What if it wasn’t all a Dream (Team)? Five 1992 Olympic what-if scenarios — 25 years later Dominique Wilkins’ injury, Jordan sticking to his word and Shaq over Laettner. What if?

Want to feel nostalgic? Great. Better yet, want to feel old? Twenty-five years ago today, the 1992 U.S. men’s basketball team won Olympic gold. Canonized as “The Dream Team,” the squad curb-stomped an entire world of competition, and its international impact is eternal.

The Dream Team opened the NBA’s door into China — and the world’s love affair with the game of basketball. Their Olympic tuneups weren’t as much games as they were red carpet ceremonies as they laughed, galloped and, in Toni Kukoc’s case, smothered the life out of opponents, beating them by 44.3 points per game — second only to the 53.2-point margin of the 1956 squad anchored by Bill Russell. The Dream Team’s song is one to which the entire world knows the lyrics — thanks to the documentaries, features and books in the quarter-century since their summer excursion. But even a crew with some of the game’s most iconic names — Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird — isn’t immune to the “what if” game. It makes for a psychedelic voyage into a parallel universe.

What if Team USA had taken gold in the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, South Korea?

This is, by far, the most important question involving The Dream Team. America winning bronze in the ’88 Games was a watershed moment. The Soviet Union defeated the United States 82-76 in the semifinals (there’s a Russia/America-beating-us-at-our-own-game joke that will not be told right now). Up until 1988, only collegiate players were allowed in Olympic play. That talk soon shifted. “Personally, I would like more of a chance to compete,” Team USA and then-Georgetown head coach John Thompson said. “I’m also an advocate of professionals playing in the Olympics.”

Not everyone was for the change. Bill Wall, executive director of the United States Amateur Basketball Association, touched on philosophical issues: “Do you want to watch the best players beat everyone else?” It turns out the answer was a resounding yes. In Munich, on April 7, 1989, FIBA voted 56-13 to allow pro players to participate.

Many, like Boris Stankovic, FIBA’s secretary general, saw it as Olympic basketball’s “triumphant entry into the 21st century.” Stankovic was a chief proponent of allowing NBA players access, as they were the only professionals barred worldwide. One of its most vocal critics, however, turned out to be the United States Amateur Basketball Association, which took the stance that pro players’ involvement eliminated its opportunity to participate.

So, did America’s bronze medal showing in the ’88 Games lead directly to the introduction of NBA players? Perhaps not 100 percent, but it undeniably aided a process already in motion. Put it this way: If anything defines Big Sean’s Last night I took an L, but tonight I bounce back, it’s Team USA basketball 1988-92. It’s also fair to say that if America had won gold in 1988, the push for NBA stars may never have happened.

NBA players in the Olympics are the norm these days, but in the immediate aftermath of the decision, the desire to play was slightly better than 50-50. Superstars such as Isiah Thomas, Magic Johnson and Karl Malone didn’t hide their excitement. “[I’d] go in a heartbeat and pay my own ticket,” Malone said. But a 1989 poll revealed only 58 percent of NBA players would play if afforded the opportunity. The biggest one to say no? Jordan. Which brings us to the next point …

What if Michael Jordan had stuck to his word and not played in the 1992 Olympics?

Let’s get the elephant out of the room. The Isiah Thomas/Jordan factor was a real issue — a beef with origins in the 1985 All-Star Game, known in hoops circles as the “freeze-out game.” How do we know Jordan didn’t want anything to do with Thomas as a teammate? He said it himself. “That was one of the stipulations put to me [on the team] — that Isiah wasn’t part of the team,” he said in a 2012 Dream Team documentary. The Thomas exclusion remains a thrilling subplot of ’90s basketball because of how the selection committee did whatever it had to do to get Jordan while sacrificing Thomas.

The Detroit Pistons’ floor general wasn’t one of the first 10 players selected. The Olympic selection committee began choosing players shortly after the 1991 playoffs ended. It was in those same playoffs that the Pistons, swept by Jordan and the Chicago Bulls in the Eastern Conference finals, infamously walked off the court before time expired in Game 4. Thomas was seen as the linchpin in one of the most infamous examples of pettiness in sports history. But even with Thomas on the outside looking in, Jordan still wasn’t a lock. Peep the timeline:

April 1989 Jordan says he’s not interested in playing in the Olympics again (he won gold in 1984). The thought of giving up another summer didn’t appeal to him.

May 1991 In one of the more revealing yet often forgotten interviews of his career, the ’91 MVP once again states his hesitation to Pat Riley. The season was long enough, and adding the Olympics would only shorten recovery time. But he doesn’t slam the casket shut either. “The only reason that I would wanna go is,” he says, only semi-joking, “if we feel that we certainly can’t win with the team we put out there.”

“Do you want to watch the best players beat everyone else?” It turns out the answer was a resounding yes.

July 30, 1991 — Agent David Falk denies that both of his clients, Jordan and Patrick Ewing, are undecided about what to do the next summer.

Aug. 1, 1991 — Playing in his first competitive golf tournament at the Western Amateur in Benton Harbor, Michigan, Jordan seemingly deadens any hope of Olympic dreams. “There are a lot of professionals who want to play and, being that there are a lot of professionals that haven’t played — and I’ve played — I don’t mind giving the other guys an opportunity,” he says. “Right now it’s a closed door for me.” For the golf aficionados wondering, he shot an 85 that day.

Aug. 10, 1991 — “I’m working on him,” Magic Johnson says. “I even told him I’d give him a million dollars if he’d do it. But so far he hasn’t changed his mind.”

Aug. 25, 1991 — Few remember the attacks on Jordan’s patriotism because of his reluctance to play in the Olympics. Three weeks after his statement about sitting out, Jordan reconsiders, promising to make the decision in a few days but saying it would be his and his alone. “Not one forced on me by what somebody else says or wants,” he said.

Sept. 4, 1991 — Thomas says if he’s not invited to the ’92 Games later that month he will not blame Jordan. “While I cannot speak for Michael,” Thomas says, “I can say that such a feud does not exist.”

Sept. 24, 1991 — The selection committee releases the names of 10 players invited to form the 1992 Olympic men’s basketball team: Charles Barkley, Larry Bird, Ewing, Johnson, Malone, Chris Mullin, Scottie Pippen, David Robinson, John Stockton and, yes, Jordan. Jack McCloskey resigned from the selection committee over Thomas’ snub, calling the omission “ridiculous.” As for Jordan’s response? “If I had anything to do with the selection, I would’ve selected my mother and my sister. I didn’t have anything to do with it.” Riiiight.

March 18, 1992 — By now, Jordan is openly stating he wants to play. But not until the money ceases looking funny. Jordan’s camp was unhappy about marketing rights — in particular, the official Olympic T-shirt that bore semblances of all team members. He had no issue with USA Basketball, a nonprofit organization, making money. He did, however, have beef with the NBA making coin. It was a subtle but undeniable example of what The New York Times at the time called a “deteriorating relationship with the NBA over the issue.” Jordan was adamant that money wasn’t the motivation for holding out. However, “This is a business,” he says. “This is what happens when you let professional players in.”

March 20, 1992 — Turns out that headache lasts only 48 hours. Jordan’s agent, David Falk, confirms that a compromise will be reached, and Jordan will be in Barcelona, Spain, that summer. USA Basketball had secured the face it so desperately coveted. Without Jordan, Team USA likely still wins gold. But it begs the question, is the NBA the global international force it is now if Jordan stayed stateside in the summer of 1992?

What if Shaquille O’Neal had been chosen over Christian Laettner as the Dream Team’s college player?

Love him or hate him — and many did both — Laettner’s star power was undeniable heading into the Summer Games. His resume at Duke was drunk with achievement: back-to-back national championships in ’91 and ’92, a three-time All-American, Final Four MVP and National Player of the Year in ’92. Combine all that with one of the most iconic plays in college basketball history, and Laettner’s stock was sky-high. Surrounded by elite talent that trumped his, it’s beyond understandable why he barely got much tick in the ’92 Games. That said, if you ever want to win a bar bet, ask who averaged the fewest points on the Dream Team. Chances are most will say Laettner (4.8), who went on to have a solid NBA career, averaging 12.8 points and 6.7 rebounds over 13 seasons. The correct answer, though, is Stockton (2.8), as the future Hall of Famer missed the first four games with a broken leg.

“I’m working on him,” Magic Johnson said. “I even told him I’d give him a million dollars if he’d do it.”

But let’s keep it a buck. This is Shaq we’re talking about. In 1992, the feeling was post-up centers would have difficulties in the trapezoid-shaped lane of the international game. Hindsight is 20/20, but it’s violent to envision what a 20-year-old O’Neal would have done to the likes of Angola or Germany. Seriously, picture this: Johnson leading the break, with Jordan and Pippen on the wings and a young, nimble 20-year-old O’Neal as the trailer:

It’s fun to imagine young O’Neal running fast breaks in Barcelona, because we already know how destructively poetic young O’Neal was running fast breaks in Orlando with Penny Hardaway. O’Neal would later receive his own gold medal at the ’96 Olympics in Atlanta, but the four-time NBA champion didn’t like his ’92 omission. “I was pissed off. I was jealous,” O’Neal said in 2012. “But then I had to come to the realization that I was a more explosive, more powerful player. Laettner was a little bit more fundamentally sound than I was.”

What if Dominique Wilkins never ruptured his Achilles?

The Original ATLien was one of the more entertaining and beloved players in the ’80s and into the ’90s. His 47 points in Game 7 in Boston Garden vs. Larry Bird and the Celtics in 1988 remains one of the all-time great playoff performances (despite being in a loss). He won two dunk contests, in 1985 and 1990. Even Jordan admits Wilkins was robbed in 1988 when he lost in Chicago. “I probably would’ve given it to [Dominique],” Jordan said years later. “But being that it was on my turf, it wasn’t meant to be.”

Wilkins is also one of five non-centers in NBA history to average at least 26 points for a decade — the other four being Jerry West, Jordan, Allen Iverson and LeBron James. In layman’s terms, Wilkins was that deal. The issue with Wilkins’ legacy, however, is what plagues Chris Paul today — his teams never advanced past the second round. But by the start of 1992, there seemed to be momentum building for Wilkins to become the 11th professional player to be added to the Dream Team. Unfortunately, Wilkins ruptured his Achilles tendon against the Philadelphia 76ers in January 1992, ending his season and whatever shot he had at making the Olympic squad. At the time of his injury, he was putting up 28.1 points per night.

How the story played out: Portland’s Clyde Drexler was announced as the final NBA player to make the squad in May 1992. Wilkins eventually played on the second iteration of the Dream Team two years later, a dominant squad in its own right. But we’re all left to wonder how differently Wilkins’ Hall of Fame career might have been remembered. What an acrobatic light show the fast break of Johnson, Jordan and “The Human Highlight Reel” would’ve produced in Barcelona! It’s the second time we missed out on a Magic and Dominique tag team — the Los Angeles Lakers had the chance to select Wilkins No. 1 overall in the 1982 draft, opting instead for James Worthy (a selection that worked out extremely well for the Lakers in the ’80s).

What if Magic Johnson had been unable to play?

For context, only 263 days had passed between Johnson’s announcement that he had HIV (Nov. 7, 1991) and Team USA’s first Olympic game (July 26, 1992). In the immediate aftermath of his announcement, America began to emotionally distance itself from Johnson. Advertisers and marketing agencies ceased using him in their campaigns. How sick was he? Would he wither away in front of our eyes? And should he even be allowed to play basketball? The debate became one of the most polarizing of its day.

“If Magic Johnson is prohibited from participating in the Olympics,” a New York Times response to the editor ran in February 1992, “then the accepted risk factor for all sports should be re-evaluated.”

“Americans have always regarded our Olympic athletes as role models for our boys and girls, which Magic is not,” another stated. “Let him use his energies and money setting up a trust fund of a few million dollars to pay the medical bills of the women he may have infected.”

On Feb. 3, 1992, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) ruled that athletes with HIV were eligible to participate. Later that same week, Johnson not only participated in the NBA All-Star Game in Orlando, Florida, but he also took home MVP honors with 25 points, nine assists and a spine-tingling 3-pointer that has since transcended sports. Johnson, of course, went on to become one of the faces of The Dream Team and a beloved executive, broadcaster and ambassador of the league.

But what if history were different, and the IOC had ruled differently? Not only would that have been tragically inhumane, but athletes with HIV being ruled ineligible means no Magic Johnson. No Magic Johnson means no Larry Bird and no Michael Jordan. No Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and Michael Jordan means no Dream Team. One decision quite literally changed the world.

Pots & pans: From Sally Hemings to Jane Doe, ‘throwaway’ women demand their places in history and in court Accusations against Pete Rose show a view of women that is toxic

In the wake of allegations that decades ago Pete Rose had sex with an underage girl, this week’s planned celebration of Rose by the Philadelphia Phillies, his team from 1979 through 1983, has been shelved.

Thus, Rose becomes the latest male celebrity to have his past tainted and his future shrouded by allegations of sexual abuse. Rose was barred from participating in major league baseball because he gambled on the game while managing the Cincinnati Reds, and the sex scandal puts another bolt on the door that stands between Rose and baseball’s Hall of Fame.

Of course, Rose, major league baseball’s all-time career hits leader, denies doing anything criminal. He says his accuser was 16, or that he thought she was 16, and at the age of consent in Ohio when the teenager and the then-married Cincinnati Reds star began their sexual relationship. I don’t seek to convict Rose of a crime. He deserves a full exploration of the events that prompted the allegations, just as does his accuser, who has been identified only as Jane Doe.

Whatever happens with the allegations against Rose, or Bill Cosby or any number of men accused of abusing women, the significance of privileged men being accused of abusing women can’t be denied.

For too long we’ve focused upon what sex scandals would mean to the accused men, their careers, reputations and legacies. But when we change our focus, we see that when men stand accused of abusing women it underscores grudging changes in our society. After all, powerful, prominent and popular men have always been able to sexually exploit and abuse women without fear of being held accountable for their actions: It’s not the abuse but the potential consequences that are new.

Indeed, from Sally Hemings to Jane Doe, our society continues to struggle with women maintaining sovereignty over their bodies.

For decades, Hemings was Thomas Jefferson’s slave and nothing more, at least outside her family. Family stories about her relationship with Jefferson, America’s third president, were just tall tales about one of the nation’s most towering figures.

But today, the family stands vindicated as academic inquiry and DNA evidence have built a consensus that Jefferson probably fathered Hemings’ children.

Now a woman seeks to hold Rose accountable for a relationship that began when she was a teenager and he was a married baseball star twice her age. A few months here and there could add up to the difference between Rose having done something criminal and exploitative in the 1970s and his doing something merely exploitative.

But no matter how old his teenage lover was, Rose behaved like a man who sought to use a young woman and then ball her up and throw her away. The inconvenient truth for Rose and for others of his generation and ilk is that there are no disposable women. Indeed, the notion of disposable women is toxic and unsustainable and must not be recycled.

Women will have sovereignty over their bodies. They will say yes or no, when and how, and with whom. And men who can’t understand or respect that could find themselves in a world of hurt, as they should.

As women assert sovereignty over their bodies and control of their futures, they will be met with opposition from the bedroom to the boardroom.

But if American society is to climb toward higher ground, women must walk beside men, and sometimes take the lead, just as the nation’s female athletes did during the 2016 Summer Olympics.

Since its beginnings, America has been defined by white men. Its history has been framed and interpreted through what white men said or did, thought or imagined. But it is likely that 21st-century America will be significantly defined by the actions and decisions that women of all races make for themselves, the nation and the world.

One of the telling decisions modern American women have made is that they will not be defined by the tastes and whims of men. They will not be disposable. Instead, old notions about the value of women and the men who hold them will be.

Somewhere, a teenage Sally Hemings, with her life and body her own, says no to Thomas Jefferson, and, broom in hand, chases him away.

Carmelo Anthony goes home to Baltimore for ‘Day of Giving’ Anthony says it’s been an ’emotional roller coaster’ but stays silent about his NBA future

NBA All-Star and, for now, New York Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony made his way back to Baltimore on Wednesday. He didn’t care to speak much about the drama-filled NBA season or the trade rumors. But he was happy to be home in the city that raised him and at the very place that made him, Robert C. Marshall Recreation Center in West Baltimore.

“I played on this exact field,” he said. “I didn’t have a dream then. But this community made me what I am.”

When asked about his future with the Knicks, he replied, “I don’t know. I don’t know. I’m not talking about basketball right now … I’m good. We’re in Baltimore right now. That’s all I’m focusing on right now … so I’m good.”

Instagram Photo

The event was marked a “Day of Giving” organized by The Basketball Tournament officials to kick off the three-day basketball competition, which will be held at Coppin State University on Thursday. The day began with a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the recreation center, where Anthony was recognized for his community service and presented with a medal of honor by Baltimore mayor Catherine Pugh.

“This community is what made me who I am today,” Anthony said. “… What we’re trying to do here, what we’re trying to build, what we’re trying to create, is so much bigger than the negativity that you guys see or you guys hear or you guys read about our city.”

Pugh praised Anthony for his visibility and representation of Baltimore.

“What you’ve done is help shine a national light on this city,” Pugh said. “You didn’t have to do it, but you did.”

This event also included cleanup efforts at 12 sites in Baltimore and a job fair at Coppin State.

The 10-time All Star will host the tournament, where Team Challenge ALS will face the Overseas Elite. The tournament is set to air live on ESPN on Thursday night. The $2 million prize tournament began in 2014 and was previously played in New York. Sixty-four teams consisting of college alumni, professional and international basketball players competed in a winner-take-all prize.

New York Knicks All-Star and Baltimore native Carmelo Anthony thanks Baltimore mayor Catherine Pugh for his service medal. Anthony said that the medal is “more important” than his Olympic gold medals.

Reginald Thomas II for The Undefeated

Anthony told the crowd the last 12 months since bringing home gold for the third time from the 2016 Summer Olympics have been “an emotional roller coaster.”

“But I had to find peace, I had to come to peace with myself, come to peace with kind of the situation I’m in, kind of try to find happiness again,” he said of his current situation. “I kind of lost that a little bit, but I’m finding it now and it feels good.”

He called the firing of Phil Jackson days after the NBA draft a “business decision.”

Anthony said he has not yet met with the Knicks.

He said he’s trying to stay “away from the fray” during the offseason.

“You haven’t heard comments from me,” he said. “I’m growing my hair out right now, spending time with the family. I’m being an AAU dad right now. That’s what matters to me at this point. Nothing else really matters.”

Daily Dose: 7/31/17 Adidas apologizes for caving to LaVar Ball

What’s up, gang? Hope your weekend went well. I’ve done radio three times since we last spoke. Monday morning I hosted Mike and Mike for the first time, and working with Booger McFarland was fun. Here’s a link.

The Olympics are coming back to the United States. In a new agreement reached Monday, the committees from the two cities left in the running would simply pick the years that worked best for them. Paris will take 2024, and Los Angeles will take 2028. We’ve come to a point where cities don’t even want the Games because of the headache and waste that hosting the Olympics brings. Every step this process takes now feels more and more like a death march, in terms of the shelf life of the competition overall.

Women get paid less on the dollar than men. No matter that some select economists will tell you otherwise, it’s true. And if you’re a black woman, that difference is even more stark. Why? Because, well, when you add structural problems that compound both sexism and racism, you’re even further behind. So #BlackWomensEqualPay day was created because when added up over a lifetime, we’re talking about $1 million that they don’t make compared with, say, white men. It varies from city to city, but that number is impossible to ignore.

Black people’s relationship with God is an interesting one. In this country in particular, the linkage between faith, freedom and salvation is one that some people see as justification for belief. Hence the reason that the black church has become such a large community on not only a social level but also a political one. That doesn’t always work for everyone. So when your faith is tested, Christianity doesn’t always end up being the answer. Read one woman’s quest to find new spirituality in the form of Yoruba.

I like LaVar Ball the dad. I like LaVar Ball the CEO. I enjoy LaVar Ball the Lonzo Ball hype man. I can’t stand LaVar Ball the basketball coach. Last weekend, at an AAU tournament in Las Vegas, he went way too far with his nonsense and managed to get a referee removed from a game and tournament after she gave him a technical foul. He then proceeded to insult her ability to referee and her conditioning. Now, Adidas is apologizing for the entire situation after the group that supplied the refs broke off their relationship with the shoe company. Good for them.

Free Food

Coffee Break: There’s a new homeless community in Denver that is designed for transgender people. It’s called Beloved Community Village. It’s a somewhat radical idea that’s funded by quite a few different partners, and it also involves tiny houses. Some of our most vital voices are way backward on acceptance, so this is a productive step.

Snack Time: If you don’t know who Joanne the Scammer is, I feel bad for you. But soon more of you will because Joanne might be getting a TV show, which is great news for all of us in the Scam Squad.

Dessert: Allen Iverson clearly doesn’t feel like hooping anymore. We don’t blame him, to be honest.

Daily Dose: 7/20/17 The nation’s eyes are on O.J. Simpson yet again

Sometimes you wake up in the morning and you can feel a crazy news day in your bones. At least at this stage of my life I can. Thursday is going to be one of those days, I think.

So, where to start with the president. First off, there was the interview with The New York Times. Rambling doesn’t even begin to describe how all over the place that conversation was, just on balance. Then he said he would have never hired Attorney General Jeff Sessions if he knew he’d recuse himself from the Russia investigation, which is a staggering admission. There’s also a story circulating that the White House is using funds designed to promote the Affordable Care Act to denigrate it.

O.J. Simpson is legitimately back in the news. We all knew this was coming, but it’s somehow still surreal to think that we’re going to be looking at Orenthal, once again, in a courtroom, rapt to find out what his fate will be. It clearly won’t have the same social impact as The Verdict, but this is straight-up huge news across every network. This scenario is obviously opening up some very old wounds for a lot of people, so whatever the parole verdict may be, it will be extremely emotional.

Some ideas are so misguided that you often wonder how they got so far. Such is the case over at HBO, where apparently the adapters of Game of Thrones are going to create another show called Confederate. And it sounds like it plans to be exactly what you might imagine: a world in which slavery is still legal and the South succeeded in breaking away. We need not point out how instantly awful this might become. But the risk of letting someone run wild with an ahistorical reimagining of our past is just one that few of us will trust, overall.

In the past five years, the NBA has made real efforts to expand its footprint globally. Since the Dream Team in the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona, Spain, the league’s popularity has blown up and the league continues to push. The NBA Africa Game, a matchup that began in 2015, takes place Aug. 5. Now they’re heading to one of the biggest nations on Earth: India. The Golden State Warriors’ Kevin Durant will be the face of that tour. While there isn’t a full game yet, he will be holding camp and basically acting as an ambassador. Very cool.

Free Food

Coffee Break: I don’t typically freak out over every single leaked still shot from a set or makeup room, but in the case of Star Wars, I’ll make an exception. We’ve finally got a visual of Donald Glover playing a young Lando Calrissian, which is a very tough role to tackle for so many reasons, namely Billy Dee Williams.

Snack Time: Speaking of bad ideas, Atari is putting out a new product that puts speakers in the bill of a baseball cap, meaning the notion of private listening on, say, public transportation is one step closer to complete oblivion.

Dessert: This song blew me away.

 

The show, the after-party, the hotel — live from The 2017 ESPYS Peyton Manning, LL Cool J, Ice Cube made all the memories

It’s one thing to watch an awards show on TV. It’s different to be there in person. And it’s totally different to actually have to work it. You see everything. You hear everything. And, most importantly, you feel everything. For example, it was impossible not to shed tears when Jarrius Robertson was handed the Jimmy V Perseverance Award. Goose bumps arrived when former first lady Michelle Obama graced the stage to honor Special Olympics founder Eunice Kennedy Shriver. But for those who require a more intimate view of what The ESPYS were like, I’m glad you’re here. Follow along.

The Red Carpet Hustle

This was my first red carpet experience. I didn’t know what to expect going in, but as the great songwriting philosopher Jay-Z once said, Fresh out the frying pan/ Into the fryer. Once it’s on, it’s on. Publicists coming up to you asking if you want to speak to their clients. Jumping on the carpet and chasing people down to speak to them. It looks glamorous on TV, but it’s a haze in real life. From Malcolm Jenkins, Draya Michele, Josh Norman, Dak Prescott, Derrick Johnson and more. Sweating in a suit and standing for three hours isn’t glamorous. But if you get a chance to do it, I recommend it.

Peyton Manning’s opening monologue

Manning didn’t say, “Omaha!” which remains a severe disappointment, but his opening monologue? Yeah, he did that. There wasn’t much doubt as to whether the two-time Super Bowl-winning signal-caller would do well at hosting. He’s one of the more personable athletes in sports, with a list of comedic moments to his name already — his Saturday Night Live appearances are some of the funniest spots in the show’s history. But believe me when I tell you this: His Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook joke had everyone in the building laughing while also saying, “Yikes.” K.D.’s and Westbrook’s reaction was all that needed to be said. Then he followed it up with a quip about the Atlanta Falcons blowing the biggest lead in Super Bowl history. For what it’s worth, Jamie Foxx is still the greatest of all time ESPYS host. Justin Timberlake and Drake were pretty good as well. But The Sheriff was on one last night.

LL Cool J’s catalog is certified

I’ll be the first to admit I was hesitant about attending a party that featured LL Cool J as headliner. He’s a hip-hop icon and should be the next rapper inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. But it’s 2017, LL’s a TV star, and music doesn’t necessarily feel like his main objective anymore (which is totally understandable), combined with the fact that Naughty By Nature had performed at ESPN The Magazine’s Body Party the night before with extremely limited success (for the record, Naughty was cool, but the trio really only has a handful of songs that cross over).

Needless to say, any concerns I had about LL walking into the Microsoft Theater in downtown Los Angeles were quickly alleviated. His catalog is deep. He came out to “Mama Said Knock You Out.” Then there was “I’m Bad.” “I Can’t Live Without My Radio,” too. By far, though, the highlight of LL’s set was the Total-assisted “Who Do You Love.” The entire venue instantly went back to 1996. Everyone danced with each other and sang the hook in unison, Who do you love?/ Are you for sure?

The ESPYS Post Party Presented by Coors Light.

Kohjiro Kinno / ESPN Images

The energy kicked up when LL brought out Ice Cube and WC to perform “Bow Down” and “Gangsta Nation.” Also, if you ever needed proof that Cube is a living legend, check and see how a room full of people react to his (and N.W.A.’s) “Straight Outta Compton.” There’s something about yelling, Straight Outta Compton, crazy m—-f—– named Ice Cube/ From a gang called N—-s With Attitude. All in all, LL won last night. The only complaint I had was he didn’t do “Paradise” with Amerie. Or “I Need Love.”

There’s always an after-party to the after-party

About 2 1/2 hours into the official after-party is when people begin planning their next move. It’s Los Angeles. There’s always another move. There was a Vanity Fair move. And an Uninterrupted one that was apparently full before it even began because everyone was texting everyone else to see who they knew who could get them in. The trick is, if you’re going out, you can’t overdo it at the open bar. Which, let me be perfectly clear, is much easier said than done. You’re always convincing yourself one more drink can’t hurt when it doesn’t hurt your bank account. And nights like that normally end with 3:30 a.m. trips to Subway. I should know.

The hotel

Just don’t be that guy, slightly inebriated at near 4 in the morning, standing on the elevator wondering why the JW Marriott has a dysfunctional elevator because it won’t take you to your floor. You’re pressing “7” to take you to your floor, but it’s not going anywhere. You’re standing with a delicious Subway sandwich in your hand, and all you want to do is eat and fall asleep, but you can’t because the elevator is broken. You seriously waste a good five minutes mad because the establishment won’t let you be great — or maybe it was doing you a favor, because did you really need Subway at near 4 in the morning? Of course you didn’t, you savage. Then you realize you have to scan your card, and you feel like an idiot. I should know.

The 2017 ESPYS brings out the style in sports once again Brilliant tuxedos — traditional and postmodern — ruled the evening

Some of the world’s best athletes and brightest celebrities met on the crowded red carpet in front of the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles before the 25th annual ESPY Awards Wednesday. Despite the sweltering July heat, pros from the NBA, NFL, NHL and MLB looked cool and relaxed as they paraded into the hall to celebrate their achievements in sports — and popular culture. Future Hall of Famer Peyton Manning has been nominated for an ESPY Award 19 times over the course of his pro career — he’s won nine times. This year, he hosted the show and threw plenty of zingers.

While the highlight of the night was undoubtedly the appearance of Michelle Obama, who presented the Arthur Ashe Courage Award posthumously to Eunice Kennedy Shriver for her role in creating the Special Olympics. Golden State Warriors superstar and two-time NBA champion Stephen Curry looked perfect in a black-on-black tux. Curry’s wife — and best-selling cookbook author — Ayesha Curry, brought some disco-era cool to the yard with her granite-colored, sequined jumpsuit.

NBA player Stephen Curry (right) and Ayesha Curry attend The 2017 ESPYS at Microsoft Theater on July 12 in Los Angeles.

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Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson walked the red carpet in a black velvet Tom Ford tux jacket and pants. Wilson attended without his wife Ciara, who gave birth in April to the couple’s first daughter, Sienna.

NFL player Russell Wilson attends The 2017 ESPYS at Microsoft Theater on July 12 in Los Angeles.

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NBA player D’Angelo Russell attends The 2017 ESPYS at Microsoft Theater on July 12, 2017 in Los Angeles, California.

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Former Los Angeles Laker and current Brooklyn Nets point guard D’Angelo Russell followed in the (camouflage pants) footsteps of another fashionable Russell (Westbrook). The 2017 league MVP brought his best green pants — and gold chains — to The ESPYS.

NBA player Russell Westbrook (right) and Nina Earl attend The 2017 ESPYS at Microsoft Theater on July 12 in Los Angeles.

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Courage and perseverance were the themes of the show, and no one represented those two things like 15-year-old Saints superfan Jarrius Robertson, who received the Jimmy V Perseverance Award for his battle with a rare liver disease. Robertson’s tiny black-and-gold tuxedo repped for his hometown of New Orleans.

Jarrius Robertson attends The 2017 ESPYS at Microsoft Theater on July 12, 2017 in Los Angeles, California.

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U.S. Olympic gold medal winner Simone Biles was nominated this year for Best Female Athlete. Her blue dress and towering sandals were a perfect combination.

Simone Biles on the ESPYS red carpet.

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Issa Rae, creator and star of HBO’s hit Insecure, looked quite secure in a black miniskirt and billowy top.

Issa Rae arrives at the 2017 ESPYS at Microsoft Theater on July 12, 2017 in Los Angeles, California.

Joe Scarnici/WireImage

And you’ve gotta love a guy who switches out formal neckwear for chest tattoos and chains. Los Angeles Clippers star DeAndre Jordan did L.A. cool in a camel tux and gray suede shoes.

DeAndre Jordan arrives at the 2017 ESPYS at Microsoft Theater on July 12, 2017 in Los Angeles, California.

Joe Scarnici/WireImage

Nashville Predators defenseman P.K. Subban has become de facto ambassador for Music City, and for hockey itself — and his robin’s egg-blue jacquard jacket and vest added a little Southern charm to his ensemble.

NHL player P.K. Subban attends The 2017 ESPYS at Microsoft Theater on July 12 in Los Angeles.

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The award for Best Breakthrough Athlete went to Dallas Cowboys QB Dak Prescott, who came through in a beautifully tailored gray tuxedo jacket and black pants.

NFL player Dak Prescott attends The 2017 ESPYS at Microsoft Theater on July 12 in Los Angeles.

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One of the best dressed men of the night: Memphis Grizzlies guard Mike Conley, Jr., who wore a silk tux with a black-and-gray circular pattern.

 

March on Washington Film Fest features 9th Wonder, Diahann Carroll and Eric Holder This year’s festival looks at civil rights across sports, entertainment, higher education and the legal system

The March on Washington Film Festival returns this month for its fifth year of celebrating films that explore themes of civil rights, activism and social justice.

Panels and events including actress Diahann Carroll, producer 9th Wonder and former Attorney General Eric Holder are among the highlights of the 21 events that run from July 13-22.

Holder will be on hand for a couple of events. He’s part of a panel discussing Walk With Me: The Trials of Damon J. Keith before an invitation-only audience July 20 at the Supreme Court. And he and his wife, Sharon Malone, will be presenting writer Ta-Nehisi Coates with the Vivian Malone Courage Award on July 15. Vivian Malone, Sharon’s sister, was one of two students who integrated the University of Alabama in 1963 and became its first black graduate in 1965.

Carroll will be attending to support a documentary-in-progress co-directed by her daughter, Suzanne Kay. Festivalgoers will get a glimpse of the film from Kay and Margo Speciale about The Ed Sullivan Show and its importance in introducing America to black artists. Sullivan faced threats and boycotts for integrating his variety show, one of the most watched programs in America, but he persisted nevertheless. The full documentary is expected to be completed in 2018.

9th Wonder, the ear behind Jay-Z’s Black Album, Kendrick Lamar’s Damn., and Anderson .Paak’s Malibu, will be on hand to discuss The Hip-Hop Fellow (2014) with the Kennedy Center’s new director of hip-hop programming, Simone Eccleston, on July 21. The Hip-Hop Fellow follows 9th Wonder (also known as Patrick Douthit) as a fellow at Harvard’s Hip-Hop Research Institute, where he also taught for the 2012-13 school year. Among the records that 9th Wonder selected to be archived in Harvard’s Loeb Music Library: A Tribe Called Quest‘s The Low End Theory, Lauryn Hill’s The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, Nas’ Illmatic and Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly.

This year’s festival also marks the introduction of the Freedom’s Children Student Journalists Competition. Earlier this year, students from around the country submitted work for the chance to cover the festival for various journalism outlets. The Undefeated is participating and will be running work from the winners.

Also worth a gander:

Olympic Pride, American Prejudice

Deborah Riley Draper’s 2016 documentary, narrated by Blair Underwood, looks beyond Jesse Owens to the 17 other black American athletes who participated in the 1936 Berlin Olympics, some of whom also won medals at the Games.

Scarred Justice: The Orangeburg Massacre 1968

When many people think of violent clashes between college students and the police, the horrors of Kent State spring to mind. But Scarred Justice: The Orangeburg Massacre 1968, the 2008 film from directors Bestor Cram and Judy Richardson, reveals the history and context behind a standoff at South Carolina State University in 1968, when South Carolina Highway Patrol officers killed three protesters and injured 27 others who were demonstrating for the desegregation of an Orangeburg bowling alley.

Winnie

Director Pascale Lamche’s 2017 documentary about the freedom fighter and former wife of Nelson Mandela premiered this year at Sundance. Winnie Mandela sat for four interviews in two years with Lamche, and the result is a look at her fight against apartheid in South Africa and the toll it took on her and her marriage. The festival will host a discussion at the National Museum of Women in the Arts on July 19 with poet Elizabeth Alexander and Gay McDougall of the U.N. Committee for Ending Racial Discrimination.

Festival attendees can check out the full event lineup and purchase passes and tickets at http://marchonwashingtonfilmfestival.org.

This article has been changed to correct the number of events and the relationship of Vivian and Sharon Malone.

Explaining Beyoncé’s public performance of pregnancy and motherhood Reclaiming a positive image for black women amid a history of degradation and slander

They’re here!

Finally, really and truly here — according to news reports.

By “they,” of course, we mean Beyoncé and Jay Z’s twins.

For months, we’ve been lapping up whatever dribbles of details we could find about Queen Bey and her pregnancy, dining on a steady diet of Instagram posts and public appearances as her belly kept growing with two more heirs to the Knowles-Carter empire. And true to form, Beyoncé took the opportunity to give us a spectacle laden with meaning.

Perhaps the most significant thing about Beyoncé’s decisions about how her pregnant body would be publicly displayed was her understanding that no one can define themselves by a series of negatives. Black womanhood and black motherhood are always performed in minute-by-minute assertions, and that doesn’t become any less true if you are married, or wealthy, or well-educated. Just ask Michelle Obama.

It’s not enough to say “We’re not welfare queens or breeding wenches or “subfeminine,’ ” to use Eldridge Cleaver’s word. Telling society what you are not is not the same as defining what you are, as evidenced by the efforts of black clubwomen in the early 20th century. Thanks to, as Mary Church Terrell wrote, “false accusations and malicious slanders circulated against them constantly, both by the press and by the direct descendants of those who in years past were responsible for the moral degradation of their female slaves,” black women learned to present themselves as largely asexual to counter prevailing images of themselves as wanton Jezebels. It’s a legacy that’s continued to affect how we see black women, into the 21st century, as we’ve learned that sexual respectability politicking is just as confining as stereotypes that defined black women as irredeemably lustful.

Rather than be pigeonholed, Beyoncé used her second pregnancy to position herself, and by extension black womanhood at large, as the center of life.


Of course it was all connected.

It turned out that the Feb. 1 Instagram announcement of twins and the library of maternity photos released on her website were a harbinger of what was to come at the Grammys less than two weeks later. A club flyer, if you will.

With her last two albums, it’s clear Beyoncé has become wedded to the idea of letting her work communicate in the aggregate. The whole speaks louder, more concretely, and more decisively than any one individual element. That doesn’t apply just to her music, or the music videos (Beyoncé) or cinematic offerings (Lemonade) paired with it. Beyoncé boasts an unparalleled skill in stretching her artistic statements into multipronged events, taking full advantage of the internet, her performances and even step-and-repeat photo ops to present a consistent narrative.

“I think she was giving us a different vision of what black children’s futures could be.”

Her Grammys performance was a continuation of what Beyoncé was already aiming to communicate with her pregnancy announcement, through a series of photographs that had been art-directed and contemplated quite deeply. Looking back, it now seems like the most visible chapter in a highly curated story: how Beyoncé was not only embracing pregnancy and motherhood, but providing new fodder for what it means.

While some rightfully detected traces of Peter Paul Rubens’ many works depicting the Madonna and child in Beyoncé’s explosion of florals, the kitschy, Sears portrait gallery nature of the photographs referenced something else: the provocative, radical appropriating element of a Kehinde Wiley portrait.

Wiley is known for painting black people in a style that references the old masters, elevating ordinary modern black people to the status of nobility by immortalizing them in the same mythmaking environs as lionized white historical figures. With her maternity photos, and at the Grammys, Beyoncé elected to do the same.

At first glance, Beyoncé’s decision to channel Wiley seemed incongruous. She’s not ordinary at all. This is a woman who is known not just as a mononym but as Queen Bey, and for a time King Bey.

Why install yourself like the subjects Wiley recruits off the street when you’re a woman with the power to turn a man into a “black Bill Gates”? Quite simply, Beyoncé was tapping into a pop cultural black populism. She took the subtext of Lemonade and made it plain with the speech she gave upon accepting the Grammy for best urban contemporary album. In it, she aligned herself with and understood herself to be a stand-in for all black women, especially American black women.

“We all experience pain and loss, and often we become inaudible,” she said. “My intention for the film and album was to create a body of work that would give a voice to our pain, our struggles, our darkness and our history. To confront issues that make us uncomfortable. … This is something I want for every child of every race, and I feel it’s vital that we learn from the past and recognize our tendencies to repeat our mistakes.”

Instagram Photo

Instagram Photo

This might have been surprising if you only paid glancing attention to Lemonade, and took it as Beyoncé giving a public middle finger to her husband for cheating on her with Becky with the good hair. But the gossip was a lure for a deeper message.

Remember, the Lemonade film included the Mothers of the Movement: Sybrina Fulton, Gwen Carr and Lezley McSpadden, better known as the mothers of Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, and Michael Brown, respectively. And so, on the night when Beyoncé was recognized for her work, her decision to depict herself as the madonna, as a multitudinous, many-armed deity, and as the orisha Oshun, was a decision to offer herself as a vessel for black women’s self-love. It was Beyoncé’s way of marrying the messages within Chaka Khan’s “I’m Every Woman” and Boris Gardiner’s “Every N—- is a Star.”

Three years ago, Beyoncé opened the Grammys with a steamy performance of “Drunk in Love.” Seated on a French cafe chair, she writhed and vamped in fishnets and a black sheer leotard, exulting in the bliss of hot marital sexytimes, eventually joined by her husband. A British newspaper, Metro UK, responded with a headline spitting fire and judgment: “ ‘Whore’ Beyoncé angers parents with raunchy act.”

For Beyoncé to then align herself, and by proxy, black women as a whole, with the iconography of the madonna was significant. When you consider that she did so after releasing a self-titled visual album that was a frank celebration of sex, it’s explosive. Even on Beyoncé, released in 2013, the singer was toying with imagery of the Pietà, casting herself as Mary and a black man as the fallen Christ in the video for “Mine.”

Beyonce portraying “Mary” in the “Mine” video


As with just about everything she does publicly, Beyoncé takes basic ideas and remixes them to great effect to suit her own needs. So of course she did it with a public pregnancy, too. Beyoncé’s pregnancy was political because black women’s bodies are laden with politics, whether we want them to be or not. Such is the burden of history.

Government has long sought to define and characterize black motherhood for its own ends. There are the “greatest hits” we all know and detest, such as legally defining black women as unrapeable in service of a “capitalized womb,” or determining that babies born to enslaved women inherited the status of free or enslaved from their mothers. There’s the Moynihan report’s prescription that black women’s achievement needed to be impeded in service to black men, presidential candidate Ronald Reagan’s use of the mythical welfare queen as a scapegoat, and even former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee’s attempt to characterize the Affordable Care Act, with its provisions for free birth control and well woman exams, as a governmental “Uncle Sugar” enabling the actions of wanton, morally bankrupt women.

But attacks on black motherhood have also manifested in the form of attacks on their children, something that was visceral in Beyoncé’s inclusion of the Mothers of the Movement in Lemonade. Beyoncé communicated that there was no space between herself and these women. She is the mother of a black child, subject to the same dangers resulting from white fear and white supremacy. There’s no daylight between Beyoncé and, more recently, Diamond Reynolds, the woman whose partner, Philando Castile, was shot to death by a police officer during a traffic stop, in front of her young daughter, who was seated in the back of the car.

It was Beyoncé’s way of marrying the messages within Chaka Khan’s “I’m Every Woman” and Boris Gardiner’s “Every N—– is a Star.

But while Lemonade, with its opening salvo of “Formation,” references modern attacks on black children and black motherhood, the fear black mothers harbor runs deeper than the past few years. It spans generations. Perhaps no such attack drives that point home like the gruesome 1918 lynching of Mary Turner and her unborn child in Brooks County, Georgia.

After a black man shot and killed a white plantation owner, a lynch mob murdered Turner’s husband as part of a rampage of terrorism and revenge. Turner, 21 years old and eight months pregnant, had the temerity to protest. Upon learning that Turner intended to seek legal recourse for her husband’s murder, the mob came for her.

According to The Mary Turner Project, a Georgia educational collective dedicated to preserving her memory, “ … at Folsom’s Bridge the mob tied Mary Turner by her ankles, hung her upside down from a tree, poured gasoline on her and burned off her clothes. One member of the mob then cut her stomach open and her unborn child dropped to the ground where it was reportedly stomped on and crushed by a member of the mob. Her body was then riddled with gunfire from the mob. Later that night she and her baby were buried ten feet away from where they were murdered. The makeshift grave was marked with only a ‘whiskey bottle’ with a ‘cigar’ stuffed in its neck.”

Simply terrorizing Turner was not enough. It wasn’t just that her husband was considered a threat — so was she, and the black child she surely would have imbued with a sense of justice and liberty had they lived.

Lemonade is partly about defiance and resilience. And arguably, there’s no greater show of defiance than making the decision to bring a black child into this world and shower it with love and pride and joy, knowing the hostility that awaits her or him.

The legacy of our society’s anxiety toward black female bodies are evident in the work of Beyoncé’s artistic predecessors. After Beyoncé’s Grammy performance, Vanessa Williams tweeted, “They never showed my pregnant belly when I sang my nominated “Save the Best for Last” — Oh how times have changed! Kudos Beyoncé!” The vision of a conservatively clothed, pregnant Williams was apparently too controversial for the Grammys in 1993, two years after Demi Moore appeared nude and pregnant on the cover of Vanity Fair.

In her 2003 memoir Chaka! Through the Fire, Khan revealed the angst of male record company executives who worried that her sex appeal would vanish because of a C-section scar cutting its way across her belly.

So what is there to do? How do you find a way to be celebratory instead of huddling in fear? Khan responded by continuing to perform in her trademark itty-bitty stagewear, exposed scar and all. If you’re Beyoncé, you bring the house down at the Grammys. If you’re Erykah Badu, you start ushering in black life.

While there are few public images of Badu pregnant with her children, Seven, Mars or Puma, she appeared in the September 2011 issue of People in a photograph that accompanied a story detailing her work as a doula — a service she provides for free to pregnant mothers, subsidized by her financial success as singer.

Badu appeared with her hair parted in the center. It flows in waves down her shoulders and over her breasts. She’s dressed in a loose-fitting white caftan, accessorized with a long, gold beaded necklace and rings of various sizes on both hands. In her arms, she’s cradling a nude black baby, Marley Jae Taylor, then 2 weeks old, whom she delivered. She’s standing in the middle of a Dallas field, surrounded by tall grass that appears to have parted for her. She called herself the “welcoming committee.”


The Grammys may have been the high point for audience numbers — it was more accessible on network television than Lemonade was on HBO — but Beyoncé’s pregnancy messaging apparatus continued to churn with her public appearances with daughter Blue Ivy and Jay Z at NBA games, when she and Blue Ivy showed up to the premiere of Beauty and the Beast or celebrated Mother’s Day dressed in the high-fashion equivalent of Mommy-and-Me togs.

Instagram Photo

All those images of black fertility and black motherhood rippled across the internet to reinforce the ideas first introduced with Lemonade — and then were reintroduced at the Grammys when Beyoncé deliberately lingered on a line from poet Warsan Shire about the “hips” that “crack” from giving birth.

Even the pink tuxedo Blue Ivy wore communicated a vision of black girl power. When her mother wants to convey messages about female power, she tends to revisit variations on menswear. She did it in the stagewear for her performance of “Love on Top” announcing her first pregnancy. It’s an element in the music videos for “Suga Mama,” “Upgrade You,” and “Haunted,” all of which feature Beyoncé playing with the idea of gender roles.

Blue Ivy Carter and Jay Z during The 59th GRAMMY Awards at STAPLES Center on February 12, 2017 in Los Angeles, California.

Kevin Mazur/WireImage

At the Grammys, Beyoncé, who endorsed former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for president with a performance in which she and all of her backup dancers wore pantsuits, seemed to echo the most memorable notes of Clinton’s postelection concession speech: “Never doubt that you are valuable and powerful and deserving of every chance and opportunity in the world,” Clinton told the little girls of America on Nov. 9.

As she delivered an acceptance and concession speech of her own (if you choose to believe, as I do, that Beyoncé knew before the Grammys that she wouldn’t win Album of the Year), the singer had a similar message.

“It’s important to me to show images to my children that reflect their beauty so they can grow up in a world where they look in the mirror — first through their own families, as well as the news, the Super Bowl, the Olympics, the White House and the Grammys — and see themselves and have no doubt that they’re beautiful, intelligent and capable,” she said, again becoming a megaphone for the desires of all black mothers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And his name, Muhammad Ali.

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

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

And for that, we are greater.

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