novel, Sing, Unburied, Sing, is short-listed for it. Inspired by James Baldwin, Ward also edited a 2016 essay collection, The Fire This Time, which assembled thoughts from luminaries such as Isabel Wilkerson, Kiese Laymon, Clint Smith, Edwidge Danticat and Emily Raboteau.

Ward, who teaches at Tulane University, grew up in Mississippi with modest means. After stints in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and New York, she elected to return, buying a home in DeLisle, Mississippi, a 57-mile drive to New Orleans and her university job. Salvage the Bones, which followed a poor black Mississippi family in the days leading up to Hurricane Katrina, was inspired by her own experiences living through the storm. Despite her deep love for her home state and its most vulnerable citizens, Ward is not sure how much longer she’ll remain there.

We talked about writing, the strangeness of becoming a public figure, making it through this year’s harrowing hurricane season, and the hyper-abbreviated nature of black childhood, which Ward explores in Sing, Unburied, Sing. Her latest novel follows a 13-year-old boy named Jojo, and his young mother, Leonie, who serve as alternating narrators. They’re poor and live in rural Mississippi with Leonie’s mother, who is dying of cancer, and Leonie’s father. Leonie decides to take a road trip with Jojo and her toddler daughter, Kayla, to pick up their white father, Michael, from prison. Every generation of the family is grappling with death and unresolved loss in some way, but Leonie is particularly striking because of her inability to reckon with the death of her brother, Given, who was murdered by a white schoolmate.

This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.

What is the moment like when you find out that you’ve been awarded a MacArthur grant?

It’s totally surreal. When it’s happening, when they’re telling you that you’ve won a MacArthur grant, it just doesn’t feel real. It’s such a huge award and such a huge honor that it’s never the call that you expect to get. I don’t think it feels real until the announcement. When everyone else finds out, that’s when it feels real. [The MacArthur Foundation] prepares beforehand, because they send a video crew out to your house and you spend an entire day with them.

Most writers are not extroverts. Once you started accumulating this snowball of acclaim, what did that do to you?

It’s difficult, especially because I am naturally a shy person, or at least I was, in high school and afterwards for years. One of my friends … while I lived in New York, would introduce me, and he would jokingly say, ‘This is my mute friend,’ because I would never speak. It’s really odd for me to now have to develop and assume a public persona and to share. I have to figure out how much of my private self am I willing to reveal. How comfortable am I, will I attempt to be, when I’m sharing my life with other people? It’s something that I have to work at.

When did you first realize there’s Public Jesmyn and Private Jesmyn?

I didn’t really realize that I would have to develop a public persona until Salvage the Bones was nominated for the National Book Award. That’s when everything changed for me, because I wrote Where the Line Bleeds as my first novel, my baby novel. A fair amount of people read it, but it didn’t get a ton of serious reviews and I didn’t do a lot of interviews. And then Salvage the Bones came out, and the reception was better, but it was before it was nominated for a National Book Award. Then everything changed, and then of course once I won, everything really changed.

I devoted years of my life to becoming a better writer. I’ve learned how to read like a writer. I worked on my craft and just tried to improve with everything that I produced, with everything that I created, but I never really thought about what it would mean to actually get better and get good enough to the point where other people start recognizing it, and then you’re reaching more people, wider range of people, reaching lots of readers. Suddenly you have an audience.

“One of my friends … while I lived in New York, would introduce me, and he would jokingly say, ‘This is my mute friend,’ because I would never speak.”

Writing is such a solitary thing, so it was a total surprise for me when I realized that my life as a writer would not just consist of me sitting in a room typing or reading.

But you know what helps? Teaching, because I’m a professor, and that helps me a lot. I was put in plenty of situations where I had to think quickly, speak quickly, plenty of situations where I had to attempt to be eloquent and to learn how to talk about something that I was very passionate about, because that’s what teaching demanded.

Is it more difficult talking to a roomful of college students or talking to reporters?

It’s definitely talking to a roomful of college students! This has not happened to me at Tulane, but I’ve definitely taught at other schools where the college students I’m teaching do not think that I am the smartest person in the room, and in fact they think they are the smartest person in the room. That’s always a little difficult to navigate.

What did you mean by “learning to read like a writer”?

For me, that meant reading poetry to attempt to figure out how figurative language can create beauty, how figurative language can make a reader feel. I read poetry to also figure how sentences can create rhythm, how paragraphs can create rhythm.

I read literary fiction to attempt to figure out what was pleasing to me as far as a prose style. I also read literary fiction to figure out how to develop a character, how to make a character come alive on the page. I read literary fiction to figure out pacing and how to balance narration and scene, and what was pleasing to me as a writer, what kind of balance was pleasing to me, whether I liked lots of dialogue and a little narration or more narration and less dialogue.

And then I read other genres, like fantasy, like sci-fi, like children’s books, middle-grade books, YA books, even romance, because I feel like those genres taught me different things about — I feel like I wasn’t necessarily reading them to learn lessons about prose and about what I felt worked well and what didn’t. I think that those books taught me things about how to create suspense, about plot.

What are you excited to be reading right now?

I have a poetry anthology next to my bed. Czeslaw Milosz. A Book of Luminous Things. That’s nice, to have books that I can open up and read a short piece and get some satisfaction from knowing that I’ve read something.

I recently read a children’s book called The Girl Who Drank the Moon, which was amazing. In the last two chapters, I was tearing up the entire time. It was insane, but it was such a pleasure to read that because I could just enjoy it. I feel like it’s easiest to turn off my writerly brain when I’m reading children’s lit. It’s just a lovely, beautiful book.

You have spent a lot of time thinking about Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath. What was it like for you living through this hurricane season?

It’s been difficult, especially seeing the devastation in Houston, seeing the devastation in Puerto Rico, seeing the devastation in Florida, being witness to the current administration’s ambivalence towards that suffering, and sometimes outright hostility that echoes some of the ambivalence and hostility that at least New Orleans, and somewhat the Mississippi Gulf Coast, that we experienced during Katrina. It’s hard, and I didn’t realize how difficult until I saw Houston was flooding, and I thought, ‘I should write something about this,’ and I couldn’t write a thing. I couldn’t write anything, and then I realized how deeply affected I was and how haunted I was by Katrina and by what happened after Katrina.

And then I realized that again, when we were preparing for Hurricane Nate. Nate was a Category 2 storm, and we were losing our minds. I was trying to get a solar-powered generator. I was stocking up and preparing in a way that you would prepare for a Category 5, and yet so was everyone else. It wasn’t just me. It was everyone else here, on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, in New Orleans. That’s the long shadow of Katrina. I think that every time it happens, that we’ll react like that, because of Katrina, because we’re still struggling with it. I think there’s a lot of unresolved anxiety and terror that people carry from our experiences in Katrina.

In Sing, Unburied, Sing, you bounce back and forth between Jojo and Leonie, who are both young, as narrators. Jojo is forced to grow up faster than his years, and Leonie, his mother, doesn’t quite feel like a real grown-up yet.

I think that black childhood is not something that’s granted to black children in America, and so I think that my characters reflected that. Jojo, his experience reflects that in the present moment, as he’s going through it, but I feel that Leonie is the kind of character who comes to life when a black person has — when their childhood has been denied. When that childhood has been stolen, she’s the result, where she’s sort of stuck in this extended adolescence, especially with her selfishness and her inability to process hardship, to face hardship and to live with hardship and to thrive, really. That’s what happens.

“I feel like it’s easiest to turn off my writerly brain when I’m reading children’s lit.”

It’s funny, because then I think about Richie’s character, who is a ghost. He’s a ghost, and he should be nearly as old as Pop is, but yet he, too, is stuck in some sort of adolescence because his childhood was taken away from him, because he was robbed of his childhood.

I think about Mam and I think about Pop, and I wonder why they did not break, why they don’t seem broken in the way that Leonie’s broken, or that Richie is broken.

When I think about Kayla and Jojo, I don’t think that they will be broken people like Leonie or like Richie. I think that they’ll be like Mam and like Pop, and maybe the reason why I don’t think that they will be broken people, and maybe the reason why Pop and Mam aren’t broken, is because there was something there that sustained them. I think for Mam, it was the love of her family, and also these things like black spiritual traditions, voodoo and hoodoo and herbal medicine. I think that that sustained her. With Pop, I think it’s family. I think that that definitely sustained him, and maybe a sense of community that he has or a sense of responsibility that he had to that family and to that community.

You go so hard for the South. So often it’s discussed as a place where the best thing about it for black folks is that they can leave. What makes you want to stay there?

I am writing about the kind of people who I grew up with. I’m writing about people who are like my family members. I’m writing about people who are like people who live in my community. I think, because I’m writing from that place, that I can love them, but I can also be critical of them. And I think, too, that I’m very aware of how history bears on the present in the South, and of how it complicates people’s lives, and how it is this really underacknowledged force in the region. I want to acknowledge that, and I think that that’s also what is fueling some of that critical eye.

I wanted to come back for so long, and I am here now, but I have gotten to this point in my life where I can’t say that I will stay here forever.

Why not?

It’s just motivated by my kids, because I have a 5-year-old daughter and I have my son, who [is now] 1. I love my kids, and I want the best for them, and I don’t know. I feel like, in some respects, that I would be failing them if we stayed here through the years when they were teenagers, because this is not a kind place, in many ways, and I worry for them. I want them to live, and I want them to thrive, and I don’t know if this is the best place for that to happen.

Is there any place in America that’s safe for them, where they can be children?

I know that there’s nowhere in this country where they could be completely safe, but I do feel like there are places in this country that would be safer, and made safer, because of where I have worked, because of where I’ve gotten in my life. Classwise, I could afford them different opportunities that if I were poor, or if I lived in poverty, and if I were moving to the Northeast or Chicago or the West, they’d face more dangers. But there’s some opportunities that I can give them because of where I am right now.

I don’t know a single educated black person who has risen to a certain place in society who doesn’t have family members who aren’t as lucky.

It’s difficult. I do what I can, but I think that — how do I say this? I do what I can for my extended family, but I think that their ideas of what I have and the demand on what I have are different from my knowledge of what I have and what I have to give. It induces a lot of guilt, because you want to help. When you’re personally in that situation, you want to help your extended family. I feel guilty because I’m in this position, and they’re not, and then I also feel guilty that I can’t do more. But I can’t. I’m not a millionaire. I’m not a billionaire. I’m a thousandaire.

How much did the death of your brother figure into Leonie and the way she’s working through Given’s death?

I was worried about that when I discovered Given’s character, when it worked out that Leonie had a brother and that he died when they were teenagers. I was worried about writing him, because I know that readers know about my brother, and I didn’t want them to confuse me with Leonie. I didn’t want them to confuse my brother with Given, but I felt like Given was the key. Given was the key to understanding Leonie. His death was the key to understanding her — who she was, her trauma, and understanding why she does what she does. And so I felt like I had no choice, in some respects. I had to write him.

But then, those fears eased a little bit once I got further into the manuscript because their relationship took on a life of its own. It became real, and it was very different from my relationship with my brother. And so, once I got to the point where I felt like their relationship took on life, I was like, ‘Oh, we’re nothing like each other.’ But knowing that Leonie lost a sibling helped me to really understand her, understand that pain that she basically shies away from dealing with and living with.

You talk about the resilience of Mam and Pop, but I wonder if her cancer is basically her internal grief welling up inside her?

I read an article … that was about health and racism. The article was making the argument that racism is a stressor, and that that stressor affects black people’s health in many different ways, and that when you control for class, that still you see a big difference in the health outcomes for black people at a certain class and health outcomes for white people in a certain class.

That was really striking to me. They’re looking at things like heart disease, like diabetes, like maternal health. They’re looking at things like premature births, and then the health outcomes for the children. The article was really making the argument that racism has lasting effects, health effects on black people. I was thinking about that a lot while I was writing Sing, Unburied, Sing.

Boosie Badazz is more than a rapper, he’s a survivor and he’s cancer-free ‘I was reaching out to the public because I needed prayer; prayer is stronger than anything’

One glimpse at Louisiana rapper Boosie Badazz’s schedule will tell you he’s a businessman on a mission. It’s his everyday battle with cancer and also diabetes that you can’t always see.

What fans witness on any given night of a Boosie performance is an artist who is passionate and dedicated to his craft. But off stage, beyond the bright lights, live mics and the fog of smoky nightclubs, Boosie, given name Torrence Hatch, battles each day to keep going.

There are the doctor’s appointments to ensure the 34-year-old is still cancer-free after being diagnosed with kidney cancer two years ago. There are the daily measures Boosie takes to control his Type 1 diabetes — insulin, three times a day — a regularly scheduled routine since his diagnosis 13 years ago.

He’s also been working overtime in the studio on his latest tracks and celebrating the successes of other artists he has managed, including rapper Yung Bleu, who signed with Columbia Records last month. The entrepreneur has even crossed into the food industry to promote Boosie Juice — his all-natural, strawberry-kiwi-flavored vodka — and pushing the Lil’ Boosie Louisiana Heat potato chips, produced by the Rap Snacks potato chip company. In between business ventures, Boosie is still greeting the fans and delivering high-energy performances to sold-out crowds around the country.

Despite that, Boosie Badazz remains as tough as his moniker and is keeping his health at the forefront.

“Right now, I’m probably healthier than I’ve ever been,” Boosie said by phone. “I’m just trying to stay out here and keep doing what I’m doing, but, you know, the things that I be going through, it just makes me stronger. I never fold. All this s— that come on me … it just makes me stronger. I been going through this my whole life.”

Boosie, a native of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, gained popularity in the early 2000s after signing with Pimp C’s Trill Entertainment. There, Boosie, known as Lil Boosie at the time, collaborated with artist Webbie, and the two released their first hit collaboration album, Ghetto Stories, in 2003. After the popularity of the first album, a second collaboration album, Gangsta Musik, was released the following year. Boosie’s solo album, Bad Azz, was released in 2006.

“My music, it does more than make people jump or bob their heads,” Boosie said. “It touches people. … My fans see me and they cry to me. I’m a friend to my fans, and that’s that different music. You can make music that makes you jump, but you’re gonna get tired of dancing. When you make music that sits with people and make people think, it’s different. I have a crazy following, and my fans love the s— out of me. You can’t tell them nothing about Boosie.”

As Boosie climbed to new heights in his career, trouble soon followed. In 2009, the rapper was jailed and sentenced to four years after pleading guilty to a marijuana possession charge and probation violation. Two years later, he pleaded guilty to attempting to smuggle drugs into prison, which added eight years to his sentence, according to NOLA.com. His sentencing prompted the social media campaign #FreeBoosie, started for and by fans who believed the rapper’s sentencing was too much. After serving five years, Boosie was released from prison in March 2014 and immediately got back to work as if he’d never stepped out of the scene.

“Jail made me smarter business-wise,” Boosie said. “I had to read books on music. I had to sit back and find ways to make it through. I’m way smarter than I was hood-wise also. I don’t do certain s— that I would’ve done back in the day. Once you get a little older, you wise up. Jail made me sharper and made me a more successful person.”

Boosie’s health scare

Smaller health issues, such as his diabetes, remained in check. But in 2015, the rapper experienced symptoms that were much more serious than he’d ever experienced. Physically, he wasn’t feeling well. Vomiting and weight loss were prevalent. Boosie turned to doctors for answers and requested a magnetic resonance imaging scan in hopes of solving his medical mystery. When the results came back, doctors delivered the crushing news to Boosie that his health problems were a result of kidney cancer. Unwilling to accept the news the first time around, Boosie opted to undergo another scan in hopes that there was an error with the first one.

“When I found out I had it, it was a hard time for me,” Boosie said. “I wasn’t feeling confident at all. I had just lost two aunties and an uncle to cancer. Anything else I’ll take it all head up, but with cancer, I was worried a lot because I had just lost a couple of my people. I ain’t never fight nothing like this. I was losing so much weight. I lost like 20 pounds in 13 days.”

With the news settling in, Boosie, going against the wishes of his label and family members, reached out to his fans. In an Instagram caption, which was later deleted, the rapper asked for prayers.

“I need all my fans to pray for me,” Boosie wrote. “Doctor just told me I have cancer on my kidneys. Prayer is power, that’s why I’m letting the world know prayfaboosie.”

“I was reaching out to the public because I needed prayer,” Boosie said of the moment. “Prayer is stronger than anything.”

Many of Boosie’s 4 million Instagram followers vowed to do as requested while leaving messages of encouragement and support under the rap star’s heartwrenching caption. There were others who not only questioned the authenticity of Boosie’s post but also accused the rapper of fabricating the story and wrote it off as a publicity stunt.

Boosie paused on the other end of the line before letting out a short, heavy sigh. A slight change in the tone of his voice indicated that those accusations still bother him today.

“I was upset when I heard that,” Boosie finally said. “Why would somebody want to go through some crazy m—–f—ing s—t like that? I went against everybody. I went against the label, my family to post that. This s— didn’t need to be in no damn closet. I went and typed it myself that I had just gotten diagnosed with cancer.”

Whether the messages were typed with ill intent, or simply submitted by stunned fans who were in just as much denial as he was about the recent diagnosis, Boosie didn’t care to find out. His health was most important, and surgery would be the next option. Although Boosie tried to remain strong, especially for his children, the ailing star was beset with worry.

“I was praying, but I wasn’t being strong,” Boosie said. “I was letting it worry me so much that it was taking all my weight from me. And the cancer was too. I just kept praying and telling God, ‘Don’t let me die yet.’ ”

A month later, Boosie underwent successful surgery to remove 30 percent of his kidney. Through it all, music remained his constant companion. Three weeks removed from surgery, Boosie remained too weak to walk on his own. So he rolled into the studio, writing music and recording tracks from his wheelchair.

“Well, when I was going through it, that’s when I made the Out My Feelings in My Past mixtape. I had a lot on my chest.”

Today, nearly two years after the grim diagnosis and successful surgery, Boosie continues to live life knowing tomorrow isn’t promised and remains focused on being the best version of himself. Although he admits that exercise could be more of a priority, Boosie takes his required medication to stay balanced.

Boosie is also looking forward to shopping around a movie he’s written about his life story, from birth till now.

“It took about six or seven months to put together,” Boosie said. “I’d write a chapter on the plane, or a chapter in the bed, whenever I could squeeze time in. Life is busy, but what keeps me motivated is giving my kids a better life, a childhood, than I had. Being able to bless them with the life I never had. I’m always there for my kids. That’s what brings a smile to me.”

Through it all, the rapper knows now that he wouldn’t change a thing.

“I used to always say I wanted to change this or that, but everything I go through, that’s what makes Boosie,” he said. “If I hadn’t went through things, then I wouldn’t have had it to talk about on a record. So I just feel like everything happens for a reason. I always feel like that.”

No long-ago hurricane will stop rapper Don Flamingo The Roc Nation artist says his East New Orleans neighborhood is resilient

“This ain’t Kansas,” yells Don Flamingo. He’s in front of his friend’s mother’s house, surveying boarded-up windows and a nearly decimated roof. “A tornado? We never get tornadoes!”

Most of New Orleans’ residents have a name for Hurricane Katrina, the storm that tore through the city in 2005, leaving a path of devastation from which the city is still recovering. They simply call it The Storm. Hurricanes are powerful, lasting tropical storms. Tornadoes are a violently rotating column of air. You say tomato. Katrina is so ingrained in the NOLA collective consciousness that when rapper Don Flamingo, who was raised in New Orleans East, discusses the tornado that ravaged the neighborhoods around his hometown in February, he frequently calls it a hurricane. By force of habit. Little did he know, just a mere six months later, almost to the day, the city would experience its worst flooding in 15 years. The hits, as they say, keep on coming.

New Orleans East is a NOLA suburb sitting east and north of the Mississippi River, making up part of the city’s 9th Ward. There’s no Bourbon Street. No Superdome. No fanfare. So it’s easy to overlook the damage from the strongest tornado to strike New Orleans in its recorded history. That’s where Don Flamingo, real name Donald Allen III, comes in. He made his name on the local independent circuits, rapping at shows and building his name until the folks at Roc Nation came calling.

But Flamingo always comes back home, though rarely is he sure what will be waiting for him when he returns. Don’s childhood home is gone. There’s no damage, no blighted property. Even that would be something. No, the plot of land where his house used to be is just a yard with no trace of a house ever being there. His whole life is unrecognizable, and he wants the world to know about it. And he wants to let the world know his city is built to survive. “This is a resilient city,” he says. “The soul and the togetherness in this city will keep us together and get us through this.”

Flamingo takes The Undefeated on a tour of New Orleans East.

Elderly people in New Orleans getting a lift from Master P The music mogul and entrepreneur helped with food, gifts and building upkeep

Businessman and entrepreneur Percy Miller, known to the hip-hop world as Master P, is no stranger to giving back. His most recent act of kindness was strictly focused on the elderly.

The ultimate self-proclaimed “No Limit Soldier” took time to visit Guste Homes on Tuesday, a residential complex for elderly and low-income people in New Orleans. Miller provided meals to more than 2,000 men and women. He and his team also gave the facility a new flat-screen TV, laptops, chairs, tables and other furniture for its community center.

“I don’t want to forget about the elderly,” Miller said. “These are the people that helped raise and guide us. If we make it, we are supposed to come back, help preserve them, take care of them, cherish and love them. They are our wisdom.”

Miller spent most of his time there helping with some of the indoor painting needed in the facility. According to a press release, he shared a special surprise with Guste Homes residents.

“I noticed that many times the elderly are lonely and barely being visited,” Miller said. “My organization, Team H.O.P.E. NOLA, is focusing on celebrating, thanking and appreciating the elderly by helping beautify their property and most importantly spending time with them.”

Guste Homes CEO Cynthia Wiggins expressed gratitude for Miller and volunteers of Team H.O.P.E. NOLA.

“Thank you for being an example to the community of what success really means by giving back to the community that helped raise you and held you down,” Wiggins said.

Miller and New Orleans Pelicans assistant coach Robert Pack created Team H.O.P.E. NOLA to help at-risk youth in New Orleans. Together, their mission involves providing students with “exceptional access to resources, activities and information that will guide their decisions in high school and beyond,” according to the company’s website.

While Miller dedicated this endeavor to the elderly, the community efforts in his hometown are straight from the heart.

Check out Miller in action.

Daily Dose: 7/3/17 Carmelo is ready to leave the Knicks

I’m writing this on a plane, watching a documentary about Allen Iverson, my favorite basketball player of all time. You can expect this to be a very inspired post.

So, President Donald Trump had a pretty eventful weekend. After deciding it was a good idea to openly endorse violence against the media, he doubled down and told the world that one day we would all be forced to acknowledge his accomplishments. Mind you, he’s speaking with quite a few world leaders this week but somehow found the time to drop a Reddit meme on his Twitter feed. Tuesday is Independence Day in the United States of America. Just a reminder of where things are in this nation.

We’ve got another entry into the “things we been done known” category. If you weren’t aware, the specific parts of this nation that make the economy go are typically the most unseen and underappreciated. In other words, the people who do the jobs that some folks think they’re above are beyond vital to making sure that we all can live. So when a new report says Latinos are key to U.S. growth, this is obvious. Because people don’t pay attention to black and brown folks, this is somehow news.

The Essence Festival has come to a close, which means your aunties will have quite a bit to talk about for a couple of months. This year, the homey Mayor Mitch Landrieu showed up and dropped a “stay woke” for the people, Diana Ross reminded the world of how glorious she is and Jill Scott gave us all ‘fro goals for the rest of time. Then, Chance the Rapper hit the stage. One day, when I’m old enough to enjoy this properly, I’m going to do it and do it well. Until then, I’ll read about that life online and wish from afar.

Carmelo Anthony’s life is fascinating. He plays for the New York Knicks but also gets paid a boatload of money to basically just shoot the basketball. He also is married to La La, and that’s come with its own drama. But now, because his team fired Phil Jackson, there’s a thought that he might actually leave New York. Which means he might get to join his close personal friends LeBron James or Chris Paul to hoop wherever he likes. Which means that we might get the banana boat crew back together!

Free Food

Coffee Break: I once met a guy who said that when ordering steak, “anything more cooked than medium rare is uncivilized.” I still laugh at the casual elegance with which he said it, and how he was dead serious in such a matter-of-fact way. Here’s an interesting breakdown of how Americans order their steak. Hint: It’s not a pretty sight.

Snack Time: What if I told you that, in the year of our Lord 2017, Public Enemy was still making music? Would you believe me? Well, you have no choice. Because it’s true.

Dessert: Happy holidays, kiddos.

A power ranking of Odell Beckham Jr.’s custom cleats from the 2016 NFL season The New York Giants wideout was determined to break out the heat on any given Sunday

Every NFL Sunday is a footwear fashion show for Odell Beckham Jr. Over the past few seasons, the New York Giants wide receiver has shown up and showed out on the field with the freshest cleats in all of football. His secret? Well, it’s not really a secret at all, because OBJ takes much pride in his custom-made creations, for which he entrusts the skill and creativity of Los Angeles-based sneaker artist Troy “Kickasso” Cole, who cranks out masterpieces inspired by every concept fathomable. From album covers to video games and movies to personal tributes, whatever Beckham Jr. dreams up in his imaginative mind, Kickasso can translate onto cleats.

Yet, as a result of the NFL’s enforcement of its strict in-game uniform and equipment policy, most of the kicks in OBJ’s one-of-a-kind collection are worn exclusively during pregame warm-ups before he changes to a more traditional pair for games. But every now and then, Beckham Jr. will risk a fine to ensure that his flashiest shoes find their way onto the field when the game clock starts rolling.

During the 2016 NFL season, the anthology of custom cleats that OBJ unveiled was second to no other player in the league. Throughout the regular season, playoffs and Pro Bowl, he truly became a titan in the sneaker world, which certainly contributed to Nike recently inking the 24-year-old to the biggest shoe deal in NFL history, estimated to be worth more than $29 million over five years.

Hopefully the huge new contract with Nike doesn’t prohibit Beckham Jr. from continuing his tradition come next season. As we anticipate what else OBJ and Kickasso have in store, let’s take a look at their creativity through this definitive, descending-order power ranking of 20 custom cleats they made pop last season.


20. WEEK 10 VS. CINCINNATI BENGALS — LSU

New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr.’s cleats before the NFL game between the New York Giants and Cincinnati Bengals on Nov. 14, 2016, at Met Life Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Every NFL player deserves to rep his alma mater however he sees fit, but, man, these cleats in the signature purple and gold of Louisiana State University — the school the Giants drafted Beckham Jr. out of in 2014 with the 12th overall pick — are quite hideous. A more appropriate salute to LSU would’ve been cleats featuring detailed illustrations of tigers, the mascot of OBJ’s former school. As for these plaid concoctions — in the words of the illustrious 21st century musical talent scout Randy Darius Jackson, “yeah … that’s gonna be a no for me, dog.”

19. Week 5 vs. green bay packers — Breast cancer awareness

Since 2009, the NFL has been committed to spreading breast cancer awareness. Every season in October, players take pride in wearing the color pink as a display of their dedication to finding a cure. Beckham Jr. didn’t disappoint last October. His breast cancer cleats were a simple but very classy tribute to every woman and family affected by the disease.

18 and 17. week 7 vs. Los angeles rams — Burberry and Rolling Stone

Instagram Photo

When the Giants traveled to London to face the Los Angeles Rams in October 2016, OBJ channeled his inner European designer by breaking out pregame cleats embossed with the beautiful pattern of British fashion house Burberry (the iconic brand of clothing that Jay Z rapped about swimming in on his 2002 track with his then-future wife Beyoncé, ” ’03 Bonnie & Clyde”). These cleats are uber-swaggy, but don’t hold a candle to when Beckham Jr. went full-on designer and commissioned a pair of Supreme x Louis Vuitton customs to be made after the season.

Instagram Photo

OBJ changed his kicks before kickoff, but remained authentic to the game being played across the pond by switching to red, white and blue cleats, and matching gloves, featuring the legendary logo of the English rock band the Rolling Stones.

16. week 12 vs. cleveland browns — Paint splatter

New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. stands on the field during practice before a game against the Cleveland Browns on Nov. 27, 2016, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Ron Schwane)

AP Photo/Ron Schwane

These are just really fun. Camouflage is always a good look, and the extra splash of color with the rainbow flecks and green and yellow shoestrings set them over the top. Stay tuned for more camo cleats from OBJ.

15. week 1 vs. Dallas Cowboys — sept. 11 tribute

Odell Beckham Jr. of the New York Giants wears cleats as a tribute to the 15th anniversary of 9/11 before a game against the Dallas Cowboys at AT&T Stadium on Sept. 11, 2016, in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

The Giants’ 2016 season opener against the Dallas Cowboys happened to fall on the 15th anniversary of Sept. 11, 2001 — one of the most infamous days in the history of the United States. Beckham Jr. illustrated his patriotism in the form of U.S. flag-themed cleats with bald eagles on the outer soles of each shoe. OBJ was certainly proud to be an American on the first night of football last season.

14. Week 6 vs. baltimore ravens — “Kirby”

New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr.’s Nike cleats during warm-ups before the game between the New York Giants and the Baltimore Ravens played at Met Life Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

HUGE shout-out to OBJ for throwing it back to our childhoods by paying homage to the one and only Nintendo character Kirby. He unveiled these in the middle of October 2016, taking the NFL’s tradition of wearing pink to advocate for breast cancer awareness and running with it. Beckham Jr. chose a pink character and crafted an entire cleat design around it with the utmost detail, from the warp stars to the Whispy Woods (Kirby’s recurring foe in the video game series). On this NFL Sunday, OBJ represented the video game nerd that resides in every one of us.

13 and 12. week 13 vs. pittsburgh steelers — Make-a-wisH (Dora The EXplorer and The Simpsons)

New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. wears cleats supporting the Make-A-Wish Foundation during warm-ups before a game against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Dec. 4, 2016. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar

Instagram Photo

For one week during the season, the NFL, aka the “No Fun League,” allowed players to wear their in-game cleats however they wanted, outrageous customization and all, without receiving fines in violation of the league’s uniform policy. The #MyCauseMyCleats initiative, which required players to commit to supporting a charitable cause, saw approximately a third of the league (around 500 players) participate. Beckham Jr. chose to represent the Make-A-Wish Foundation, which, according to its website, has a “vision to grant the wish of every child diagnosed with a life-threatening medical condition.” And true to his cause, OBJ depicted the child within himself on two pairs of cleats he had designed. One pair was inspired by Homer and Bart Simpson, two of the main characters of the popular animated sitcom, The Simpsons. The other pair, which he wore during the Week 13 matchup with the Pittsburgh Steelers, featured characters from the educational children’s series Dora the Explorer. Not the league, nor Swiper, could steal these cleats from Beckham Jr.’s feet on #MyCauseMyCleats Sunday. OBJ did it for the kids.

11. WEEK 2 VS. NEW ORLEANS SAINTS — “NOLA BOY”

New Orleans Native New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. wears Nike cleats with Nola Boy on them before the game between the New York Giants and the New Orleans Saints played at Met Life Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey.

Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire

“Know from whence you came. If you know whence you came, there are absolutely no limitations to where you can go.” Beckham Jr. has surely come across this legendary James Baldwin quote at least once in his life — or heard a variation of it from his grandma, aunties and uncles, or parents — while on his journey from growing up in Louisiana to becoming an NFL wide receiver in New York. Baton Rouge, Louisiana, is OBJ’s hometown, but he also claims New Orleans. So when the Giants faced the Saints early in the 2016 season, Beckham Jr. made his allegiance to the city known with “NOLA BOY” custom cleats in Mardi Gras colors. These are pretty special.

10. week 9 vs. philadelphia eagles — “Salute to service”

New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. wears cleats with a camouflage pattern while warming up before a game against the Philadelphia Eagles on Nov. 6, 2016, in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

AP Photo/Frank Franklin II

On the Sunday before Veteran’s Day, Beckham Jr. honored the nation’s armed forces with camouflage cleats reminiscent of the Japanese clothing brand A Bathing Ape’s fresh camo print. These are pretty sweet.

9. Week 14 vs. dallas cowboys — 300

Division matchups in the NFL are always battles. And no one went to war like the Spartans, whose combat skills were epically portrayed in the 2006 film 300. So when the Giants went up against their NFC East rival Dallas Cowboys in Week 14, OBJ imagined he was taking the battlefield for Leonidas I, unleashing these SUPER dope 300-inspired red, black and gold cleats.

8. wild-card playoff vs. green bay packers — “grab the cheese”

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In January, the Giants journeyed to the land of cheese for a wild-card matchup with the Green Bay Packers. Before the playoff game, Beckham Jr. countered Green Bay’s cheesehead fans with cheese feet. He donned a pair of yellow cleats that resembled blocks of cheese, with carefully drawn holes and images of Disney’s Mickey Mouse and Itchy the Mouse from The Simpsons. Like these two mice, OBJ was after the cheese. Too bad the Giants took that smooth L.

7. week 15 vs. detroit lions — craig sager tribute

New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr.’s Craig Sager tribute cleats during the third quarter of the National Football League game between the New York Giants and the Detroit Lions on Dec. 18, 2016, at Met Life Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Beckham Jr. was fined only once last season for violating the NFL’s uniform and equipment policy with his flashy cleats. The penalty was issued following Week 15, when OBJ played against the Detroit Lions in a pair of multicolored, and multipatterned, cleats honoring longtime NBA broadcaster Craig Sager, who died at age 65 three days before the game. Known for his bright and brazen sideline outfits, Sager would’ve loved OBJ’s cleats, which he auctioned off following the game to benefit the Sager Strong Foundation for cancer research. Yet despite Beckham Jr.’s heartfelt gesture, the NFL still slapped him with an $18,000 fine, which didn’t sit too well with the superstar wide receiver.

Yet if you asked Beckham Jr., he’d probably tell you that, for Sager, the fine was worth every single penny.

6. WEEK 17 VS. WASHINGTON REDSKINS — KANYE WEST “GRADUATION”

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Kanye West dropped out of college and became a 21-time Grammy Award-winning musician. Beckham Jr. never graduated from college, either, deciding to forgo his senior year at LSU and enter the NFL, where he is now an All-Pro wide receiver. So the only commencement the two have in common is OBJ’s cleats he had designed after the cover of West’s 2007 album Graduation. On these kicks, the colors morph from an orangish-pink to a drank purple, and illustrations of Kanye’s signature bears are beautifully done. Hot take: Graduation is one of the best, if not the best album of West’s career. Obviously, it’s up there in the ranks for OBJ, too.

5. week 4 vs. Minnesota vikings — OVO

New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr.’s OVO custom-made cleats are seen on the field during the first half of a game against the Minnesota Vikings on Oct. 3, 2016, in Minneapolis.

AP Photo/Andy Clayton-King

If you didn’t know that Beckham Jr. and Drake are BFFs, you must have been living under a rock like Patrick from SpongeBob SquarePants for the past year. Last NFL offseason, Beckham Jr. house-sat the hit-making musical artist’s Calabasas, California, mansion, known as the “YOLO (You Only Live Once) estate,” while he was on tour. Drake later shouted out his bro OBJ on his October 2016 track “Fake Love” with the seminal line, Just when s— look out of reach / I reach back like one, three / Like one, three, yeah — a reference to the most revered play of the NFL wide receiver’s young career, which also happens to be arguably the best catch in league history. And even this year, Drake stopped one of his shows to get Beckham Jr., who was in the audience, to sign a fan’s jersey. Yet, before all of these epic chapters of their friendship, OBJ paid tribute to his big homie during the 2016 NFL season with these simply gorgeous October’s Very Own (OVO)-themed cleats. The sky blue base of the shoes, with softly drawn white clouds, is a subtle nod to the cover of Drake’s 2013 album Nothing Was the Same, and the perfect complement to the metallic gold illustrations of Drake’s trademark owl on the outer soles of each shoe. Man, these cleats are a truly a work of art.

4. 2017 Pro Bowl — Toy Story

OBJ definitely “gotta friend” in Troy Cole, because the artist appropriately known as Kickasso absolutely did his thing with these Toy Story-themed cleats that the wide receiver sported in January’s Pro Bowl. What a beautiful touch to dedicate one shoe solely to Sheriff Woody Pride, and the other to space ranger Buzz Lightyear. Beckham Jr. is surely ready for 2019’s Toy Story 4, and so are we.

3. WEEK 16 VS. PHILADELPHIA EAGLES — GRINCH

Odell Beckham Jr. of the New York Giants warms up wearing Christmas cleats featuring the Grinch before a game against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field on Dec. 22, 2016, in Philadelphia. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)

Rich Schultz/Getty Images

There’s only one way to celebrate Christmas on your feet, and that’s with the Grinch. Basketball great Kobe Bryant did it with his signature Nikes in 2010, and Beckham Jr. continued the tradition in custom fashion last holiday season. The vibrant colors and details on these cleats are amazing. We wouldn’t be mad if Beckham Jr. rocked them all season long — they’re that nice to look at. Yo, OBJ, if you’re reading this, next Christmas you gotta go full Home Alone with your kicks. It’d be the perfect way to tell every D-back in the league, “Merry Christmas, ya filthy animal! … and a Happy New Year.”

2. WEEK 11 VS. CHICAGO BEARS — “BACK TO THE FUTURE”

New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr.’s Nike Cleats with “Mattel Hover Board” and “Back to the Future” on them before a game between the New York Giants and Chicago Bears on Nov. 20, 2016, at Met Life Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

All three films of the Back to the Future trilogy were released before Beckham Jr. was born in 1992. But as we saw last season, OBJ is a young Marty McFly at heart. He and Kickasso put their creative minds together to give the people not one, but two pairs of Back to the Future-inspired cleats, incorporating multiple elements and moments from Back to the Future Part II, in which Marty and Doc Brown travel 30 years into the future from 1985 to 2015. Beckham Jr. wore the first pair during warm-ups before a Week 11 matchup with the Chicago Bears, which included illustrations of the Mattel hoverboard, Marty’s metallic hat and the DeLorean time machine, all featured in the film. These cleats are glorious, but Kickasso saved his best work for what OBJ wore during the game. The wide receiver took the field in a pair of remarkable silver-and-electric blue creations, designed after the self-lacing Nike Mags that debuted in the 1989 film. Nike released the shoes for the first time nearly three decades later, and again in 2016, making OBJ’s Back to the Future cleat idea timely and relevant in the world of sneakers.

1. WEEK 3 VS. WASHINGTON REDSKINS — THE Joker

OBJ has a unique obsession with The Joker, which we’ve seen translated through his on-field apparel in the past few seasons. The wide receiver first made his infatuation known during a December 2015 Monday Night Football game, when he wore cleats and gloves illustrating the comic book supervillain’s chilling face. Last season, however, he took the obsession a huge step further. Everyone knows OBJ and Washington Redskins cornerback Josh Norman aren’t too fond of each other. And, coincidentally, Norman’s favorite superhero is Batman, The Joker’s archnemesis. So, in all his pettiness, Beckham Jr. had two more pairs of Joker cleats made for a 2016 Week 3 matchup with Norman and the Redskins. The pregame pair featured graphic details in bold colors, from The Joker’s eyes on the tongue of each shoe and his stained teeth on each toe, to his tattoos and catchphrases such as Why So Serious?, on the inner and outer soles. The pair he wore during the game were more subtle — mostly white with speckles of lime green around the laces, and red ink circling each shoe to represent The Joker’s blood-stained smile. With 11 catches for 121 yards against Norman and the Redskins, Beckham Jr. became the fastest wide receiver in NFL history to reach 200 career receptions and 3,000 receiving yards. So, now, his in-game Joker cleats are displayed at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. You know what that means, right? OBJ has a Hall of Fame cleat game.

Behind the design of Spike Lee’s custom anti-Trump Air Jordan 1s The legendary sneakerhead commissioned Brooklyn muralist Danielle Mastrion

From the pair of Air Jordans Michael Vick wore in games on turf during a Pro Bowl season, to LeBron James’ first signature Nike sneaker, which eventually led to a billion-dollar endorsement deal and retro release, to Tinker Hatfield’s vision to design a sneaker based upon Michael Jordan’s catlike persona — every shoe has a story that deserves to be told. In an effort to ensure that these sneaker tales live on, The Undefeated presents a recurring series, “Sneaker Stories,” which begins with the story of a pair of shoes filmmaker, actor and sneakerhead Spike Lee had customized as a representation of his protest of President Donald Trump. On Lee’s 60th birthday, we tell this story through the artist behind the sneakers, Brooklyn’s own Danielle Mastrion aka @daniellebknyc.


“He went to the same high school that my mom went to,” answers Danielle Mastrion.

The question? What was it like, you know, meeting Spike Lee? For many people, this fun fact would be a footnote. An interesting tidbit, but nothing too special, right? Not for Mastrion, 34, who’s always felt a special connection to legendary filmmaker and actor Lee,who celebrates his 60th birthday today. In Mastrion’s mind, the two are kindred creative spirits for the simple fact that Brooklyn, New York — the place reflected in much of their work — is for both of them, home.

“I’m a native New Yorker, but I’m a Brooklyn girl, through and through,” said Mastrion, a muralist and painter, “and there’s a lot of Brooklyn love that comes with growing up watching Spike Lee movies. I always felt that he really represented, and captured the borough. He’s always been a huge creative influence — besides being an incredible storyteller and producer. I felt like I was meeting one of my lifelong idols.”

So, how did Mastrion, after years of living and working in Brooklyn, finally get to meet one of the borough’s most beloved sons? Their artistic genius crossed paths in February when she customized five pairs of Air Jordans for Lee, whose character Mars Blackmon from his 1986 debut feature She’s Gotta Have It became Michael Jordan’s quirky companion in one of the most popular ad campaigns in sneaker history. (In 2006, Lee received his own line of “Spiz’ike” Air Jordans.)

Lee wanted the shoes to reflect his protest of Trump. He wanted the words “Repel Agent Orange” and “Resist” on them.

The first four pairs Mastrion designed for Lee weren’t for the man himself. As filming for his upcoming Netflix series She’s Gotta Have It, which is based upon the film, drew to a close, Lee wanted a unique way to show his appreciation to the four main characters of the series. He wanted to gift each actor a pair of sneakers. But not just any sneakers.

So, Lee commissioned one of the show’s writers, Lemon Andersen, with the job of finding an artist capable of customizing sneakers up to his standards of dopeness. Andersen deferred to New York artist AVone, aka Anthony Vasquez, who recommended Mastrion. Andersen scheduled a time for her to pick up four pairs of “White Cement” Retro Air Jordan IVs, which Lee wanted completed ASAP. So, time was time ticking for Mastrion. She had 24 hours.

“I think it was a last-minute idea, so I had to move quickly,” said Mastrion, who customized her first pair of sneakers several years ago in a live-painting sneaker competition at the Brooklyn Hip-Hop Festival, which she won. Since then, she’d occasionally done customs through private commissions, but not for anyone quite as famous as Lee.

“They asked me to custom-paint each sneaker with the characters’ names and the She’s Gotta Have It logo. My idea for them was to kind of go back to the late ’80s, early ’90s … the aesthetic from the old A Tribe Called Quest albums, that kind of typography. It has the kind of tribal feel. And then it has a little bit of old-school graffiti.”

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The next day, Mastrion hand-delivered the boxes to Lee at the studio in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. He opened them to the sight of each name of the main characters in She’s Gotta Have It — Nola Darling, Mars Blackmon, Greer Childs and Jamie Overstreet — fluidly freestyled on the outside of each pair’s right shoe in vibrant red, green, pink, blue turquoise and yellow. On the toe of each left shoe was the She’s Gotta Have It logo.

“When he opened up the sneakers, I was very nervous, and a huge smile spread across his face,” Mastrion recalled. “It’s like he looked at them really seriously, and then just his face broke. I was so proud to do something creatively that he approved of. Because he’s been such a huge creative influence on me for so long.”

Mastrion passed Lee’s test. So the next pair she customized would be for his personal collection. After A Tribe Called Quest’s performance with Busta Rhymes at the 59th Annual Grammys on Feb. 12, Lee felt inspired by the shade Busta Rhymes bazooka’d toward President Donald Trump. “I just want to thank President Agent Orange for perpetuating all of the evil that you’ve been perpetuating throughout the United States,” Busta Rhymes said onstage that night. “I want to thank President Agent Orange for your unsuccessful attempt at the Muslim ban.”

For NBA All-Star Weekend in New Orleans, Lee needed a fresh pair of kicks. He discussed his ideas with Andersen, who relayed them to Mastrion. This time, she picked up a pair of “Black History Month” Retro Air Jordan 1s, in 9.5. Spike’s size.

Courtesy of Danielle Mastrion

Again, she had 24 hours to complete the request. Yet unlike the Jordans she did for the She’s Gotta Have It cast members, Mastrion didn’t freestyle Lee’s shoes. He knew exactly what he was looking for, and Andersen passed along the instructions through copy-and-pasted texts to Mastrion. Lee wanted the shoes to reflect his protest of Trump. He wanted the words “Repel Agent Orange” and “Resist” on them. In big, bold and clean letters.

“He gave me specific directions on the colors, on the lettering and the placement, so that he really oversaw the creation of sneakers. He had a very clear vision in his mind what he wanted them to represent. He gave me a lot of directions for those,” said Mastrion, who researched historical Cuban, German and Russian propaganda posters to ensure that she got the bold lettering just right.

The words, depicted on both sides of each shoe, were done with Posca, Molotow and Deco paint markers — “Repel Agent Orange” painted in red and “Resist” painted in white, both gone over with acrylic paint and brush, to complement the gold Nike Swooshes on the shoes.

When it comes to sneakers and politics, there’s been a long-held notion that the two should function on a separation-of-church-and-state basis. It’s a concept primarily driven by the infamous quote, supposedly from Michael Jordan: “Republicans buy sneakers, too.” This is something that he may or may not have even said, and if he did, it was a joke. But, in the past year, a few titans of the sneaker world have spoken out on social issues. Last summer, in the wake of the number of shooting deaths by law enforcement of African-Americans, Jordan said he could “no longer stay silent.” In late January, Nike CEO Mark Parker issued a statement on the company’s behalf condemning Trump’s Muslim and refugee immigration ban. A few weeks later, Lee felt the need to speak out through the artistry of his sneakers.

This is the time when people, especially artists, do need to be a little bit more outspoken.” — Danielle Mastrion

“I felt like his message was completely aligned with how I feel. I try not to mix politics up too much in my pieces,” Mastrion said. “I try to paint more inspirational figures, but I feel like this is the time when people, especially artists, do need to be a little bit more outspoken, so I didn’t mind doing the message at all.”

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Mastrion had a quick second shoe delivery to Lee. During the interaction, Lee opened the shoes, told her she did a great job and gave her a hug. More praise, however, came on his Instagram account, where he posted a photo of him holding each shoe, with the message, “RESIST – REPEL AGENT ORANGE. DATS DA PUTIN TRUTH, RUTH. YA-DIG? SHO-NUFF. BY ANY MEANS NECESSARY.” At the end of the caption were four words that certainly made Mastrion smile: “Artwork by Danielle Mastrion.”

“I was so happy and thankful he did a post,” she said.

The next day, Lee posted on Instagram again. This time, it was a photo of him, as Mars Blackmon, and Michael Jordan from their old ad campaign days. In the caption was a fun fact about the greatest of all time that few people know. “Happy Birthday To The Greatest Of All Time, Michael Jordan. He was Born 54 Years Ago Today At Cumberland Hospital In Fort Greene, Brooklyn.” Lee, Mastrion and Jordan. All three connected — all children of Brooklyn.

NOLA was the perfect backdrop for 2017 NBA All-Star Weekend Shared with Mardi Gras, the culture, food, history and sports will leave a lasting impression

The 2017 NBA All-Star Weekend is behind us now. Hosted by the city known as the Big Easy, it was shared with its world-famous Mardi Gras celebration. The dual merriment made New Orleans the perfect place to be and the city took a big step in regaining its spot as the choice host city of one of professional sports’ biggest celebrations.

In New Orleans, everybody is somebody.

“Whenever you come to New Orleans, everybody feels wanted,” said former New Orleans Pelicans guard Langston Galloway on Friday. “It doesn’t matter who you are, it doesn’t matter your race. It doesn’t matter anything. It’s all about equality here and I feel that the more and more we have people come back to New Orleans and celebrate the city, it makes it a more intriguing sight to see.”

Langston Galloway #10 of the New Orleans Pelicans takes a selfie with fans as the Pelicans hold their annual season tickets sales event on January 28, 2017 at New Orleans Saints/Pelicans Practice Facility in New Orleans, Louisiana.

Langston Galloway (No. 10) of the New Orleans Pelicans takes a selfie with a fan as the Pelicans hold their annual season ticket sales event on Jan. 28 at the New Orleans Saints/Pelicans practice facility in New Orleans.

Layne Murdoch/NBAE via Getty Images

Galloway, a Baton Rouge, Louisiana, native, stopped to ponder what he’d missed most about living away from Louisiana. The 25-year-old left his home state after signing with the New York Knicks as an undrafted free agent in 2014. After contemplating his answer, a sly grin appeared, eyes lighting up as the answer came to him. He smiled.

“I’m a big foodie guy, so I love the food here,” Galloway said. “When I’m eating healthy, I can’t really enjoy the New Orleans food the way I want to.”

It had been four months since Galloway said goodbye to the Knicks, where he played in 127 regular-season games and started in 48 over two seasons. He debuted his new team’s jersey, proudly donning the Pelicans logo — the name is inspired by Louisiana’s state bird — and looked forward to a fresh start in a city he already knew.

Three days after discussing his love for the city, his appreciation for its culture, the best remedy for his homesickness, Gallloway’s time in New Orleans was up.

In breaking news announced immediately following Sunday night’s All-Star Game, basketball fans learned that Galloway, along with teammates Tyreke Evans, Buddy Hield and two 2017 draft picks would be shipped out west in a blockbuster trade for the dominant Sacramento Kings center DeMarcus Cousins and forward Omri Casspi. Galloway was gone before he was able to sport his home state’s jersey in his first game start.


Flashback to the weekend: Thousands of athletes, celebrities and basketball fans poured into New Orleans for an action-packed weekend. Over the course of the three days, interactive NBA sessions provided family fun. On Feb. 18, some of the NBA’s most skilled hoops players showcased their skills and everyone cheered gleefully as Indiana Pacers guard-forward Glenn Robinson III was awarded a trophy for winning the NBA Slam Dunk Contest.

On Sunday night, parades rolled down St. Charles Avenue, and NBA players stopped to catch beads and doubloons before walking over to the Smoothie King Center to witness home-crowd favorite, Pelicans forward Anthony Davis, who put up 52 points in the All-Star Game. Davis broke Wilt Chamberlain’s 42-point record, which had been untouched since 1962, leading the West to a 192-182 victory over the East. He was also named the game’s MVP in his fourth All-Star appearance. In a postgame interview, Davis — who assured beloved Pelicans fans he loved the city too much to leave it — described what the win and All-Star Weekend meant to him and New Orleans after tornadoes destroyed several neighborhoods in the city.

“It meant a lot to the city,” Davis said. “Of course, the tornadoes hit a couple weeks ago. So to kind of bring … joy back to the city with All-Star and, of course, Mardi Gras definitely helped out. This is huge for our city. Stuff just keeps happening to New Orleans, but it’s a strong city and we always bounce back. With All-Star here, especially with Mardi Gras going on as well, [it] was huge for the city.”

Welcome to New Orleans — the city where strength and faith guide our steps while allowing us to rebuild and restore. Hurricane Katrina didn’t break the city. Floods and tornadoes won’t shake the city. The resilience is built on a culture that embodies hard work and dedication. The citizens don’t take knockouts. It’s a place where we celebrate our sorrows along with the joy we feel when we’ve overcome yet another obstacle. A city that proves we are bigger and stronger than any hurricane or tornado will ever be.

The moral compasses of New Orleanians are embedded during childhood, and filled with messages from parents, relatives and neighbors who preach love and acceptance of everyone regardless of race, color or creed. When it was announced that Charlotte, North Carolina, had lost its All-Star host privileges, New Orleans immediately became the front-runner.

“The fans [keep us coming back],” NBA deputy commissioner Mark Tatum said. “The fans are incredible, the owners, Mr. [Tom] Benson and Gayle Benson, they’re just incredible owners who are committed to this community, who are committed to this city and who are committed to the state. We’re fortunate to have New Orleans Pelicans here and we expect them to be here for a long time.”

Much like the journey of this year’s All-Star Game, spontaneity and unpredictability are woven deep into the fabric of New Orleans’ rich culture, and not just reserved for sports.

It is a place that — to let tourists tell it — feels more like a standalone country within America. Visitors unfamiliar with Louisiana’s laws are often shocked when bartenders ask if they’d like their alcohol to go. In this magical city, there’s no judgment for choosing an adult beverage over coffee with your breakfast. If anything, a patron will join in and do the same.

“We dance even if there’s no radio,” author and New Orleans native Chris Rose wrote in his 2005 book 1 Dead in Attic: After Katrina. “We drink at funerals. We talk too much and laugh too loud and live too large and, frankly, we’re suspicious of others who don’t.”

NBA All-Star Weekend paid homage to NOLA’s art scene by enlisting the help of local artist Brandan “B Mike” Odums and his art studio, Studio Be, for Nike’s recently launched Equality campaign, geared toward leveling the playing field not only in sports, but in society as a whole. “Equality should have no boundaries,” reads the website. “The bond between players should exist between people. Opportunity should be indiscriminate. Worth should outshine color. The ball should bounce the same for everyone.” Strangers become friends who sometimes turn to family. In this city, a dollar and a dream, especially a dream, are all you need to make it.

It has always been the unofficial mission of New Orleanians to leave a lasting impression on those we come into contact with, even if it comes by way of a simple hello. In this city, my city, you come as you are and leave better than you were before.

As the lights began to shut off in the Smoothie King Center, stragglers who weren’t quite ready for the night to end roamed the streets of the city’s Central Business District in search of fun. In New Orleans, you don’t have to look too far. The continual party is right around nearly every corner.

From the city of resilience and unabashed pride, we hope you enjoyed your stay.