Anik and Florian look back at UFC Fight Night: Pettis v. Poirier. Former UFC middleweight champion Michael Bisping joins the show to discuss his decision to accept a short-notice main event v. Kelvin Gastelum in Shanghai, China. Plus, a new ‘Ray Longo Minute’ and picks for UFC Fight Night: Werdum v. Tybura.
On Nov. 11, this summer’s breakout star Tiffany Haddish will host Saturday Night Live for the first time in her career. A week later, on Nov. 18, the Grammy Award-winning Chance the Rapper will, too, make his hosting debut on the long-running late-night sketch comedy show. Haddish, 37, of this summer’s Girls Trip and the recently canceled The Carmichael Show, is just the 12th African-American woman, and the 50th black man or woman, to host SNL, and when Chance the Rapper hosts seven days later, it will mark just the second time in the show’s 43-season history that hosts in back-to-back weeks are black. The last time was March 2009, and it was Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Tracy Morgan.
While SNL has a history of being on the pulse of politics and pop culture, it has always struggled in the diversity department, whether it’s the celebrity guest hosts, or its own cast. For seasons one through five, SNL had just one black cast member, Garrett Morris (2 Broke Girls, The Jamie Foxx Show) and didn’t hire a black woman until Yvonne Hudson was brought in for one season, 1981’s season 6. When Maya Rudolph left the show following season 33, it took the show seven years to replace her with Leslie Jones and Sasheer Zamata.
Heading into Saturday’s historic episode, The Undefeated takes a look at the 49 black hosts who came before Haddish and Chance.
While the NFL may be the most popular sport in America, the NBA is apparently the premier space from which to choose late-night television hosts: Professional basketball players have appeared on SNL the most. It began in 1978, when Buffalo Bills running back O.J. Simpson, in season 3, became the first black athlete (and second overall) to host the show. Between the nine athletes who have hosted, there are a combined 17 MVP awards, 87 All-Star or Pro Bowl selections, 28 championships, and, between Foreman and Johnson, 10 heavyweight title reigns.
Haddish, the second black female comedian to host (Rudolph was the first), follows in the footsteps of eight Academy Award nominees, two of whom are winners: Halle Berry, and Octavia Spencer. There have also been seven Emmy nominees, four of whom are winners: Cicely Tyson, Oprah Winfrey, Berry, Queen Latifah. Two Grammy nominees as well — with Janet Jackson a multi-Grammy winner. Tyson, in season 4, was the first black female host in SNL history, and she and Winfrey were the only hosts from 1979-2002. Berry hosted in 2003, a year after winning the Oscar for Monster’s Ball.
Starting with the legendary Richard Pryor and Grammy-winning jazz poet Gil Scott-Heron in season 1, there have been 24 black host-musician pairings since the show’s inception in 1975. Some of the pairings were a perfect match — Quincy Jones with Tevin Campbell, for example, as well as Eddie Murphy with Lionel Ritchie, and LeBron James with Kanye West. Other pairings are head-scratchers even to this day — Sinbad with Sade, and Michael Jordan with Public Enemy.
What started with host Lily Tomlin performing alongside SNL musical director Howard Shore on the sixth episode of season one has morphed into dozens of musical artists, including Paul Simon, Justin Timberlake and Stevie Wonder, pulling double-duty as both host and musical act. Chance the Rapper isn’t slated to perform on Nov. 18, the scheduled musical guest is fellow rapper Eminem, but there have been four hip-hop artists (Drake, Ludacris, Queen Latifah, MC Hammer) to grace the stage and the mic in the same episode. Ray Charles, who sang “I Believe in My Soul,” “Hit The Road Jack” and “Oh What A Beautiful Morning” between hosting duties during season three, was the first black host to pull double duty.
Of the 49 black creatives to host before Haddish and Chance, nine have returned for at least one more episode. Of the nine repeats, Morgan, Rock and Murphy were former cast members, with Murphy famously refusing to return to the show after last hosting in 1984. With the finale episode of season 42, Johnson joined the show’s exclusive “Five-Timers Club.” He’s the first member who is black or an athlete. Queen Latifah, who hosted during seasons 28 and 30, is the only black woman to host on more than one occasion.
Boxer James “Buster” Douglas sat in the lobby of Washington, D.C.’s, Capital Hilton on Nov. 2, taking a brief moment to chill just hours before one of the District’s exclusive fundraisers would kick off. His 6-foot-4 frame, topped by a brown fedora, caught stares from hotel guests and employees.
Three hours later, 1,800 guests flooded into the venue for Fight Night, a Fight for Children fundraiser that generates funds for early childhood education initiatives in the D.C. area.
The charity annually commands the presence of heavyweights in business, government, philanthropy, sports and entertainment. Muhammad Ali, Sugar Ray Leonard and Lennox Lewis have been part of the fundraiser and its atmosphere of cigars, Scotch and music.
“It’s a great event, and I’m honored to be part of it each year,” Douglas said.
Fight Night has generated more than $65 million overall. This year’s donations totaled $4.3 million.
The event usually features boxing. But this year it teamed up with the Professional Fighters League, and mixed martial arts fighters took to the ring for the first time. Former heavyweight champion Blagoy Ivanov of Bulgaria defeated Brazilian Caio Alencar in the night’s main event, while rising star Lance Palmer defeated longtime MMA veteran Steven Siler in the co-main.
The Professional Fighters League will formally debut in 2018 and feature a multimillion-dollar prize pool for fighters. The league purchased the fighting operations and event infrastructure of the World Series of Fighting in January and has more than 100 MMA fighters under contract.
The event featured appearances by boxers Douglas, Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini, Gerry Cooney and Earnie Shavers; Chuck Liddell and Urijah Faber of UFC fame; former world kickboxing champion Ray Sefo; former heavyweight MMA champion Bas Rutten; UFC and Brazilian jiujitsu fighter Renzo Gracie; Olympic judo gold medalist Kayla Harrison; as well as Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser; ESPN’s Michael Wilbon; CNBC’s Dhani Jones; Ballers actors Omar Miller, Donovan Carter and Kris Lofton; and former Washington Redskins players Pierre Garçon, Ken Harvey, Gary Clark, Ricky Sanders and Santana Moss, along with current players Jamison Crowder and Josh Doctson.
Fight for Children and Fight Night were created by Joseph E. Robert Jr. in 1990 to help children from low-income communities in the nation’s capital. Fight for Children’s purpose is to provide all children, regardless of their circumstance in life, with an equal shot at a great education.
About halfway through Nature Boy, ESPN’s 30 for 30 documentary (Nov. 7, 10 p.m. EST, ESPN) on WWE legend Ric Flair, the conversation turns to Flair’s transcending impact on popular culture. The flamboyant grappler, known for his loud fashion sense, “heel” tactics, braggadocio and quick tongue, was reminiscent of a young Cassius Clay/Muhammad Ali, captivating audiences not only with his physical dexterity but also with his ability to sell himself.
And Flair most surely sold himself. He was the man whom women wanted to be with and men wanted to be like. He was the 16-time world champion, no matter how much he would cheat to win, and made sure you never forgot it.
“I mean, why did people like Ali?” Flair asks in the documentary. “No one has marketed themselves in boxing like Ali.”
Moments later, rapper Snoop Dogg appears on the screen and explains how Flair pulled from and was an inspiration of the early roots of hip-hop and black culture. “As a kid growing up watching Ric Flair, he was very inspirational to myself and a lot of other hip-hop artists because he represented what we wanted to be,” Snoop Dogg said. “We wanted to be Ric Flair; we wanted to be flamboyant and the ‘kiss-stealin, wheelin-and-dealin,’ we wanted to be all of that.
“He was a part of our culture and our life. That’s why we love him and we cherish him. We’ve always held him high in the black community, because Ric is one of us.”
Snoop Dogg, who has hosted and appeared on WWE’s flagship show Monday Night Raw on multiple occasions and was inducted into the company’s Hall of Fame in 2016, paints a peculiar portrait of Flair, he of white working-class roots, bleach-blond hair and 1 percenter persona, as “one of us.” But between the luxurious clothes, brash delivery and unmitigated swagger, how was Flair any different, color aside, from an Ali or Denzel Washington or N.W.A.?
Flair was one of the greatest heels, or bad guys, in professional wrestling history, making you want to hate him as easily as Floyd “Money” Mayweather would some three decades later. But unlike Mayweather, Flair had the charm, personality and lifestyle to make every man envy him. He was also an early adopter of the overindulgent persona that took over 2000s hip-hop. To borrow from Jay-Z, Flair flaunted the “Money, Cash, H–s,” at one point owning 15 $10,000 robes, a pair of $600 custom-made shoes (gators, presumably) and a $15,000 Rolex. Not to mention all of the women.
“You see the Rolex watch, you see the glasses, you see the beautiful women, Baby Doll and Precious,” said Glen Thomas, 39, co-host of the Wrestling Marks of Excellence podcast. “You hear Ric Flair talking about the night they had in Vegas … and you see the sunglasses and the $5,000 Armani suits and shoes and you see the belt, you desire to be that. I didn’t know about Disney World, but I knew about Space Mountain.”
In recent years, the 68-year-old has been reborn as an apparent icon of black culture. Indianapolis Colts players mimicked Flair’s famous “Rolex-wearin’ ” promo during a postgame speech in 2015; rapper Pusha T shouted his trademark “Woo” catchphrase on 2012’s “Don’t Like”; and Flair “ran” for president with rapper Waka Flocka Flame in 2016.
But Flair, who hasn’t been a regular performer since retiring from WWE in 2008, is just one man in a long, complex history of professional wrestling. The “Nature Boy,” as a character, lives in a universe of offensive, sexist, anti-gay and, most glaringly, racist content — there are multiple instances of blackface being used in WWE. Which begs the question: Why do black fans continue to tune in?
There are many reasons, it turns out. Wrestling combines the visual presentation of cinema, the never-ending continuity of television and the pure athleticism of professional sports. In between the perilous stunts and knee-slapping comedy also lie real-world consequences, as evidenced by former wrestler Daniel Bryan having to retire because of repeated concussions. A bit of nostalgia is baked in as well. The average age of a pro wrestling viewer is 54 years old, compared with just 40 for the NBA, with many current viewers having watched the product since its heyday in the late 20th century.
“It’s one of those things where I can’t remember the start date,” said Camille Davis, 28, co-host of the Milwaukee-based TECKnical Foul sports podcast. “It’s kind of like when I think back about why I started sports: It’s just something that was always around.”
Whether it was a parent, aunt, uncle, cousin or deacon from church, most fans of wrestling had a familial introduction to the National Wrestling Alliance, World Championship Wrestling or WWE. Like anyone who grew up a fan of other sports, it wasn’t out of the norm to be a wrestling fan.
Black fans followed the established stars of the 1980s and 1990s like everyone else: Flair, Randy Savage, The Ultimate Warrior, Shawn Michaels, Bret Hart and Hulk Hogan. It didn’t even matter that none of these stars weren’t black; wrestling wasn’t immediately about race for those who grew up watching it.
But as black fans got older, many started to also gravitate to the male and female performers who looked like them. For older fans, there was Koko B. Ware, “Iceman” King Parsons, Bobo Brazil and “Sailor” Art Thomas. The most popular and transcendent of the early black wrestlers, though, was Junkyard Dog, who co-starred in Hogan’s Saturday morning cartoon show, Hulk Hogan’s Rock ‘n’ Wrestling.
For younger fans who grew up in the 1990s, professional wrestling’s renaissance era, they had what felt like an abundance of talent to root for. There was Harlem Heat, composed of real-life brothers Booker T and Stevie Ray; strongman Ahmed Johnson; black nationalist stable Nation of Domination; female grappler Jacqueline Moore; and, of course, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.
The Rock, who debuted in WWE in 1996, was the biggest star in the company’s history, winning multiple championships and eventually becoming the highest-paid actor in Hollywood. As half-Samoan, half-black, The Rock was one of the most visible black people in the country, a role model for many young people.
“The Rock was more of an inspiration,” said Brian Waters, 31, who’s hosted internet radio show The Wrestling Wrealm since 2011. “Knowing that he was half-black, half-Samoan, I was like, well, it don’t matter, he’s black. It’s kind of like Barack Obama. It don’t matter, he got a little black in him.”
Once black fans become aware of their own blackness, they would tend to root for the black wrestlers, no different from rooting for the Doug Williamses and Mike Vicks of football, the Williams sisters of tennis or the Tiger Woodses of golf.
This partially explains the ascent of The New Day, an all-black trio of wrestlers who have been a fan favorite for going on three years straight. But, surprisingly, race wasn’t the only factor in the popularity.
“I didn’t like New Day because they were black,” said Davis. “It was more so because they were funny. And even then I’m like not really big on The New Day train. There’s no real black wrestlers I feel like that they even give a chance to achieve.”
For black female fans, like Davis, the female wrestlers weren’t given much of an opportunity to achieve either. There have been only five black women’s champions in WWE history: Moore, Jazz, Alicia Fox, Naomi and Sasha Banks. Moore, in 2016, became the first and only African-American woman to be inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame.
Even with this black female representation for young women, the wrestlers had such unrealistic body proportions, from Moore’s bust to Jazz’s bulk, that not all viewers could relate to them.
“None of the women wrestlers are technically going to look like me, because their bodies are never going to look like how my body looked or was going to look,” said LaToya Ferguson, 29, who writes about wrestling for pop culture blog Uproxx. “I could enjoy them and appreciate them, but I don’t think I ever really had that connection a lot of girls wanted to have of the Divas.”
While children normally learn about race as young as 6 months old, research shows that they don’t learn about “racism” until they’re teenagers or young adults. For African-Americans who watched wrestling, this meant many didn’t notice the problematic storylines in WWE involving African-Americans until they were adults. And there were plenty.
In 1990, white wrestler “Rowdy” Roddy Piper donned blackface while in a storyline with black performer Bad News Brown, who was supposed to be the bad guy in the feud. Less than a decade later, all-white stable D-Generation X, who, like Piper, were the supposed good guys, painted their skin black while facing off with The Rock and the Nation of Domination. In the 2000s, Shelton Benjamin, one of the most gifted athletes in the company’s history, was accompanied to the ring by a Hattie McDaniel-like “momma” character, while all-black duo Cryme Tyme sported cornrows and platinum grills and stole from other wrestlers as their gimmick.
But two incidents stand out the most. In 2003, white wrestler Triple H delivered a racially charged promo against Booker T, calling the black performer’s hair “nappy” and telling him that “people like him” don’t win championships in the WWE. “He almost called him everything except for the N-word,” Thomas said.
And it didn’t end there for Booker T. Two years later, WWE chairman and CEO Vince McMahon called John Cena, who is white and replaced The Rock as the company’s most prominent star, the N-word on live television as a perplexed Booker T walked past.
Despite these incidents, and many more in American professional wrestling’s nearly 200-year history, black fans haven’t wavered. They still make up nearly a quarter of WWE’s total audience, according to Nielsen, and have many reasons for not jumping ship.
Professional wrestling, like the NFL or MLB, is a form of communal entertainment, with fans tuning in live every week because their close friends or family members are following along as well. If they aren’t one of the 3 million people watching Monday Night Raw on the USA Network, they’re filling up more basketball arena seats than the NBA team that owns the building or watching thousands of hours of content on the WWE Network. Like any parent, wrestling fans can also pass down their fandom to their kids. There are times when the product will let you down or offend you, but how is that any different from a fan pushing his or her kids to root for the Cleveland Browns?
There is a lack of diversity and problematic storylines for wrestlers of color, but black viewers tolerate those same issues in other forms of entertainment. Many African-Americans watched network dramas in the decades before Kerry Washington became the first black female lead in a television show since 1974 when she starred in Scandal. Movie ticket sales still sold in the billions in the years leading up to the #OscarsSoWhite campaign. And in sports, despite boycott threats from African-American NFL fans over treatment of black athletes, namely Colin Kaepernick, in response to player protests during the national anthem, NFL games still draw in tens of millions of viewers.
Fans of wrestling just want to be entertained. It’s the golden age of wrestling right now, with the most gifted performers in the history of the “sport” performing right now, whether in WWE or on the independent circuit, including Kentucky-raised Ricochet, the most popular non-WWE black wrestler in the world. And depending on who you talk to, wrestling can be both this amazing art form — “I feel like it’s one of the last true performance arts,” Ferguson said — and guilty pleasure.
“It’s the best soap opera I’ve seen, the best television,” Waters said. “I guess I’m one of those people that if you told me I could only have one channel, it would be USA [Network].”
Thomas added: “People watch Scandal, they watch How To Get Away With Murder, they watch Law & Order: SVU. That’s your TV show, that’s your escape for two hours. That’s your soap opera. Wrestling is my soap opera, where I can suspend my disbelief for three hours on a Monday or two hours on a Tuesday.”
Oct. 15, 1996, will forever be ingrained in Ray Allen’s memory. It was the night he met Michael Jordan for the first time. A young player like Allen viewed Jordan as a god in a league that had already deemed him the greatest of all time. As Jordan chased his fifth NBA title that year, he brought with him a $33 million contract, the richest in team sports history. Off the court, Jordan had brought in millions of dollars for Nike through the sale of his signature Air Jordans, the single most important line of sneakers to hit the market. Yet, as Jordan began looking toward life after basketball, he needed the help of Allen, and others, to continue to make his mark on the business world and the culture.
A 21-year-old rookie, and four months removed from being selected with the No. 4 overall pick in the NBA draft, Allen entered a matchup between his Milwaukee Bucks and Jordan’s Chicago Bulls at the United Center. He’d face his hero, the man from the posters Allen hung on his wall as a kid, in an exhibition game. “I’m intimidated,” recalled the future Hall of Famer, now 42, “because I’m not supposed to be in this moment. I’m supposed to be on the other side, watching and cheering for him. I’m like, ‘You know how many times I rooted for him to destroy whoever was on the other end of the floor? Now I gotta beat him? Now I gotta stop him?’ Now I’m this kid in this position … thinking, ‘Is this situation, this moment, too big for me?’ ”
Before tipoff, Allen and Jordan walked out onto the hardwood, met at half court and shook hands. “ ‘What’s up, Ray?’ Welcome to the NBA,’ ” Allen remembers Jordan saying. “I was like, ‘Man … Michael Jordan knows my name.’ ”
Jordan actually knew Allen quite well. He was the one who’d decided which shoes the rookie wore on his feet that night — and for most of his NBA career. Months before this pregame moment, Allen backed “out of a deal with FILA,” he said, to sign with Nike. The company planned on giving Jordan his own brand and imagined Allen as the young face of a fresh new line of products. So, in his first encounter with Jordan, Allen took the court in Team Jordan Jumpman Pros — the first sneakers designed outside of the Bulls superstar’s signature Air Jordan line.
“I was the one guy in the league who had Brand Jordans on my feet,” Allen said of his rookie season. “But I didn’t know how connected and linked in M.J. was with what was going on … if it was the company, or if he was making all the decisions. Not yet did I understand what the Brand Jordan meant, or what it was.”
M.J. had in fact selected Allen to be the first player to endorse Jordan Brand, which wouldn’t officially launch until September 1997. His Airness, however, imagined a whole squad of ambassadors representing his brand in the NBA. As a reflection of his own skills, style and swag, he wanted to build “Team Jordan” — and every team needs a starting five.
In 1997, before playing a single minute in the NBA, Derek Anderson traveled to Nike headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon, ready to be pitched a potential endorsement deal. “I had no idea who I was meeting,” he says now. “I thought I was meeting with Nike itself, because I didn’t know anything about the Jordan Brand.” He finally got to a boardroom, “ … and there’s Michael Jordan. He says, ‘Hey, D.A., how’s it going?’ and I’m thinking, ‘Wow, Michael Jordan actually knows who I am.’ ”
His Airness sat before the now-retired NCAA and NBA champion Anderson, having done his research on the 22-year-old prospect. Anderson played only 19 games during his senior year at the University of Kentucky before tearing the ACL in his right knee, so Jordan asked about the progress he’d made in his recovery, and Anderson informed him that he could, once again, throw down windmill dunks. The conversation soon turned into an offer from Jordan that Anderson couldn’t refuse.
“The way I worked hard, and how I fought back from the adversity of my injury, he really appreciated that, and wanted me to be a part of the Jordan Brand family,” said Anderson, who the Cleveland Cavaliers took with the 13th overall pick in the 1997 draft. “I gave him a, ‘Yes, sir, absolutely … I would be honored.’ It wasn’t even a thought process.” Anderson had previously met with Converse but turned down the opportunities discussed there. He also canceled the rest of his scheduled visits with other shoe companies.
Eddie Jones, then a third-year shooting guard with the Los Angeles Lakers, found himself up for endorsement renegotiation with Nike after rolling with the sneaker giant for the first few years of his NBA career. In hopes of luring the 1997 All-Star (the first of three such honors) who played in the glamorous Hollywood market, Reebok, Adidas, FILA and PUMA all went after Jones. Yet the bidding war came to a screeching halt once Jordan came calling.
“When the best player on the planet, the best player to have a basketball in his hand, really wants you to be a part of something, I mean, you jump onboard,” said Jones, now retired and living in Florida.
Allen’s All-Star Milwaukee Bucks teammate Vin Baker also joined the mix (Baker struggled with alcohol over the course of his All-NBA and Olympic gold medal-winning career, but now sober, he coached this summer at a Massachusetts summer camp). Michael Finley of the Dallas Mavericks began hearing rumors swirling around the league about a master plan that Nike and Jordan had cooking.
“My agent called me,” Finley remembered, “and said, ‘Michael Jordan and his reps are starting their own Jordan Brand and want to know if you want to be a part of it.’ I was like, ‘C’mon, man. That’s a no-brainer. Of course.’ To have M.J. pick you as one of the originals, that’s an honor. It was just us five … our own little fraternity.” (These days, Finley, an assistant vice president of basketball operations for the Dallas Mavericks, is something of a film producer.)
Jordan, the alpha and omega of the basketball universe at the time, had handpicked and created an eclectic group of players in his own image to put on for the new brand. “The goal was to hopefully find athletes that had a little bit of Michael in them. In our mind, Michael was the greatest at what he did, and he was great because he did so many things really well,” said former Jordan Brand product director Gentry Humphrey, now vice president of Nike Golf footwear. “And while you may never find that one guy that has the complete package, you can find a little bit of some of those things in several athletes.”
A pure shooter in Allen, a high-flying, acrobatic athlete in Anderson, a Swiss army knife guard in Jones, a skilled stretch four in Baker, and a versatile swingman in Finley — together, they formed Team Jordan.
“Everyone brought something different, but everyone brought something from him. Everything from us was an entity of M.J.,” Derek Anderson said. “It’s almost like we were his kids. Like every kid has genes from his parents, we were a genetic build of him.”
On Sept. 9, 1997, Nike officially announced the launch of the Jordan Brand.
“A sub-brand of NIKE, Inc. the JORDAN brand is a pure, authentic basketball brand of premium, high-performance basketball footwear and apparel inspired by the performance legacy, vision and direct involvement of Michael Jordan,” reads the third paragraph of Nike’s press release from this historic day. “The brand will carry the Jumpman logo and will be packaged together to make its retail debut on November 1 for the Holiday ’97 season.”
Never before in the history of sports had a player, not to mention an African-American one, “entered into a solo venture on such a sweeping scale,” according to a Chicago Tribune report published the day the brand debuted in 1997.
“I have been involved in the design of everything I have worn from Nike since we began our relationship in 1984,” Jordan said at the introductory news conference in New York. “The launch of the Jordan Brand is simply an extension of that process.”
More than a decade had passed since Nike signed Jordan before his prolific rookie season and released his first signature sneaker, the timeless Air Jordan 1.
“I always felt like Jordan was its own brand, and I approached it that way,” said iconic Nike shoe designer Tinker Hatfield, who believed the move that catapulted Jordan into his own stratosphere of the sportswear industry was long overdue. “Jordan’s shoes were as advanced as possible for the best player in the world, but also were a little more sophisticated and with … nicer materials,” continued Hatfield, who’s crafted some of Jordan’s most legendary shoes, starting with the Air Jordan 3s that dropped in 1988.
“I placed Jordan on a pedestal in my own mind, like it was its own separate brand. I was actually the one who thought up the Jordan Brand in the first place,” Hatfield makes clear, “and tried to pitch that numerous times over the years and didn’t get anywhere with it, until it finally did happen. I’m glad it did.”
Nike celebrated the momentous occasion with a huge launch party at NikeTown in New York. The guest list was loaded with stars from all walks of the culture. NBA Inside Stuff host Ahmad Rashad emceed the event, attended by everyone from Sheryl Swoopes, Kym Hampton and Dawn Staley, to rhythm and blues singer Kenny Lattimore, musical groups BLACKStreet and A Tribe Called Quest, and actors Kadeem Hardison and Damon Wayans. “It was like All-Star, Grammys and Emmys all mixed up into one,” Finley remembered.
From day one, everyone wanted a piece of Jordan Brand, which analysts projected to generate more than $300 million in worldwide revenue in the fiscal year 1998 (the Air Jordan line alone raked in $70 million in sales for Nike in fiscal 1997). On Nov. 1, 1997, the Air Jordan 13s, the first shoe under the Jordan Brand umbrella, were released at $150 a pair. The brand’s first Team Jordan sneakers, the Jumpman Pro Quicks and Jumpman Pro Strongs, wouldn’t hit until May 1998. Until then, Jordan entrusted only Allen, Anderson, Jones, Baker and Finley to wear them on the court, and to promote Jordan Brand in its inaugural NBA season.
“The brand was big before I even knew it,” Derek Anderson said. “It took off that way.”
At the end of the NBA calendar, when the season finally ends, players partake in the annual ritual of cleaning out their lockers at their home arenas. During his first season with Team Jordan, after the playoffs ended with Karl Malone, John Stockton and the Utah Jazz sweeping the Lakers in the Western Conference finals, Jones recalls arriving at The Forum in Los Angeles a little late.
By the time he got there, boxes of his Jordans were missing. And the ones that were left? Jones’ teammates were already calling dibs — and mustering up the courage to see if they could get Jones to come up off of his shoes. “I swear, every guy that wore a size 13, size 14, they were like, ‘Eddie, man, I gotta have these. I didn’t want to take them without you knowing, but can I have them?’ ” said Jones, one of two members of the original team to ever get his own signature Jordans: 1999’s Jumpman Quick 6 and 2000’s Jumpman Swift 6. The brand also gave Baker the Jumpman Vindicate in 1999. “I gave them so many sneakers that day, it was crazy. I had no sneakers by the time I left.”
To get a pair of even Jumpman sneakers in the early days of the brand, you had to go through one of the members of Team Jordan. “As original endorsees of the brand, we had exclusive rights to shoes that [other players] didn’t have, and shoes before they hit the market,” Finley said. “We had the ups on guys who considered themselves sneakerheads in the league, whether it was teammates or opponents. Even referees commented on my shoes at the jump ball.”
This was the era before the brand diversified its color palette, so most Air Jordans released in a combination of red, black and white, the team colors of the Chicago Bulls. Yet, for Team Jordan’s Jumpman sneakers, the brand blessed its ambassadors with pairs in their own team colors. Lakers purple and gold for Jones; Cavs sky blue for Anderson and Mavs royal blue for Finley; Bucks purple and green for Allen; and white and black Pro Strongs, with SuperSonics green, red and yellow accent, for Baker, who was traded from Milwaukee to Seattle a few weeks after the brand launched.
“Most people were like, ‘I want THAT color right there.’ I had colors that were against what was normal in the market, and what people would see in shoe stores anywhere in America. It created a fervor for wanting those shoes,” Allen said. “The ball kid used to come in the locker room almost every game and say, ‘Hey, so-and-so wanted to know if you could send him your shoes.’ ”
The requests didn’t only come from hoopers.
“Fat Joe literally chased me down from the time I started. That dude, he would be on my heels for shoes,” Anderson said of the Terror Squad rapper from the Bronx, New York (who in 2016 opened up his own sneaker store, which was greenlit by Michael Jordan).
Jones has his own stories: “I remember Usher asking for some sneakers!”
When they weren’t rocking exclusive Jumpmans in the late 1990s and early 2000s, Team Jordan members could be seen on the court in custom, player exclusive (PE) Air Jordans, especially after Jordan retired for the second time in 1999 and not many players were wearing his retros on the court. Jones, who landed with the Miami Heat in 2000 after a trade, received red and black Air Jordan 13s with “E. Jones” inscribed across the tongue.
Anderson loved playing in low tops, so he persuaded Jordan and the brand to make him low Air Jordan 11 Space Jams and Concords. Finley’s PE Air Jordan 16s, with “FIN 4” on the lace cover, became such a go-to shoe in his arsenal that players across the league thought they were his own signature Jordans. Baker also wore PE 16s, as well as PE Air Jordan 9s with his No. 42 on the heel. Allen’s extensive collection of PEs could fill a museum. His favorites? The green, white and gold, and red, white and gold Air Jordan 11s that the brand presented him to honor his two career NBA championships in 2008 with the Boston Celtics and 2013 with the Miami Heat.
Nowadays, there’s of course a new Team Jordan, featuring Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul, Jimmy Butler, Kawhi Leonard and Russell Westbrook, who all get the PE Air Jordan treatment like their predecessors. In the Oklahoma City Thunder’s opener to the 2017-18 NBA season, Westbrook took the floor in a pair of PE Air Jordan 32s, a little more than a month after signing a 10-year extension with Jordan Brand. The reigning NBA MVP struck the most lucrative deal in the company’s history on Sept. 13, almost 20 years to the day that Nike hosted the event to announce the launch of the Jordan Brand.
Westbrook is the new face of the now billion-dollar brand’s Team Jordan, which all began with Michael Jordan’s first pick in 1996, Ray Allen.
“I always feel very humble about being having been with Jordan Brand since day one,” said Allen. “For me, long term, it ended up being one of the best decisions I made in my career.”
The other original members would say the same. All five took a leap of faith when Jordan asked them to be a part of his vision. And the rest is history.
“We were young kids who admired M.J. so much. He was our mentor, and was putting this thing together,” Jones said. “We knew it was going to be big, only because it was him. Whatever he does, it kind of works out … it’s always big. And everybody wanted to wear Jordans.”
Former NBA player Paul Pierce has a lot to say and a new platform to say it. Spending the first 15 years of his NBA career with the Boston Celtics, he was once the captain and part of an unstoppable Big Three in himself, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen. The trio led the Celtics to two NBA finals (2008 and 2010) and one NBA championship (2008), for which he was awarded the Finals MVP.
Now he is sitting in the analyst chair, alongside Jalen Rose, Chauncey Billups and Tracy McGrady on Countdown hosted by Michelle Beadle. He will also make appearances on The Jump with Rachel Nichols.
On Monday, just ahead of Wednesday’s NBA opening day during a media conference call, the four-time NBA All-Star gave his take on what to expect in Boston. He also weighed in on Chris Paul and the Houston Rockets and offered his take on players and the 2017-18 NBA season.
Pierce said the Celtics’ big three of Kyrie Irving, Al Horford and Gordon Hayward have a chance at winning a championship in the Eastern Conference, but that was before Hayward suffered a dislocated left ankle and fractured tibia during the Celtics’ 102-99 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers in Tuesday’s season opener. According to ESPN’s Michael Wilbon, Hayward will have surgery Wednesday.
Some people are calling Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward and Al Horford the Celtics’ new Big Three. Do you feel they deserve to be called the Big Three? How do you feel they compare to you, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen?
The reason they’re called the big three is because they’re the three All-Stars on the team. They’re a lot younger than we were when they got together. I think only time can tell. Who knows who’s going to go on and have a Hall of Fame career and who’s going to go on and win a championship.
But when you get three All-Stars together, they’re going to be a big three. Only time will tell right now. I’m sure they’re going to win a lot of games, but they are definitely going to have a great chance in the Eastern Conference to win a championship together, if they’re together a long time.
Do you expect them to get to the Finals?
I think they’ve got a great chance, man. I think what they’ve been able to do with signing Gordon Hayward as a free agent. They made the trade to get Kyrie Irving. And hopefully some of these young guys can help contribute this year, guys like Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum. These are going to be two huge wild cards for them. If they can find some consistency from either of those two guys, then I think they’ve got a great chance.
But at the same time, it’s hard. Our situation was unique. We came together and did it in one year even though we had all new faces. That’s hard to do. It’s hard when you bring a whole new team together and say, look, we’re going to go out here and get to the NBA Finals or win an NBA championship. The chemistry has to be right. You have to be healthy. Guys have to understand their role. A number of things have to go right for that to happen.
Could you sense Chris Paul getting kind of frustrated with the Clippers, maybe losing his belief they could win there? Were you surprised he moved on, or did you think he would end up back there this year?
Truthfully, I didn’t think there was no way that Chris would leave the Clippers. He really built up something special, you know, with getting the Clippers back to being legitimate, make the playoffs every year, 55 games. He just bought a new home like less than a year ago. He had a $200 million offer on the table. So that really shocked me that he would leave.
Obviously, sometimes him and Doc [Rivers] had their differences, but what star players don’t have differences with their head coach? Especially when you guys have been together four or five years and things haven’t really panned out the way you really wanted them to. Same thing happened in Boston. Me and Doc, we didn’t look eye to eye all the time.
But that really shocked me seeing him leave, especially what he had built in L.A., on and off the court, and he had a huge contract in front of him and with him getting a new house. So that really shocked me. I didn’t think there was no way he would leave Los Angeles.
After you did the last two NBA Finals, what made you gravitate toward this TV role as something more expansive? What did you enjoy about it?
It gives me a chance to be around the game. When you’ve been around the game so much for so many years, it’s just like it’s a part of you. It’s like, man, when I was on the set during the NBA Finals, it’s funny that we’re on tape and we have microphones and suits on, but it’s like this is stuff we did every day in the locker room, talked hoops. We talked our opinions.
And after I did the first NBA Finals, I thought this is like, I had a good time. I developed a good chemistry with the team there. I did the second one, and I just thought maybe this is something I could do after basketball. I enjoyed talking about the game. I enjoyed being around it. I’ve been around it my whole life, so why not make this a second career out of this?
I saw the opportunity talking to people with ESPN/ABC, and we made it happen. So I was really excited about it, that I could still be around the game and talk about it, because it’s something I enjoy doing even when I wasn’t in the studio.
Is it easy for you to speak the truth about players who you were playing against just last year?
Yeah, it’s easy. That’s just who I am. I give my honest opinion. Whether it’s right or wrong, but it’s an opinion that I’ll make. It’s easy, man. None of these guys are calling my hotline saying they want to come beat me up or anything. Everybody is entitled to an honest opinion. What does it matter that I played against these guys than somebody else who didn’t play against them?
You kind of connected again with Ray [Allen] in Japan. Can you talk about that? What are things like now? Will he be at the 10-year reunion? What can you tell me about that?
Well, I knew I was going to see Ray. The crazy and, I guess, the funny thing about it is like, when we did we addressed the whole Ray Allen situation and reunion and our relationship and how it all kind of fell apart, the one thing I said to the guys also, I said, man, at some point we’re going to have to end all this. At the end of the day, Ray was a big part of what we accomplished. So we’ve got to eventually get over there.
I just saw opportunity, when I was able to see him, kind of like bury the hatchet, put it all behind us. I was just excited because the funny thing, our families, our wives still have a relationship, and our kids — you know, we did things together with our kids. So it was more than just a working relationship. We were all like brothers and friends, and it was just like, you know what, I’m pretty much over it.
And then what me and him discussed was, my biggest issue with the whole thing was not talking to him. So we talked about that. You know, why I couldn’t get a callback, and the funny thing Ray said was that was the one regret he had was not talking to me during that process. But then hearing his side of the story, you know, the things that went on as far as the trade rumors and the conversations with Doc and Danny and him almost getting traded, I think, the year before, I think that really put a sour taste in his mouth. And that was a lot of stuff that I didn’t really know too much about. And him having a reduced role if he came back or taking less, you know, less of a role and less money. So a lot of the little things I didn’t really understand until he kind of broke it down.
So a man has to make his decision for his own happiness, and I think that’s something Ray did. We talked about it, and now we can move forward. And the funny thing about all this, when we were in China, you know, the hurricane is going on in Miami where he lived. So he had to deal with all that. It’s a real concern for his family and things, and we just opened our relationship back up. I got his number. I texted him since leaving China, seeing how his family has been doing, and hopefully we can bring everybody together and really do a reunion trip or whatever we need to do to get everybody back together.
What’s the biggest challenge you think with this new Celtics team, in particular Al, Gordon and Kyrie?
Those are the leaders of their team. I’m not sure how they were with the other teams, if Gordon was a leader or Kyrie was a leader there. That will be a challenge being a bigger voice than they probably have in the past.
Also, on the court is going to be the chemistry issue. You’ve got pretty talented players. Who’s going to be willing to sacrifice? Who’s going to be willing to take less or do more? Those things come up. When you look at Gordon, he was the leading man in Utah. Kyrie, he was the leading man at some point, but then he became the second fiddle to LeBron. Now he’s probably going to be the leading man again. How will Gordon Hayward take to that? How will the rest of the guys, the rookies and the young guys fall into their role?
Everybody has to understand what their role is going to be and accept it if they want to go from a good team to a great team. Some people don’t always do that. But us being the older team, we realized we didn’t have a lot of time left, so we was ready to do anything possible to make it work. So sometimes you’ve got to put your individual goals out the window if you want to accomplish something bigger than that in winning the championship.
With your jersey retirement coming up in February, when you’re looking forward to that, what goes through your head?
Oh, man, you know what, I haven’t really given a lot of thought. I know — I don’t know what I’m probably going to say. There’s probably going to be a lot of nervousness because this is, like, a huge deal for me. It’s like everything I accomplished as a Celtic, now to go up into the rafters, this is like the final stamp on what I was able to do in my career in Boston. So this is a big moment for me.
I don’t know what the right words are going to be. There’s a lot of things going through my mind. I don’t even know what to wear. I haven’t given much thought to that. It just kind of happened so fast. I knew it would happen eventually, but when Wyc Grousbeck called me and said, ‘Do you want to do this in February?’ I was kind of overwhelmed by it. This is a huge deal for me.
Like the feeling I had on draft night. It’s like what to say on the stage, or what do I do? It’s a hell of an honor, knowing that I’m going up there with so many of the Celtics greats from the past and able to leave my mark on this franchise.
Have you ever envisioned doing the work you’re going to do now as opposed to an athletic career? What things have you done to really prepare yourself to be a solid analyst?
Well, I’ve done some work in the past over the course of my career. I’ve done some local things in Boston. I’ve done things with other networks. You know, it’s just something that was always in the back of my head, I guess, since I’ve always accepted when you get the network saying, ‘Do you want to come out and analyze the game?’ It’s something over my 19-year career I’ve done.
Did I know it was something I wanted to do after basketball? I think the challenging part is a lot of players from different sports sometimes don’t always know what they want to do. You kind of just fall into it, and then once I was working the NBA Finals a year ago, and it was just like really feeling comfortable and doing stuff that I did on an everyday basis in the locker room, talking hoops and talking about different players and talking about the games. It’s like something I’ve been doing my whole life.
Now you’re just doing it to where people can hear your opinion on certain games and certain players. It just felt I was feeling comfortable right at home. Now I’m doing it on the big screen. We’re in a coat and tie doing it instead of sitting in the locker room with my jersey on talking about the stuff with other players. So I just feel like it’s right at home for me because I always had an opinion about different players.
How did you work to find your voice in this broadcasting world?
I’m just being me socially. People sometimes want to hear the opinion of players that have done it and been in the trenches and being called a champion, you know, a voice that the people respect their opinion. I just think that’s pretty much what it is.
I’ve been talking basketball pretty much my whole life. Now I’ve garnered the respect of my peers to hear me speak about the game. I just think it’s going to take on a life of its own.
How do you feel about the term ‘superteam’? What’s your take on that?
Superteams have been part of the NBA for as long as I can remember, going back to the Celtics when they had all the All-Star members on one team. It’s just something that happens once every decade. You look at the ’80s and the Lakers. Each generation has a superteam.
When teams draft well and find a way to get other greats in. Who knew Kyrie would be the player he is today? Who knew Draymond Green would be the player he is?
I just had a question for you about the NBA locker rooms that you’ve been in, of course, in Boston, Brooklyn, Washington and, of course, with the Clippers. Who do you think had the best locker room pertaining to sneakers that you’ve ever been in?
Man, it has to be Boston, because I was on the team with guys that had probably like three or four guys with their own signature shoe. And there’s something we used to compare. I remember us having to compare our shoes every All-Star: me, [Rajon] Rondo, Kevin and Ray. We always took pictures of our shoes, so everybody would post a picture of the shoes up. It was a lot of fun, man. Boston, by far, because I spent the most time there.
And who do you think, as an individual this year, would have the best year in sneakers? Who’s your favorite? Who do you like to watch what they wear?
Man, I’d probably have to go with — man, that’s a good one. I like Paul George’s shoe. I got a couple pair of those already. I already like his shoe. Or the Kyrie Irvings. I like Kyrie’s shoes a lot too.
Can you talk about Avery Bradley and what you expect him to bring to the Pistons this season?
Oh, man, he’s going to bring a defensive mentality. Avery is one of the best defenders in the NBA. I was really shocked he didn’t make the All-NBA defensive team. He’s a veteran now. He’s going to be able to bring his leadership qualities now. And somebody that can help him get to the playoffs. The Pistons are a team that I feel like should have been in the playoffs, but hopefully Avery’s presence and his leadership and his defensive mentality can help them get over that hump this year.
When you predicted on The Jump that Oklahoma City would be winning this year, people considered it a hot seat. What do you think that some people aren’t seeing with that position that you are?
I mean, you got three All-Stars. You need minimum three All-Stars to win a championship. What other team outside of OKC, Golden State and maybe Cleveland that can produce three All-Stars? So they have the criteria that you need to win a championship. I mean, when’s the last time a team won an NBA championship without three All-Stars? So I just figured that you’ve got men at the point in their career that they’re willing to sacrifice for it. It’s not like they’re all young guys.
And anything matchup-wise you saw that favors OKC?
PIERCE: Well, OKC is going to play basketball. You’ve got guys that can play multiple positions. You can put Russ [Russell Westbrook] at the 2. You can put Melo [Carmelo Anthony] at the 3, 4, or 5. You can also put [Paul] George at the 2, 3, 4. So they really have the versatility to match up with anybody in the NBA.
Just wanted to ask you mainly about the Isaiah Thomas-Danny Ainge debate. You similarly didn’t want to be traded from the Celtics. What advice do you have for Isaiah Thomas? Do you think he’ll ever get that feeling back in Boston? He left Boston, but he’s also kind of got that bitter taste in his mouth at the moment.
A lot of guys are bitter when — you know, I can understand Isaiah’s frustration because he felt like he’s given so much to the franchise, and he came back and played after a death in the family and played through injury. He just thought maybe that was worth something.
But at the end of the day, we’ve all got to realize this is a business. This is a business we’re in, and no matter what sacrifices you make as a player, the sacrifice is not always mutual on the other end because, at the end of the day, it’s not about the player, it’s about the franchise. I think he’ll understand it, get over it, and he’ll use it for motivation for this upcoming season.
I just wanted to follow that up with the guy that’s coming to the Celtics to replace Isaiah in Kyrie. Obviously, it’s going to be an interesting matchup Tuesday when he returns to the Cavaliers. What do you expect of the reaction with what he’s been saying this past week? What do you expect to be the reaction and how he’s going to react to the reaction, if you know what I mean?
Kyrie’s a competitor. He’s going to cancel out the crowd noise. He’ll probably see a lot of boos, but Kyrie is a competitor, and I don’t think it will affect him. Not one bit. He has some nervous energy from going back to a team that he played for his whole career, but I think after maybe the first couple minutes, he’ll get over it and be fine.
Black women who own guns don’t necessarily fit the common conceptions of gun owners. They’re rarely the picture of recreational shooting or gun classes. And some fear that even if they procure the proper training and licensing, they’re not protected by laws designed to shield gun owners from prosecution.
The distance between perception and reality surfaced this week when The Washington Post reported that imagery of a black woman firing a rifle was used in the Facebook ads that Russians bought to influence the 2016 presidential election. The image, which has not been publicly released, might have been intended to encourage African-American militancy and also fan fears among whites, according to the Post report.
Without context, a picture of a black woman firing a rifle is not a neutral image, said Kaitanya Bush, a 42-year-old paralegal in Austin, Texas, who recently bought a 9 mm pistol to protect herself and her family.
Bush said she immediately thought of the cartoon of Michelle Obama on the cover of The New Yorker before the 2008 election. Obama was depicted as a rifle-wielding radical sporting a bandolier and giving her secret-Muslim husband a “terrorist fist jab.” The cover was meant to be satirical — pointing out the ridiculousness of the worst fears of Obama opponents, given that the Obamas were moderate, well-to-do liberals, not the second coming of Assata Shakur and Fred Hampton.
“You can see how that imagery [in the Russian ads] can evoke the same feelings that those had about Michelle Obama bringing this militant side out of the nice and gentle Barack,” Bush said. The New Yorker cover depicted Michelle Obama as “threatening, and fearful, and manipulative, that there is an ulterior motive to this. That we are the temptress.”
Bush said the fear of black women’s radicalism reminded her of the reaction to Colin Kaepernick’s girlfriend, Nessa Diab, after she tweeted an unflattering image comparing Baltimore Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti and Ray Lewis to characters from Django Unchained.
Lewis attributed the Ravens’ decision not to sign Kaepernick to the tweet, which he called a “racist gesture.”
Outside the context of law enforcement, military service, or criminality, images of black people with guns tend to be associated with political radicalism, whether it be the Black Panthers, the photo of Malcolm X holding a rifle and peering out of a window, which Nicki Minaj adopted for the album art of her 2014 single, “Lookin A– N—-,” or The New Yorker cover of the Obamas. Images of gun-wielding black people are metonyms for black militancy.
Black gun ownership is historically connected with defending oneself from state violence or lack of state protection, from Harriet Tubman to violent uprisings of enslaved people. And of course there’s a long history of black people who hunt, or shoot for sport, like the women in this 1937 image of the Howard University women’s rifle team. But such representations of black gun users aren’t as well-known.
Black women with guns don’t enjoy the same positive associations as someone such as Charlize Theron in Atomic Blonde or Angelina Jolie in Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, who made the empowered and unafraid gun-toting archetype a key part of their appeal as movie stars. That tide may shift slightly with the upcoming film Proud Mary, which stars Taraji P. Henson as a sexy, skilled hit woman. There’s also Lana Kane, the smart, sensible spy in Archer voiced by Aisha Tyler, whose biting comebacks and uniform of clingy sweater dresses set off by two TEC-9s made her a cult hero. But at the end of the day, Kane is a cartoon.
And so the limited context in which armed black women are seen may have provided an opportunity for Russia.
“It makes complete sense to me that they would do that just to incite some sort of rise out of people,” said Marchelle Tigner, a 25-year-old firearms instructor in Savannah, Georgia, who calls herself the “Trigger Happy Panda.” “When articles came out about me or videos came out about me, I would read the comments. And a lot of the comments were extremely negative, like, ‘Oh, black women have guns now. They’re gonna start shooting people. They’re angry and irrational, and the crime rate in black neighborhoods is gonna go up now.’ They were really hurtful, really mean, and really racist comments coming out, so it makes sense that if Russia wanted to get a rise out of people or incite some kind of hateful feelings in a lot of people, they would post pictures of black women with firearms.”
Tigner is an Army veteran who began carrying a gun as part of her job as a military intelligence officer. It made her uncomfortable, but after she was sexually assaulted at age 19, shooting at the gun range became cathartic instead of anxiety-producing. She now travels the country instructing black women in gun safety. When Tigner saw the news that Russia may have used an ad featuring an image of a black woman firing a rifle as a way to sow division and disrupt the election, she was not pleased.
“Although I might not agree with a lot of people’s beliefs, I would never want to be used as propaganda,” Tigner said. “I never want to be a gimmick. That’s why I carry myself professionally when I’m teaching because I never want my words or my images to be twisted and used against me, or against people for making that decision.”
Black women interviewed for this story believe they will not necessarily be afforded equal protection under the law as licensed gun owners because of their blackness. As a result, there’s a cost-benefit analysis that takes place. On the one hand, they feel unsafe in America because of their blackness, and that includes experiences as a gun owner. But they have decided that it’s still worth having the gun to protect themselves from, among other things, racially-motivated violence.
Even though North Carolina is an open carry state, Dione Davis, a 32-year-old cosmetologist and mother, said that she chooses to conceal carry her Glock with a permit. The reason is because she’s black, Davis said.
“I guess I feel like I’m covered but I’m not covered,” Davis said. “I would say … there is a double standard as to how we’re viewed, black gun owners versus white gun owners. Nobody’s looking at my husband or myself as … college-educated … law-abiding citizens when we have a gun. Nobody’s thinking about whether I have four kids at home when you look at me at with a gun. Nobody’s thinking about those things. … White America always has the positive view: They’ve got a family at home, they’re always viewed with life behind them. Black Americans, we’re viewed with no life behind us.”
Philando Castile had a permit for his gun, but died in 2016 after the Minnesota police officer who pulled him over shot and killed him, citing fear that Castile, who disclosed that he had a weapon, would kill him. Marissa Alexander, a black woman from Jacksonville, was imprisoned for firing a warning shot in self-defense at her abusive husband after a judge rejected her defense under the state’s “stand your ground” law.
In every class she holds, Tigner said, black women voice their worries about not having their rights respected or acknowledged. “I’ve even had women say that they didn’t want to be in the photo that we take at the end of the class because they didn’t even want anyone to know that they were in a firearms class,” Tigner said. “It’s kind of scary to think that you can’t learn how to defend yourself without being a target or being looked at as a threat. Even Tamir Rice, he was a kid and had a toy. Not even a real firearm, being a child, and was killed in less than two seconds after [police] arrived on the scene. Things like that are why a lot of parents don’t even want their children to learn about firearms or to take a class, because they don’t want them to be seen as a target, like my parents didn’t. We talk about that in the class a lot.”
For Tigner, the decision not to open carry is a tactical one. “If I was a bank robber and I walk into a bank and you’re open carrying, I’m definitely gonna make sure I take you out first. It just makes you an immediate target and an immediate threat. That’s how criminals think. They look for the harder target. Nobody’s expecting me, this 25-year-old black woman, to have a firearm and to be able to draw and defend myself, and I like that. I like that I’m underestimated.”
With regard to the Russian Facebook ads, Tiffany Ware, the 44-year-old Cincinnati-based founder of The Brown Girls Project and founder of the Brown Girls With Guns workshop, didn’t think it was possible for racial tensions to get worse than they already are.
“My only thought was how could they think that would create more of a divide than what already exists?” Ware said. “From where I live, my view, my perspective, there’s always been this huge divide between African-American people and others. Now there’s even more of a divide. I don’t see how they thought seeing that image would create a greater divide, because I come from a very strong and proud background and all I’ve ever received was pushback for being that way.”
She first became interested in guns after a team she managed was harassed while canvassing for Hillary Clinton. Her team members told her they’d been called “n—–s” and that their campaign signs had been destroyed. Ware said she’s lived in Cincinnati for most of her life and before last fall had been called “n—-” twice. Since December, she’s been called the N-word four times.
Witnessing her children’s anxiety after President Donald Trump won the election spurred Ware to action to protect herself and her family.
“It just made me think and I was like, gosh, what if somebody did — anybody, not just some crazy racist person — but what if somebody did run up in this house, what would I do?” Ware said. “Like, how do I handle that? I need to figure it out.”
When Ware began organizing gun training for black women at a Cincinnati gun range, she said, she and the women in her group would draw stares and the owners made it clear they were not welcome. “They told us we couldn’t continue to come because there were so many of us that we were knocking out their Sunday regulars,” Ware said. “We knew what it was.” So they found another range.
“From white supremacists who terrorized that young child’s birthday party to the little boy who took the trash out for his mother and his neighbor shot him down on the side of the street, you know these are realities for us,” Bush said. “And I as a lawful citizen of this country, if I am going to come up against someone who may have a weapon on them, I am not going to be in that position where I have to fear for my life, where I’m unable to protect my family.”
George Clinton, the big-picture man behind the music juggernaut that came to be known as P-Funk, talked big trash on Parliament’s Chocolate City, tormenting white keepers of the status quo about the African-American majorities in the nation’s capital and other urban cities bogarting local political power. The large-scale power grab, Clinton fantasized on the album’s title song, was a prelude to electing the first black president of the United States — Muhammad Ali.
Provocative ideas for the time (early 1975), yes. But Clinton had larger targets in mind and knew where he had to go to hit them. He had to go astro. “We had put blacks in places where they had never been perceived to be,” Clinton said in an interview with The Undefeated. “So the next one was to have blacks in outer space, and I knew that a clones concept would get it too. It was thought of even before we did the Mothership Connection studio album.”
The “it” that Clinton speaks of was a funk attack of successive studio albums by Parliament, 1975’s Mothership Connection and 1976’s The Clones of Dr. Funkenstein, with tales of blacks as street-savvy “afronauts” returning to Earth to reclaim secrets hidden inside Egyptian pyramids, including “using science to cheat death.”
Those record projects begot the P-Funk Earth Tour in 1976 and ’77. The concert offered pimps as stage characters, lyrics that equated the band’s music style, uncut funk, with pure cocaine and a prop that the Smithsonian Institution describes as the most iconic stage prop ever: “A huge, multicolored-lights-flashing, smoke-spitting spaceship that landed onstage during a gospel-heavy call-and-response rendition of ‘Swing Down, Sweet Chariot’ ” that whipped audiences into spiritual frenzy.
And off the spaceship came Dr. Funkenstein, one of Clinton’s lasting musical characters, in a floor-length fur coat striking a pimp pose with his index finger held straight beneath his nostrils.
Parliament’s label then, Casablanca Records, captured the hugely successful tour on record, releasing Parliament Live: P-Funk Earth Tour on May 5, 1977. Acknowledging the 40th anniversary of the double-album release, Clinton talked about how the tour came together and why the band’s music and philosophies, particularly from that double album, have endured for generations. Ever the salesman, Clinton also took the opportunity to hype “I’m Gonna Make You Sick,” which, when released this fall, will be the first Parliament song to be released since 1980.
Need convincing of the Live P-Funk Earth Tour’s impact? A replica of the original mothership anchors the Musical Crossroads exhibition at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C. Music from the album has been sampled by a who’s who of hip-hop: Common, 50 Cent, Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Digable Planets, Public Enemy and Ice Cube. Listen closely to the opening drum rolls on Kendrick Lamar’s 2012 “The Heart Pt. 3 (Will You Let It Die)” and it’s clear the inspiration came from P-Funk drummer Jerome “Bigfoot” Brailey’s drum intro on the live version of “Do That Stuff.” The influence on Lamar can also be heard on To Pimp A Butterfly’s “King Kunta” (2015): A female vocalist repeats, “We want the funk” in a nod to the Earth Tour’s “Tear the Roof Off the Sucker.” Afrofuturism artists such as the Sa-Ra Creative Partners and Flying Lotus acknowledge that their baptism into the movement came from the P-Funk Earth Tour.
“It was a dream of myself and Neil Bogart of Casablanca Records,” Clinton said. “He did it for us, Kiss and Donna Summer at the same time. He was a promotion man. He got behind us and backed all of us. And then we had the music from Bernie Worrell, Bootsy Collins, Garry Shider, Glenn Goins, Fred Wesley and Maceo, Eddie Hazel. He knew, especially after Chocolate City, that we knew what we were doing.”
Rickey Vincent, a lecturer in African-American studies at the University of California, Berkeley, and author of the 1996 book Funk The Music, The People, And the Rhythm of The One, said the P-Funk Earth Tour was a logical culmination in the mid- to late 1970s toward larger shows and profits in the music business. But there was more to it. “George can say he was just clowning, but at the same time he understands the ethos of soul music,” Vincent said. “And that is to put black people in a better place. You don’t have to be an ethnomusicologist to understand a lot of underlying themes in black music into the ’70s was ‘We’re going to be free.’ You can’t get much freer than outer space and reclaiming the power that came with building pyramids in Africa.”
Clinton has never claimed to be a guru. He shuns such talk. To hear him tell it, he just wanted to be big. Actually, the biggest. “The Who, David Bowie, Rolling Stones. I’d seen them all do those big shows, big productions, and I wanted to do one with funk music,” Clinton said. “I wanted to have a prop that not only was deeper than anything that any black group had done but bigger than any white group had done.”
The Earth Tour was a massive undertaking. And costly. Clinton said Parliament’s record label set up a $1 million loan for him, and he turned to Jules Fisher, a Tony Award-winning lighting designer whose work included Jesus Christ Superstar and Chicago. Fisher designed the stage set and props for Earth Tour, according to Clinton.
The show demanded that the band, famous for its onstage looseness and improvisation that could stretch a four-minute studio song into a 20-minute live jam, play and move with discipline. The show was essentially scripted. So the band needed to rehearse, and it did for two or three weeks, Clinton said, at a onetime airplane hangar in Newburgh, New York. He put Maceo Parker, the saxophone player who had joined P-Funk after years with James Brown, in charge. “Anybody from the James Brown bands, I don’t care if it’s Bootsy, Maceo, Fred Wesley, you learn so much discipline,” Clinton said. “They can pretty much run s—. And Maceo and Fred are so diplomatic. They know the writing side, they know the musician side. They made it so much easier.
“With the [P-Funk Earth Tour], we had props moving around. You had to be in a certain spot at a certain time. If not, that spaceship might knock upside your head.”
The Earth Tour opened on Oct. 26, 1976, at the Municipal Auditorium in New Orleans. The band discovered right away that the show’s “script” was all wrong. “They had the mothership land first, at the opening of the show. That was the climax. As great as the band was, there was nothing we could do to top that spaceship landing,” Clinton said.
By the next show, the mothership landing came near the concert’s end. With that change, audience excitement and anticipation for seeing the mothership soared. And singer/guitarist Goins took full advantage. His vocal pleading with the audience to join him in calling for the mothership to land during a psychedelic, funky-church arrangement of “Swing Down, Sweet Chariot” elevated the live show to what many describe as a religious experience.
The energy jumps off the record. Brailey’s thumping foot on the bass drum. (“We want it to feel like a heartbeat,” Clinton said on the recording.) Worrell’s keyboard and synthesizer strokes filling in around, behind and on top of the rhythms. The crowd in the Oakland Coliseum clapping in unison on The One and answering Goins’ call for the mothership, singing, “Swing down sweet chariot stop and let me ride.”
The mothership lands. Audience screams fill the venue. They explode louder still when Clinton as Dr. Funkenstein disembarks the spaceship.
“It was like I was going back to church,” said Vincent, who witnessed the Earth Tour as a teenager. “They were signifying, bringing back those dreams.”
Parliament Live P-Funk Earth Tour captured all that sound and emotion during shows in January 1977 at the Los Angeles Forum and the Oakland Coliseum. The album offered live versions of hit after hit: “P-Funk (Wants to Get Funked Up),” “Do That Stuff,” “Mothership Connection,” “Dr. Funkenstein,” “Tear the Roof off the Sucker,” “Undisco Kidd.” Eleven live songs in all, plus three new studio cuts.
The release stayed on the Billboard 200 album charts for 19 weeks, a May through September achievement even more impressive because the music was undeniably black and urban — as were most of the audiences at the Earth Tour shows. At that point, even with huge promotion from Parliament’s record label and free publicity generated by coverage of the never-before-seen spaceship landing in mainstream newspapers and newsweekly magazines, P-Funk Earth Tour had gained little crossover traction. Why? In early September 1977, John Rockwell, a writer for The New York Times, offered white fear as an explanation.
“P-Funk music isn’t a real mass success yet because whites have grown afraid of black concerts in general. … In the big urban centers it’s mostly a black crowd, and whether it’s realistic or not, whites seem to be scared: There are too many reports of black gangs terrorizing isolated whites at black concerts,” Rockwell wrote. “Only if P-Funk could sell their records to a mass pop audience, and thus encourage whites to attend their concerts in force, would whites feel safe. But since their dazzling stage show helps sell the records, they have a self-perpetuating problem.”
Still, the album achieved platinum status. That summer, Billboard 200 album charts listed live concert albums from Marvin Gaye, Al Jarreau, Lonnie Liston Smith, the Bee Gees and two from the Beatles. In early August 1977, 16 of Billboard’s Top 200 albums were live concert recordings. In the same time span this summer, not a single live album was on the Billboard 200 chart. Live concert audio releases are no longer a thing, and not just because of DVDs.
Vincent, the funk history author, believes that artists take some of the blame for the disappearance of live concert recordings. In the late 1980s, he said, standards for live performances were lowered and bad reviews followed. Demand for lackluster concert recordings nose-dived, Vincent said.
Dexter Story, a Los Angeles-based musician and producer who has been marketing director for record labels such as Priority, Bad Boy and Def Jam, thinks fans just turned to a different product to get what they used to get from live records.
“People like bonus material — remixes,” Story said. “Back then, in ’77, the live album was the bonus material. As a fan, getting live albums was a treat. The live interpretations of what the musicians had done in the studio were a treat as well.”
In late July, Story produced a show for the venerable Grand Performances summer concert series in Los Angeles. It was called Mothership Landing: Funk and The Afrofuturist Universe of ’77. Music from the P-Funk Earth Tour dominated the set. “They asked me what I wanted to do,” Story said. “I chose to focus on 1977 and Afrofuturism. It was a great opportunity for me to go back to my funk roots.”
Music from P-Funk — Parliament, Funkadelic, Bootsy’s Rubber Band, the Horny Horns and others — carried the show. “As I started to transcribe their music for the concert, I found out it was a lot more complicated and complex. There was a complexity to that music that I hadn’t fully appreciated.”
That music — much of it credited to Clinton, Worrell and Collins — is one reason P-Funk has endured, Story believes. “They were laying a foundational aspect of rhythm that was informed by James Brown and Sly Stone,” Story said. “On top of that, they added jazz-influenced horns … four- and five-part horn harmonies. The horn players were jazz musicians. Another level was the church sound in the voices, gospel-influenced vocals. And still another level was Bernie Worrell. He was speaking on keyboards to me. From piano to organ to Moog, he was speaking.
“Lastly, you’ve got the layer of George Clinton on top of all of that great sound. I just gave you the ingredients of a P-Funk sandwich,” Story said. “Now, go ahead. Take a bite.”
A number of the musicians and vocalists who performed on P-Funk Earth Tour record have died. They include Worrell, Garry “Diaperman” Shider, Goins, Richard “Kush” Griffith, Cordell “Boogie” Mosson and Ray Davis. Among the other players, only former Bootsy’s Rubber Band vocalist Gary “Mudbone” Cooper currently tours with Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic. Michael “Kidd Funkadelic” Hampton, Brailey, Fuzzy Haskins, Calvin Simon, Grady Thomas, Parker, Wesley, Rick Gardner, Lynn Mabry, Dawn Silva, Debbie Wright and Jeanette Washington have left the touring band. Some still show up on P-Funk-related studio projects, such as Funkadelic’s 33-song First, You Gotta Shake the Gate, released in 2014.
The massive change in touring personnel isn’t surprising, considering four decades have passed since the P-Funk Earth Tour. So much time has passed that Clinton’s Chocolate City is no longer majority black, and his fantasy of a black U.S. president actually happened. But Clinton tinkers with the band regularly. Adds new musicians. Brings back former ones. Introduces new sounds such as violin, mandolin and the didgeridoo.
“It’s hard to keep a band together over time. We get older and settled down, and want to do other things,” he said. “And there’s always a need for young legs and vibes. Younger players bring an energy. And you need that, especially the way I push the band. You have to have young legs to be out there.”
For his latest iteration of Parliament Funkadelic, Clinton leans heavily on family. There’s his son, Tracey Lewis Clinton, and three of Tracey’s children; Clinton’s stepdaughter; and another of his grandchildren, this one the daughter of Clinton’s daughter, Barbarella Bishop. The drummer, Benzel Cowan, is the son of longtime and current P-Funk trumpet player Bennie Cowan. And guitarist and vocalist Garrett Shider is the son of Shider, the band’s diaper-wearing musical director who served as Clinton’s No. 2 from the early ’80s until his death in 2010.
“Garrett was born into the band,” Clinton said. “He’d be backstage with his mother, Linda. We called him ‘Soundcheck.’ ” In keeping the strong family theme, Garrett Shider recently released his first solo CD, Hand Me Down Diapers. It includes contributions from George and Tracey Clinton and other P-Funk band members. The project is a heartfelt tribute to his father and sounds like Funkadelic during the Hardcore Jollies days.
“George was really good when my father passed, bringing me into the group,” said Garrett Shider, who joined Clinton on the road full time in 2011. “He knew I needed some help. It was his way of making sure he was looking out for his right-hand man’s son.”
Such strong family connections in the music business aren’t commonplace now, and if they exist, they aren’t factored into artists’ branding. That wasn’t always so. Black music groups often made family connections, real or contrived, part of their marketing strategy. The Jackson 5. The Five Stairsteps. Sly and the Family Stone. The Isley Brothers. The Sylvers, Pointer Sisters, The Brothers Johnson, DeBarge, and Earth, Wind & Fire. More recently, there’s Jodeci. And, of course, Wu-Tang Clan.
“There are not a lot of groups anymore, first of all,” Clinton said. “Hip-hop artists have different styles, and so many are focused on an individual. Plus, the record companies will try to separate you anyway. Wu-Tang has done it well.” For Clinton, bringing in family was relatively easy. “They all grew up together, basically. They knew each other,” he said.
“They were all doing different styles of music, and they were doing well. We were able to put them together. Younger musicians do things differently. They don’t mind sometimes playing live over recorded backing tracks. We just play on top of it. You get the best of both worlds.”
Clinton said he will release his first Parliament studio project since 1980’s Trombipulation by the end of 2017. It’s called Medicaid Fraud Dog. The first single from the album, “I’m Gonna Make You Sick,” should be released by the end of October.
“My son, Tracey, and my stepdaughter, Brandi, did a lot of work on the album,” Clinton said. “Lots of good sounds and grooves on it. Scarface is on the single. We’re doing three or four remixes. Junie Morrison [former member of P-Funk] was working on one of the remixes when he died.”
He plans for the single to be available just before he takes a short break from his current tour. Clinton still performs more than 200 live dates annually. “We still sell out all over the world,” Clinton said. “We work, ’cause it’s a job.”