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”

Instagram Photo

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.

Pelicans coach Robert Pack brings mentoring program H.O.P.E. to New Orleans Along with rapper Master P, he helps boys see a world beyond their neighborhoods

The middle-aged man with the clean-shaven head brought four adolescent boys to volunteer at one of the city’s tornado aid centers over the weekend. Barely acknowledging the Louisiana heat, they carried cases of bottled water, food and cleaning supplies to the cars of people who had lost either their electricity, their material possessions, their homes – or, sadly, all three – 10 days ago.

“Bless you, son,” a young woman told two of the boys before she drove away with her two infant children.

Trey Hand grabbed another case of bottled water, while Jalen Warren stopped for a moment to watch YouTube footage from 1994 on someone’s iPhone. The youngster recognized the face in that old crayon-colored Denver Nuggets uniform, levitating near the rim.

“Coach, that you?” he asked.

Robert Pack nodded proudly at the young man, one of a group of boys he and renowned rapper Master P are pushing toward a view of the world beyond the poorest areas of New Orleans.

NBA All-Star Weekend and Big Easy bacchanalia joined gaudy with glitterati the past four days, a stimulus overload of sound, scent, and clogged arteries of both cars and consumption.

The biggest stories, of course, were the ongoing breakup saga of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook’s bromance and the blockbuster Sunday night trade of DeMarcus Cousins from the Sacramento Kings to the New Orleans Pelicans.

Still, Pack, Master P and the kids were a better one.


Straight-up noon on Feb. 18, the sun is warming the asphalt in a church parking lot in East New Orleans, the NBA’s annual dunk contest just a few hours away downtown. Yet the greatest leaper the Bayou has known is grounded here, 10 miles and some 23 years away from the crescendo of the crowd.

The high-top box fade Pack rocked in 1994 is gone. So is the vertical leap that catapulted his 6-foot-2 frame skyward on the night he cuffed the basketball against his right forearm and threw it down with such malice that he nearly became the world’s greatest dunker.

Only something called the “East Bay Funk Dunk,” when Isaiah Rider passed the ball between his legs in midair before hammering the ball through for the title, topped Pack’s score in the 1994 dunk contest.

“What matters is, here in New Orleans everybody thought I won,” Pack says now, laughing.

He parlayed his 13-year playing career into coaching, returning to his hometown in the summer of 2015 as an assistant coach for the Pelicans. Among other duties, he helped develop Anthony Davis into Sunday night’s All-Star Game MVP.

Pack also reconnected with Percy Miller – aka Master P – his former AAU teammate from the 1980s, a man who also had designs on helping to nurture and guide young men in New Orleans.

The two launched Team H.O.P.E. Nola in November 2016 with one mission: take 20 at-risk boys between the ages of 12 and 15 from four local schools and impress upon them that there’s a larger world waiting for them out there.

“It’s not about where you’re at, it’s about where you’re going to go,” Miller told the kids during the program’s first week. “Don’t be afraid to say no to negative things. That’s why we’re here right now. We weren’t afraid. We had a lot of people who we thought were on our team who are probably dead or in prison. But we decided to do the right thing. Don’t be afraid to do the right thing.”


The boys in the program were identified by counselors, social workers, teachers and coaches at their schools. Pack and Miller fund the program, with some help from local companies that donate their services. The staff is all volunteers. Team H.O.P.E. NOLA is also one of several programs under the Robert Pack Foundation, which was created 20 years ago. Its annual budget of $150,000 isn’t grand, but Tracy Pack-White, the executive director and Pack’s older sister, and Toni Charles, the administrative assistant, plan activities with the help of board members.

They lean toward experiences in which the young men can connect with their roots. In December 2016, for instance, many of the Team H.O.P.E. boys piled on a bus bound for Selma, Alabama, more than two hours away.

“I felt like part of my history was right there in front of me,” said Ahmad Waterhouse Jr., 14, who along with more than a half-dozen of the kids attends Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Charter School for Science and Technology in the Lower 9th Ward. “It made me realize I could do more for others.”

Last week, they went to a French Quarter theater for a private screening of The First To Do It, a new documentary financed by Carmelo Anthony and Kawhi Leonard about Earl Lloyd, the first black player to break pro basketball’s color barrier.

Miller spends much of his time in Los Angeles, where he has a home and a flourishing music career. But the boys and Pack meet at least twice a month, sometimes to talk and support each other, sometimes for a social occasion. Other times they participate in a day of service, anything, Pack said, “to keep them busy and make them feel part of something larger.”

Pack, who grew up in the Lower 9th Ward himself, knows too well how much that means to a young teen.

The neighborhood, predominantly black and impoverished, was devastated by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Most of the kids from Team H.O.P.E. NOLA were only a few years old then, so all they really know of Katrina are stories from family and Spike Lee’s searing documentary, When the Levees Broke.

But when another natural disaster hit two weeks ago, the precariousness of where they live was driven home anew.

On Feb. 18, Pack brought Ahmad, Collin Smith, Warren and Trey to join Citi Church’s I-Care volunteers help some of the tornado’s victims. Trey is Pack’s surrogate nephew, the son of former Saints defensive tackle Norman Hand, who died of heart disease at age 37 in 2010, when Trey was just 6.

“They’re all good kids – they just need that little push and to be told they can,” Pack said.

“Team H.O.P.E. for me is about helping someone that doesn’t have what you have,” Trey, 13, said.

In the church lot off Interstate 10, the boys packed the mud-caked vehicles of dozens of East New Orleans residents, whose houses were severely damaged or destroyed by the Feb. 8 tornado. The EF-3 twister, with winds up to 165 mph, injured 33 people and decimated many more homes and lives.

Though Team H.O.P.E. NOLA is designed to be a three- to four-year program, Pack said they plan to track every young man who goes through it to ensure he remains on a path of purpose and progress.

Asked why he’s focusing on 12- to 15-year-olds, he replied, “The age I’m helping these young men is the age where opportunities present themselves for you to go in different directions.”

Lord, Pack knows how easy it is to kill time – and what you might never become – growing up in the Lower 9th.


He was 15 years old, he remembers, swapping punches with another kid in the neighborhood, on the corner of Law and Charbonnet streets. Then that kid ran into the house and grabbed his grandfather’s revolver.

From two feet away, Pack eyed the barrel of that gun, barely breathing, waiting in terror for the bullet to enter his skull.

Until a man who happened to be cleaning his immaculate yard on the corner began yelling at the top of his lungs.

“Don’t shoot that kid!!! Don’t shoot that kid!!!”

The man’s grandfather joined in from the porch, yelling at the young man not to pull the trigger. After several moments, the kid put the gun down and Robert ran away – alive.

“All I could do was look right down the barrel, not knowing what was gonna happen,” he recalled. “Every time I think about it, it just brings me back to that moment.”

Families intervened on both sides to ensure there would be no retaliation. Pack said he didn’t exactly understand the terms “emotional intelligence” and “conflict resolution” then, but that he began to slowly learn over time that there were better ways to resolve problems than with violence.

“Things like that weighed heavy on my mind to get out of the situation and do things the right way, to give myself a chance to be successful,” he said.

“That was a moment when my life could have been over. So when I work with these kids and I see them at that age and I know the things out here in the streets that can make them go in the wrong direction.”

He doesn’t remember the man’s name, and the well-kept yard and house are gone, destroyed by Katrina.

“I just remember he was the kind of man whose gate you didn’t jump to go get your ball. He loved that yard. You politely went to his door and asked nicely for your ball back. I have no idea if he’s alive or where he is. Katrina displaced so many people. But if I ever see him again, I’m just going to hug him so tight,” he said.

Pack paused for a few seconds to gather himself, the symmetry not lost on him. That man saved him, just as he’s trying to save these kids.

More cars pull up at Citi Church, including a man named Albert Thomas and his girlfriend in a weathered pickup. The roof was torn off his home, which led to it being condemned. He thanked the boys and other volunteers for helping him.

The acronym for H.O.P.E. is Helping Our Players Excel, but that hardly does the foundation justice.

What it’s really about is a 15-year-old kid in the late 1980s who was given a second chance, now ensuring that he lets every adolescent boy he and Miller work with know there is so much more out there for them — if they can just leap and grab it the way Pack did.

Studio Be: the cultural heartbeat of NBA All-Star Weekend Nike collaborates with the local NOLA artistic and athletic community

A secret that isn’t that much of a secret: Locals despise it when big sporting events come to town. Yes, there’s often a difficult to measure yet positive economic impact, but tourists, horrible traffic and, importantly, higher prices at the bar, are cumbersome and unwelcome for most people just trying to get on with their daily lives. For events such as All-Star Weekend, corporate brands tend to try to reshape entire cities with new billboards and events. New Orleans — a city that apparently benefited to the tune of $106 million in 2014 — is particularly sensitive to these encroachments as it is dealing with otherworldly gentrification and attempts to erase its culture ever since Hurricane Katrina huffed and puffed the levees down in 2005.


New Orleans-based artist Brandan “BMIKE” Odums poses for a portrait in his gallery showing in partnership with Nike at STUDIO BE in New Orleans.

New Orleans-based artist Brandan “B Mike” Odums poses for a portrait in his gallery showing in partnership with Nike at Studio Be in New Orleans.

Brett Carlsen for The Undefeated

Culture. New Orleans. Athleticism. That’s where Studio Be comes in. The art studio, located in New Orleans’ Bywater area, is the brainchild of visual artist Brandan “B Mike” Odums, who has created an evolving art exhibit of historical figures, messages and empowerment throughout New Orleans over the last few years. On one day a wall may feature local civil rights artists, and on another the same wall may have been painted over with an image of Muhammad Ali. The studio embodies so much of New Orleans culture with its homages to jazz, and the city’s natural and vivid palettes. So when Nike was looking for a place to bring its message of #Equality and to give back to the community — there was really no better place than Studio Be.

Instagram Photo

There’s a whole basketball court in the middle of the exhibit space, the floor of which is gloriously painted by Odums himself, of course. There are communal yoga classes, free haircuts, mind-body-soul workshops and competitions between New Orleans-area basketball stars. Local high school students have been bused in and out of the space and have gotten to play basketball and meet NBA ballers along the way.

But before the NBA players meet students, they generally insist on a tour of Studio Be. One by one — from DeMarcus Cousins to Anthony Davis — players walked through the exhibit, mostly muttering “wow” as they absorb New Orleans culture via raw and unfiltered art. Even non-baller — but someone known for creating transcendent art — Dave Chappelle visited the athletic and exhibit space to watch the people play shootaround.

Studio Be is one of those places that maintains the heartbeat of New Orleans, pumping its lifeblood into the weekend’s festivities where not everyone is always concerned with maintaining the city’s culture. This is where the city breathes. This is where the city comes together and this is where the city loves.

Looking to see more of Studio Be? Check out our gallery.

Inside Jordan Brand’s Space at All-Star Weekend in New Orleans The ‘Time to Shine’ pack highlights three iridescent designs

NBA All-Star Weekend in New Orleans is a place to see and be seen, and there’s no better place to start than the Jordan Brand pop-up shop. The Undefeated has you covered with a tour and details of the three new releases in the “Time to Shine” pack.